Jul 17, 2018

Belize, Braids and Belief

On an almost daily basis I remind myself of how spoiled I am by the almost always immediate access to limitless bits of information speeding across the internet to my hot little hand via my smartphone. If my cell phone provider is doing what it should I can get answers to even my most random questions any hour of the day or night! Once upon a time there were only a select few who had access to the Bible and now I can type into Google: “Bible verse about floating ax head” and in less than 3 seconds I am directed to page after page about 2 Kings 6 and God being His awesome Self using Elisha to help out a friend. Never has the world’s general population had more access to the Word of God – this is exciting and convicting for me all at once. One of the beautiful benefits of having access to God’s word is that I don’t guess about God feels about me.

There are moments in my everyday life when I struggle to feel loved, valued or appreciated. Some days I don’t even feel seen or harder, seen only by people who need or want things from me. But I know God loves me; His word tells me so. The cross proved it for me. There are days when I don’t think I will be able to do the things God has called me to do; my weaknesses feel overwhelming. But by God’s grace I make it to the end of another hard day accomplishing the tasks that were set before me. Some mornings I stare at my sinful self in the face and struggle to believe that I will ever be free from the habits and thoughts that tie me down. But then new mercies remind me that Jesus is the only perfect person that ever has been and that I can rest in who He is and what He accomplished for me on the cross. Some days I struggle to see anything beyond bags under my eyes, grey hair and a bigger body than I want to have. But then God reminds me of that moment from 2003 on a sunny Belize afternoon when He told me I was beautiful. I am sure God has spoken His affirmation to me many times before (and thankfully, after, that day) but this moment was memorable because it was the first time I chose to believe what He said about me. 

My first visit to the beautiful of Belize was during a Spring Break in 2003 on a short-term mission trip with Valley Bible Church. I was on staff with VBC at the time and it was our very first short term trip to Belize. If I remember correctly (I will happily be fact checked by anyone who was with us) the team was comprised our Student Ministries Pastor, Tim, two young men Dan and Zach, me and a whole gaggle of awesome girls including my sister Melinda and my good friend Melissa. I would have to drag out my journal from the time to remember a ton of specifics but I remember the mosquitoes, the warm people we met like Uncle Clive, handmade three-tiered bunk beds, an Easter sunrise service and the braids. 

A few of the local women had offered to braid each of our girl’s hair into itty-bitty braids which as you can imagine took a ton of time and was pretty low on priority list for the week for us leaders. However, I wanted my hair braided, too, but as time and luck would have it the end of our trip arrived and Melissa and I were the only two ladies not sporting braids as we were headed home. As we gathered to say our goodbyes we gathered in groups to take pictures with our new friends. Someone called out, “Now all the girls with the braids!” so all the braided beauties gathered and pictures are snapped while compliments began to fly. Standing in front of me were Dan and Mel (who were dating at the time and are now happily 13 years married) and Dan puts his arm around Mel’s shoulder and says, “You are beautiful to me” (or something sweet of that sort – well, maybe sweet and snarky which is one of Dan’s specialties). Immediately my insecure, early 20-year-old self looked accusingly inward and notices my lack of braids or boyfriend and this completely petty moment seemingly confirms for me one of my worst fears: I am not beautiful, noticed or wanted. I blinked back tears, taking on the familiar weight of rejection and worthlessness that I had wrestled with often. But suddenly I heard the Lord say to my heart, “I think you are beautiful, Nicole.” Now, I didn’t hear some deep voice from behind or had a dove float down from the sky but I can tell you that even though that thought came to me in my own mind’s voice I can promise you that those were words I never said to myself. Not once. It had to be the Holy Spirit in me. I know that the Lord had attempted to speak His love, His truth over me in many ways throughout my life but what made this time different was this: it was the very first time I believed Him. Instead of excusing or denying His affirmation of His handiwork in me I accepted His words to me and (shocker) my heart was encouraged! We wrapped up our picture snapping session, said our goodbyes and headed to the airport. During that season of life, typically an attack on my identity and contentment like that would have derailed me for hours, if not days or weeks! In choosing to believe what God said about me that sunny afternoon set my feet on a life-long journey of faith that I am still traipsing and skipping along on today. 

I am loving Lauren Dangle’s new song, “You Say” today; the chorus says:

You say I am loved when I can't feel a thing
You say I am strong when I think I am week
And you say I am helped when I am falling short
And when I don't belong, Lord you say I am yours
And I believe, yes, I believe what you say of me
Oh I believe


I pray that today you will choose to believe what God has said about you. If you don’t know what He says about you, check out the Bible! Use the internet to your benefit and instead of following a Buzzfeed bunny trail that leads you to an article on how which outfit you pick out at Hollister says about your personality (coming clean: that literally happened to me today) and do some research! Find Lauren’s song on YouTube. Find a new worship playlist on Spotify. Type into that snazzy Goggle search bar “Who does the Bible say I am?” and go exploring. There is a lot of goodness to be found therein if you choose to believe it… I pray that you do. 


May 11, 2018

The Journey of Surrender


It is a pretty spectacular thing: watching a family be born right in front of your eyes. To see years of prayers answered in a moment. Hopes fulfilled with sweet recognition, tentative hugs and hellos. It is a sacred moment that is full of all kinds of emotion: joy, grief, fear, peace, anxiety, delight... not to mention what the new family must be feeling :) Every placement is different; depending on the needs of the baby, the new family, the social worker handling each case and other things we have less control over like court dates, magistrate's expectations and busy calendars. We are always working to create the ideal conditions for a placement but there isn't a strategic formula that makes every placement magically peaceful and beautiful. Sometimes things are rocky; sometimes things are funny. Often times I feel a connection with a Forever Family but sometimes I don't. 


Often times during the placement process the Lord allows me to see a glimpse as into why a baby is matched with a particular family. I will recognize a baby's expression in the face of their new mom. I will share a particular habit or idiosyncrasy of a baby with a new family and they laugh because it is so "them". A Bible verse given to a mother as a confirmation was found on her new daughter's name tag, something I make for each of our babies with a verse God has given me for them. A similar spirit, a shared interest, the same eyes, the list goes on and on. But if I am honest there are placements where I don't see it. I don't get the gift of a glimpse or a glimmer of the goodness to come. In those rare moments it is easy to let fear creep in and to begin to doubt the sovereignty of a good Father. 


In an effort to grow as a team and serve our community better, over the last few months the management team here at Refilwe has been going through a bunch of personality tests. Most were familiar to me but one I was not familiar with was the Enneagram Test (you should check it out it is super cool and scary accurate). Turns out I am a typical Type 2 nicknamed "The Helper" which is pretty spot on for the me I understand myself to be. One of the more interesting parts of this particular personality test is that it helps identify where our personality goes when we are feeling stressed or anxious. When that happens to a Type 2 we are pushed into a Type 8 whose vices include seeking control and self-protection. Ding! Ding! Ding! That is exactly where I go when I am feeling out of my depth or insecure. I have to fight these impulses when a placement doesn't "feel" nice and work to remind myself of the truth. That God loves these kiddos more than I do. That He sees the whole of their lives while I am only seeing a small portion of who they are and who they will become. That Jesus will pursue each one with His reckless love no where they go or what they do. 


I know my certain expericnce of motherhood is atypical and fractured but I think am able to identify with some aspects of what being a mom must entail. Sleepless nights with a newborn, gleeful joy celebrating skills accomplished, anxiety in illnesses and the temptation to feel that it is somehow my responsibility to control all the aspects of the lives of these little people I love. Some things I can try and control (and probably should): a room's temperature, how much milk goes into a bottle, when a behavior warrants a time out, when we need to visit a doctor or when to start someone on solid food. Those details fall into my realm of responsibility but the really important things like how many days a baby gets to have or how a baby's story gets written is 100% God's job! My heart handles the grief of goodbye exponentially better when I can remind myself of God's goodness and sovereignty over each babies' life even in the midst of my limited view and uncertainty. 

 

One of my new favorite worship songs is off Hillsong's latest album and it is called "New Wine". The first verse says: 

In the crushing/In the pressing 
You are making new wine
In the soil I now surrender
You are breaking new ground 

So I yield to You and to Your careful hand
When I trust You I don't need to understand 

I am working hard to sit in this soil of uncertainty and trust God's careful hand in this season of life. To trust that in the midst of discomfort I can choose to yield to the careful hand of a good, good Father who loves me and these precious kiddos a billion more times that I can ever imagine. I will delight in each glimpse I am blessed with, each glimmer of goodness to come. I will continue to cling to the promise of eternity with Christ; that one day all things will be made new and what was once was unseen will be seen. I have full confidence that one day I will be able to delight in the whole of each story written for each of these little lives I have had the privilege of loving. I will choose to rejoice in this calling; the best hardest job I have ever been privileged to have!


Thank you for your continued love, prayer and support. I am eternally grateful for those of you who have joined me in this journey. I am praising God and thanking Him for you today!

xoxoxoxoxo

Apr 15, 2018

Sending Baby J Home

He was worth the wait!
I have been putting off writing this blog not because I don’t want to share the beauty of saying goodbye to Jack or because I am trying to hold my cards close to my chest but because in writing this story down it somehow makes the goodbye real. I believe in my heart that this goodbye is just a goodbye for now, as you will hear, I have been beyond spoiled in the connection I have been gifted with Jack’s parents. Due to the unique set up of his adoption I can have as much contact with his Forever Family as they desire and thankfully they are happy to let me still be a part of their son’s life. I have been the grateful recipient of messages, pictures, videos and have even been able to video message with them several times since they have been home! I am overjoyed that he is now beautifully settling into his new family, his new name, his new life and have been ecstatic to see bits and pieces of the beauty through the contact we’ve had. My grief has been tempered with peace, comfort and joy with the confidence that seeing Jack so settled and happy within the arms of his new family. But the grief has been unlike anything I have experienced before… and that is why I have been dragging my feet in sharing this bit of his beautiful story with you. It is going to hurt but prayerfully in pushing the open wound into the bright light of day will usher in deeper healing and less scaring over time.

    

Whenever I start telling people about what I get to do I am almost always asked, “Do you have children of your own?” or most often, “How many of your own kids do you have?”. I think it is obvious that I love my babies and it is inconceivable to most people that I don’t have any of my “own”. It is a strange calling; to love babies that are sure to leave you with true and ardent love despite the impending, inevitable goodbye. I have never been pregnant but there are parts of this experience that mirror what being pregnant must feel like. As Aunties we daydream about who will come next: a boy? A girl? Twins? How old will they be when they arrive? Will they be healthy or easy; sick or loud? We hope and dream and wait. As I have shared previously, long before I met Jack I dreamed of loving him, or someone like him. For some God ordained reason, I always wanted to have a baby with Down Syndrome and when I scooped Jack up for the very first time my heart almost burst. It is a divine joy to be able to hold and name and kiss the hope differed that has finally arrived. There is always joy and wonder when we receive any new baby; beautiful, redemptive hope wrapped up in a little stranger but holding Jack was different because I had been pregnant with the hope of him for years.

     

I think the first time I cried at the thought of saying goodbye to Jack within the first 24 hours of meeting him. I’ve cried that way over a handful of littles and their inevitable goodbyes before. A hazard of the job, I guess, but my heart has figured out that the grief of goodbye is best doled out over time rather than sitting unexpressed until the actual day of departure. My current screensaver is a quote by Brian Andreas that says, “She said she usually cried at least once each day not because she was sad, but because the world was so beautiful & life was so short.” I feel like that is something I would say. Somehow the beautiful disaster of this calling has turned me into weeper. Those of you who know me well know how much I used to, and sometimes still do, hate to cry in front of other people. Even those closest to me. Mostly because my voice gets two octaves too high and I can’t clearly communicate why I am crying and often when I cry once I can’t stop crying over everything for the rest of the day. I am also sure my prideful spirit and desire to seem put together must have something to do with it as well. I wanted to keep Jack for my very own more than any of the precious babies I’ve loved on before. Partly because I waited for him, partly because of the trauma we experienced when he first arrived but mainly because he is just so special! Everyone who meets him loves him. After I shared his arrival story I had many people from all over the world inquire about how he was doing and if they could be the family to take him home. All the Aunties mooned over him and I think were secretly glad when I was out of the house for any extended time so they could have him all to themselves. I wrestled with my desires knowing that there really was no easy way for Jack to stay with me. People who loved me and could see how much I loved him asked if I would try and keep him, despite the obstacles and impossibilities in the way. For months, I pushed away the thoughts and comments until one day I put them before the Lord and in His mercy, He made the answer incredibly clear. Fighting to keep Jack would be selfish and thinking that I could love him best was incorrect and worse, incredibly prideful. Not all the Father’s words to our hearts feel good but they are all true. I am beyond thankful He spoke clearly to me that day; He knows my wayward heart and exactly what I needed to hear and rehear even today.

     

One thing I love about adoption is that in its very nature we see God’s redemptive story and how He chose us to be His children. He gave us the right to be called sons and daughters and through Christ we now have access to the Father and all the benefits of being His children. Adoption also depicts the pain of the Gospel; a Son surrendered, a Father who turned away the good of all humanity, sacrifice that in the end brought victory and eternal joy. As our children journey towards their Forever Families there is pain, sacrifice and surrender that marks the way. The mystery of pain that Jack’s birth mother must feel when she allows herself to think of him. The sacrifice of the Aunties who loved and cared for him for his first year and miss him even now. The surrender of a baby you love knowing that you are not the best or only thing he needs to become the man he was made to be. I eternally thankful that the Father and the Son loved us enough to see the joy that lay beyond the cross. I pray that with their help I will willingly embrace not only the joy of adoption but the pain as well; knowing that beauty lives in both.

   

As we received word of Jack’s match to his delightful Forever Family and began to wait for a court date it became clear that my prearranged trip home for Christmas in California was going to set me back in South Africa a day after his Forever Family landed in South Africa. The last thing I wanted to do the few weeks before Jack left us was to be 10,000 miles away! Now that I think about it, God also had to use a trip home to kick Jack out of my room two and half months after we got him. If not for that trip, I probably would have found some excuse to keep him in my bed until he got adopted! I see now how God arranged this all perfectly; not just for my heart but for Jack’s as well. I was able to say my goodbye weeks before his family was to arrive; not because he left me but because I left him to fly to America. God used our time away to prepare both our hearts for the arrival of his parents. My main prayer was that I would be able to make the placement about Jack and his new family, not about me and my grief. God used my few weeks back home to process enough so that when we were together for his placement my prayers could be answered. We had the joy of being able to host his parents, Jake and Rachel, on site for 10 whole days before they left for Cape Town to sort out all the legal parts of the adoption. We spent those days slowly introducing and transitioning Jack into his new family. I only cried in front of them once as we prayed on the day he officially left our house to move to the guest flat on the other side of the property. Jake and Rachel were kind and humble enough to honor our bond and invited me to spend time with him almost every day after he left our home. They invited me to come to the court date where he officially became their son. We enjoyed a celebratory dinner together, did a fun photo shoot with my friend Antoinette and graciously, humbly accepted that Jack still reached for me when we were together. When they were in Cape Town they sent me pictures and videos and added me to their private “Bringing Baby J Home” Facebook page. It is hard to explain how, but somehow when I saw those pictures and videos God miraculously allowed my heart to see this precious boy I loved like my own as their son. I could close my eyes feel his chubby hands on my cheeks, feel when his tiny newborn head tucked perfectly under my chin but when I opened them and saw him in the arms of his new mom and dad he no longer looked or felt like mine. It was the craziest and kindest gift, joy and sorrow wrapped up beauty. Just like my whole year with Jack; a gorgeously refining miracle straight from heaven.

     

I still miss Jack, now beautifully named Jaren Parker. I still cry when I talk about him and his miraculous story. I am sobbing now. There are days when I feel perfectly well adjusted, grateful for this chaotic calling and other days when the grief is so real I feel like my heart is breaking all over again. I am working to wade through the waters of grief being as honest as I can. Doing my very best to be vulnerable and admit when I am having a sad moment and reminding myself of truths previously revealed. God has brought me new babies to love, new adoptions to walk through and placed within my heart a desire for another baby with Down Syndrome. Maybe a girl this time? Actually, I have repeatedly told all my people that I want ALL the babies with Down Syndrome who need a home on their journey to their Forever Family. I happily pour over and shamelessly share every new picture, video and story Jaren’s family shares; rejoicing over every new accomplishment, praying over every challenge. Just like I do over all my biological nieces and nephews; happy to be an Auntie to someone so special. I love being an Auntie, it’s one of the best, hardest things I’ll ever do!

   

Thank you for your faithful prayers and love for me and Jack while he was in our home! I appreciate the way God uses your love, prayers and support to uphold me and all our babies. All my love!!!

Belize, Braids and Belief

On an almost daily basis I remind myself of how spoiled I am by the almost always immediate access to limitless bits of information speedi...