Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Sterling Mei: (15) Abandoned No More

She is being held by her mama right now. The room smells of baby lotion and happiness. I can hear her breathing as she surrenders to closing her eyes, relaxing her face, pulling her thumb into her mouth… and sleeping.

Have you ever watched a baby sleep? Have you ever watched your own baby sleep? There is something bigger than the moment that seems to manifest as you watch that steady pull of air that swells that tiny body as she breaths. Nestled among pink blankets and pajamas, the world is no match for this tranquility.

Today was our first full day together, and it was a wonderful day.

We have let go of many of the eccentricities and neurosis of new parents… with number 3 we feel a bit more familiar with these days. And yet… we still get crazy and do goofy things like celebrate poopie diapers (or Good News as the Chinese call it), and make embarrassing faces, sounds, and speak in funny voices. Well, ok…those of you who know me are rightly thinking that I am pretty much acting like I always do!

Our threesome accomplished some milestones today. Some a bit mundane, albeit wonderful, such as a full day of automobile riding, lots of carrying baby while walking, and our first two public meals together (no screaming or tears either time… thankfully). Memories of our first public meal with Aleksandra still traumatize us (think square-mouth scream). Some pretty major moments also filled our day.

We sat across a big wooden desk on the 8th floor of the Adoption Center and completed our interview with the Chinese official. It was a bit of a bizarre test as we had to answer questions about our own life, beginning with, "what is your: name, date of birth, anniversary, health status, annual salary, etc." Then without warning, the nature of the questions shifted from routine to gut wrenching.

"Do you want to adopt this child?" "What makes you want to adopt a girl from China?" "Do you promise not to abandon this child again?" "Do you promise not to abuse, neglect, or mistreat this child?" "Do you promise to provide her with a secure, loving home?"

While we answered these questions, Sterling sat in our laps and gazed at us, with two-tooth smiles, and deep brown eyes of beauty. I had to ask the official to please repeat a question because my mind was stuck on this concept that this incredible child had been abandoned to die.

"Do you promise not to abandon this child again?"

We have no concept of this. We seem to think that in order for a mother to abandon her child, she must be an evil person, or at least a person devoid of a heart. But, we live in a different world. We have no understanding of the impossible choices that leads to such a devastating decision. However… we do have the power to make a difference.

"What makes you want to adopt a girl from China?"

I have no doubt that each and every person who has the ability to help others also is expected to do so. I think it is simply a matter of whether or not we stand where we are. What need is at our feet today? What choice did we make? I am convinced that the course of our lives is not determined by those BIG DECISION moments… rather; I think our character is forged by the seemingly small decisions we make everyday.

"Do you want to adopt this child?"

Our choices turn into our habits and soon we become comfortable in our routine. And then when the big choices come our way… we have already determined our path.

"Do you promise to provide her with a secure, loving home?"

This child has forever altered our path. As I listen to her sleep in the dimmed room, I think of the smile of her face and the light in her eyes as I reflected her gaze and said to that Chinese official,

"I promise."

Monday, February 27, 2012

Sterling Mei: (14) Crazy & Dangerous Perfection

First moment in her mother's arms… every moment worth it.
The lights of the city had blinked off. It was only 0700, but I could no longer stay in bed. This was uncharacteristic for me, since I will typically sleep in as late as possible. Today  one of those days though… one of those types of days that only comes once in a lifetime. Truthfully, for most a day like today probably comes not at all in a lifetime, and yet… this is our second time.

Today is the day we are given to our daughter (she smiles at me now as I type).

Our appointment to see her would not be until 0230. And so, we had to occupy our time as our minds reached towards the appointment. We had breakfast, we toured the hotel, we even took a walk and explored Wal*mart in China.

Finally… we met Simon, our guide, along with the other couple who had survived the 5.5 year wait with us. I think of us as Team Tenacity. We handed over our currency and waited for the exchange. 
We all laughed nervously as he walked away with our cash, joking that this would be the perfect scam… he takes our money, tells us to go check out the playland on the 6th floor, and then he walks out the door. Maybe we will never see him again?

To our relief… Simon indeed comes back, and he has a black leather briefcase now filled with bundles of Chinese Yuan (cold, hard cash). We load up into the van, and we now take the ride that we have dreamed of for years. We were largely silent as we stopped and started through the traffic. I only remember snippets of our conversation… I smiled as Dave, the other father-to-be mentioned the word that had been forefront in my own mind. Surreal.

Kellie turned to me and asked, "Is this real? Are we really finally doing this?"

My mind raced through the events of the past 5 and a half years. I strained to remember what we were doing back in August of 2006. I was humbled by the memories. I am so grateful that God has carried and sometimes kicked my butt through the time between then and now. I am unworthy to ride in this van. I am determined to measure up.

I will be "daddy" again to another young life. I will have another set of eyes watching me, another set of arms reaching to me, another small set of feet following me. I feel the magnitude of this pressing on me. And I am grateful. This child… this future woman who will touch the world… was abandoned to die, premature and without hope… and now, her hope resides with us.

The van stopped at the sidewalk as the uncharacteristically cold wind in this sub-tropic climate blew the sharp rain against my freshly shaved head as we bustled to the doorway. We crammed into the elevator and rode it to our floor. The doors opened and we stepped into the lobby of the Adoption Registry Center of Guandong Province.

I saw her as she was carried through the door at the opposite side of the corridor in the arms of her orphanage director. I recognized her from her photograph. She was older and bigger now… and yet, still tiny. No-one else noticed—there was commotion on the other side of the room… but I was frozen, I simply was unable to speak. I just watched, captivated as she went through the room and then passed into adjacent doorway.

Minutes passed. Emotions were running high. We were in a waiting area full of adopting parents. Everyone was nervous. Many were overwhelmed with emotion… tears were everywhere. When things get tense, time slows for me. I notice every tick of the clock. I see every nuance. I feel oddly at peace. I watched the other fathers as they allowed emotion to overwhelm them… and briefly wondered why I wasn't affected the same way. I contemplated this briefly and then simply shrugged it off. I just am not made that way.

My self-evaluation was abruptly and thankfully ended as our name was announced. Our daughter was being carried to us from across the room. This was the time. Kellie reached for her and took her in her arms. We were complete.

I want to describe this moment for you, but it is still too powerful in my mind. I'm not sure I even breathed. Time slowed… and I just remember watching the faces of my wife and my daughter as their eyes met for the first time. 

Eternity was present in that moment. 

For a few brief seconds… I was immortal. I saw forever, and I lived there. God held me in his gaze, and I knew this moment was everything.

I hold in my hands the translation from Sterling's caregiver. I have read it over and over. It still makes me smile, laugh, and cry. How can she be so perfectly ours? We listened as the nanny comments were read for several of the other children, and most of them were the same. The girl was "healthy, smiled, and likes snacks."

And then, our guide read the translation from Sterling's nanny:

Luo Ying Chen is outgoing. She likes to smile and can walk by herself. She knows words such as mama and jie-jie (sister). She can understand what the nanny says and likes snacks, biscuits, and cotton candy. She has rich facial features. She was spoiled by the nanny. If Nanny wouldn't hold her, she would cry. And without Nanny's eyes looking at her, she would try to climb over the bars of the crib. She is crazy. She is very dangerous. She is a clever, lovely little young girl.
I think I laughed out loud! My daughter is a crazy, dangerous, clever, lovely little girl. Yes… that is right. We are a perfect match. I have never been so thankful for 5 ½ years.

The orphanage director made her way over to us, and said goodbye to Sterling with a hug and a look to us. And then she was out the door. Sterling is in our care as we work to finalize her adoption.

The week still has much to bring to us.

The lights are back on in the city. Goodnight love.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sterling Mei: (13) Origins From a Watchtower

My family is rich with stories of what life was like before I was born. As a child I loved to sit at the feet of my Papaw and Pop and listen to tales of their childhood. Even now as I have children of my own I like to reflect on the lore of our family and tell my kids about what has brought us to this place and made us who we are. With adopted children it is no different. History is important. And since very little is known about the origins of our adopted daughters, it becomes vital that we understand as much as possible about the culture from which they come.

Our agency, Children's Hope International has allowed us the past 24 hours to experience first hand a little of the legacy of the nation of China. We have been able to put feet on the ground of history and take in a bit of the massive scale and scope of the power of this land and the tenacity of a people.

Kel and I layered and bundled up as tightly as we could against the bitter cold that rode on the biting wind that chilled us to the bone in Tiananmen Square. We stood braced against the wind that reddened and chapped our faces as we listened to the stories of military triumph and the unforgivable tragedy of the government massacre of its own people in 1989. Our guide, Lee, explained that the surface of the square had to be dug up and replaced to remove the abundance of blood that was spilled by the guns and tanks. Bullet holes were still visible in the base of the monument in the center of the square.

Later we talked at length about the spirit and simple goodness of the people, and the totalitarian rule of the government on a society that had been feudally based for over 2000 years. So many Americans take for granted the freedoms that our people have fought and died to attain. There is no Bill of Rights in this land. There is order, and there is security… but it comes at an ultimate price.

And yet… as can be seen in the annals of history, no matter how intense or bleak the situation, the human spirit can find beauty. And I must tell you; we have encountered beauty in this culture that leaves us breathless. It is found in the quiet grace of a cup of tea, in the quiet, deliberate carriage of the people, and in the true art of the cuisine. The people of China have created beauty, turning everyday culture into living art. Kellie and I are so honored to share these days among them, and we look forward to telling Sterling of how we were moved by each experience.

We made our way across Tiananmen Square, which we learned has the space for 1 million people in this city of 20 million, and this nation of 1.6 billion. Citizens gather in mandatory celebration of their leadership at least once per year… but the bitter cold of today has left it wide open. We crossed underneath Circle Road #1 and made our way to the Forbidden City. It was amazing to learn of the power and holiness of the Emperors of three separate dynasties that ruled this nation as a something higher than mortal and slightly lower than Gods.

An hour drive from the Forbidden City, we found ourselves at the 3rd wall that protected the Emperor from outside attack… The Great Wall of China that has stood for over 2000 years. The existing wall is the 3rd wall built, the first two being of earth. My spirit was humbled to climb up the wall and view mountains that countless feet have trod and my gaze scanned these surrounding mountains in an endless panorama as I added my sensory experience to the ages. Kellie and I made our way on foot to the highest peak, climbing to the top and then scaling the ancient steps of the highest tower to view the vast mountainscapes that seemed endless in all directions. We could trace the spine of the wall that ran up and down through valley and peaks that extended beyond our view.

Perspective is a powerful thing. I imagined soldiers on watch along the wall, defending their land against marauders, Mongolians, and plundering nomads. As I stood on top of that watchtower that had protected Emperors and a people for thousands of years, my own mind looked back at where I had been, as well as look forward to places that I might go… and could never go.
The realization of both helped me to understand exactly the place I stood. May I never lose the perspective gained at that moment.

Presently I write on board China Southern Airline, Airbus 321, flight CZ3102 as we approach Guangzhou. Tomorrow we will for the first time meet our daughter, Sterling. We cannot see everything from this watchtower… but we know where we have been. We know what has brought us here. We cannot know every possible way that we have yet to go, but we know the place we want to be.

And we make this journey one step at a time. Some day, our children will tell the lore of our experience. And we trust that their story will give them what they need as they each climb to their own watchtowers to learn the perspectives of their own sojourn.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Sterling Mei: (12) Thoughts Over the Arctic

Surreal. We find ourselves 32,000 feet over eastern Siberia between the Patom & Aldan Plateaus. Earlier we flew over the North Pole! Ironically we are passing over Russia where nearly 8 years ago a similar journey landed us on the western end of the country. It all seems familiar to me now. Where perhaps I should feel anxiety, what fills that space is a simple acknowledgment that I am where I supposed to be… and the calm that accompanies that realization.

We slice through the air at 550 m.p.h. as the -70f air visibly splits over the wing in aerosol bursts. We are 9.5 hours into the nearly 14 hour flight. Our day began at 2:00 AM and we are now in our 19th hour. When we land it will be 3:30 PM local time and by the time our heads dent pillows we will have been awake for over 30 hours and covered over 7 thousand miles. Not a bad day.

I absolutely love to fly, the longer the flight the better. We have found a slight rhythm: snack, nap, movie, bathroom… repeat. For whatever reason I am unclear about, once we crossed into Russian airspace, we were forbidden to look out the windows and the shades have been drawn tight. Of course… I am peeking. Incredible snow and ice covered plains with large chasms that seem to run from horizon to horizon stretch as far as I can see. We also passed over a vast snow covered mountain range. The window that afforded my stolen glances has become crisscrossed with spiderweb like ice. I can feel the deathly cold creeping through the wall of the portal and finding my skin.

A simple backpack, the same that has gone on multiple trips through the mountains of Guatemala sits at my feet. Its casual and worn textile is the transport for documents that required over 5 years of our lives to acquire. Some of them are unreplaceable, all of them precious. It also holds two envelopes of currency, and various electronic devices. This backpack is our lifeline. It never leaves my possession.

And yet… this backpack is not our security. It is not what we cling tightest too. It is not what we consider our safety. If it were to be lost with all of its contents, we would still retain the essential components of life.
There is no power in all of the world that can separate us from the love of God. Not governments, not risk, no danger,… nothing. Our God is greater, our God is stronger. And so, we brush aside the human elements and we breath deeply as we pursue this life.

A baby awaits us. She is our daughter. We are going to bring her home.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Sterling Mei: (11) On The Verge of Forever

Life is meant to be chased.

Can I tell you how small I feel? I have dreamed of travel since I was a child. Kellie and I have pursued this moment, this moment... right here... for the past 5 years and 7 months. All I can tell you is that it is impossible to wrap my understanding around the knowledge that this is the time.

I am a last minute packer... always have been. But when I begin throwing items into a suitcase, I know exactly what will fill that case down to the final item. I have it visualized in my mind, and when I select that final item, I feel an immediate sense of completeness... and then I go and pack that bag.

This bag has been difficult to pack. It is because I have visualized it countless times but I have never actualized the vision. And now... it is time. 

We began our surge to this moment last weekend. I spoke at LoveStories, a fundraising event for Catalyst Resources International in Guatemala. We have been running since that moment! Now, I am not complaining... rather, we love the race. 

The timing has simply been astounding. I could never have planned this. My life is like an explosion that has uprooted every part, thrown it high into the air, and I stand in the midst as the pieces slam down around about me... fitting perfectly together, forming a beautiful landscape that I recognize by components, but is altogether foreign and beautiful in its whole.

All I can do is stand here in the midst with tear-stained cheeks and a heart of wonder.

We have two more days of jam-pack-ed-ness in front of us... Kel has a stack of papers to grade, and I have days filled with tight-rope walking with corporate vice-presidents. But we know that at the end of those days... a plane awaits us that we have pursued for years. Our daughter waits for us. We are a family of 5 that is desperate to be united. The pieces continue to fall into place around me.

China is a closed country... we truly have no concept. I can not access my blog due to government restrictions. Likewise there is no Facebook, no Twitter, no Google. And yet... I will do whatever I can to break through the censors. 

We go to pursue our hearts. This is at our core. This is our passion. We are adopted by God as his children. Adoption is love's answer to abuse, poverty, hunger, neglect, abandonment, isolation, and even death. This is at the center of who we are. We do not adopt to accomplish something good, or to help another... no. We adopt because we simply feel pulled and helpless... our belief compels us.

As I have said before, to those of you who pray for us... please do not pray for our safety. We do not want a safe life. We chase a life outside of our comfort zone that will make a difference. If you must pray for us... pray that we listen to God. Pray that we are bold. Pray that we are given a chance to leave an impact on the surface of this world after we have passed.

Wish us Godspeed. And now... off we go.

James 1:27 (for us)

New International Version (NIV)
27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Philippians 4:6-8 (for our family)

New International Version (NIV)
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

GUATEMALA 2012: (4) A Chinchillas Tale

Luis, Brayan, Ana Lucia, Norma
 -August, 2010-
Larry turned to him and said, "Luis, you have heard me tell stories, now why don't you tell me a story?" Luis looked away and paused thoughtfully. He turned his eyes up toward Larry and with a sad expression said, "I do not have any stories to tell."

I remember those first few days in Guatemala with snapshot clarity. I was so far outside of what I knew that I was more than a little stunned. I had no idea what I was doing. I was convinced that I was more of a hinderence than a help. I was sure that every action I took would probably cause someone else more work to correct it. The sunlight seemed to punish me as the sweat ran down my face in a non-stop itch-fest. My boots were heavy with caked earth, my jeans were wet with dampness from laying on my head to tie rebar in the foundation trench. And those fierce little biting ants were constantly in my pants.

If I could have walked away... I may have. Tenacity was being learned by the simple reality that I had no way off of that mountain except by completing that house. And so... I just kept on lifting block. One at a time. Mud it, lay it, level it, correct it, repeat. To my wonder, the walls slowly began to rise. And as our progress became manifest, my spirit began to climb above my own selfish view, and I began to weep as I became aware.

Of all the people at this edge on the mountain, I was the one in need of the most. I had a moment that became the inspiration for one of my first blogs as I sat collapsed in the dirt in the back corner of the site and looked up at the machete-hewn, 3 meter high dirt wall.

It was like a cross section of time... with bits of metal, plastic, refuse, and whatever had been discarded and slowly covered by years of erosion and deposited soil. I pried a toothbrush loose from the wall and I sat there and considered the depressing, wasteful nature of time passing without meaning. And then I considered the incredible contrast with what we were raising right beside it. Concrete walls of purpose... a home for a family. This same space that had occupied the unwanted toothbrush, now was transforming from rejected waste to a cherished space of hope.

And I fell down against the wall and silently wept as I realized my own life had the same capacity... I could be a timeline of waste, or I could be a shelter of hope to my wife and kids. At the end of my time, what would be the remnants in the wall of my days?

Something happened in me that day, and I began to notice the lives that surrounded me on that mountain. So let me now tell you the story of Luis Chinchilla.

Pictured left to right: Larry, Ramero, Luis, Brayan, Roaming Shepherd
There were 5 of us: Larry, Margaret, Callie, Kellie, and me. Between us we spoke a total of nada spanish. Our job foreman, Ramero spoke a total of zero English. Between the two languages stood a single teenager. This house would be his own, along with his little brother, sister, and mother. Luis not only worked alongside us the entire week, but he also translated every sentence of communication between us and Ramero 
And so, we began to learn about Luis... a very small piece of information at a time. At first, he simply listened to us as we took turns telling him stories of our lives, our travels, our families, and answered his questions. When Larry asked him to tell us a story, and he replied that he had no story to tell... it was a sobering moment for us all. 

Much of the remainder of that day was spent in silence as we worked into the evening. We were beginning to feel the toll of manual labor with concrete and cement on our 9-5 office job bodies. By this time gloves were destroyed and fingers bled. We continued to work in silence as we contemplated our physical pain as well as the greater emotional strain of the realities that surrounded us. We realized that we could not possibly make any meaningful difference. We knew that the week would soon end, we would go home, the dust would settle... and the needs here far outweighed any help we could give.

On the drive home that night, our driver and host Edgar... began to open our eyes. He told us the story of Luis.
Luis & his brother, Brayan - the day we started.
Luis' father had abandoned his family. They had nothing left. His father had worked, but his money was never made it home. Addiction and repeated bad choices had robbed him of the man he could have been. The situation had deteriorated to the point that family had to intervene. He had become abusive, nearly ending the lives of his expecting wife and unborn child. He now had another family and left his three children and their mother with nothing but fear, pain, and bad memories. We learned that this is a very typical story of how men behave in the culture.

And so, this young man was left fatherless at this critical time in his life. When he thought about his father, he felt only resentment, anger, and abandonment. Statistically, Luis would be soon repeating this cycle. This poverty is generational. It is endless.
But, this is a story of provision and convergence. And this is a story of beating the odds. Edgar was more than our driver... he was also a part of Catalyst Resources International, an agency committed to breaking this cycle of hopelessness. And... most importantly, Edgar was the uncle of Luis, and Edgar was pouring his own life into Luis. Edgar had stepped into the gap and as we listened to Edgar tell of Luis, we realized that Edgar was teaching Luis how to be a man.

Our team with Luis, Brayan, Ana Lucia, & Norma.
Ramero, Edgar, and Luis completed the house after we left.
That summer was nearly two years ago. Since that time, Luis has worked alongside his uncle as part of Catalyst Resources International. Luis has worked with many groups of Americans who go to Guatemala on short term missions work and he has now helped to build homes for several families. Luis is breaking the generational cycle of poverty and hopelessness. As he works beside his uncle, he now becomes the second generation of rising beyond circumstance and beating the odds.

When I returned the summer of 2011, I was able to see Luis
in his home that bore evidence of the change in his life.

Luis and his brother now had a quiet place to study. His little sister had a safe place to sleep at night. His mother now had a reason to hope that her children would live to be adults. Luis was a very good student even before he had a home, but now he is able to reach his full potential. Early into 2012, Luis learned that he had achieved his dream... he has been accepted to a university in the United States. He is on a full scholarship that includes room, board, and books.

Luis has done what hundreds of thousands of Guatemalan children can not... he has broken the cycle of poverty. He has done this through a perfect collision of his own tenacity, the love of his uncle, the vehicle of Catalyst Resources International, the support of friends, and the provision of God.

Every time I look at the picture of me collapsed in the mud, fighting ants, and having my own personal crisis/breakthrough...

...I realize how amazing it is that I have a small part in this story. Somehow, I was given this incredible opportunity to simply be an inadequate, ill-tempered, perspective-lacking, guy... who was able to lay the foundation on a piece of land, turning it from a dumping ground to a place that is now set apart, and made holy by the God of new beginnings. 

Thank you Luis. You were once a boy without a story. Now you are a man who possesses a story with no equal. You are my inspiration.

The Machete-Hewn Wall

The stone the builders rejected
   has become the cornerstone;
the LORD has done this,
   and it is marvelous in our eyes.
The LORD has done it this very day;
   let us rejoice today and be glad.
 LORD, save us!
   LORD, grant us success!
 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD.
   From the house of the LORD we bless you.[b]
The LORD is God,
   and he has made his light shine on us. 

Psalm 118

New International Version (NIV)

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Sterling Mei: (10) Fear Is A 紙老虎 - Paper Tiger

"The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward."
-Amelia Earhart

Have you ever faced a tiger? I must admit that at this point in my life I have not. But there have been times that I was convinced that I felt the hot breath on on my face. But these tigers, realized and perceived crumpled away with the passage of time. Now don't take me too lightly... there were times when I clenched my eyes and turned my head as the tiger pressed down on my prostrate body, driving my shoulders into the ground with his paws. And yet, I was not consumed. 

You have heard the cliche', and indeed it is true. When you are knocked on your back, your perspective is shifted by force. And suddenly the reality of the flesh tiger that pounced you breathlessly... simply falls apart as the light of truth breaks through it's membranes.

Seeking permission to enter the PRC
We find ourselves, Kellie and I at this point. We are still in disbelief. The impossibilities that once roared in our path have now quietly gone up as dust motes in the light. In less than two weeks, we will hold our daughter.

 -December 2011
When I was a child I had a serial dream that haunted my nights. It had no images... it was just raw sensation and emotion. I always believed that it was the emotions of experiences I had yet to endure. It was as if I could sense a large weight bearing down at me from a distance. I was transfixed in its path... I refused to move. And yet, it was clear that it had the power to destroy me. I felt it draw nearer and nearer as the anxiety built in my mind. And finally, it was too late... it was unavoidable. I knew I was certain to be destroyed.

It was at this point in the dream that I would suddenly be overwhelmed by a feeling of peace. I still believed I would be destroyed, and yet... I was relieved and satisfied. I was ready. I had stood my ground. Let it come.

And then, the threat was suddenly and quietly gone. Perhaps it was simply a paper tiger?

There is something to be said for standing your ground even in the face of what should logically destroy you. Somehow I think we have lost this since the days of Amelia. We far often seem overly concerned for our own comfort, safety, and security... and we do not see what we sacrifice to hold onto these temporary illusions.

To love a child that has been abandoned to die is no sacrifice. It is simply what we believe we have to do. There is more to living than simply clinging to life. There is more to happiness than mere pursuit. 

That moment when my belief reconciles with my behavior... well, for me that is the place where I find that secret stuff of living.

We run to get our little girl. She is a survivor. She is stronger than I can imagine. She was born premature and abandoned to die at the side of a road. And in a few short days... she will be wrapped in our arms, our love, and some pretty cool t-shirts.

Face your tigers. 
I assure you, they are made of paper. 
Life is real.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

GUATEMALA 2012: (3) A Response to "Why"

A significant Moment from our First Trip, 2010

My grandfather, Carmel Mathis was a pastor in the Church of God and my childhood was deeply embedded into the Christian culture and faith. I can remember giving my life to God as a small child in the basement of Camden Church of God at the alter during Super-Church (a Sunday service for children while the adults worshipped in the main sanctuary). However, I can also point to significant moments during my walk as I grew. 

I can point to a night in the hearth-room at Towne Boulevard Church of God when I was a youth that a felt a strong commitment and purpose from God. I have powerful memories of while I was in college at Anderson University as I searched for that purpose that just seemed to elude me. I remember walking in the rain one night, crying out to God as I read scriptures (thoroughly saturating a Bible). And most recently, two years ago on a snowy day in February, I remember pulling my car over alongside the road and weeping when I realized that God was telling me that I had taken my focus off Him and my life needed to change. I knew I needed to be a better father, a better husband, and a better man.

That summer we went for the first time to work with C.R.I. in Guatemala. I came home broken, recognizing the vast poverty that existed in my own soul, and convicted by the power of faith that I had encountered in the people there whose lives intersected with mine. I can point to a moment while building a cinder-block house that God reached into my being and seized my attention. While on my knees in the mud, I can tell you with certainty that God entered my life again at an even deeper level.

This has been a life-long quest for me. At a young age I was told by my grandfather that, “God has a plan for you big boy.” As I grew up in the church, I would hear this message from likely sources such as pastors and mentors, but what really gripped my soul was when I would hear it from unlikely sources. I remember being stopped by a little lady in a nursing home during a youth group trip. She gripped both my hands and looked into my eyes and told me, “I know you, and God has placed a silver platter in your hands. He is gonna use you.” To this day, the fierce memory of that moment makes me tremble.

I think that was the first time I started to believe that maybe God could use me? I have always hoped that he could, but I could never find how. I tried a few times. I volunteered in college with a church as Minister of Music and Youth (alongside my girlfriend who later became my wife). I pursued ministry in the church during my first 2 years of college, but it just wasn’t right. I struggled with the realization that my path was not the path that I believed it to be.

Looking back now, I can see how all the pieces of my experiences have made me who I am today. I see that I have gained skills and knowledge that I could never have learned otherwise. I am now strengthened to see that indeed God knew what plans he had for me, even when I doubted and feared.

Specifically, the moment I felt my calling to be a missionary alongside the Guatemalan people was a very tangible moment the summer of 2010. I had already been to Guatemala  on my first trip. However, even then, I had not fully comprehended... and indeed, I was not fully prepared to receive the vision God was to provide. The full power of the moment happened at the home of a friend, Larry Renner. Larry had been on that trip with us, and served on the board of Catalyst. Larry invited us to his home to meet Fontaine and Paula, the directors of the ministry. They were on furlough when Kellie and I served, and so this was our first opportunity to see them. We were thrilled. Although we didn’t know them, we already loved them because we had seen evidence of their love.

Larry and I conquering a massive root on my first day in Guate 2010.
Larry and I have worked together on 3 separate trips now!
After hearing what Fontaine and Paula had to say about Guatemala, Kellie and I were driving down the road, heading home . I felt powerfully convicted that my life was about to forever change... and dramatically so. But, I was fearful of how in the world could I speak of this to my wife? And so, I took a deep breath and began to tell her of my convictions. I wanted to move to Guatemala and serve alongside them. As I tried to explain myself, Kellie interrupted me, and to my shock, she perfectly articulated the desires of my heart. You see, God had been speaking to her as well. We both found ourselves excited as we realized the incredible confirmation of our vision.

Since that day, we have been working towards reaching our calling. Finally, I realize what God has prepared me for. I understand that He wants to use this vessel. I am humbled, and thankful.

Our Calling~
Our passion is adoption. Our calling is adoption. Our belief is based on adoption. We are all adopted sons and daughters of God. Born of blood, born of water, and made His children by the miracle of His adoption.

Our daughter, Aleksandra...one of our first moments together.
Orekhovo-Zuevo Orphanage, Moscow, Russia 2004
Even as a child, I knew I wanted someday to be able to adopt a child. By the grace of God, I married a woman who had the same desire. Caleb was natural born to us, and then our hearts turned towards adopting our first daughter, Aleksandra. We found her in Russia. She has blessed us immeasurably. Through the relationship with her, we better understood our own relationship with God. And so now we complete our second adoption. Sterling is from China. She was born on January 2nd, 2011 and was abandoned in a hedge at an intersection. She was born premature, and she was born female in a country that values males. And yet, she beat the odds. She was found, saved, and now awaits our arrival in the final week of February.

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

James 1:27

New International Version (NIV)

Adoption continues to drive our passion. 
We plan to live alongside the Greene family in San Cristobal, Guatemala and learn what they do, learn the culture, and learn the language. We will continue to develop so that we can be a help to them and provide them some relief. The girls they provide a home to are forever changed. They are given love, a new family, belief, hope, and a path provided by education and goals. We want to be a part of this miracle, this true religion... and then we want to duplicate that setting as we step out on our own.

It is our belief that the adoption laws will again change in Guatemala. We desire and envision that we are to be a home where girls can come to stay while we find them their forever families. International adoption is our legacy, and we desire to facilitate this so that others can experience this incredible testimony of the redemption of God.

Provision of The God~

Convergence. Provision. Simple words that sum it all up. Bits and pieces of unrelated chaos that have come together in the most remarkable ways. The timing of our adoption, the question of what to do with our home, our work histories and even our education.

Kellie has also always felt a deep calling to teach English as a second language in a foreign nation. In fact, several years ago she received a grant from The Ohio State University to learn how to do just that. At the time, we had no idea of our convergent calling to Guatemala! As part of our transition to the country, Kellie will teach for 1-2 years at one of the local American schools in Guatemala City. 

I will begin full time work with C.R.I. as soon as we transition, the summer of 2013, devoting my time to learning the day to day operations, and immersion in the culture. Kellie’s teaching will help give us a financial base to springboard our goal of setting up an additional location to serve the children of Guatemala. 

James 1:27

New International Version (NIV)
27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
Currently we are speaking to friends, family, and congregations in order to build financial support. We anticipate that it will require about $35,000 per year to support a family of 5 in Guatemala. We now have a funding agent, Commission To Every Nation (CTEN) who will be the storehouse of the donations of those who support us. We have a list of 100 friends & family, as well as a list of 10 churches who we will seek out and ask. 

So, if you share our passion and our belief... stay tuned to my Guatemala 2013 posts and as soon as CTEN is operational, I will share the links for donations!  

For now... your daily prayers that keep eyes on the vision and feet on the path!