Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sterling Mei: (9) Sky Lanterns, Orchids, & Pandas

Cupcakes to die for!
Dreams, Beauty, & Life

We find ourselves tonight sorting through gifts through grateful eyes of mist. Thank you so much to those of you who reached out to us in support. We will need you all as these days move forward, so please continue to hold us close to your heart. Our passion for adoption leads us naturally to these steps we take. You are all amazing... and your generosity absolutely blows us away. Car-seat crew... BOO-YAH!!!!!!! (translation: exclamation of excitement, appreciation, and your general characteristic of you-rockedness).

Kayci & Shawn Roh Working their MAGIC!
Today was a celebration of the addition of our newest daughter, Sterling Mei Shepherd. With final travel arrangements ongoing, a few friends and relatives gathered today after our Sunday church service to blanket us with their love and support. It was an amazing day. Kellie shared with me that she fought back tears all day long. Tonight as we reflected on the day... those tears of thankfulness and humility were free to flow.  

These seemed kind of perfect for this moment.
Kellie and I spent some time with both Caleb & Aleksandra tonight as the day calmed down to bedtime. With our adoption to China, our transition to Guatemala, and all the stuff of earth in between... we know it is vital that we protect the hearts of our children. We are keenly aware that the characters of their soul are being formed by the daily actions we take and words we speak. We want them to see... and to share... and to help shape this journey that we take as family.

The lanterns that hung over the tables at the shower for Sterling now hang from the ceilings of the rooms of Caleb & Aleksandra. They serve as a reminder each day that this family is on a mission for something special. Every decision we make, every word we speak... how we treat each other... it all shapes who we will be as we walk this path. Ultimately, it will greatly determine whether or not we reach our destination.

I am convinced that God will take care of the big things in life, all we have to do is have tiny faith that He will provide. 

That however, is not the hard part.

Here's where it gets critical. We are accountable for our words and actions. How well we listen. How we share our beliefs. How we spend our time during those waiting days. If I am to be a good father and a good husband... then I must live out every day things such as: love, joy, peace, faithfulness, patience, gentleness, and self-control. I must show that I walk by faith. Evidence of my walk will be the legacy I leave behind. 

Kel absolutely squealed as she showed me these treasures!
My mom bought an incredible dress for Sterling. Our life-long friend Connie also gave her an amazing dress. I am so thrilled to see my daughter wear each of them. I look forward to the day... the close day... that she sits (probably square-mouth screaming with a loaded diaper) in my arms and I look into her eyes.  

But you need to know that will I do so knowing... that my accountability is infinitely increased by this blessing that is given to my care. This miracle that I can give to another... this amazing gift that the God of the Universe has given to me.

For you see... we are the same, Sterling & I.

Once we were without hope, and now we have a new beginning.

The most amazing gift we received today.
"Before me, my family had a hole. Now we're whole."
And so... this day gave us Sky Lanterns to float our dreams, orchids to remind us of the beauty that surrounds us, and pandas to remind us that life is precious and our days count!

Thank you everyone. This day has lifted our spirits and strengthened our souls. Love.

Friday, January 20, 2012

GUATEMALA 2012: (1) An Open Letter To God

Pacaya as viewed from the Team House at C.R.I.
You know me and you seek to show me who I am. Patience is a difficult lesson, and faith a constant exertion. Pain can be real, but rather than wallow in pity I can appreciate and be mindful of where I am. I am being pursued by the God who knows me.

I am blown away by the forward sight you have burned into my mind. Your provision, exactly what we need, right when we need it... both strengthens my resolve and tests my belief. As I learn to Philippians 4 my life (...make your requests known to God with thanksgiving...and the peace of God will guard your heart) I see that all that I need is all that you are. I just need to believe and step forward.

Even though coincidence happens often, I continue to be startled to near pants changing shock each time you take pieces of my past and collide them with moments in the present. This rapid convergence of my previously random life takes my typical stoic face on life and streaks it with tears. I am so thankful to be in this place where you can allow me to look back and see the steps that felt so meaningless... and how they were perfectly necessary to move me here.

How is it that so many serendipitous alignments of people are falling into place? How can it be that chance meetings and random choices have captured so many for this moment? An adoption that was to take 3 years, has required nearly 6 years of our lives... and lands us in this moment, right where we need to be. Jobs missed and promotions denied, chances taken, risks measured and spent... forgiveness and grace accepted... hearts broken.  We move like the line of a sundial to be the light for this time. This is no mistake.

There is no other possible action for us except to exist as the beings you have created. You know us and you have shown us who we are. For us, there simply is no other possibility. You have called us. You have chosen us. For us to refuse would be to condemn our souls and die. This is our life. Nothing compares.

Pacaya, on our climb towards the summit
People say they never hear your voice. I used to be one of them. I remember the day that changed. You delivered the same sentence to me... word for word... from 4 different people, all within the same day. It was my third trip to Guatemala. After arriving at Mimi's house I spoke with Sam Glenn and he stopped me still in my tracks with words that took my breath. Later that evening, my uncle Stephen Mathis (standing beside the same bunk that Sam had stood by when he spoke the words) surprised me when he repeated the message. And then, while sitting next to Kayci Roh at Pizza Hut in San Cristobal, Guatemala, Edgar Ramos leaned across the table and scared me breathless as he repeated it yet again. By this time, I was officially freaked. I remember feeling my chest constrict as I began to nearly shake. And finally, as the day was closing I sat beside a small chiminea on the porch of Mimi's House as the moon reflected in the night sky over volcano Pacaya... and as he drew in air and fixed me in his eyes, I knew the words as they echoed in my memory 3x over as Fontaine said, "Chad, if there is anything else that believe you can do, then you should go do it. But, if you feel that God has called you to be a missionary, then come." I heard Your Voice and it sounded like the voice of 4 men. The barriers of time and proximity had no hold on it.

And so... we come.

Even so, still I must take steps that require blind movement. The vision you have given me of a home with green grass and high walls that secures the lives of children you hold in your hands as we find them forever families. I know how it will be. And between me and that day I am aware that mountains stand:
  • Our house must be sold... for less than we paid, and within 6 months. 
  • Two cars must be paid off... one within 6 months, another within 12.
  • Our adoption must be completed and paid. $14k to go!
  • Consumer debts must be paid off.
  • Annual support must be secured from friends, relatives, and churches.
  • A SUV or club cab all wheel drive vehicle must be obtained by donation.
We are dwarfed by these mountains...and yet by faith we know You can move them. We have seen you do more in the way you healed our souls. We have felt greater things in the way you hold our chaos and converge reality. We have heard your voice quiet the noise. And so, we claim these obstacles as gone.

You will make a way where there seems to be no way. You have given this vision to us, and you have made our path straight. You have given us the love and support of Journey Church, our family, and the newest hands and prayers that lift us up, Breiel Boulevard Church. We are amazed and grateful.

This year we begin making our move by introducing our children to the people of Guatemala, by faith we will make new footprints in the Mayan clay as we find the face of God in the faces of children. I look so forward to introducing Caleb to Kevin... and then taking him into Cerro Alto to meet Eveluna, Jason, Marvin, and Ruth & Enoch... and to see the faith of these great people.

Summer 2013. We hear your call. We say to these mountains, you must be moved.

Guard our hearts.  Amen.

<<Pacaya... looking at the active bowl.>>
Click to learn more... 6k feet above sea level!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Tarzaning is a Risky Business (Caleb & the Grapevine)

I just can't figure out WHERE he gets these ideas???

The most amazing part of my life is watching my children grow up and walking beside them. I love seeing them grow older and find their place in life. I love every bump and bruise that forms their character like the plates of the earth forming mountains.

We had such a moment in our house today... and I am so thankful.

Caleb as he gets older, is becoming increasingly more adventuresome. Fears that once held his feet to the earth are now being cast aside as he chases the wonder sparks belief. He grasped the loose end of the vine that hung from the canopy of the forest, took a running leap from the creek bank, lifted his feet and soared through the air. His body pendulumed into the air to a peak, and then began its return swing back to the ground where he pushed off.

He released his grip perhaps too soon, and fell to the ground. Snapping and breaking sounds erupted from overhead. It sounded like the woods were being torn apart with teeth. The vine fell around him... and on him. His left leg was struck just above the knee and the force knocked the air from his lungs.

His chest struggled to draw breath back through his throat and his instincts were to run because the treetops still were falling. And so he rose against the pain and he ran to the top of the hilltop where he collapsed with pain. His leg was injured.

His mamaw looked him over and his papaw carried him out of the woods and delivered him to me.

He was shaken, but brave. A bruise was forming on his leg and when he straightened it to stand, the pain caused him to sharply intake air through clenched teeth. And so, we took a moment to pray.

We prayed acknowledging that God is with us, whether we are well, and even when we are hurt. We prayed asking that his leg be mended, that Caleb be well so that we could continue running on this journey to pursue our visions. But we also trusted God no matter what the outcome. We have no expectations and we deserve nothing. We promised to seek peace in whatever may be.

And so... 200 mg aspirin, leg elevated, ice pack, and rest with a Kindle.

Within an hour, he was walking on the leg. Within two hours we went and met friends for dinner. Within 3 hours, Caleb was able to bowl and score well. The leg still bears witness to the injury, and he is experiencing some pain... but the experience of faith and belief in the presence of God... that has become the significant event of the day.

I hope he never stops swinging on grapevines. I hope he is never too afraid to allow his feet to leave the ground. I hope he always trusts that God will be beside him when he falls.

We can not always control the fall... but we can reach out to the hand of God and know that our outcome is secondary to the relationship. My son grew a little today and I am thankful for this faith... and I am thankful for mamaws, papaws, and grapevines. We live life all in!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Sterling Mei: (8) Gopher Bark Will Get Us There

I walked down the hallway tonight with only the soft iridescence of night-lights and a knowledge of my footsteps in this house. It was after 11:00 and the world seemed snug-tucked asleep. I had just passed the Christmas tree and reflected on our unspoken reluctance to take it down. We all understand that it is our final Christmas in this house.

The Lord told Noah
To build him an arky, arky
The Lord told Noah
To build him an arky, arky
Build it out of gopher barky, barky
Children of the Lord

We brought Aleksandra home from Russia some 7 years ago and we promptly purchased this home we currently own, and then scrambled to sell the one we were in. For three months we made two mortgage payments and then sold just as we ran out of money. Barely.

With a newly adopted baby girl in our arms we packed up everything and moved to an adjoining town. This house was large, near my parents, and exactly what we needed. Sure, it required a great deal of work, but it was structurally sound and in a really nice neighborhood. We invested all that we could... this was the home that we would raise our children from, and most likely retire from. As we painted walls, made repairs, and hung pictures... we did so with care knowing that this home would cover us through the end.

And it has. The end was simply different that we knew. The end in fact, is our biggest beginning.

Ironically, we are only a few weeks away from repeating our history. As soon as we get home, we will have a house on the market that simply must sell. Our folks thought us reckless the first time... and while they are completely supportive, I have to wonder what conversations slip from whispered lips when doors close (and I don't blame them).

We are thrilled to make this transition, and would have it no other way. In fact, we would both tell you that there simply IS no other way. This is our path. 

And the hardest part... is waiting. There is noise in the silence of waiting.

It rained and it poured
For forty long daysie, daysies
It rained and it poured
For forty long daysie, daysies
Nearly drove those animals crazy, crazies,
Children of the Lord

It took Noah a great deal longer than 5 1/2 years to build an ark, but I would love to have a discussion with him and ask him how long those final 40 days seemed. Once the door was sealed, the animals were on board, he was committed, and he was just waiting for that first sign of dry land.

I bet those 40 days felt like an eternity.

I can imagine that he walked the gopher-laminate flooring of his hallways at night as his mind replayed all the scenes that had brought him to this point. I can hear the words of his prayers as he stretched out flat and prayed privately to God. He knew it was worth it. He knew that this was the only way to get through, and he knew that the cargo he carried was beyond all wealth and sacrifice.

Kel and I have about 6 weeks to wait before we can make that 13 hour flight... we have 40 days. It nearly drives this animal crazies crazies. And yet, when I allow my pace to slow a bit, I see clearly that I am fully at peace. There is a gently rocking to this floating arc and I am reminded that we are cradled in arms that are big enough.

And so... until then: the house is cleaned, rooms are cleared out, belongings are sorted for donation and sale, there is a closet full of tiny pink clothes, a drawer full of fuzzy onsies, a high-chair at the dining table, bottles waiting at the kitchen sink, and a crib ready to receive its third little Shepherd.

40 days. I can hear the music already... float arky float! Here we come.

Rise and shine
And give God the glory, glory
Rise and shine
And give God the glory, glory
Rise and shine
And give God the glory, glory
Children of the Lord

Monday, January 2, 2012

Why Is His Suffering More Tangible Than His Resurrection?

It is the cross that hangs in our churches... and not the ascending Christ. And yet... I also see that it is the empty cross. He is no longer hanging there.

I have looked deeply into the eyes of those who proclaim that suffering is a declaration of worthiness. And I have heard the words of Francis Chan who describes how we can look into the eyes of Jesus while we suffer for his sake... no-one suffered like he did as the sins of the world pierced his brow as the nails slowly ripped the flesh of his hands as his chest struggled to rise. The suffering catch his vision as his truth fought clarity from his suffering. How we fear pain. And how he embraced it on our behalf.

Temporary suffering in a temporal sphere. Where is our perspective in this place? How can my gratification equate this eternal significance? Security in this world versus the belief of my eternal perspective? How are we so deceived to think that we can accept this comfort and yet still secure our inheritance as the world burns? I have seen children with bloated bellies climb trees and knock fruit from the heights just so they could taste a few drops of nourishment that I could swallow as a bitter pill.

Who am I... that was simply born among provision? What I have done to deserve a sip of water? My resources are not a blessing... they are simple test of my faith and nothing more. I have means... what will I do with them?

"Judge not..." oh, do not deceive yourself... we all judge, and we will be judged accordingly. Not by our mistakes... no. We will be judged by the actions that we either took... or the times we chose to do nothing.

I am convinced... the balance of my soul rests not upon my mistakes... God's grace covers my sin.  Rather, the eternal condition and residence of my soul is determined entirely of how I responded to the needs that my eyes acknowledged.

And so... why is His suffering more tangible than his resurrection?

I suppose it is simply that my soul was created to perceive these needs... and I am judged according to my response.