Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Fear Factor


Do you remember the show, Fear Factor, from about fifteen years ago? It was a reality show of challenges, hosted by Joe Rogan, that marched contestants into their greatest fears that ranged from diving off a building, to lying in a bed of snakes, to eating something incredibly disgusting like bugs.

The adoption process has a fear factor, too. The challenges obviously look a little different:

“How can we ever afford this?”
“Is it possible for us to love this child who doesn’t share our DNA?”
“Will we ruin our other kids by adopting?”

These fears are real and present factors.

One of our fear factors became special needs, and each one of our adoptions has been almost like climbing a ladder of "I could nevers" to overcome that paralyzing word—FEAR.

“I could never parent a child with special needs.”
“I could never adopt a child with a serious heart condition.”
“I could never adopt an older child.”
“I could never parent a child with cognitive delays.”

I'm ashamed to admit that these were all thoughts that, at some point, belonged to me. As much as I hate it, I owned them all. One by one, we climbed another rung and faced those fears head-on. Those were all limitations that I put on myself, and God's plans were obviously so much better than mine.

I stand amazed, as I reflect on each one, how God has used every one of our adoptions as a gateway—a gateway to a more open heart. He knew there was so much more in me. We now live with all of these "I could nevers" in our home, and in our hearts.

You see, alone—I couldn't. But with faith—we could.  

God is the source of our strength. God is the source of our courage to say yes to all of the fears and doubts and "I could nevers" that could have stopped us from embracing the biggest blessings of our lives...all five of them. We simply needed to listen, to trust, and to be obedient. Is it always easy? Nope. I would be lying if I said it was. There are days that I literally scrape for grace. But then, there are days when I look at our beautiful crew and the very thought that we could have missed this brings tears to my eyes.

The thing is,

when you walk through that fire—
when you leap over that edge—
when you conquer that fear factor

the reward you receive is far greater than anything you could ever imagine or dream of.   

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
Isaiah 41:10

Sunday, October 1, 2017

When God Calls a Meeting... show up. 

I'm still trying to fully process the other day, in awe of how it all unfolded.

It's no secret that one of my passions is advocating for orphans. So, when our recent Hearts of Hope event was coming on the horizon, I was excited about making a connection with someone in our community who has some local celebrity status of sorts--a person who knows the "ins and outs" of media communications and has vast experience with those types of outlets. It was a simple "you two have to meet" left as a comment by a dear mutual friend when I wrote a post seeking a little help with artistic design.  And then a friendship, in a Facebook kind of way, was formed. 

A couple of days later, I received an automated email invitation from his office to accept an appointment ten days later. I accepted. He ended up bringing his son to our event, which was so nice, and we talked a bit. It was then that, in our conversation, he mentioned that he and his wife had just adopted a little girl. Of course, I could almost feel my eyes brighten 200% as we were speaking my favorite language now.

As the days rolled by, I became less and less aware of why I needed to go to that appointment and debated with the idea of cancelling. But something always distracted me, and something always kept that appointment on the books.

By Wednesday morning, I told Jimmy that I didn't even know why I was going, but--since I had committed to someone else's time--I would follow through. I pulled up to the studio and walked upstairs, greeted by a group of happy, smiling faces. I met Ryan, the person I was there to see, and he walked me over to their meeting/conference room. We sat down and I immediately confessed my non-purpose for being there--that I really didn't know why I came but figured it would be good to know all about the services their studio offered. And then, I pulled out a copy of With an Open Heart that I'd brought along and presented it as a gift. The conversation of adoption was opened, and I was able to share our story and the deep meaning behind Open Hearts for Orphans, the ministry created in memory, and honor, of our son.  

He suddenly pushed his laptop aside and opened up a whole new world of conversation as he revealed that he has been planning, in his mind, an event--specifically an adoption event to share stories of encouragement in hope of attracting more families to adoption. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? I was overwhelmed with gratitude to be in that space at that moment and thankful for the opportunity--always--to share our testimony. We brainstormed and shared resources, we planned and imagined, all exciting stuff. The date's closing in soon, but this amazing man is dedicated to absorbing all of the expenses for the event and for taking charge of the marketing and promotion with his strong influence.  All I need to do is show up.

I shook my head in disbelief, and as we ended the meeting, I shrugged my shoulders and said to him, "Who called this meeting? Did you? Did I??" And neither one of us could answer. He had no earthly idea why I was supposed to be there.

It was then that I knew exactly who called that meeting. He's there in all the details. I'm thankful I accepted the invitation.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Hearts of Hope

She called me on May 11th--the seventh anniversary of Daniel's open-heart surgery.

"Auntie Lisa?" she starts, "I have to do a personal project for my school, and I've been thinking that I want to do a fundraiser for charity. I want to do it for your charity. Can you tell me more about it?" 

Carmelina had absolutely no idea of this life-changing anniversary, or the weight that I carried in my heart that day. It could have only been a beautiful sign of hope from the Holy Spirit--a whispering as only He could give and that I so needed to hear. I burst into tears as I explained to her the meaning behind that day. We talked for a while as we narrowed down a more specific area for her project. I sent a message to a friend--another adoptive Mama--who knows the needs more precisely than I. A path was set into place, and the Hearts of Hope Event 2017 was born to benefit Open Hearts for Orphans, the charity formed in memory of our son.

This mere fifteen-year-old has been called to help heal hearts. She knew our Daniel and loved him, too. Her own mother endured two open-heart surgeries as a child, born with the same congenital heart defect as our son. This project is so filled with beauty and redemption. As a once-orphaned child herself, Carmelina recognizes the need and compassionately cares for those who are left behind. I'm not sure there are many children her age who even know about the orphan crisis. 

Many orphaned children have serious health issues and are not able to get the treatment they so desperately need. Carmelina's research tells us that Chinese authorities estimate that 98% of abandoned children have disabilities today, and the need for help is growing exponentially. The orphanages lack the funding and resources to provide the care that every child deserves. We don't often think of what happens to the children who are never adopted and forced to live on their own when they age out of the Chinese orphanage system at fourteen years of age.

Carmelina's goal is to put a pulse oximeter into every orphanage in China. This device measures how much oxygen is in the blood. Low oxygen saturation in blood can harm vital tissues and can be life threatening. Here in America, the use of pulse oximeters has become routine for diagnosing complex medical issues. But for children in orphanages? The simple, life-saving device is just--sadly--not available to them.

Through sponsorships, event tickets, and silent auction items, Carmelina hopes to raise at least $7,000 to accomplish her important goal.  Can we all rally to help her get there? She says she's "extremely proud to be a part of something that helps others and that is so personal to her and the people in her life."  Well, precious child, we are extremely proud of you and the example you are setting for others. 

Thank you for being love. And thank you for being a voice for the voiceless.

You can find all the details of the event, including sponsorship information at this link. Donations are welcome and appreciated. Thank you for spreading the word and supporting her work. And please--pray for Carmelina and for the success of her mission. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017


If I close my eyes and go back in time, I can still remember that day so vividly I can feel it. Jimmy and I nervously paced the confines of our hotel room, my father-in-law by our sides. We were anxiously awaiting the call from our guide that he had finally arrived.

When the phone rang--seemed like an eternity--and the words we waited for were a reality, we quickly gathered our things and headed to the elevator. We made our way up to a conference room on another floor and there he was. Daniel. The two-year-old baby whom we'd completely fallen in love with over the months we'd waited and prepared for him. He was right there in front of us. 

He was handed to me, and I could immediately see he was scared. Tears welled up in his eyes but he was so brave. I knew that he needed to feel my unconditional love, and as I held him and patted his chest, his crying stopped within a minute or two. I felt the Mama Bear rise up within me when I made that harsh realization that he was ill. His pained, watery eyes and bright red, flushed cheeks revealed it; my lips meeting his burning forehead confirmed it. The Orphanage Director suggested that he see a pediatrician when we returned to the U.S. Did she not realize that our son was a medically-fragile child? Could she not see that he needed immediate attention, especially knowing he had a broken heart? It gave us a stark, new up-close-and-personal picture of the situation across the world. Orphanages do not always have the resources to care for those left behind. And the poor health of these children does not always make them a priority in a situation where there are too many of them to count. They did their best though, and I thanked God my son was finally in my arms that had ached to hold him for so long.

As I asked questions about Daniel and found out how long he'd been sick, my mind was already thinking ahead to getting pain relievers and antibiotics into his body as soon as humanly possible. I earned his trust with a container of Cheerios, placing them nonchalantly into my hand and slipping them into his mouth until he finally felt comfortable enough to retrieve them from my hand himself.

I remember the "war" we fought (shared in Chapter Five) with his multiple layers of clothing, trying to cool him down by removing some of them but, at the same time, carefully honoring his attachment to the only items in the whole world that belonged to him. It seemed like forever in that conference room, waiting for my motherly instincts to tell me that he was ready to separate from those he was familiar with and enter a whole new world with those he wasn't. But in my heart, I know he knew. In that short time, Daniel knew that I was fighting for him.

That night in our hotel room, we began to gain his trust as we soaked in those first hours with him and slowly nursed him back to health. His layers of fear and uncertainty were gently pulled back, one by one. And though my soul longs to hold our angel again on this side of Heaven, I stand firm with belief that Jesus holds Daniel in his arms now. And that fills me with all kinds of peace and hope today as I sit wearing the very same shirt I wore when I first held our boy. What a treasured anniversary.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Little did we know

Seven years ago, on this very day, we boarded a plane for China.

Little did we know...

Little did we know how fuzzy your little head would be, or that you had the most beautiful dimples, or that you had the sweetest voice ever.

Little did we know how brave you would be.

Little did we know what a wise old soul you were.

Little did we know how saying yes to you would change us forever, in ways that we never imagined.

Little did we know just how much joy you would give to our family.

Little did we know how much our faith had been--and would be--strengthened beyond measure by loving you and bringing you home.

Little did we know how you would rally our community in prayer and bring countless people to their knees.

Little did we know that one million or more tears would fall from our eyes, and that human hands wouldn't heal your broken heart, but Jesus would.

Little did we know how you would open our hearts so fiercely for the orphan, and that three more children would come home after you.

Little did we know what a blessing you would be, more than we could ever possibly dream of, son.

But God knew. He knew every hair on your head and He knew that you were worth the risk. Because love is always worth the risk.

I thank God we boarded that plane seven years ago.

Little did we know.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Unwrapping the Gift

Something felt different to me this Advent season and I couldn't pinpoint exactly what was missing. And then, as I searched my heart, I realized that many of our Advent seasons have not only been surrounded in our joyful expectation of Jesus' birth, but also in the joyful hope of waiting for our own "child births" through the gift of adoption. This is the first year of many that we were not--in one way or another--in the midst of adopting a child. 

There's something about the adoption process that puts your heart--your mind--into that same space--joyfully, hopefully, expectantly waiting for the arrival of something amazing--something that will change your very being and turn you upside down in a God way. Much like waiting for Jesus. It's a journey that feels uncomfortable and harder than almost anything at times, but in the end you walk out a different person, and your faith is galvanized. It's like this great, big gift that's unwrapped through the process. While I do acknowledge that our nest feels perfectly full right now with four little souls {five including our angel} whom I love with all my heart, I can honestly say that I miss unwrapping the gift. 

As I reflect upon our tremendous list of blessings {especially the fact that our five precious children have come home} and thank God for each of them, my gaze shifts focus to the future. Lord, how will I fill that space for the least of these this year and next without adoption? And I realize that the Holy Spirit's already set those wheels in motion. For, in 2016, our charitable ministry called Open Hearts for Orphans was born, and many little lives have already been blessed. That, friends, is where my energy for the orphan will be genuinely harnessed for now. Until we are called back for more, this is where and how we'll be unwrapping the gift.

Can't wait to see where God leads. Join me?

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Breaking Light

Social media makes the world so much smaller, doesn't it? Just recently, I posted a comment in response to a Facebook post that Ann Voskamp had written about ministry. It said, "The size of your ministry isn't proof of the success of your ministry."

It resonated with me so deeply having dedicated so much energy to our labor of love in Daniel's memory over these past few years. And I had just written out our $50 donation for the new cardiac care center, called Dew Drops, for abandoned and medically fragile children. Our donation seemed small. But God...

A day later, I was contacted by a woman from the Netherlands who had seen my comment and wanted to inquire about our said ministry. Turns out, Anna and her friend, Wendy, have spent the summer writing a poignant and inspirational series of posts called Breaking Light on their faith-filled blogs called Joy of the Spirit Within and Widow's Manna. With their ministry of sharing, they hope to "open doors and expose the amazing light God shines from those who know pain and adversity and heartache."

Next thing you know, we were working on an interview together. The questions challenged me, and at times I felt a loss for words, but then I watched Anna and Wendy bring my words to life! And I realized how the Holy Spirit had worked within me-within us-as a team. Here are some fine examples of their inspirational creativity, and if you feel inclined to read the whole interview, you can get it here. If my words make an impact on just one, it would be a wonderful blessing to me. All Glory to God. I'm so thankful for these Spirit-led connections that allow us to break light!

{If you'd like to read more about Anna Smit and her book, Love Embraced, find it here.}