Worth it?

The Great Wall. If you have never been there, I am not sure you can imagine the steep terrain and the amount of steps. So many steps. Oddly spaced crumbling rock steps. Each step is worth the effort when you take in the view of the wall winding through the hills as far as you can see.

Visiting the Great Wall was the way our family decided to say goodbye to this season in Asia. After saying good-bye to the city that we had called home for more than 10 years, it seemed fitting that we would say goodbye to China at the Great Wall, one of our favorite spots.

B had never been there before. He was so very excited by our plans. It was a bit intimidating to envision the steep wall and yet to make a plan for our son, B, who is in a wheelchair. We called a travel agent for help, booked tickets to the most accessible part of the wall, and had two sweet friends helping. But still. Wowzers. It took a lot of effort to get our 100 pound teenager who isn’t able to walk on top of that wall.

Oh, the spectacle we created – huffing and puffing as we pushed a wheelchair up the cobblestone street that winds up and around towards the wall. We took turns carrying B on our back. We threw the wheelchair into a cable car while panicking at the thought of throwing our son into a cable car. He bumped up steps. We hung on for dear life as we rolled his chair down one steep incline to face an upward slant moments later. It was exhausting and hard.

I do this thing with our family when I am trying to convince myself that something is going well or is fun – I clench my jaw and smile and say stupid things in a sing song voice like – “peace, joy, and happiness.” The kids love it! (Which really means they think I am crazy as I talk to myself!) If I am being brutally honest, this game I play is really about the cost benefit in my mind.

Our trip to the Great Wall – totally worth all of the effort. You should have seen B’s face as he sat on that wall taking in the history of his heritage. Priceless. It is the kind of moment you look at and think – I would have paid anything for this. I would have put in even more effort to see the look on his face again. When my back was killing me for three days after the trip, I smiled. Worth it. When we handed over the fee to the tour guide, we shrugged and probably would have paid three times the amount. When the benefit is big, hard things seem so much….well, easier.

But there are moments in life when my cost benefit analysis falls short. I am sure you have had those seasons of life too. So much hard for little benefit. And we might add, from a human perspective some hard seasons seem to have no benefit. What do you do when you are climbing up all of those stairs hoping to see the Great Wall, but you never get to the top? You know what I am talking about? You invest in the relationship never to see it renewed. You pray for the wayward child – for years – and they haven’t come home. You fight the disease never to hear the word remission. A loved one dies. A job is lost. It all feels too hard. You are struggling to keep moving forward and your heart is sick with hope.

We personally are in a season that feels really hard. We hit the pause button on our lives in Asia to return to the states so that we could seek better medical treatment for B. We miss our work and home in Asia, we are fighting insurance and not getting clear answers from doctors….I feel like I am pushing a wheelchair up a steep mountain. There are days that I am tempted to give up and say that this isn’t worth it….and if I do my cost analysis half way through the journey, I probably would be right. All of this hard isn’t worth going half way.

When I saw B at the top of the Great Wall – that is when I was willing to have paid more, pushed harder. That short day trip helps me gain perspective. There will be a day when everything is made right. When everything is made whole and all of my tears will be dry. That will be the top of the mountain with a view of God’s throne that I can’t even imagine. I am positive when I reach glory I will think that it was all worth it and I will have a grin on my face that will say it all.

Until that day? Friend, we all have our own seasons of hard. Let’s encouarge each other to persevere keeping our eyes towards heaven.

We packed up our lives….again.

It really takes time for me to sit and count how many times I have packed up for a move over the past 20 years. God has taken us to Ohio, Peru, Michigan, China, Kentucky, Florida, back to Asia – and now we pack again.

Some of these moves were planned and hoped for. Some unexpected. Each of them have grown us in ways that amaze me as I look back on this journey God has taken us on as we seek to serve Him. That gives me faith as we step out again.

One of the things I have packed and unpacked, moving it across oceans and through all of these States – sage green towels. Towels that were given to Bryan and I as wedding gifts by Linda Mullins, a friend at Brice UMC. Funny what you remember. I actually laughed out loud as I looked in the hall closet of our apartment in Asia. I was trying to decide what would go in the suitcases that we would take with us to the States. Those towels have been trusted friends. I must admit they are a bit frayed on the edges now. They didn’t make the cut. It is time for new towels and time to embrace a new season.

B and Little Man both need some medical care that we were unable to get in our city in Asia, so we knew that God was steering us toward an extended time in the States to seek healing.

Bryan has accepted a position as a campus pastor in Michigan. The church is a little over an hour from my family and is a mile from a university. He is excited by this new opportunity and for the chance to love and lead folks in our new community. He also is excited to continue our connection in Asia through our sending organization. He has been asked to travel a couple times a year to help with leadership training and curriculum developement. Equipping the next generation of church leaders in regions of the world that don’t have the resources we do in the west is a constant passion. We are excited to see where both of these ministry opportunities will take us throught this next season.

For me – I kinda feel like that frayed towel. It has been a crazy few years (or maybe it is jetlag talking!) I am looking forward to some time to help our kids get healthy, homeschooling with some extra resources, launching our eldest to university (craziness!) and seeing where God leads from there. Keep posted. I am sure God has some fun things up his sleeve for all of us. We will have stories to share and we would love for you to continue to join us in the journey.

To not belong

We have arrived at our Asian home and recovered from jetlag enough for a celebration to suit our boy who turned 8.

He is all about dinosaurs- so a trip to the small science museum was just the ticket. We are so thankful and blessed to have good friends, who are really like family, to celebrate with. I watched our sons running from one station to the next enjoying each one, and it made me sigh with such deep contentment. As hard as it is to say goodbye to family and the home of my birth – it is also hard to explain fully how good it feels to return to our other home and to embrace our friends and loved ones here. Sometimes, it can make me feel like I have dual banjos playing in my heart. To call two places home. To have so many loved ones I call family. To cry when I leave and cry when I stay.

My kids really amaze me. They seem to embrace both sides of their lives with ease and grace. Moe and Little Man both totally believe they can not speak Chinese – and if they are around Americans or Europeans they don’t. But the Chinese lady that comes to our home every week to hang out with our kids while I teach – well, they have full conversations with her too. She doesn’t speak English. They say thank you in Chinese to the vendor on our street corner and answer the questions from our neighbors. Flipping between the two languages comes so naturally that they are not even aware that they are doing it.

These two worlds that they flip between – they belong and they don’t. I have white kids who have lived most of their formative years in Asia and Asian kids who think white because of their parents and family culture. I could write a whole book about that in itself. But today what I am pondering…how my third culture kids teach me to embrace life and call no where home.

Want to watch my kids squirm….ask them where they are from. They know you would expect them to claim a city in America, maybe one of the rural communities their parents identify with, but I can assure you what flashes into their minds are beds in a small apartment in a city of more than a million people. But is that home? Can we call it home when we have to get a visa to stay and our passport is from a different country? Not really. We are keenly aware that this also is not home.

The more I strive to live life well, to be righteous and to lean into who God has made me, I am learning that “homelessness” should be my goal. I belong no where. It is hard to type those words and even harder to wrap my heart and mind around the truth that God sets out for all believers. We are not of this world. Heaven is home. A place I have never seen and a place I can not comprehend.

I want to let go of the things that tie me down and pull me away from having a heavenly mentality. Desires. Comforts. Culture. Thoughts. Expectations.

I heard a sermon in college by Dr. Kinlaw that still bounces around in my soul. He said, “Your eternity can start now.”

I have been letting that sink in for the past 20 years and yet I still uncover ways that I should lean into it more. I want to embrace my God given gift of eternity…now. I don’t want to belong to this world. I want to live fully in righteousness my heart turned towards heaven. Lord Jesus make it so.

A birthday to remember

I am one of those moms. You know the type. The sappy (let a few tears drip into the frosting as I make cupcakes for my babies who seem to grow a year older behind my back) momma. But this birthday celebration – a few tears did not do it justice. Every time I looked at our new son on his birthday, tears sprang to my eyes.

We have missed 13 birthdays with this boy. 13. Adding emotion to that fact, we have been counting down the days to this 14th birthday. It was the deadline. If we did not have all of his adoption paperwork completed by his birthday, it was a no go. By Chinese law children are unadoptable at their 14th birthday.

We adopted him 10 days before his birthday.

Can I just type that sentence one more time so that you can feel the force of its drama? 10 days before his birthday he got a family. His miracle (and ours) happened 10 days before it was too late. That is worthy of many grateful tears from this momma. Amen?! Call me sappy if you want.

We enjoyed celebrating our new son on his 14th birthday which happened to fall on Chinese New Year’s Eve due to the lunar calendar. We made cupcakes and had gifts, but added making dumplings (traditional Chinese New Year food), staying up till midnight and setting off fireworks. It is a birthday, for many reasons, that we won’t forget.

A few more photos of our dumplings and Chinese New Year celebration….

and a few more words about how our transition is going.

We were preparing for a rough road with a teenager who hasn’t lived with a family. Instead, we are experiencing grace filled days with a delightful young man who is embracing his new life….and our family. We feel incredibly blessed. Maybe it is the honeymoon phase – but we are taking every moment and storing up these sweet memories that will be treasured and will help if harder days come. We would appreciate your continued prayers as we get to know each other and find a new normal for our family. We are starting the Chinese New Year with thankful hearts for all that God has done to make our family and with great hope of all that will come to pass in this year of the dog!

Front row seat to a miracle

Who are we to be a part of this miraculous story?

We are beyond humbled and in absolute awe as we see how God is providing for Benjamin to join our family. What seemed impossible is possible. $20,000 came in to pay for this adoption in two short weeks. It is miraculous and we have a front row seat in watching this miracle unfold! Gifts from family who are being so supportive, friends who aren’t calling us crazy (but blessed!) and even gifts from strangers – God has planted the desire on so many hearts to help this teenager find family.

Thank you. I wish I had more eloquent words, because these two small words in no way can convey the deep gratitude of my heart. Your gifts….they have encouraged us. They are making the way possible. They are placing a boy in a family. One less orphan. They are blessing our family with the treasure of another soul, and they mean the difference between us being able to do this or not. Huge. Thank you.

The paperwork is going at lightning speed and the invoices are rolling in – every need has been met and every deadline crushed. All of our paperwork to adopt Benjamin is being authenticated this week and we hope to have it sent to China next week. (In adoption lingo: our dossier will be sent to the CCCWA and we hope to have a letter of approval soon after.) Everything is on track for our family to grow by one at the beginning of the year. 5 short long weeks.

In between mounds of paperwork and grant writing, we are preparing as much as possible. We swapped bedrooms. The girls are now in the smaller room and the boys are in a room that will hold two sets of bunk beds. (That is a reality I never dreamt for my family!) Little Man feels all grown up in the top bunk with Mo sleeping up under him. I look at the empty space under the other bunk and long for the day to have it filled by the newest Williams. I thought this journey – because it is going so fast – would be easier. The waiting has always been the hardest part for me. This adoption is being expedited – the wait is nothing in comparison, but there is just something about knowing your child is sleeping in an orphanage. I can’t wait for those days to be done.

We would appreciate your continued prayers over this next month. Pray that each step of this adoption is expedited and that we will have Benjamin home by mid-January. Pray for us as we continue to prepare…not just our home but our hearts. A big transition is ahead of us, and we know we will need all the grace and mercy God can provide . Benjamin also is facing unspeakable grief as he leaves one world behind and enters this new one. Pray for his heart – for comfort, healing, and peace.

I hesitate to even write this next part, because you have all been soooo generous, but a few people are still asking how to give and how to help us on this journey. We have been given a matching grant through Brittany’s Hope. They will match dollar to dollar every gift given towards our adoption up to $5,000 which means we will end up with $10,000. 100% of the gifts will go to our adoption as they have generous donors who cover all of their overhead expenses. So if you are still feeling led to financially help us bring Benjamin home, then a gift towards this matching grant would be greatly appreciated. You can give your tax deductible gift here。 You can also share about this opportunity by giving folks this link http://www.brittanyshope.org/seedling/williams With this grant we will be very close to being fully funded. Amazing!

Thanks again for following us on this journey. I hope our next update will be telling you that we have all of our paperwork approved and that we were able to tell Benjamin that he will be joining our family.

Our Big Surprise….5+1=6

IMG_0229If the news we are about to share with you in this post shocks you, well, I can guarantee it shocked us more. We were blown away to receive a phone call from our adoption agency last month.  It was all so surreal that I really couldn’t make sense of the words our social worker was saying.  The agency that oversees all adoption affairs in China had called our adoption agency and asked us to consider adopting a child from the orphanage where I teach.  What?  Our adoption agency went on to explain they have never had anything like this happen before.

A million thoughts rushed through my mind as it tried to register the news.  We don’t qualify to adopt.  Hubby and I had said our family was complete with the five blessings already in our care. Why did they call us?

Wait!  I asked questions rapid fire-trying to gain clarity.  My mind was still trying to register the miraculous open door that was being given to us.  Who do they want us to adopt?  The boy who I have taught and loved for 7 years?   The same boy whose photo has been on our fridge for three years?  The child we have prayed would miraculously have the chance at a family?  The now 13 year old who only has until February to be adopted before, according to Chinese law, he can no longer be eligible for adoption?  That child?  They did his paperwork this summer?  They are asking us to adopt him? Seriously?

I wept.

We prayed.

A second shocking phone call came a couple weeks later.  China surprisingly agreed to grant us the special permission we need to adopt this precious boy, if we were willing for him to join our family.

We sat down with our kids and prayed as a family.  The words of Little Man summed up the feelings of all of our children, “Why wouldn’t we adopt him?  How cool we get to be the chance he has at a family and not to live all his life in that institution.”

Sometimes God uses us to answer our own prayers.

If they had called us and asked us to adopt any other child, we would have said no.  But, it just “happens” that they asked us to adopt the now 13 year old who has been on our hearts for years.  We said yes.  As a family, this is who God has called us to be.  We didn’t go looking to adopt again.  We thought we were done.  God had a different idea.

Who is this child that is changing our plans?  He is “Benjamin.”  Benjamin is super smart and loving.  He likes legos, playing with bouncy balls from his wheelchair, and listening to music.  He is also an absolute ham in my art class, making me and others laugh.  For all these reasons and more, he will thrive in our family.  He will make the most of joining our family and the opportunity for an education.  We have consulted the Western doctors here in our city, and they can help him get the additional medical attention he needs, which has not been possible while living in the orphanage.  To us, he is worth the leap of faith on our part.

We would really appreciate you being a part of his miraculous story.  We have to complete his adoption before his 14th birthday. The adoption process usually takes 11 months.  When you consider both American and Chinese holidays, we are working against a 10 week deadline.

We have about 10 weeks to raise the funds and complete all the paperwork to finalize his adoption.  It is going to be a crazy ride with many miracles needed along the way.

May I be so bold to ask if you might be a part of this journey with us.

Would you consider praying with us that all will be able to be completed in time?  Pray all the paperwork would move smoothly and quickly through the process.  I assure you, this will require miracles.

Would you also consider being part of the financial miracle that will bring “Benjamin” home?  Would you consider giving towards his adoption fund?  If being part of his provision story resonates with you, you can give a tax deductible donation here. We are simply trusting that what is needed will be provided every step of the way. If God is in this, He’ll make a way.

We weren’t looking to adopt again.  We have no idea how the agency that oversees Chinese adoptions knows about us, or why they care if this 13 year old boy is adopted.  It’s a crazy miracle- God has plans.  He moved mountains to make this adoption even a possibility, so we are trusting Him to continue to provide all that is needed to make it happen.  Oh man, is this going to be an amazing God sized story that will bring him Glory.  We feel deeply humbled and blessed to be a part of this story and I know you will be blessed for your part in it too.

How Mo became a US citizen.

We have had a time of it.  What was an easy process for our other two kiddos, getting Mo’s US citizenship has been one hurdle after another.  We were being told that due to recent changes in the process it could take up to 6 months to get his certificate of citizenship.  No big deal unless you need a passport and visa for your child in order to return overseas to your job!  After multiple attempts, much frustration and even with the advice of immigration lawyers, we were beginning to think we would need to give up teaching this semester and stay in the States to get it all figured out.

On  a Monday we were told that there was no way to have an appointment any sooner than 102 days.  On Wednesday of that week, an officer gave us a call and asked us to come for an appointment in 6 days for the much desired certificate.  We were thrilled.  Felt blessed.  Wondered how there was such a change. Of course, we soon found that it was a total God thing.

I sat in the office on Friday presenting all of the documents required listening to the story of our officer who was originally from the Philippines.  He knew first hand about poverty even though he is now living the American dream.  He spent the first several years of his life on the streets until he was taken in to a boarding school run by Americans who loved him, educated him and gave him a chance in life.  The officer told me how Mo’s profile on his application had reminded him of himself 60 years earlier.  “I wanted to help you help this boy like that couple helped me.”

I could hardly keep myself from crying in this man’s office.  I wanted to weep for the relief of finally having the documents we need to return to our Asian home, but snotty sobs threatened to overtake me as I realized how big this story is.  Only God can change a life 60 years ago and still have it paying forward today.  Amazing really.

I makes me pause.  Anyone who knows me even a bit, knows that I am a rubber meets the road type of gal.  If it isn’t working.  Don’t bother.  If I can’t see results then it needs to be changed.  But honestly, sometimes the things we are called to aren’t measurable.  For me, faithful is putting a lot of effort into things that I don’t know what the outcome will be.  That couple who started a school for street kids…their work is helping our work.  I am sure they never thought to put that down as a goal.  They never got to write a newsletter about how their projects would have world wide ripples.  I wish I could call that couple up – let them know how their work continues today – how their lives are impacting many.

This officer didn’t just help us get the papers we need to return to Asia.  His story reminds me not to measure our work based on what I can see.

We have the citizenship paper that we needed.  We were able to rush to Atlanta to get a passport for our guy and mailed it in for his visa which will give us permission to re-enter China as a new American citizen.  The visa….that is another whole God story and we will see how that ends!