Monday, January 30, 2012

Gloriously Mad!!!

So, what in the world kind of title for a blog post is "Gloriously Mad"?   Well, let me tell you.  It goes way back to my reluctancy to become an adoptive parent.  I think I've mentioned before that I came up with every excuse not to adopt.  I used financial arguments.  I used space in our home arguments.  I used the busy-ness of life arguments.  Whatever it was, I had a reason why it wasn't going to work for our family.  Now, in May of last year we made the decision to begin the process.  But even after that, I was having a hard time wrapping my mind around the whole picture.  Michelle began to show me some pictures of children that were available to adopt.  Through looking at the pictures, it made the process more real but they were still just pictures.  It was moving to see the need, but it was not personal.
So on October 1st, I attended a conference with Michelle in Indianapolis put on by our agency.  Michelle had attended the day before and she was pretty excited.  I went in with cautious optimism.  Optimistic because I knew this was the process that God had called us to...but cautious because it was still hard to just "put myself out there" and be totally vulnerable.  Vulnerable to the needs...vulnerable to my heart...vulnerable to God's will.  I know now that there is more comfort in being in God's will than one could ever know, but at the time the control-freak in me did not want to give up my handle on the situation.  (Ha, some handle.  I was clueless, was a basket-case emotionally, and would argue both sides of a topic which just added to my own confusion).   During this conference, we met Carolyn Twietmeyer.  Carolyn is the founder and director of Project Hopeful, an organization with a mission to educate, encourage, and enable families and individuals to advocate for and adopt children with HIV/AIDS.  I had the privilege of speaking with her husband, Kiel for a while.  What a man with a heart and passion for God.  He brought out the passion in me as well.  Carolyn shared their experience with the group during lunch.  They are a family of 16 with 7 biological children and 7 adopted children.  I'm fairly certain that if you looked in the dictionary under the term "passion for adoption", you would see a picture of Carolyn.  Their story is very inspiring and moving.  I truly believe that God was at this conference.  And I'm not sure, but I think He was looking for me there.  Remember the pictures of the children I was talking about?  You know, the ones that were just "pictures"?  I looked at them again, and I began to wonder if any of them could be our child.  Hmmm, it was starting to get personal.
     The conference was a wonderful teaching tool for adoptive parents, prospective adoptive parents, or anyone that was just intrigued by the idea.  There were many classes to attend with key speakers that had vast knowledge of the given subject.   In one of those classes we met Amy Moore.  Amy works for the agency that we are using but Michelle and I had not yet had the opportunity to meet her.   She is an adoptive parent and had shared her own struggles with the idea, the process, the transition and so on.  But she would not change a thing.  In fact, it was through her adoption that God pointed out to her a passion that I gathered she did not realize that she had.  People would ask her, "why would you want to adopt a child internationally"?  She tried to give answers that people would understand.  She tried to "reason" with people that quite honestly might not have been able to be reasoned with.  She gave statistics and facts and thoughts and feelings and then, after being asked the question again she, gave her best answer...."Why Not!!!!"
     Why not?   Why not adopt?  God, why don't people adopt?  Why not us?  Why not you?   Suddenly, with two little words I started looking at the whole thing differently.  Scripture started flowing through my head.  James 1:27 "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this:  to look after orphans and widows in their distress".    Isaiah 1:17 "Learn to do good.  Seek justice. Help the oppressed.  Defend the cause of orphans.  Fight for the rights of widows".  Matthew 18:5 "and anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf is welcoming me".    These aren't cute little sayings.  They aren't even flippant suggestions.  These are commands from God in His Holy Word.  
     Suddenly, every one of my excuses for why we couldn't do it were destroyed.  We don't have the finances to adopt.  WHY NOT?  Because we want our 500 cable channels more than a child needs a home?   Because my high-speed internet and my smart phone bill and my car payment and my gym membership are all more important to me than a human life?
     We don't have the room for another child in our house.  WHY NOT?  Because the clothes that our kids have now won't all cram into a smaller space while children around the world are lucky to have the clothes on their backs, let alone a different shirt to change into?   Because it would be a little crowded for one of our kids to share a room while in Africa a family of 14 shares a one room hut for living, dining, and sleeping? 
     We don't have time in our lives for another child.   WHY NOT?  Because we are so selfish with our biological children that we would rather pursue whole-heartedly their material wants rather than to show them what a Godly love for mankind looks like?  I have to admit, this last one has been hard.  I love my children and want to give them everything.  But I'm learning that "giving them everything" is starting to look more and more like "giving" them nothing and instead just loving them, sharing the needs of the world, talking about their relationship with Jesus Christ.  Yes, those two words hit my ears and God said, "Aha.  That's it".  (As if He was shocked.. HA!)  He knew why He had me there.  Suddenly I felt embarrassed for all of my past excuses.  Suddenly, my head finally caught up with my heart.  Instead of thinking "logically", I began thinking with compassion.  I allowed myself to fully feel what I had been supressing for so long.  All of the emotion that I had kept bottled up was pouring out.  And I was mad.   Gloriously mad.  No more excuses because they couldn't hold water any longer.  It made me mad.  No more reasons to be able to keep my emotions in check.  It made me mad.    No more being sentimental about the plight of the orphan but never being personal about the plight of OUR orphan.  Oh, I was mad.  Gloriously mad.  God had opened my eyes to all of my past....yuck.   And I was done with it.  "Honey, we need to go over their and get our child.  Whatever we need to do, rush the paperwork, call somebody, whatever.  Our child is there."  Suddenly the urgency set in. 
   Today, instead of spending my time worrying about bills, or time, or deadlines...I find myself thinking about our child.  And about other children.   Worldwide.  There is an epidemic out there.  I had always thought that once we get our child home we would just be a "normal" family raising three young children instead of two.  We'll adapt.  We'll blend in.  Things will get back to normal.   I no longer feel that way, because I know that as long as there are children in the world that need a forever family that Michelle and I will not be able to be complacent.   We will work diligently to follow God's call on our lives to educate and bring awareness to this problem!  Will we spread the word to others and share our experiences and passions so that more children might find their forever families?...Why not?    Will we adopt again ourselves?...Who knows, but why not?
   So I guess that just leaves one last question.......What's your "Why Not?" 

Monday, January 16, 2012

A New Way of Thinking?

Something has struck me, recently, about the way that we look at things.  Let's take for instance the Israelites as they fled from Egypt.  After a while, they began to complain and there was murmuring that they wished they could just go back to Egypt because at least there they had food and shelter and they knew what they could expect.  As we, today, read these passages I am assuming we take one of a couple different stances on the subject.  We either feel sorry for them for not realizing the promise that was set before them, or we think of them as ridiculous for just not getting it.  Their restlessness and disobedience just kept getting them into more trouble.  All because they couldn't just be patient and wait on the Lord.  But as I've pondered that, I realize that both reactions that we might have are based on the fact that we have the benefit of knowing the outcome.  We don't have to have faith about leaving Egypt because we can simply turn a few pages and read how Joshua escorted them into the promised land.  It's easy for us to be judgemental when we know the outcome and we see others "just not getting it." 
     This has been on my mind this week because I've been looking at things a little backwards.  I've been looking at them from my point of view.  In the world of adoption, we often use the phrase "It's not about you."   I believe that with all of my heart, and yet I have found it at times to be difficult to actually incorporate that thinking into the process.  Our family and friends help us to get the word out by saying, "come to our fundraiser to help raise money for the Stewart family."   We sit in small groups and here our supportive friends saying, "how can we pray for you guys in your process?  it must be so hard on you while you're waiting."  Even I catch myself thinking as I prepare support letters; "this is the hardest part of the process.  I hate asking people to send me money."  Wow, did I really just say that?  Send ME money?  That thought really crosses my mind?  Like I have the nerve to believe that I am just a nice enough guy that people will knock on my door and say, "Hello.  I know you don't know me and I don't have a clue who you are but you just seem like a good guy that could use a dollar.  Here you go."   The nerve of me!!!!
     Now, to all of our friends and family, please don't get us wrong because we love....LOVE...all of the support and prayers and everything that we get from you.  And we know that the motive is just.  The problem is that the focus is all wrong.  Our focus is wrong and we have led you to the point where your focus is wrong and for that I am sorry.  Let's change our thought process to statements such as "come to our fundraiser to raise money for the orphans of the world and to bring them home to a forever family.  We'll start with bringing one home and not give up as long as there are children needing homes."   Or maybe, "Where are you guys at in the process?  How can we be praying for this precious child until he is home in your arms?"  Or the change in my own thought process to, "I really don't like to ask for money for myself, but I pray that you will all understand that this is for a child that needs and deserves a forever family to love him and be there for him as he grows."   Because it's really not about us.  And it's not about you either.  I would love for all of you to support us and I truly believe that you will be blessed by taking part in the process.  But if you want to do it so that you can go to your inner circle and stand on a soap box saying, "guess what I did?  I gave money to bring home an orphan.  I was a part of their story.  I did this.  I did that.  I, I, I...."   If that's your motivation then I politely ask you to stop.  Stop pretending that God doesn't know what you're up to.  Stop pretending to yourself that you're holy for doing such a wonderful thing.  Heck, stop reading this blog if that is the only motivation that you have to be a part of an adoption -- some sort of pompous, self-assuring pat on the back.  Forgive me for being forward, but I know all of these mindsets because I've been there.  I've had to tell myself, "don't be so outspoken to let everyone know about this GREAT thing that you're doing."  "Don't play the martyr and tell everyone how expensive it is."   That's a good one, by the way.  I've even caught myself saying things such as, "oh it's hard.  And I still don't know how we're going to do it, but God will provide in His timing."   Nothing wrong with saying that, right?  Well, there is if your motivation is to let everyone know how poor and pitiful you are and how desperate you are for their help.  Pitiful?  Well, yes.  Just plain pitiful 
    I know I'm being quite vulnerable in sharing this, but I'm doing so to let you know that God has brought me to a new place of understanding.  A better place.  Let's go back to the story of the Israelites.  Think for a moment how hard it must have been.  How hard to trust and have faith while eating manna day after day after day.  How hard to be told that the promised land awaits while still waiting in the desert year after year after year.  I can see how it would be possible to believe that they had made a tactical error and that three meals and a roof over their heads in Egypt didn't look all that bad to them anymore.  Well, I'm thinking about our child that will be coming home to us and I wonder some things.  I wonder if they'll feel they will be leaving everything they've ever known.  Their home.  Their bed.  Their language.  Their foods.  Their customs.   What fears will they have about coming to a land where they don't know the people.  They don't speak the language.  They don't know how to tell the dog to stay down or how to say that their tummy is upset.  They may cry at night and not be able to explain exactly why.  It breaks my heart to know that there are so many children needing homes and it bothers me to think that, once adopted,  they'll be leaving the only home they have known up 'til now.    But God really did have the best interests planned for His people.  And just like the Israelites going to the promised land, this child will have the promise of a forever family.  A father and mother and siblings that will always be there.  And more importantly, he will meet the One that brought him into being in the first place.  What he'll do with that meeting will not be in our control, but you can be sure that we will arrange the conference.  Yes.  Shame on me for thinking at any time in this process that it is even remotely about me.  SHAME ON ME!!!
   So now that we've gotten that out of the way, where to do go?  It's really quite simple...we go to God's word.  Not to use scripture as leverage to make others feel bad about themselves.  Not so we can stand on the street corner and boast of the verses that we have memorized.  We go to God's word to dig deeply into His thoughts, dig deeply into His commands....just dig deeply into Him.   Michelle and I did not come to this process haphazardly.  We prayed over it and we followed God's lead.  I pray that many of you will follow us in support of these children.  Whether you support our adoption or someone else's adoption or if you adopt a child yourself really is not the point.  The point is that God calls us to get involved and to care for these little ones.  I truly believe that God has blessings to bestow on us for following Him when He calls.  In our instance, He has called us to adopt.  Will my blessing be having an organization call and say they want to fund our entire adoption?   I certainly hope not.  Because if our blessing in this process were to halt at the very beginning and to have anything to do with monetary values then we just aren't getting it.  The blessings will come in the little things like seeing our child chase after a butterfly in the front yard.  Or hearing giggles in the bedroom when they are supposed to be asleep.  Or hearing the belly laughs as the kids all sit around and tell stories about how ridiculous daddy can be.  Or hear the clapping and cheering as they score a basket, or hit a homerun, or play in the school band, or bring home a good report card, or graduate high school, or find a soul mate to share their life with, or bring their own child...a new Stewart...into this world.  No, the blessings don't stop at the adoption process.  That is merely the beginning.  Just like this lifetime is merely a beginning once we give our lives to Jesus.  At that point, even the next 80 years are just the beginning. 
  So shame on me for having the nerve to think that this process is about me.  And shame on me for having the nerve to think that this process is about adoption.  It's not.  It's about people; God's people.  It's about children.  It's about love.  Or as my 8 year old daughter likes to say, "It's all about Jesus and God." 
     So what does God's word say for just such an occasion?  Michelle has shared a version of a verse that I can't get out of my mind.  "...once our eyes are opened, we cannot pretend we don't know what to do.  God, who weighs our hearts and keeps our souls, knows that we know, and holds us responsible to act."  Prov 24:12.
     He holds us responsible.  Responsible to act on what we see and know to be right in the eyes of our Lord.  Responsible to act with a right motive, one that puts these children first...and last...and always.  Responsible to act for absolutley no selfish gains and for no promises of prosperity other than the blessings of following God's matter what that is.
    I was listening to a song today.  "If you can use anything Lord, you can use me...Take my hands Lord, and my feet.  Take my heart Lord, speak through me.  If you can use anything Lord, you can use me."  I'm here Lord.  Use me.  Won't those of you reading join me?  Follow the Lord in what He is calling you to do.  Don't pretend that you don't know.   Receive your blessings, the blessings of life.   The blessings of A life; that of a child. 

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Exciting Update

As we've mentioned, the process of adopting a child internationally can be a rather expensive ordeal.  It has nothing to do with the actual child and the orphanage where they are located.  You do not pay funds to be allowed to take a child home or to "pay off" anyone or anything like that.  That has been an interesting misconception that I've heard when questions have been asked about this.  But there are two different governments to deal with that have a lot of paperwork to process.  There is a US run agency that has done extensive work in preparing the way for families like ours.  Oh my, I cannot imagine what the process would be like if we were going about it alone and if no other families had come before us to pave the way.  There is also an agency in the foreign country that has set similar foundations as we have enjoyed here.  There are fees associated with all of this.  There are also the travel fees of having to go to eastern Europe twice.  To date, we have received $2000 in grants, have raised a few thousand more and have spent our own funds to keep us up to date to this point.  We still have around $15,000 or so to raise, including the travel costs.  We recently received word from a wonderful organization that we are receiving a $2000 matching grant.  God continues to amaze us in how He brings resources and blesses our lives.  Lifesong for Orphans has agreed to match up to $2000 in donations received by the end of February.  This is where we need to call on help from our friends.  I really am uncomfortable with this part of the process because I don't do well in asking for things.  We believe we are following God's leading and our family has been blessed because of following His call and we invite you to join with us in this call.  We have already been blessed by the support from our friends, both financially and prayerfully, and we cannot begin to tell you how thankful we are.  If you have supported us, we sincerely thank you.  If you have not, we invite you to do so.  Please send donations to the following address and reference in the memo section Stewart #2463 Adoption:

Lifesong for Orphans
PO Box 40
202 N Ford St
Gridley, IL  61744

 Note: In following IRA guidelines, your donation is to the named non-profit organization.  This organization retains full discretion over its use, but intends to honor the donor's suggested use.

These donations are tax deductible and will be matched, up to $2000 for funds received by Feb. 29.  We cannot begin to thank you all enough.  Many of you have asked how the process has been going.  I've heard previously that some people have a hard time when asked about the process.  It's kinda like the expectant mother that has gotten to the point to where she is just ready to have the baby and she doesn't want to keep answering questions over and over.  Well, I can tell you thus far it has not bothered me at all.  When you have something that you are immensely excited about and that you know God is guiding, you just can't help but talk about it.  So I say to all of you, ask away and thank you so much for being interested.  May God bless each and every one of you and I pray for each of you.  Thank you. 

Until next time....

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Bringing you up to speed

Ok.  So do you remember in high school when we had to read a classic book and do a report on it?  Were you like me and procrastinated so long that you didn't have time to actually read the book?  Well, to that end I would say thank goodness for CliffNotes.  You know, the little black and yellow "booklets" that would highlight the important parts of the classics.  Granted, that was over 25 years ago.  I don't even know if they still exist.  Today, I suppose, you could probably buy something like "Of Mice and Men.....for Dummies."   At any rate, this post is going to be the CliffNotes version of our process for you.  Since we started our adoption process back in May, but didn't start blogging until recently, we realize that there is a lot of information that we haven't shared with all of you.             So I'll try to bring you up to speed.

I mentioned in a previous blog that Michelle had been ready to adopt for quite awhile but that I was "in and out" of being ready to jump.  Well, on April 11, 2011 Michelle's grandmother passed away.  Actually, this was a short time after her other grandmother had passed and so it was a very emotional time for her.  We got a little bit of money from grandma and Michelle was planning on using it toward an upcoming vacation we were taking to see my daughter and Michelle's cousin in Colorado.  Instead, I said "hey, we were planning to go on that vacation anyway.  What do you say we apply that money to our Home Study?"   BOOM --- and we're off.   After Michelle's display of excitement she started rattling off the things we needed to do and who we needed to call.  For any of you football fans that are watching bowl games this week, what Michelle did was she took the ball and ran.  No lead blockers, no gap opened up...all her.  She ran and she ran hard.  You see, I believe she remembered the time before when I got cold feet and pulled back on saying let's do it.   And I have to admit that when she started running, the thought that went through my head was, "oh my.  What did I just do?"  There is no way I can take it back.  Not again.  I just went all in without even looking carefully at my cards.  (Yes, I've watched some poker on TV.  If it's on ESPN, then I've seen it.)   But then the most amazing thing happened.  A calm came over me that I cannot explain.  I soon realized that it was relief.  This is what I had wanted all along and what I knew God was calling us to do but satan had been throwing road blocks at me in the form of doubt and fear, self-pity and shame.  Does satan ever do that to you?  Do you KNOW what it is that God is calling you to but you simply can't allow yourself to commit?   That was me.  And this time I didn't have time to think and analyze and come up with every lame excuse.  The Holy Spirit simply said "let's do it" and those words came out of my mouth.

So we began preparing for our home study.  A home study is where an individual comes into your home to see where you live and conduct an interview with your family.  Basically it is an assessment to make sure that your family and your living situation is suitable to include another child.  I was pretty sure we weren't going to fail this assessment, but there was still some anxiety involved.   We revealed things about of family history, our upbringing, past relationships, parenting styles, discipline, and why we want to adopt.  We also gathered paperwork to start building our dossier that would be sent to the country we are adopting from.  We had criminal background checks, child abuse background checks, medical check-ups, psychological evaluations, HIV tests, TB tests, fingerprints and so on.  I can't think of any "so on's" right now, but it seemed like everytime we turned around there was another so on.  It was all completely understandable and was no problem to go through, but our anxiety was in making sure we had done everything that we needed to do and do it right the first time.  The home study was the first step in saying that we were actually going to bring an unknown child into our home.  One of God's children, otherwise fatherless, in need of a forever family.  This is important stuff and I would subject myself to shots and evaluations a million times over if it meant being able to save a child. 

Also for the dossier we had paperwork to fill out for the government.  Paperwork for state, federal, foreign and international governments.   Again, this is all understandable.  It is so important to make sure that a child is being brought into a good home.  I don't mean a big, elaborate home.  I don't mean a rich family.  I mean a loving, Godly home.  One where the child can be introduced to the One that has loved him or her all along.  I can't wait to introduce our child to that Father.  Michelle will likely be the only mother this child has ever and will ever know.  I, on the other hand, will be a temporary father.  Oh, I plan to be a good father to this child.  I plan to love this child the same as I love my biological children.  In many ways I already do.  We are expectant parents the same way that biological parents experience over a 9 month period.  The bond is forming in my heart before I ever meet this child face to face.  Yes, I will be a good, loving father.  But I will never be The Father that I pray this child will get to know.  I cannot wait for the privilege to introduce our child to Him and see that relationship grow.  Our children that are now 11 and 8 years old have long since been introduced to Him.  Like all of us, they have days of really displaying God's love and they openly profess their faith and like all of us they also have days where you just don't see the evidence.  It's all part of growing and I love how they are growing up to be children of God.  As I write this, I wonder how they will take an active part in sharing the love of Christ with their new brother or sister?  Will they lead by example?  Will they actively read and teach the things that they have learned?  It's going to be quite an adventure.  I can't wait to see how it unfolds.  God, please help me to be the best example that I can, not so that you tell me "well done, my good and faithful servant" but so that you tell me AND my children those wonderful words.

Ok, back to the process.  While waiting on paperwork, we also filled out applications for grant money.  There are many wonderful organizations out there that believe in the adoption process and that want to help families like ours be able to achieve their dreams.  Stay tuned in the next couple days for us to reveal some exciting news about these grants.   We have also been taking on-line classes and doing research about the country that our child is from.  Our agency does a fantastic job of guiding families to prepare to bring their child home.  When our child gets to the point that he or she wants to know about their country, how foolish would we look to say, "gee, I don't really know.  That's a good question".  We want to be educated to the point that we can share important information with them and our agency is keeping us on track to gather that information.  They also help us to learn about the anxieties and issues that a child can face after placement into the home.   I appreciate all of the help, you can never read too much and prepare too much.  But when it comes down to it, I believe my authority will come from God and in the form of prayer.  Now, one thing I do want to mention.  Yes we will share information about our child's home country when it is appropriate, but I feel in my heart that when my child says "can you tell me about grandma and grandpa" that my stories will turn to the stories that my father told me about his high school years and I'll share about the amazing woman that my mother was before God called her home at way too early of an age.  I'm not concerned about knowing his/her biological heritage because he/she will be a Stewart.  Not a semi-Stewart, but a Stewart.  And my heritage is their heritage.  If the information is available, I won't hide their biological heritage and we'll talk about it at an appropriate age but my point is that our child will be a full-fledged member of the Stewart family.  I'm so glad that God doesn't think of me as his "adopted" child and that when I pray to my Father in heaven He doesn't wonder if I mean Him or someone else.  He is my Father...Abba...Daddy.  And I pray that He will be that to my children as well.

Currently, we have received all of the acceptance and approval that we need from the U.S. government and have just today sent our dossier to our agency's director who will, in turn, send it to the foreign country.  We're getting close.  We hope to be informed sometime this month of when our first travel date will be.  We could be within just a few weeks of meeting our child.  Michelle mentioned to me today that we have prepared all of the paperwork that we need to prepare.  That's it.  We now ask that you pray with us that God will guide the hands and minds of those that are evaluating the paperwork and that the rest of the process goes swiftly and smoothly.  Oh, and that little issue of finances.  We would appreciate prayers for that as well.  I'm not afraid that it won't happen.  I know that it will.  I serve an amazing God that has an abundance of resources.  I can't wait to see how He will pull it off.  I'm most excited to see who He will bring into the world of adoptive families.  I know someone reading this has already had those thoughts.  Maybe you don't know how to start.  Maybe you're scared like I was.  I don't know your story or your issue.  As I think about my fears before the process started I remember something I was told once about dealing with different situations.  You work on your strengths and let God handle your weaknesses.  Fret not.  Fret not.  Fret not. 

Dear God, I pray that you will bring to this blog the right person that needs to read it.  Not to give our family any attention for it certainly is not about us.  But to give someone that assurance that whatever fears or concerns they may have about starting the adoption process that I've been there.  I've been in their shoes and tried to come up with every reason not to adopt.  I've wavered and I've struggled.  I've cried out in anguish at the incredible desire to follow You but then turned in despair when gripped with fear at taking that leap of faith.  I've felt the shame of being afraid and of not having the faith to follow you, Lord.  But I've also felt the freedom of knowing that You understand all of those fears and that you wait patiently for us to say, "here I am Lord.  Use me."  Lord, help others to realize the incredible blessing that you have bestowed on our family and that we are blindly in the midst of.  Thank you for guiding our family and bringing us closer to You.  In the precious name of Jesus, Amen.

God Bless, friends.  I can't wait to hear YOUR stories in the future.