...that your heart's desire is to move their precious grandchildren....TO AFRICA!?!
It was bad enough when we took the two we had at the time 1,000 miles from New Hampshire to Illinois. That move was in 1996 and it was "supposed" to be for 2 years. Fast forward to 2011 and we are still here!
Here is the slightly edited version of how I told my parents...my life is an open book - why not share it?!
Mom & Dad,
I don't even know where to start. Maybe I will just start with what I know Dad will say: "I am not surprised at all."
I suppose it makes the most sense to work backwards. We are praying and strongly suspecting God is throwing open doors for our family to move to Ethiopia in the next 18-24 months. We have tried hard to view it as the natural, emotional, hill-top reaction to two amazing, life-changing trips to a world so different from everything we know here. There are three Smith hearts stuck in Addis Ababa. There is no where else I would rather be right now. Pete and Ali wholeheartedly agree. There is so so so much to consider and figure out - but - we are trusting God BIG TIME on this. He is blowing us away sending people to answer our questions before we even ask them. Let me see if I can answer some of the obvious....
Money? We will have to raise support and, I would love to say that would come from Christians through churches, BUT....ha! Individual Christians - sure..maybe....hopefully. However, we are meeting with a dear friend of ours who may offer us the opportunity to return to the states for 10-12 weeks each year to WORK to raise what could be well over half what we would need to live on annually. They provide these opportunites specifically for pastors & missionaries. (ACK! We would be missionaries?! Pete used to bring up that subject before kids and I would CHANGE IT!)
Medical? I spoke to a woman who is already living there. She told me about her international medical policy - said it was non-negotiable! (We know several Americans who live there right now....God keeps crossing our paths!) We would plan to have the kids go for annual doctor & dentist...and scoliosis & eczema & Crohns...visits while we are in the states. I did have to take a couple trip members to the hospital while I was there. That is another story! Sorta funny, but not really. Anyway, I got to see the medical care available to Americans - and what it costs - and it is not bad at all. My friend has already found a great dentist from Germany...since her husband had a tooth issue. I guess, bottomline: Do we trust God? It IS a fairly modern, large city. People DO live and breathe there - including Americans. I will admit, this was my last surrender....as a Mom.
School? Ok...God has a sense of humor. I may homeschool the little kids. We have friends who are going in August and the wife dreaded homeschooling - but her daughter did not get into the American school there. I told her she could school MY kids and I would school hers...then it would be PRIVATE school, not homeschool. Either way, we may put them on a waiting list for this highly recommended school. We are hoping Ali and Kane will choose paths in life - now that they are out of high school - that will land them with us at least PART of the time. Kane is pursuing a opportunity to join a Discipleship Training School with YWAM that will take him all around Europe for 6 months and Ali is currently taking American Sign Language training.
What the heck?! This is probably the #1 question. We have a heart to work with the street kids and the children who age out of the orphanages. I thought I would go there and get my heart set on toddlers, maybe even babies....but.....no. My heart was captured by the people. The old raisin ladies - the one who cried tears of joy when I hugged and kissed her...and would not let go...telling me with gestures that she would see me in heaven. My precious translator told me people rarely pay attention to her - much less hug & kiss her. The leper men - I love these men! I know I could not work in a nursing home here in the US...but I was so blessed to be with these men. The JOY! No fingers, feet half gone & missing noses...dancing & singing & blessing us. The children...their love and generosity challenges me. They light up just because we smile at them...even if we have nothing more to offer than hugs & kisses. The ache? The older kids. The children who live in orphanages and know they will not be adopted. The kids who can't even cry anymore because they miss their dead mothers too much. The boys who have to move into adulthood with little or no guidance. The young man who told me that - until he was able to call me Mom - there was never ever anyone in his life who cared what happened to him, much less truly loved him.
What will we do there? There is a man Pete and I both met whose heart is pure and he is so sold out to Jesus. Our dear friends recommended we meet with him while in Addis. We have been invited to work with the organization God is blessing through his surrendered efforts. He is hoping to have us focus on reaching out to vulnerable children through their Street Kids Ministry. So much of this is still up in the air....but....we have such a peace about it. We want God to use US to love on people there and to show them Christ...to make a difference in their earthly AND ETERNAL lives.
What about right now? Well, we are not discounting several factors....and the timing is exciting! We do not think it was a coincidence that Pete and I BOTH were handed FREE trips to Ethiopia...and only 9 days apart. Add to that Ali's trip. We only sent out a "PLEASE PRAY" letter and so much money came in from so many unforseen sources.
I would not have guessed that my job would be eliminated due to restructuring - BUT - I was given severance pay through July. Our 3 year house lease is up in this summer and Kane just graduated from high school. Our next child is not even close to entering high school yet - whew! God willing, Hezekiah's adoption should be final within the next year. We have a car payment until this October....but, after that...we are completely debt-free. We are on the hunt for a rental home that is considerably cheaper than this place....and I think this poor housing market may work in our favor. We will have a chunk of money from Pete's 401K to hold in an emergency fund. (Gotta be somewhat responsible!) PLUS, the opportunity I mentioned above may start in a smaller form this summer which would enable us to HOPEFULLY start to SAVE!
We are fully aware we will be in Satan's crosshairs. We will be soliciting prayer warriors, for sure! I am hoping to take Kane and Tatum to visit before we move everyone there. We may find it is not for us....but we want to go into this with our eyes wide open....with His eyes.
Are we CRAZY?!?! Ummm....YES! Completely! We are crazy in love with the people there. The babies, the toddlers, the school kids, the teenagers, the 20-nothings (my favorites!), the adults who have fully embraced us, the old, the sick, the homeless....it's a package deal, for sure. Pete even fell in love with a PROSTITUTE! Okay....actually a FORMER prostitute. She calls him her brother and he changed her life just by listening to her. She was pulled off the streets and trained to be a hairdresser to free her from that life....to give her children a hope & a future. No mom should feel like that is her only option. We want to offer ourselves to God to change things like this. It is not really all that hard. Someone just has to care...has to bother.
We are in awe of the opportunities to give so little, yet do so much. We have been given SO much and we have used it to amass what matters so NOT AT ALL. We are thankful that God is bringing us to a place in our lives where we truly WANT to let go....and go.
There are so many factors in this. God has been pulling us down this path...and sometimes it has been a very humbling process. BUT...I would not trade any of it. We want to wait on Him and follow Him and He is giving us peace and patience....and excitement as we watch things unfold.
Okay....did ya know?! Or are you having to take a heart pill? I love you beyond words and I will be FOREVER grateful to you BOTH for the legacy....if not for YOU and your faith...where would I be now? I could "blame" you for this , but I prefer to see this as a continuing legacy. If you want to know what is swirling in my brain, read "Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream," by David Platt. WOW! His book did not CREATE this desire - only confirms it!
With a smile,
UPDATE: After a few emails asking me practical questions that any parent has the right to ask, here is what I got from my dad....
"Okay, Lori: That was the reply I expected and wanted…..Total Commitment!
And, even though I pointed out the bad spots, I still support your heart and what you want to accomplish. I always knew there was something more in your life and am not surprised in the least that this is what you chose to do. It’s hard to criticize someone who wants to do God’s work, even if it means in a far-off land in a place we “comfortable” people find extreme. That’s where Christian work is needed most.
You will not receive any more emails pointing out unpleasant subjects, rather encouragement.
And, yes, I would visit Africa once again!
I guess you and I are stuck with Winston’s wise words:
“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give!”
I love you!
And please understand my concern."
I am looking forward to the prospect of picking him up in the Bole Airport someday! My heart is picturing it....PURE JOY!
Usually, I am not slow to catch on....really....honestly....I am quite the opposite - unless, of course, God is sending me messages....LOUD & CLEAR! I have joked that I really do not need to know God's WHOLE plan...but, I would love an occasional Post-It Note to drop from the sky.
On November 2, 2009, I had come to the end of my persistent and often manipulative personality (see previous post). I was DONE trying to force open the adoption doors that were closing...or slamming shut. But - gosh darn it - God was not taking away the sincere desire to parent more children...and I knew full well I was not birthin' any more babies! I gave up. In reality, I gave up trying it MY way and God - almost IMMEDIATELY - showed me HIS WAY! I picked up my precious lil brown boy later that day. At that time, I was amazed - but - looking back? I AM FLOORED!
Fast forward exactly one year later...November 2, 2010.
Kari Smalley Gibson was raffling off a FREE missions trip to Ethiopia. All I had to do was buy a t-shirt. Hundreds of people did the same. The winners were drawn over the weekend at a leaders training seminar..but POSTED on November 2. Enough t-shirts were sold for 2 free trips - and 2 names were drawn. Not my name. BUT....oh, BUT! A wonderful family anonymously gave funds for a 3rd free trip....and GOD CHOSE ME! Out of hundreds of people whose hearts' desire was to go and be blessed and BE a blessing in Ethiopia...for some reason - GOD CHOSE ME! And....I found out on November 2nd!
I did not think 45 was "old" - but - now...I may have to go get a CT scan to make sure everything is alright. <jk> 'Cause - DANG - it was only the other day that it finally occured to me that BOTH of these knock-your-socks-off, change-your-life & let-Me-drive-it-home-to-you-that-YES-I-care-so-much-about-lil-ole-YOU-moments happened on THE SAME DATE exactly one year apart!!!!
I have never had a "favorite day." Oh, sure....I love my anniversary, and the day each of my kids were born...but, a favorite day? Naw - not really....not for anything but the above "obvious" reasons...and my own birthday is too close to Christmas. Even the day I gave my life to Christ was in August...and it was more of a process - that eventually culminated into a personal surrender - since I grew up in a Christian home.
BUT...now? OH, yes...I have a favorite day: November 2nd, baby! I would be lying if I said I was not looking forward to THIS year's November 2nd with excitement and anticipation. Maybe nothing "special" will happen. However, it WILL be a wonderful day because it will be a time to look back over the last 2 years and be hugely thankful. (And...ya never know.....?!)
Bottomline?...I think God is pretty cool...to care enough to do 2 things that rocked my world and brought me closer to Him and showed me how much He really cares about me and my puny life...and on the SAME day of the year!
Let me see if I can play catch-up here and give you an idea how all this exciting craziness started...
"...the Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Praise the name of the Lord." Job 1:21b
The Lord gave us three healthy children. Then He saw fit to bless us with yet another baby...a baby who would be our last child. But our plan was so small compared to His. The Lord took that baby when he was fully formed and amazingly beautiful...but not able to live apart from his physical bond to me. We were heartbroken, but strangely at peace. We were able to surrender our pain to Him and claim His promises to use it all for His glory - and INDEED He did! Over & over again!
A wonderful and loving friend of mine special ordered a tiny gold ring as a reminder of our baby boy...a miracle in our hearts and our treasure up in heaven. She even hung it on a lovely gold chain for me.
Not long afterward, God was faithful to fill the void in my mommy heart with a beautiful, healthy baby girl! She came into this world as a big 9 lb. 8 oz. promise that God still cared about my motherly desires...even when so many people said, "Stop while you are ahead...you have three healthy children." Still...knowing we had lost a baby boy left a longing within me. A desire to have one more boy. My fifth child was a delightful surprise! He was four months along before we knew he was on his way. I held my breath at the ultrasound (performed only one week after we discovered I was pregnant), feeling slightly guilty about hoping for a healthy baby BOY, and not just a healthy baby. When the doctor announced his gender, I was overwhelmed. I felt so loved and so blessed that God gave me even more than I dared hope for out loud. He knows the desires of our hearts and He really cares. If I had not lost that precious baby boy - if I have not surrendered my pain and let Him move my life forward in a beautiful, amazing way - I would not have these two incredible kids!
I have often wondered if God laughs - at least a little - when we start making plans and acting like we have any real control. I believe He planted a seed in my heart for children who would not grow beneath my heart when I was longing for another baby boy. I dismissed this crazy idea of adoption - especially international adoption - because it was crazy expensive. People with five bio kids don't ADOPT!?! Less than 3 years after our "last" child was born, we found ourselves on the journey to adopt two little ones from Ethiopia. Nothing made sense and we made some huge mistakes along the way....but nothing was outside His control...I believe it was all part of His refining plan for us. In the airport before boarding our international flight, my husband purchased a pair of 24K gold starfish earrings for me. There is a story about many starfish washed up on a beach after a storm...and a young man tossing them in one at a time. He is questioned about how he can possibly think he can make a difference when there are THOUSANDS stranded. He replies that he will make a huge difference to each one he does help. To me, those earrings represented the two little people we were going to meet, two little ones whose lives we hoped to change dramatically. God gave them to us for a brief period of time...and He showed us that our part in His plan for THEIR lives was completely different than we had imagined. Through an amazing and heart-wrenching journey of surrender, we realized that the woman who took them their very first gifts from America would - along with her Godly husband and wonderful children - be their forever family. We surrendered this experience and all it's pain to Him to use for HIS glory...and, guess what? Yes! Of course - He has! And he continues to do so.
There was still a strong desire in my heart to adopt a child..or children. After some time, I started out cautiously on the road to discover whether or not anyone would allow us to adopt again. This is an ugly road riddled with too many mean, insensitive people. The few kind people who offered hope were like air bubbles to me when I felt like I was literally drowning in very personal criticism. We fostered for awhile...but only little guys we knew were going back to their moms. It allowed us to "test" our family...to see if we were ready to open our hearts again. I even prayed that - if it was not God's plan for us to add any children to our family - He would divinely and completely remove my desire. He did not. On a particularly frustrating day - Nov. 2, 2009 - I sent a one word email to my husband. It said: "DONE!" I was done trying to figure out a way. I was done inquiring and being ridiculed. I was done banging my head - and my heart - against the closed doors of adoption. Less than one hour later, my phone rang and a familiar voice was asking me if I was willing to take in a baby who might be available for adoption...and how soon could I leave. Within the next hour, I was walking into a hospital room being handed a precious, beautiful, brown baby boy with gobs of gorgeous, loopy, dark curls all over his head. (Did I mention that I have secretly always wanted a boy with curly brown hair? I swear...HE KNOWS!) When I think back on my one word email, I have to believe that God was just waiting for me to surrender...to let Him know that I was DONE trying to do it my way. He was patiently waiting to bless my socks off! The angel baby I picked up almost 19 months ago is still here and it looks like he may stay FOREVER. Remember....He knows the desires of our hearts. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away...and the Lord GIVES you so much more than you could ever hope for!
Lori (847) 650-7144
Pete (847) 650-8022
Our Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
We are an ordinary family simply trying to follow where He leads. We want YOU to see the amazing things HE is doing...