Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Letter to Roman

Dear Roman,

You have been heavy on my heart again. There are days that I wrestle with feelings of unforgiveness at the judgement that has kept you behind a closed door, not knowing the love of a family. There are days I wrestle with bitterness that your chance to come home to a forever family was ripped from your tiny, pudgy fingers. And there are days when all I know to do is pray for you. The last we heard, and that has been almost a year ago now, was you had been moved into a foster family. We don't understand the complexities of foster homes in Russia, and whenever we ask questions of anyone who would know, we find ourselves looking into crestfallen faces. We were initially hope-filled that a foster family would mean that you were in a better position to be adopted, but from what little information we have gathered, quite the opposite is true. Roman, we still long to gather you up in our arms again. We long to introduce you to Daniel. I used to think that missing you was somehow taking something away from Daniel and our heart and love for him. But, I imagine it's much like any parent who has a second child. The love and commitment to that second child in no way diminishes the love and commitment to the first. You are forever in our hearts as our first son. We stood in the gap for you. I desperately want you to know that in the world of the abandoned, you were fought for with everything we had to give. I so much want to tell you, as you grow up and watch other children go into forever families, wondering why no one chose you, that you were, are and always will be adored, cherished and prayed for. I cannot grasp why or how a judge could have looked into your big blue eyes and ruled that a "procedural error" which could not be validated, was sufficient to deprive you a chance of experiencing what every single child in this world deserves to experience. Maybe that is the very reason that the judge refused to look at the pictures of us holding you, proving that we had spent time with you. Proving as you looked in our eyes that you found a haven in us. I cannot understand, nor do I think I ever will. And I know it would take a miracle from God for you to understand how much we cherish you. Oh, that every orphan would have people praying for him or her with the fervor with which people here still pray for you! I have had two instances in the last few weeks where women have come to me and told me, with tears in their eyes that as often as they think of you, they pray for you. If you never grow up knowing the love of two people committed to you to call themselves your mommy and daddy, I hope that somehow you comprehend that you have not been forgotten. Your name is still on our lips. Your picture is still in our home. Your face is engraved in our minds and your memory is firmly rooted in so many hearts on the other side of your world. And I hope you can know someday that we don't regret a moment of our journey. We were asked regularly by people who were hurting with us why we didn't give up. They could see how the waiting was draining life from us and yet we pressed on. The only answer we could give was that everyone else in the world had turned their back on making a lifelong commitment to you before you were even two years old. We wouldn't be added to the number who walked away of their own volition. You would have to be pried from our grasp. And it's still a fresh hurt that you were.

This morning I woke up to spend some time in God's word and in prayer. I have been studying Isaiah 30 and verse 18 is one that I have had memorized for years. "Yet, the LORD longs to be gracious to you, he rises to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait on Him." I wanted to understand the entire context of this chapter, and so I began studying. Verses 1-2 say:
Ah, stubborn children," declares the LORD,
"who carry out a plan, but not mine,
and who make an alliance, but not of my Spirit,
that they may add sin to sin;
who set out to go down to Egypt, without asking for my direction
to take refuge in the protection of Pharaoh
and to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt!

Further reading into the commentary of my study Bible revealed that at this time in Judah's history, they were facing a threat from Assyria. God's people took their eyes off their Helper and Redeemer and focused instead on the Assyrian military, got scared and ran to Egypt to make an alliance with them for protection. Egypt. Egypt? EGYPT! Egypt who had enslaved God's people for generations. Egypt who never, not one time had God's people's best interest in mind. The same Egypt from which God had miraculously freed His people. God had freed them and when they took their eyes off Him, they ran right back to the chains that enslaved them. God had a plan for them. He had already promised them that He would protect them. That He would strengthen them with His righteous right hand. The Sovereign God of the entire universe could snap His fingers and descimate the entire Assyrian people. And yet, His chosen people, sought refuge not in the one who actually, by His very character is our Refuge and our shield, but from Pharaoh. They sought shelter, not under the wing of the Almighty, but in the shadow of Egypt. When I'm faced with trials, where do I run to? To my Protecter and my Defender? Or to things from which He has already freed me?

The rest of the chapter reveals that the people's heart is hardened to God. And so, He waits to be gracious. I'd always envisioned God on His throne in heaven, sitting forward on the edge of His seat, His focus intent on the ones who would cry out to Him. I can't imagine any other visual to these verses and yet, I can't fathom why the Sovereign God of the entire universe would be poised, ready to spring into action to pour out His grace on us, rising up to extend His compassion for weary, heavy laden souls. What an incredible, indescribable God! For the first time this morning, I read this verse in a different translation. The ESV translates the verse a little differently. "Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you" The verbage is a little different, but there is more vivid picture painted with this pocketful of words. Because Judah sought strength and protection from the one who had previously enslaved them, because they hardened their hearts, because they refused to obey God or even to seek Him, God stayed His own hand. Hebrews 12:10b says, "...He disciplines us for our good, that we might share his holiness." If He was gracious to us before our hearts turned back to Him, we would be lazy, entitled spoiled brats. But, oh the ache He must feel as He waits! The ache He must feel as He knows what He longs to do for us!

When I asked God to give me a glimpse of the ache, I saw your face, Roman. We ached to hold you. We longed to cradle you in our arms and bring you into a life which you couldn't have even imagined because family had never been modeled for you. While we never could have erased the confusion as to why your birth mother walked away from you, left you in an orphanage in her hometown and never came to see you or never showed the slightest inclination in her heart toward you, we would have bandaged those wounds with the knowledge that you would have been given, by God, to parents who fought and loved you feircely. Endured more than they thought possible for you. We would have thrown open the floodgates of our entire heart and all we had to offer to be yours. If the court would have called and told us to come to you, we would have dropped everything in an instant, flown to Russia and gathered you up to bring you into a life that every single tiny treasure on this earth deserves to have. The ache we felt to shelter you, Roman, to protect you, to defend you, to provide for you and to lavish love and blessings on you that you could not begin right now to fathom is a pale and miserable comparison to the ache the LORD has while He waits for us to return and repent. Our ability and power to bring you home was subject to the mercy of an unmerciful system. In the palest of comparisons, we too were on the edge of our seats, waiting for a change of heart from someone who had the power to transform your life. Our ache was caused by an injustice to you. Something we could not change. And God's ache, because He is holy and righteous and requires repentance, is something that He endures as He waits for us to return to Him. My soul cries out in agreement with Jonah that "Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs" (Jonah 2.8) We will probably never know this side of heaven why God allowed the judge to say no to you, but He is still God, he still is worthy to be praised. I can place my trust in Him alone because He has proven Himself trustworthy time and time again. We can place our trust in Him because He says He is to be trusted and He cannot lie.

And so, little boy, I hope somehow, someone tells you that we pray for you. I hope someone who knew us in Russia will whisper in your little ear that you are a valuable and cherished treasure. And, more than anything, we pray that someone comes and shares Jesus with you so that we can hold you in heaven. Until then, as my mother prayed over all five of her children, we ask that God would send an army of angels to laugh and dance and sing and play around you. Our hand has been stayed, LORD Jesus, but be gracious to Roman. Rise to show him your compassion. Thank you for the testimony of the burden, and thank you for the tiny treasure You have entrusted to us. As though it were a prophesy fulfilled, Daniel has healed our hearts.

We love you, Son.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

What Next....

The day we picked Daniel up from the orphanage was a day I will never forget.  All the months of heartache faded in the background, paled dramatically by the vivid color of the miracle we were getting to experience.  Every day that we had received more information that would lead to another heart-wrenching delay….  Every day that had passed when we received no news…Every day it had felt like we were losing our minds in the agony of the waiting season…all those days slipped quickly and quietly into the recesses of my mind.  We were bringing home our son.  We were bringing home the little boy designed for our family.   Daniel took from the orphanage that day a diaper.   Other than the file we had already received documenting all his known medical information, two pictures, and extremely limited family background, he had nothing else in the world to call his own.  Two pictures and a vague story are the only things we  have for the first two and a half years of his life.  And God chose us to change the direction of his path.  Almost three years prior God had looked at a sleeping infant, born to a woman who either wasn't willing or able to be a mommy, and whispered, "I know the plans I have for you, precious child.  Plans to prosper you…plans to give you a hope and a future." And he whispered to our hearts, "Russia" in a long-awaited response to our desperate cry for a child.  From that point on, Daniel would never have to be one of the precious unknowns.  He will never have to be counted among the world's forgotten ones.  Jesus never forgets the children.  Each one is known by Him.  There are still too many in the world and politics and bureaucracy   make it so challenging.   In spite of those challenges, I will never cease praising God for a body that has been incapable of fulfilling my deepest desire.

Around 11 am on July 23, 2012, I climbed into the back of an old sedan and turned as they passed Daniel to my open arms.  He was dressed from head to toe in brand new clothes-quite possibly the first new clothes he had worn in his entire life.  As I turned to smile at the caregiver, my focus was brought to the seven other little children behind her who had been in Daniel's group, all standing near the little fence of their little playground.  Chubby little hands waved, "Paca Paca!" ("Bye Bye!")  Little eyes looked as though they-even at their young age-understood that they would never see their friend again.  They had experienced this moment already.  And I knew as they got older and understood more, some of them would begin to wonder, "Why not me?  Why can't I have a family?"  Tears well up in my eyes even now as I understand those questions down to the core of my being.  God's unwillingness to answer my prayers my way every month prior had opened the door for something so much bigger than I ever could have imagined.   And I was ready to begin again.

That night was the first time in almost three years that Brock slept through the night.
For the next eight months we would be on completely different pages when it came to expanding our family.  Before we left Russia, I had already begun dreaming about returning to Arkhangelsk for a sibling.  Brock had already started doing very preliminary research for fertility clinics.  We decided to make no decision other than to pray until December.  We prayed for wisdom, for peace and for unity.  When the time was right, we believed we would have the same heart. 

January  came and we were still peaceably on different sides.  Russia had closed its doors to Americans wanting to adopt and neither of us felt any particular pull towards another country or even a domestic adoption.  Bulgaria was the only country we found that sparked some interest and we sent off for information from three different agencies that worked with Bulgarian adoptions.  We didn't hear back from any of them other than to be added to their email list.  We talked to a doctor from a fertility clinic in St. Louis who was extremely optimistic about our chances of success based on our medical information and results from the fertility tests we had already had.  I was beginning to get more and more excited about that possibility, but in the days and weeks that followed, "Ishmael" kept repeating in my brain.  In Genesis, God had promised the barren Sarai and Abram a son and after years of seeing no physical manifestation of an answer to that prayer, Sarai sent her Abram to her maidservant so that they could have a son, Ishmael through her.  God had had a different plan though and eventually, after He changed Abram and Sarai's name to Abraham and Sarah, they, in their old age-as in an age where only God could have made a pregnancy possible-gave birth to Isaac.  There was a huge price to pay for Abraham and Sarah taking matters into their own hands instead of waiting on the LORD.  While I know that God works through science, I myself had no peace about our family paying for a pregnancy when God had already opened our eyes and hearts for a glimpse of the things which children without families experience all around the world.  In no way do we believe that fertility assistance is wrong, but I didn't have peace about it for our family. 

While I was becoming more and more convinced, Brock was more and more adamant that he did not want to put our family through the turmoil of adoption again.  He had carried the burden of wanting to protect his bride from all the pain during Roman's story and now he was unsure he could shoulder the burden required to shelter not only the two of us again, but now also Daniel.  I was getting more and more stubborn and vocal and, looking back, more and more challenging.   I knew in my heart what we were supposed to do, but instead of coming to a place of surrender, I was trying to bulldog my way through this season. 
My willingness to release the reins of control came unexpectedly on April  24th.  We had not yet gotten Daniel's social security number and had finally pulled all the paperwork together to complete that process.  The three of us went to the Social Security office and our little family sat in the waiting room until it was our turn.  Another woman in the waiting room commented on how cute Daniel was and we got to talking about his story.  My heart ached even thinking about leaving our first son in Russia and it didn't look like we were ever going to come to a place of agreement with regard to expanding our family.  The lady made a casual comment about how God had opened the doors for the son we were supposed to bring home.   One of the agencies to which we had applied was Open Door Adoptions and a thought came crashing over me with a hurricane force that made me lose my breath for a moment.  "What if God closed the door to Open Door?  Will you be content  if the three of us is the forever family?"  I had been so certain and now I didn't know.  Our name was called and we walked into the back office of the social security building.  The lady who was helping us was so unbelievably rude and condescending that I felt like we were in the middle of the Murmansk Madness all over again.
"Why did it take you so long to bring him to get a number?  What is wrong with you?  You are being negligent parents."
 And the accusations continued.  I looked at Brock-my steady rock-and was shocked to see the look on his face that had been there during the worst days of our process.  His face was red, his leg was shaking and he looked like he could burn holes through the cubicle behind this woman.  He maintained polite words but I knew that was coming from a Strength that was not his own.  It was being in court, our every motive questioned, our every word weighed determining if the powers that be would find us worthy to grant us what so many take for granted.  It was being nothing but a number while we waited with our hearts in our hands all over again.  We left the office in silence and Brock didn't speak again until we were several miles down the road. 
"That's why I can't adopt again, Ashley.  I can't stand the thought of our character being questioned by someone who has no idea who we really are-nor really cares- and who has the power to determine if our hearts will be filled or broken.  I didn't sleep a full night through the entire adoption process.  I can't go through that again."
 I looked at my husband.  The man who takes so seriously his responsibility to protect and provide for his family.  The man who would lay his life down for Daniel and myself and I realized I could not ask, beg or coerce him into another adoption.  I couldn't ask him to do something that would risk his health or his peace of mind.  Maybe God had indeed closed the door.
Ironically, within a few days, I received a mass email from one of the adoption agencies with some very promising information about Bulgaria.  I forwarded it to Brock with a note that explained I didn't want to talk about this yet, but I wanted him to have this information.   My desire to adopt hadn't gone away, and so I had a new conflict.  But every time I prayed about it, I kept hearing the same two phrases. 
"LORD Jesus, we will do whatever it is that you want us to do, if you will just make your way known to us.  What do you want me to do?"
"Be still and know that I am God."
"Ok LORD, I believe this desire to make the difference for another child comes from You.  How can I talk to Brock about it in a respectful way?"
"Peace, be still and I will fight for you"
Every single time in the next couple of weeks I thought about bringing the subject of adoption up, I could almost feel a Divine Hand clamp over my mouth.  "Be still, Ashley" 
Earlier that month, Daniel and I had made the trek down to visit my family in Texas and Brock, taking advantage of the time uninterrupted, had decided to stain our deck.  We originally thought it would take a week at the most, but as he got to working on it, he soon realized it was in desperate need of structural attention and the week project turned into a three week adventure.   Every time he was out there, he was listening to Air1, a Christian radio station and became very familiar with several new songs.  On May 1st, we went to dinner and Brock was much more quiet than usual.  We loaded in the car to go home and he turned to me and told me he had bought a new song on iTunes.  I looked at him, thinking this was a very dramatic way to give me some rather mundane information.
"Oookkkkkaaayyyy….what song was that?"
"I want you to listen to it."
He plugged in the adapter and the lyrics with which I too had become familiar flooded the empty space in the car. 
Little hands, shoeless feet, lonely eyes looking back at me
Will we leave behind the innocent to grieve
On their own, on the run when their lives have only begun
These could be our daughters and our sons
And just like a drum I can hear their hearts beating
I know my God won’t let them be defeated
Every child has a dream to belong and be loved

A lump welled up in my throat.  I was reliving the emotions and joy of the day Brock asked me to be his wife.  I knew what he was doing and what he was saying, but I had to contain the overwhelming flood of emotion until he could get the words out.

Boys become kings, girls will be queens
Wrapped in Your majesty
When we love, when we love the least of these
Then they will be brave and free
Shout your name in victory
When we love when we love the least of these
When we love the least of these

Break our hearts once again
Help us to remember when
We were only children hoping for a friend
Won’t you look around these are the lives that the world has forgotten
Waiting for doors of our hearts and our homes to open


If not us who will be like Jesus
To the least of these…
(Audio Adrenaline's Kings and Queens)
"Ashley, I listened to this song dozens of times while I was out working on the deck never really paid attention to the words.  But, all day long today the lyrics kept running through my head.  God saw us through our last adoption and if He is wanting to use us again for another child and if you still want to adopt, I am ready to proceed.  I've contacted an agency that Buckner recommended for a Bulgarian adoption today and they will be sending us some information.  What do you think?"
What do I think?  What do I think?!  I think that God has answered prayers!  I think that we are going to grow our family!  I think that we serve an amazing Heavenly Father who has blessed me with an incredible godly man!  I think you are brave, Brock.  You are following a path that seems scary and unknown and are committed to it because God has called you to it.  I think that I am beyond blessed to follow a husband who follows the LORD.  I think God changed your heart where I could not. 

And so begins our second paper pregnancy.  As often as you think of us, we would covet your prayers for peace, protection and provision.  We know the same God who was so faithful to sustain us through our last adoption will be faithful through this one as well.  Only He knows what adventures lie in store!