By Tuesday Ezra started to come out of his shell. He laughs a loud, wide open-mouthed laugh when he scores a goal (aka – kicks the soccer ball between the wall and the trashcan). Muttering lingala to himself, he sets out the little suction cup toys our friend Tucker gave us and the toy cars we brought from home like a parking lot of parked cars and blue, red, and yellow people looking for their cars. We were told he likes to watch soccer and professional wrestling on TV and we believe it since he mainly wants to play soccer and wrestle with Brent.

He has been a lot of fun but he is also beginning to test us. After being reprimanded for picking up the phone in our room several times, Ezra retreated to a corner to sulk. He moaned softly until tears rolled down his cheeks. Although we are touched by his sadness this isn’t our first rodeo. It will take more than a tantrum with forced tears to let him call long distance on the Congolese hotel phone.

We skipped his nap yesterday in lieu of a meeting with our friend who is working to secure Ezra’s exit letter. (Note: Please pray for things to continue to move in that direction. We have permission to apply for his exit letter but it’s not complete as of Wednesday morning. We need this document in order to leave with our son on Friday evening.) The skipped nap may have something to do with his crocodile tears. We had an early supper of Ramen noodles, bread, and applesauce, and then we gave him a shower and put him in his p.j.’s. We settled in the bed with popcorn and Bugs Bunny cartoons on the iPad. Ezra was asleep by 7:30.

This trip is different in many ways from the one we took in 2014. That week was filled with making memories and taking pictures to shore us up for the months we’d spend away from Ezra. This time, we’re happy to be with him but we’re ready to go home and less patient on those endless, hot afternoons. We’re so excited to introduce Ezra to his sisters and brother. We’re ready to merge him into a busy, happy life.

Hello again

After more than 24 hours in four different airports, we arrived in Kinshasa, DRC. It was Sunday night. Our good friend picked us up from the airport and dropped us at the hotel where we will spend the next several days.

There is a row of four rooms in our little hotel, each with its own porch. The rooms are connected with a gravel walkway divided by small flowerbeds with brick borders. Though it is small, the area is thick with trees and bushes. In the middle of the garden/jungle, there is a covered meeting area, kind of like a gazebo but larger with sets of mismatched tables and chairs and a ceiling made of thatched straw.

The morning after we flew into Kinshasa—Monday morning—our friend brought our son and his foster parents to our hotel. We knew they would be here sometime after breakfast so Brent and I sat on the tiled porch area, waiting for them to arrive.

Without warning, we saw him. Ezra came around a corner, his shoes crunching the gravel as he walked to where we sat. I jumped up out of my chair and ran to him, holding him and crying, mascara running down my cheeks. When our friend saw that he was safely with us, he retired to the gazebo with the foster parents so that we could be alone with Ezra to get reacquainted.

We played with the toy cars we brought, counting “1, 2, 3…” before rolling the cars toward each other making them crash and fly in opposite directions. After about half an hour of counting and crashing, we walked to the gazebo. Ezra was told that our friend would take us to the grocery store and the foster parents would watch him for us.

After the grocery store excursion, we returned with milk and bananas and bread for later and fried chicken and French fries and Fanta for lunch. We all ate together, and then it was time for our friend and the foster parents to leave. Ezra shook their hands and said, “Bye-o” and they were gone.

He hasn’t seemed to look for them so far. In spite of everything—we are practically strangers who speak different languages—he’s been loving and playful with us. We all took a nap together on Monday and he slept great that night on the mattress on the floor by our bed. After he woke up about 6:30 a.m. to use the bathroom, he climbed into bed between us, eventually flinging his arm across Brent’s back.

His long arms and legs and his six missing teeth tell the story of the time we’ve missed with him. I tell myself not to think about the missed time, but instead I’m trying to be grateful for the time we have.

As he rested between us early this morning, I asked God to speak to Ezra. The limitations of language prevent me from adequately explaining our absence in his life and his history prevents him from understanding what a forever family really means. This is why I need God to speak to Ezra’s heart and tell him that we’re in this for the long haul. We’ve desperately wanted to have him home with us for years. Some day I hope he understands.


Recently, I decided to shake things up a bit and change Siri’s voice (you know that know-it-all on our cell phones) to something other than an American woman. The choice I finally landed on was an Australian male. His voice was warm and comforting and, if I told him his answer wasn’t helpful, he would say, “I’m so sorry, Abby.” Nice.


Eventually, I did find a snag in the design. One day, I asked Siri (or Crocodile Dundee or Hugh Jackman or whatever name you might give him) to call my daughter. “Call Ella,” I said plainly into my phone.

The phone answered back with an Aussie accent, “Hello.” (Actually it sounded more like ’Ello.)

“Huh?” I thought. “That’s strange. No. Siri, call Ella.”

Again: “Hello.”


“Hello, Abby.”


With a sigh I removed “Hugh” from my voice preferences and went back to Siri—boring but efficient.


It’s frustrating to be misunderstood. We think we’re being completely clear and yet we discover our motives or our actions are challenged.


Joseph was misunderstood. He was the favorite son of twelve boys. His brothers were jealous of him and misunderstood his dreams.


After those brothers sold him off as a slave, he was made a top-level servant in a rich man’s home. The rich man’s wife took notice of handsome, young Joseph. When her advances went unreturned, she lied and had him thrown in prison. Again, he was misunderstood in spite of his good intentions.


Even with his years of setbacks, Joseph continued to do what was right. His work ethic was commendable. His interpersonal skills made him an easy friend. His middle name should have been “perseverance.” But the thing that was most notable about him was his general good attitude.


When he finally reached the penthouse version of Egyptian politics and lifestyle, and he had his brothers groveling before him—hungry and desperate—Joseph chose mercy.


Joseph could’ve gloated and kicked his begging brothers while they were down but instead he said this:


“I am your brother Joseph. I am the one you sold as a slave to Egypt. Now don’t be worried. Don’t be angry with yourselves for what you did. It was God’s plan for me to come here. I am here to save people’s lives. This terrible famine has continued for two years now, and there will be five more years without planting or harvest. So God sent me here ahead of you so that I can save your people in this country. It was not your fault that I was sent here. It was God’s plan.”


Joseph saw God’s Providence in the twists and turns of his very frustrating past. He had been maligned, mistreated, misjudged, and sometimes forgotten, but he continued to rely on God’s power and the fact that his Lord understood him even when no one else did.


Last week I had the privilege of speaking at a women’s conference. Months ago, when I was first asked to participate in the event, I was told that the subject for my talk was “Searching for Hope When Things Seem Hopeless.”


My personal experience with this particular topic comes from the years we’ve been waiting to bring home our fully adopted son from Africa. In my talk at the conference, I went into detail about the nearly four years this boy has been a part of our lives. It’s been years of paperwork and frustration, and a lot of questioning.


During that time, we have learned a lot about hope and why we need it and how we can sustain it and how to survive the waiting. After a lot of prayerful introspection, I realized I had learned (but not really mastered) ten things:


  1. Find your ideal “wait” – The time you’re waiting may seem interminable but it’s still valuable. Fill it with good things.
  2. Feel your feelings – God made us to experience emotions. Don’t stuff those feelings in an unused hall closet. If you feel grief, then feel it. Anger? Feel it. But don’t stay there. Then use those feelings to connect with others.
  3. Look for timeline revelations – Spend time taking stock in how God has participated in your story by looking back at journals and Facebook posts.
  4. Allow God to write the story – God is not a fiction writer. He deals with truth. It may seem helpful to guess why you are waiting but don’t let your guessing consume you. It’s not about the “why” and God doesn’t owe us an explanation.
  5. Don’t let the thing you’re waiting for become an idol – It’s easy to become fixated, or even obsessed. Anything that distracts us from God can become an idol.
  6. Watch out for envy – If you’ve ever been the last one in your friend group to join the next phase—getting a real career, marriage, kids—then you understand envy. (Or if you’re a human being that doesn’t always get what you want, you also get it.) Here’s my 3-part advice: when you’re feeling a strong pull toward jealousy, stay off social media, look for ways to serve the people you envy, and–when all else fails– fake it ‘til you make it.
  7. Lean on friends – You are not alone. Let people in.
  8. Pray expectantly – This one is hard for me. Author Rick Warren says HOPE stands for “Holding on, Praying expectantly”. Some say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, yet that’s the insane part of hope. Psalm 5:3 says, “In the morning Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.” Keep doing the crazy, hopeful thing.
  9. Where do you place your hope? Hebrews 6:18-19 says, “These two things cannot change: God cannot lie when he says something, and he cannot lie when he makes an oath. So these two things are a great help to us who have come to God for safety. They encourage us to hold on to the hope that is ours. This hope is like an anchor for us. It is strong and sure and keeps us safe. It goes behind the curtain.” We have access to the One who is all-powerful. He has been in the “Holy of Holies” and he leads the way for us. He can handle the burden of our frustrations and unfulfilled expectations. But consider yourself warned: He may change your desires to something else when you give up the reins to Him.
  10. Seek out joy – Choose joy and dismiss bitterness.


These past four years waiting for our son to come home have been so difficult and continuing to remain hopeful may make me a fool, but I will choose hope. Without hope we are broken. Without hope we are lost. Without it, what’s the point?

Stay Back!

Caution: Stay back over 100 feet. Not responsible for road objects.


We’ve all been behind gravel trucks with these signs affixed to the back. They rumble along the road, occasionally spitting bits and pieces at your windshield. You begin to think, “Ok, these guys aren’t kidding. I’d better give them some breathing room,” and you put some distance between them and you.


I’ve always thought it was interesting that they could claim no responsibility just by gluing a sign to the back of their trucks. Like maybe I could call my family for supper but begin with a disclaimer: “Caution: Not responsible for undercooked meats or burnt vegetables. In the case of complaining about this meal, expect long delays in future dessert distribution.” Or I could hot glue a sign on the back of my minivan: “Not responsible for speeding if I’m running late.” Somehow I don’t think that would hold up in traffic court.


Still, they may be on to something with these signs. There are days when a little warning would be helpful.


When a co-worker is in a snit about every line item mentioned in a meeting, it would be nice to read his sign: “My marriage is falling apart. Pay no attention to my outbursts.” When the mom of a kid in your child’s class won’t answer repeated emails and texts about what she’s bringing to the class Valentine party, you would benefit from her sign reading, “My dad is really sick and I am barely holding on. Sending in sprinkles on Friday might just push me over the edge.” Then, you would be able to respond from a better place.


When my kids come home from school, frustrated by a classmate who just can’t seem to get it together—he yelled at the teacher, flipped a desk, made the entire class lose recess time—I put this “wouldn’t it be nice to have a sign” theory into practice. I say, “What he did was wrong, but we have no idea what’s happening at home. Your best choice is to give him lots of grace and let the teacher figure it out.”


In the absence of WARNING signs, we can also impart grace. We don’t have to be doormats, offering no resistance in the face of poor treatment, but we can meet them from a place of love and understanding—even if we don’t actually understand.


Instead of replying to bad behavior with accusations, we could start off with something like: “What’s going on? I’m worried about you.” Your concern might be met with more venom or it might be just the door they’ve been waiting for.

In the belly of a whale

I was raised on the importance of Sunday school. Nary a week would pass without my sisters and me getting our Sunday best on (tights, slips, leather Mary Janes, homemade dresses), hopping in our station wagon or minivan, and heading to church.


I was taught by flannel board lessons and word find sheets hot off the mimeograph machine. Puppets sang to me, exhorting me not to be “grouchy like a rooster” and reminding me that Jesus loves me “for the Bible tells me so.”


Of all that went with going to church—the sermons and the songs and the sacraments and the sense of belonging—my favorite part was the stories. The Bible has witches and giants. There are heroes and villains. There are gruesome tales of battles, beheadings, and bad behavior. There are redemptive stories of angels and infants and everlasting love.


We would open up our Bibles—the ones with the white cover with Jesus holding a lamb and sporting a 1970’s windswept hairdo—and we would sneak a read at Judges or one of the Kings. We’d read about daggers being plunged into fleshy, fat bellies or queens tumbling out of their windows to be ran over and eaten by dogs. With wide eyes, we’d read of a woman hammering a tent peg into the skull of a runaway enemy king or laugh at the thought of a talking donkey.


Among my all-time favorites was the story of a man named Jonah. He had to be one of the most relatable men in the Bible, and yet he found himself in one of the most extraordinary situations.


Jonah was called to preach to the pagan people of Nineveh but he just didn’t want to go. So he jumped in a boat and tried to go the opposite direction. Out in the middle of the sea, a storm blew up and threatened to drown Jonah and the rest of the crew. Jonah realized that his disobedience was the reason for the storm, so he begged the crew to throw him overboard. As soon as he was in the water, the sea became calm.


At this point, God could’ve said, “Serves you right, Jonah.” But instead God sent a big fish to swallow Jonah and save him. It wasn’t until adulthood that I realized what that fish was. I had always assumed being swallowed by the fish was his punishment. The cartoon-drawing of the story always showed Jonah inside the fish with a lantern, looking bored or maybe penitent, kind of like Pinocchio inside of Monstro the Whale, just riding it out.


But now I see the fish as Jonah’s salvation. When you read the prayer Jonah composes inside the fish, you see a description of someone falling to the depths of the sea with death as the only logical outcome. Then Jonah remembers God and cries out for help. Who know what kind of help Jonah would’ve chosen but what he got was the relative safety of a fish’s belly.


For three days (the longest three days ever!) Jonah prayed and lived and prayed some more inside that fish. Finally, God made the fish spit him out and Jonah went on to Nineveh. When he preached to the pagan people about their imminent destruction, they actually listened and changed their ways. Rather than being pleased with their transformation, Jonah fussed at God.


Jonah said, “See God…this is why I didn’t want to go to Nineveh in the first place. I knew you would forgive those people. Now I wish I could just die.” You can just see his pouty face and arms folded across his chest.


God had had it up it here with Jonah’s whining. He sat him down in the time-out chair and said, “Listen. I’m fed up with you. Stop complaining about everything.” I wonder if God was thinking what other kind animal belly He could stuff Jonah in for another three days.


Sometimes God sends what looks to me like a punishment as my rescue. Sometimes He gives me what I ask for and I’m still unhappy with the outcome. Sometimes I fold my arms and frown, sure that God has made a mistake.


The Book of Jonah ends with God’s scolding. We don’t see if Jonah fixes his attitude or sulks himself to an early grave. For me, I want another chapter. I want to trust God and learn from my mistakes. And I’d rather get to that point without spending any time inside a giant, man-swallowing fish. We can do this the easy way or we can do this the hard way!

Wandering in the Wilderness

My friend Amy loves to talk about the forty years the ancient Israelites were forced to wander in the wilderness. Sure, she also loves to talk about her kids and her husband and her job, but she brings up those poor wandering ones pretty regularly.


Over the past few years, I’ve come to realize how applicable their tale of frustration and correction can be to my own life.


Imagine for a moment standing in their sandals: You disobeyed and you misplaced your trust. Now you will have forty years to think about what you’ve done. They had just left Egypt after several generations of slavery, and they assumed everything would be smooth sailing once they crossed that pesky Red Sea, leaving Pharaoh in their dust. But it wasn’t.


There were armies to conquer and land to claim as their own. They felt as small as grasshoppers compared to what lie ahead, so they did what anyone might do in that situation. They doubted and griped. They moaned and blamed.


They complained about the food and the water. They complained that Moses talked to God too long on the mountain, and when he finished talking to God, they complained that his face was too shiny. These people were hard to please.


So finally God had enough. He told them that the majority of the adults—including Moses—wouldn’t be able to enter the Promised Land. They would have to set up their tents and wait out the next forty years in the desert. Remorseful adults would pull their children on their laps or solemnly stare at the upturned faces seated around their tables and tell them, “Learn from our mistakes.” Those children were given the task of remembering the miracles of the Passover while never forgetting God’s punishment of their elders.


My friend Amy recently asked, “Do you think it was a mistranslation and they meant to say forty days instead of forty years?” Forty years is a long time, a lifetime. She said, “They must have spent those forty years wandering and wondering.” Did they think: Why are we here? What have we done? What was the point?


Sometimes I find myself wandering in circles. Things don’t go as I plan due to events out of my control or my own actions prevent me from seeing the ending I had hoped for. Then I find myself winding round and round with the same questions: Why am I here? What have I done? What was the point?


Maybe you are wandering in a wilderness right now. Where you expected smooth sailing, you’ve found only 100 mph hurricanes. I believe it’s possible for us to reach the Promised Land. It may not be exactly what we’re expecting, but there is hope with every breath. There is time to make things right. There is a chance for us to make life better for others and then for ourselves.


Growing up, I often played a game called Perfection. The object of the game is to match twenty-five tiny shapes on a board full of twenty-five tiny holes before the timer runs out. Let me tell you: it’s a nerve-racking way to pass your childhood—the ticking timer and the eventual explosion of all of those pieces. I suppose the moral of the game is to learn that the pursuit of perfection is futile…and stressful.


I have a dear friend who is always wishing she could be more domestic, more like Martha Stewart. She wants to cook more and learn to sew. She’s insecure when it comes to the art of crafting (She’s the only person I know who has glued her own hair with a hot glue gun). But she’s just not sure where to start.


Most anyone who does excel in cooking or crafting or sewing or gardening will tell you that you have to be willing to fail in order to improve. In our first apartment, I nearly burned down our kitchen while attempting to boil a pot of fettuccine noodles. I’ve sewed curtains that were too short and crocheted throws that angled into a trapezoid instead of a rectangle. I’ve hammered nails into the wall to hang pictures, and then I’ve changed my mind so I’m pretty good at filling holes with painter’s putty. And I’m still trying to grow a successful vegetable garden.


I try and fail and try again. I’m not so much in pursuit of perfection but basic accomplishment and continued learning. If I am successful in any of these interests it’s because I was willing to fail.


I hope to live my life in a way that shows I wasn’t afraid. If I’m fortunate enough to live to old age, I hope to tell the faces gathered around my sick bed that I wasn’t perfect but that didn’t stop me from living a life of purpose and perseverance.


When it comes to technological devices, I’m never among the first wave of early adopters. In most instances, I’ll come around eventually but it may take a while. That’s the case for customized ringtones. So when I recently decided I wanted a special alert for when my husband calls me, I searched to find the perfect one.


There are endless choices in the iTunes store, but I finally landed on the song “I Just Called to Say I Love You” by Stevie Wonder. Though my husband rarely calls just to “say I love you,” I liked the overall theme, if not the accuracy and applicability of the lyrics.


Why would I want to know who’s calling just by the sound of the ringtone? Wouldn’t it only take a second of reading the screen to see who’s on the other line? His ringtone was especially chosen just for him. It’s uplifting to hear the distinct voice (Stevie Wonder’s) and thereby know it’s my husband calling.


In John 10, we read that the sheep know the shepherd by his voice. They won’t follow anyone else but their shepherd. The sheep see this man as someone they can trust, someone who knows them all by name.


We all desire to be known. We post on Facebook and tweet on Twitter and blog on blogs. We may control the content of the information but there’s a part of us that wishes for others—or at least one intimate friend—to not just know us but to know-know us.


I work hard to know-know the most important people in my life. I know one of my daughters needs lots of space and she doesn’t like people to touch her hair. My other daughter is the opposite; she has a minimum required number of hugs I must fill everyday. My son is an early riser, constantly in motion. He plays with the drawstrings on his shorts when he’s deep in concentration on the soccer field.


But I want my children to know they are not only known by me and their dad, but also known by God. Psalm 139 says, “You have searched me, Lord, and you know me…Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.”


If you continue to read John 10 and Christ’s description of the Good Shepherd, you see that the shepherd is willing to lay down his life—his actual body—in the way of a hungry wolf. The one who knows his sheep inside and out is the one willing to die for them.

Hide it under a bushel…NO!

Waking up in our home in Memphis on July 22, 2003, we saw just what a few minutes of severe weather could do to a city. There were no tornadoes or flooding. It was just a thunderstorm but with 100 M.P.H. winds. This storm, later called “Hurricane Elvis,” brought that busy city to a grinding halt.


I don’t fully understand what happens when we lose power during a thunderstorm. But in this case, even to someone who knows nothing about running a power grid, anyone could see the power lines flapping in the wind and the electricity poles splintered in half and lying across the road and know that this was going to be a long repair process.


More than half of the homes and businesses were without power. Our street didn’t get the lights turned back on for 13 days. For the first few days, there was concern that the water wasn’t properly sanitized so we were cautioned from drinking or cooking with it.


We had one-year old twins at the time. On the first day after the storm, I loaded my girls in the car and we drove to the closest grocery store. I planned to pick up a few necessary items to get us through the day. When I got there an hour after the store had opened, I saw that the shelves were nearly empty. Like I was suddenly dropped in the middle of a grocery store game show, I planned my course of action. I sped the double stroller to the breakfast aisle where I quickly grabbed a box of off-brand Cheerios and a dented can of peaches, and then I headed to the dairy section.


The dairy cases were locked shut; a heavy chain snaked through the handles with a padlock in the center. A woman was pleading with the store manager to sell her milk for her baby. The man firmly but kindly told her he couldn’t do it. He said the power was out at the store and the generators had just kicked on so the milk had been unrefrigerated for too long and was not for sale. The panicked mother fell to her knees, wailing. I took that as my cue to leave. I returned the items I had planned to buy to the nearest shelf and took my girls home.


The girls and I stayed in Memphis for the rest of the week, but my husband eventually drove us to Nashville to stay with my parents. The heat finally beat us.


When I look back on that week without electricity, for the most part, I don’t remember being afraid for my safety or for the safety of my girls. (Luckily for me, this was before the post-apocalypse/zombie craze hit our popular culture.)


The only time I really remember feeling scared was when I drove at night. Without streetlights or traffic lights or lights shining through the windows of homes, a driver can lose her bearings easily. I would pass through intersections without stopping because I didn’t know I had approached one until I saw headlights coming down the cross street.


Light is something you can’t fully appreciate until it’s gone. It’s no wonder we associate grief and wickedness with the absence of light. When you search for the word “light” in the Old Testament, you find an abundance of examples in the Book of Job and in the Psalms. The authors plead for light and the clarity it brings. In the dark, he is weary and afraid. He feels alone.


In the Gospels, Jesus claims over and over that he is the light. He asks us to accept his offering of light, which will bring goodness, peace, and direction. After we receive it, we are charged to let his light shine through us for everyone to see.


I’ve seen the confusion and hurt darkness can bring. Let’s choose to embrace this offered light!