Friday, December 30, 2011
This time around is already much different. We are using a different agency, and one of the first things we received in the mail was a thick educational packet all about Ghana heritage, history, education, social roles, and the process of Ghana adoption. It has been extremely informative…..I almost feel geeky over how excited I am to finally have all this information laid out for me! :)
One section that I found extremely insightful was a part entitled ~ Why do children in Ghana become available for adoption? We were asked this question a million times in roundabout ways during our adoption of Justice! Thought it would be good to share this section here on the blog in case others are interested in understanding the different situations of orphans in Ghana (these explanations are via our agency ~ Adoption Advocates International):
1) Inherited orphans: Traditionally, orphaned children are absorbed into the extended family. However, we have found that many family members only take on orphaned children out of a sense of familial obligation and in fact have no desire (or means) to provide for another child. As a result orphaned children may have extended family guardians that either treat the child as a slave/servant or provide the child with less than adequate care and love. When these guardians realize that there is another option (relinquish the child for care and adoption) they are many times very quick to make an adoption plan for the child.
2) One-parent orphans: Many children in Ghana are being raised by one parent that cannot provide adequate care due to poverty. The second parent is usually dead or has permanently deserted the family. Children who only have one parent oftentimes have no opportunity for education and are forced into child labor in order to help provide for the family. *This was Justice’s situation and why he was placed for adoption.
3) Two-parent orphans: It is outside the normal definition of “orphan” to describe an orphan as having two living parents. However, we do see this in Ghana. In these cases the parents, for whatever reason, have no desire to parent the children and abandon them permanently. The parents may be elderly and the child unplanned. The parents may abuse the child and recognize that they cannot adequately care for him/her because of their own psychological issues. The parents may be homeless and have no means to provide adequate food, shelter, or education to the child. In all cases, the parents must be living below poverty level according to local standards in order for AAI to take custody of the child. *This sort of situation reminds me a lot of children being placed into the foster care system in the United States.
4) Street children: Street children are a common sight in Ghana. These are children who have lost contact with their parents and may or may not know of any extended family. Street children can be referred to AAI by someone in the community or from social welfare. The best effort is made to find any living relatives but sometimes this is impossible. If a suitable living condition within Ghana cannot be found for a street child than a long-term care plan that includes international adoption can be put together.
I’ve also had a handful of people inquire about the age of children available for adoption in Ghana. Here is an explanation via our agency….this information is on their website as well (http://www.adoptionadvocates.org/Africa/Ghana/index.php):
Ghana Social Welfare prefers to place children through domestic adoptions, but when no Ghanaian family can be located for an adoptable child, they may be placed with an international family. Babies 0-36 months may be in need of adoption from time to time, but this is not an “infant/toddler program.” The large majority of children available for adoption are age 3 and up. Both sibling sets and single children are available. When in the best interest of the child, unrelated children may be placed in the same adoptive family. HIV+ children may be adopted from Ghana. There is a great need for families who will adopt children 6 years old and older. Most all children in Ghana have at least some English skills by the time they are adopted (many with moderate English). Children adopted through our program may reside in foster homes or children's homes in any region within Ghana.
Thursday, December 29, 2011
This trip was originally intended to begin the remodel of the structures that we planned on turning into a children’s haven like I had blogged about here and here. However, back in October we received an email from Chief Nana that delayed this project:
Hope you are all fine. I have some disappointing news regarding our children’s haven in Asikuma. The government of Ghana has approached us with an urgent request to give the place out to a construction company who are to reconstruct the road from Asikuma to the north. They are to rehabilitate all the buildings to use for a road camp and residential accommodation for their senior staff.
The contract period is between 18 month - 24 months. The condition is that all the rehabilitated buildings will be handed over back to us after the construction period. It is very unfortunate that all our landable plans will have to be reviewed.
Here are my thoughts:
1. We could shelve the children’s haven project until after the construction period and redirect our efforts at other areas. In this case we will benefit from improved infrastructure which we could use for the haven at no cost.
2. Alternatively, I could provide a piece of land measuring one acre. In this case we will have to plan to construct the building at our own pace.
This is food for thought. I know that the good Lord will give us bright ideas to fulfill our mission of supporting these helpless children.
So, this was quite an unexpected road block - literally. However, we are reassured in knowing that God already knew this was going to happen. Perhaps this is Him steering our children’s haven to a different location or just orchestrating the timing. We don’t have the answers yet, but are waiting expectantly as there are many options of how to move forward from here.
Since the children’s haven remodel has been delayed for now, we were able to use this trip to also finish up the library project that we started on our August trip - if you remember we only got it about 50% built (to read posts from our August trip go to my blog archive on my sidebar and click the month of August 2011 and all my posts will be listed out). This trip Jake and the team will also be visiting an orphanage in the Eastern region called Kwahu Orphanage. This orphanage was started by the in-country social worker (named Kofi) that handled our adoption of Justice. Jake will also be hosting a basketball tournament in Accra with the Kingdom Hoops Ghana team….currently there are 18 teams signed up for the tournament!
You never know how God will fill in the itinerary from there, and I am excited to hear the many stories that will come out of this trip. There are 3 tripsters on the team who have never been to Africa before, and I just love the excitement of wondering how God will change them through this experience!
Early this morning I received a text message picture from Jake of him with our two daughters and the little lions he brought for them. His text said: ‘A’ came right up to me to have me pick her up. My heart practically melted in my chest after taking this in at 4am and I could not get back to sleep (which is why some of you also got to enjoy that picture at 4am because I just had to share it)!!!! I just laid there for 2 hours thinking about our girls and adoption and praying and telling God that I trust Him with every aspect of this process. It’s so hard to see their little faces and know that Jake will be leaving them in a few days. My heart wonders how long this adoption will take and how smooth or rough it will be. I am so thankful that I can trust God with every detail. In my devotional this morning I was led to these verses in perfect timing ~
When I am afraid,
I will trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise,
In God I trust; I will not be afraid.
I know from our adoption of Justice that this process is unpredictable, and will be full of opportunities for me to get nervous and fret about the details. I am setting my heart on God's Sovereignty today and choosing not to worry.
Trust Me with every fiber of your being! What I can accomplish in and through you is proportional to how much you depend on Me. One aspect of this is the degree to which you trust Me in a crisis or major decision. Some people fail miserably here, while others are at their best in rough times. Another aspect is even more telling: the constancy of your trust in Me. People who rely on Me in the midst of adversity may forget about Me when life is flowing smoothly. Difficult times can jolt you into awareness of your need for Me, whereas smooth sailing can lull you into the stupor of self-sufficiency.
I care as much about your tiny trust-steps through daily life as about your dramatic leaps of faith. You may think that no one notices, but the One who is always beside you sees everything - and rejoices. Consistently trusting in Me is vital to flourishing in My Presence.
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
And my goodness, the little girl in the movie was like watching a fast forward of my daughter in a few years!!!!! :) My mother-in-law and sister-in-law both called it first, and now we all agree that Rosie in the movie reminds us of Jayla!
The girl in the movie…
And our sweet Jayla...
Of course no one can ever compare to our Jayla, but I haven't yet seen anyone that even comes close to her coloring with hair and dark brown eyes, except this little girl in the movie (her personality mimics that of the character in the movie too which got me and the boys laughing at the similarities so many times)!
This was a good movie, but probably better for the older kids….like 7+ years....JJ and Jayla’s attention spans didn’t quite make it because of all the adult scenes. We were going back and forth between this one and Alvin & the Chipmunks but I decided to let Justice pick since he always gives up what he wants for what JJ and Jayla want. I am SO NOT a movie watcher, but my kids are turning me into one! Tonight they have a movie night planned here at home. I do have to say that I love looking forward to snuggling up on the couch by the fire with all my little loves! Winter break ROCKS!
Monday, December 26, 2011
That’s Jordan aka Burgie there shooting the three. Jordan was on the first team that Jake ever coached in AAU basketball. Jake coached Jordan starting in 7th grade, and then on up through high school. On this particular night Jordan’s team lost to ISU, but he had an amazing night, racking up 30 points which included 9 three’s. Jordan has a high passion for the game, and is quite the competitor making him so much fun to watch. I caught a lot of pictures of him shooting the three-ball!
After the game it was off to Grandpa & Grandma Sullivan’s house in Minnesota to celebrate Christmas a few days early.
Jayla and cousin Dakota...
Everyone always asks me where Jayla and JJ get their red hair from….now you know!
Right before we left it snowed about an inch so we got a little glimpse of a white Christmas after all!
Before long it was Christmas Eve and the whole gang was dressed up and ready to celebrate (If you’re wondering where our Rosebud student is, she goes back to the reservation to be with her family during holidays. Yaw and Peprah are hanging with us over school break).
The next day at Grandma Lori’s we did some more celebrating, and as my Grandma always says, “It’s just so nice to all be together.” :) I am thankful everyday that my grandparents get to enjoy their great-grandchildren! What a blessing!
My mom made a turkey for dinner, and Justice was so excited to see what an actual turkey looked like once it was cooked! He missed out on this part during Thanksgiving because it had been carved before we got there!
This year Jake had a couple of super-dooper gifts for me that he had been keeping a secret. Usually I can guess ahead-of-time what he’s gotten me (he hates that!) but not this year. This one totally knocked me off my feet, and I have to share….it’s a picture canvas with the verse that God has used to change and refine me….
That’s me and my future daughter (can’t show you her face yet) just moments after I was confronted with the reality that there was no mother for me to hand her to or to console her as she cried. I had not seen this special picture!!!!! One of the other trip-sters had snapped it and after all these months I had not come across it! What a beautiful and tear-inducing surprise. I so desperately wish that I could just blink my eyes and have them here with us. Jake is off to Ghana tomorrow but I am sitting this trip out and it is killing me to not be going. Jake will get to see our girls and we’ve packed some special things for them including these…
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
I turned around, “Um, yes,” I replied a little shaky.
“Well, could I get a ride from you? You see I was working on the pipelines in the construction area back there (pointing back behind our church) and all the other guys left for lunch. I was just finishing up some things and my cell phone died. I really need to get back into town because my girlfriend has to get to work and I told her I would be back to watch her son before then, and she doesn’t have a phone and…” His story went on for a few more sentences.
Classic story I thought to myself. In the next 10 seconds I began picking through his words in my mind to see if the details measured up. I believed that he probably was working on the construction behind our church because a bunch of workers have been out there for the past year working on stuff. He had on dirty work boots and construction looking clothes. However, I was little confused about why all the other workers would have left him there, and I was also confused as to why he didn’t just walk into our church into the office and call someone for a ride. Hmmmm….while I worked through these details the guy got up from the ground and stood there waiting for an answer. So, I said a quick prayer to God that went a little something like this Dear God, I am thinking about giving this guy a ride. If I should not do this, please stop me right now. Otherwise, please protect my life as I help him out. Please don’t let me wind up dead in a forest somewhere. Amen. A laughable prayer, but I was
So, I said I would give him a ride and off we went. We headed into Ames and I realized that this guy had a lot to say! He started asking me a few questions about our church. Then, this led him to say, “Yeah, I really need to get back to church. My life’s kinda messed up.” From that point on, for whatever reason, this guy went on to tell me his entire life story in the matter of about 10 minutes. I listened as he spoke about his past mistakes, and how his life was currently in shambles because of his poor decisions. As he spoke, I could see guilt spread across his face as he shared certain details with me and continued to say, “I hope you don’t think I am a bad person. I know I need to get my life in order. I need to get back to church.”
I started feeling awful for this guy and the burdens of guilt that he was carrying around. Eventually it was my turn to talk. He had mentioned multiple times this idea of ‘getting back to church’, so that’s where I started. And the first thing I said was “It’s not your church attendance that God wants. He wants your heart…”
In talking with my new friend, I had realized quickly what his impression of ‘the church’ from the outside looking in was. It seemed as though he thought that if he could add in a little ‘religious’ stuff to his life then his ‘bad’ could be outweighed by the good of doing ‘religious’ things – like going to church. I *totally* could relate to his way of thinking, because I used to believe this exact thing.
However, in the Bible, God makes it clear that this is NOT the way we can get right with Him. In Matthew 15: 7- 9 Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for this.
"You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain, their teachings are but rules taught by men.’"
Basically Jesus called them actors. They appeared to honor God because they looked ‘religious’ on the outside with all their traditions and rituals and church-going and worship. But they were so concerned with their outward appearance of looking religious that they neglected the one thing that God really wanted – their hearts.
This is where we need to understand the difference between ‘religion’ and the gospel. ‘Religion’ is about behavior modification. It’s about observing certain behavior policies, and refraining from others. It’s about cleaning up your act, and obeying rules, and following standards and displaying good behavior. The truth of the Bible - the gospel – makes it clear that God does NOT operate on this sort of points system that ‘religious’ acts promote. He doesn’t chalk up a point for us when we do something good, and then erase it when we do something bad. In other words, we don’t have a certain amount of points that we must score with Him in order to be on his ‘good side’. Interestingly, Jesus spoke about this exact thing over and over in the Bible during His ministry on earth. There is a perfect section of scripture that displays this in Luke 18:9-14~
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
The Pharisee had it all wrong. Getting right with God (termed justification in the Bible) isn’t about banking on the things we can do and our own ideas of how to get right standing with Him - like adding in some religious things or right living. That sort of heart attitude is prideful, and only trusts in SELF – an idea Jesus abolishes. In Isaiah 64:6 the Bible says all our righteous acts are like FILTHY RAGS.
The tax collector had it all right. His prayer showed the overflow of his heart. He stood there, praying to God, so ashamed of his sin that he couldn’t even look up to heaven. He was overwhelmed by his recognition that he was a sinner. He confessed that he desperately needed God’s help. He cried out for mercy. The Bible terms this heart attitude repentance.
And mercy is what Jesus came to give.
A repentant heart is ready to receive the awful-beautiful act of the cross. As the nails were pounded into the cross, so was our sin. As His blood poured out, so did His mercy. As His breath ended, He took the punishment we deserved for our sin. MERCY. FORGIVENESS. ATONEMENT. JUSTIFICATION. RIGHTEOUSNESS. GRACE. FREEDOM FROM THE SLAVERY OF SIN. ETERNAL LIFE. That is what He gave us. All of our supposed ‘religious acts’ that we try to chalk up in order to be on His good side are a bunch of junk in comparison. The gospel isn’t about us – what we have or haven’t done. It’s about what Jesus has done for us. One man. Son of God. Jesus Christ. Mighty Deliverer. Prince of Peace. Savior. He came to die. So we could be in right standing with God.
Ephesians 2:8-10 ~ God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.
John 14:6 ~ Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Until we realize that we are dependent people, who have NOTHING to give to God other than repentant hearts who are sickened over our sin and pasts, and ready for our Savior to rescue us, then we’ve missed it. We’ve missed the gospel and we’ve missed salvation. We’ve missed the point of Christmas and Easter and the whole entire point of our life. We can add in a bunch of ‘good’ acts to our life, but we’ll still miss it. We will continue to be God’s enemies, until we have hearts that trust in Jesus.
Jesus came first not to make bad people good, but to make dead people alive. ~Tullian Tchividjian~
Friday, December 16, 2011
Jayla and Great-Grandma
Thursday, December 15, 2011
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
This next video is more of the same, but since the other got cut off at the end, fast forward this one to the end and you can see her GIANT smile of accomplishment once the book ends. It’s so sweet!
Monday, December 12, 2011
The other night in the car we got into an interesting conversation with our Rosebud girl. It went a little something like this:
Out of nowhere she said, “Don’t you wonder what the end of the world is going to be like?”
Her question was the perfect invitation into a spiritual conversation.
“If you would have been in church today you wouldn’t have to wonder. You would know,” I replied.
For the past few months we have been going through the book of Revelation at church, talking in depth about the end times and how it will go down. She had overslept that morning, and I had decided not to lure her/drag her/force her out of bed.
Without missing a beat she promptly responded with a giggle, “My mom and grandma think that aliens are going to come suck us up and take us away.”
Hmmmm, hadn’t heard this one from her yet. She started talking about some movie she had seen and going on and on about death by aliens. One thing that God has revealed about our Rosebud girl is that deep down she is very fearful about anything regarding death. Because of that, she likes to make little of the subject. She talks about death in very comical/non-serious ways. She was obsessed with Halloween this year, and would always excitedly point out lawn decorations filled with make-shift graveyards, and zombie looking creatures. She fills her mind with books and movies all about darkness and evil and she becomes completely numb to it all. Her assumptions on what death will be like for her arrive at very comfortable-feeling conclusions.
Unfortunately, death for the person who has rejected God will be anything but comfortable. I felt the truth starting to well up inside of me, just waiting to bust out of my mouth. I began to recap what we had learned in church about the Seven Bowls of God’s Wrath (Revelations 16) and I shared about some of the plagues God will send when the world comes to an end.
“The seas, rivers, and springs will all turn to blood. That means toilets and faucets will only pour out blood. Those who reject God will break out with ugly, awful, painful sores. The sun will be given the power to scorch them with fire. Giant hailstones will be hurled from the sky each weighing a hundred pounds and they will fall on people...”
Then she said something that made me hurt for where she is at spiritually, more than I ever have. She said, “If all those things were happening, why wouldn’t you just crawl in a hole and die?” My mind wandered to a different section in Revelation which described this exact heart response. As she implied, some will continue to reject God even as He displays His power through these judgments and plagues that will be poured out onto the earth. They would rather die than fall on their knees and acknowledge God’s Sovereign power. Revelation 6:12-17:
I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.
Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”
Those who in their life flaunted their disbelief and showed no reverence for God will find themselves face to face with God’s wrath if they are still living on the earth during this time. They will realize that they were wrong. And in these verses we see that rather than repent, rather than look to Jesus and believe, they instead call on ‘mother nature’ to have rocks fall on them and kill them as they hide from God in terror. Further still, others in their pride and arrogance will curse His name rather than bow down to Him. Revelation 16: 8-9:
The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and the sun was given power to scorch people with fire. They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him.
As I pointed this out she listened intently and then said, “That’s what you believe. The Lakota Sioux believe….” And then she went on to explain a few of the spiritual stories of her people that have been passed down to her from generation to generation. This is the point that we always get to when Jesus comes up. Every. Single. Time. She’s mentioned that to her, our faith - Christianity - is ‘white man religion’. If she were to bow down to Jesus, that would be rejecting her culture, her family traditions, her very identity, and once again giving into the ‘white man’ - which all of American History has proven to be a bad thing for her people. When I look at this all from her perspective, I can comprehend the loyalty that she feels to what she has been taught her whole life.
But there is something that doesn’t quite add up, and she hasn’t been able to connect the dots yet. She has expressed many times that she doesn’t want to go back to the reservation. So when we got to this point in the conversation I said, “Do the people on the reservation seem to be living lives filled with joy, hope, and peace?” I already knew what her answer would be.
“No,” she said.
“And why don’t you want to go back there? Why don’t you want to grow up there and raise a family there?”
“Because there are horrible things there. The suicides, rape, alcoholism, murders, depression, teenage pregnancies. It ruins people’s lives.”
Exactly. And what I know that she doesn’t yet, is that those things that are ruining the lives of her people are the product of Satan’s hands. Satan is the great deceiver. He can use what looks like ‘religion’ and ‘culture’ to lead people astray - far, far away from truth, generation after generation.
I know I serve a God who came for all nations and all people (Matthew 28:18-20), although Satan would try to dishevel that truth. The new life that Christ can bring stands in stark contrast to a life of guilt, shame, and emptiness that plagues her people.
Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)
She’s already seen lives destroyed. I hope that she will get to experience life to the full through a Savior that gave his life for hers.
We of course are not the first to discover this tension of Christianity being perceived by Native Americans as ‘white man religion’. That tension has just traveled into my home now, so I am becoming very interested in it. I just found out about this book:
(Book of Hope)
It is a collaboration of stories and testimonies written about Native American’s who have put their faith in Jesus. Our church also supplied us with this book when we signed on for the exchange program:
Thursday, December 8, 2011
In this home, anything can turn into a competition, even balloon volleying. This don’t-let-the-balloon-touch-the-floor-game is a family favorite right now.
The other day Justice came home from school with this….
Monday, December 5, 2011
Pre-game pep talk with Daddy…
Love it! Now watch this one where JJ sets the screen (sort of) and then rolls and gets the ball for a shot.
LOVE that smile! And love watching these lil boogers!