Gratitude

While we are in the home stretch of this side of this adoption, we know the rest is just beginning. As difficult as some of the things we have walked through have been, I suspect some of the challenges we face as the family tree of our children changes will be much more intense. It’s a spiritual battle.

We leave on Sunday. This Sunday. May 24th. Our “Gotcha Day” as it is called in the adoption world is May 26th. We will pick the children up from their foster parents, and for all intents and purposes,, they will become part of our family. I can’t help but feel in a spiritual way, they always have been, but now it will be official! What an amazing moment that will be, as we, for the last time descend the 85 steps and roll out of the street Siri can’t quite pronounce correctly to head to our new home away from home….as a family. One, giant, family of ten. I can’t wait!

As Amy and I have reflected on this impending day, we continue to be overwhelmed with an amazing sense of gratitude. I thought I’d take this last post on this side of the new beginning and mention some key people & groups who have walked with us so faithfully. This is always dangerous as I don’t want to leave anyone out…..I will do my best to keep this simple.

Children’s House International
Well, this wouldn’t be happening without you. Thank you Nina & Rebecca for believing in us and for asking us to take a risk on these kids. Without your encouragement, I’m not sure we ever would have asked for Poland to bend the rules for us. Thank you Rebecca……You answered every question; you responded to my texts & called me from your cell phone in a parking lot. Heck, you even came to visit us here in Indiana. God knew what He was doing when He connected our family with CHI & you. We wouldn’t have wanted to do this with anyone else.
And our friend, Grace. Wow how much you have worked for us even before we knew who you were. Of course, you were already famous in our minds, but meeting you was one of the most special moments of this process. Our kindred spirits and mutual love for God and orphans is incredible. To see you advocate for the children, to go to bat for them is unmatched. We will try to express it, but you’ll never know how much we appreciate & love you. You are a friend for life and an honorary Carlson :-)!!

JSC Foundation
You were the first granting agency to believe in this call of God.

Help Us Adopt
How grateful we are you came along side of us so quickly.

Families Outreach
You came on a day we needed it.

Kaitlyn’s Fund
You people are amazing. NO ONE prayed over us and this process like you. You were a partner in this thing and we will never forget that.

Brittany’s Hope
Connected through our agency, but what an amazing gift!

Hands of Hope
Thank you for the ministry you do for Indiana families. You are spreading the love of Christ in amazing ways.

A Child Waits
We are so grateful for you. Always concerned for us and our children. Your hearts for them and us are incredible.

Gift of Adoption
You finished this race for us. We can bring our children home without financial worries. You’ll never know the peace this has brought us.

The Ladies of GRACE
I still do not have words to say what you have done for us. I am speechless.

The Journey Church
What can you say about such an amazing church family. You have loved us, supported us, prayed for us, walked with us, hurt with us when things were shaky, rejoiced with us when good news came, sacrificially given to this cause – no one has given collectively more than you, and now you’re letting us go to finish this process for a VERY LONG six weeks. There are so many of you we could name….probably all of you who have done something significant or played some important role in this journey we have taken together. You are with us…..and we have felt it the whole time. We thank God every day for you. Always know we NEVER take you for granted.

To our Families
More than I could say. Your opportunity is before you….to be grandparents, aunts & uncles, and cousins to these precious children. They will know you and love you like no other. You will be part of making them who they are. We chose this for our family…you didn’t. We know that. We are grateful you have come along side of us and welcomed these children, albeit only in spirit so far, you will soon hug their necks and kiss their faces, changing their family tree and heritage with us. We couldn’t do this without you.

Special Friends
I won’t name you here for your own privacy. And I’m certain a few of you would punch me in the nose if I did, but you know who you are. It is rare for a pastor to have such close friends. People he can be himself around. People who will hear his heart. People who won’t freak out when he thinks out loud or says something stupid. People who will love his family. People who will stand beside him through the thick and thin – especially when others are abandoning. People who will travel halfway around the world to support what God is doing through his family. You have valued our journey. You have let me shut up and bend. You have saved my truck. You have loved my kids like a grandparent. You have befriended my wife. You have told us the truth. You have encouraged us with care and prayer and love. You have walked beside us in some crazy things. You have shaken your head at insane ideas. You have empowered mission even when it really was crazy. What you have done is nothing short of miraculous. We have not missed that. I know we don’t say it enough, but you are special to us. You mean the world to us. You show us Jesus. Thank you. I only hope one day we will be as much Christ to you as you have been to us.

Our Father, Jesus Christ His Son, & The Holy Spirit
Thank you Father. The love you so powerfully demonstrated has modeled for us what it truly means to love unconditionally. Jesus, you went to the cross for us; you intercede for us; you stand in the gap for us. Forever you will be praised. Holy Spirit….thank you for the miraculous work of grace you continue to process in our lives. Without the work of grace you’ve done in us, we would never be able to give the love of God to others. May we be humble and grateful and submitted to your will & plan forever.

In Gratitude,
Jeff & Amy

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The End of the Beginning

It’s taken ten months to get here. No, eleven.
I’ve lost count.

Next Sunday, May 24th we will board a Lufthansa plane bound for Poland, our four biological children in tow, to bond, legally adopt, and bring home our four beautiful kids waiting right now for us to come back.

I have so many things rolling through my head right now. So many thoughts I eventually want to write about, and probably will, on this blog. I’ve learned so much already. My faith has grown. I understand Father God in a way I never had considered. I am not the same person I once was. Neither is my wife. Neither are my children. This has changed everything.

It would be easy to assume this last trip is the end of this journey. Like we will land in America sometime in July and the end has come. I suppose this is partially true. But then again, it’s not true at all. Sure, the end of this portion of the journey is upon us. We have a few more hurdles to leap. A judge to contend with. EIGHT children in an unfamiliar place, eating unfamiliar things, surrounded by an unfamiliar culture for six weeks. I’m certain it will be unforgettable. But it will end. We will get through court. We will get visas and passports, we will survive US customs and immigration, and we will come home. It will end.

Actually, I think it’s more of a beginning than an end. I preach to my congregation often a spiritual truth I believe applies here as well. Whatever you’re going through, whatever God is working in your life isn’t for now. Oh it most assuredly feels like it is and if the situation is difficult, you probably are looking forward to the end. The problem is, God doesn’t have a finite view of time like we do. Our lives aren’t laid out on some divine timeline to God. He sees our lives woven IN time; THROUGH time; BEFORE & AFTER time – at least our time. What’s happening in your life today is probably to help you get through something or help someone else through something in a decade.

Joseph was sold into slavery so he could eventually save all of Israel.
David was hunted by a tyrant so he could learn to trust in the Lord to govern Israel.
Paul was put in prison so 2000 years later we could read the letters he wrote.
John was isolated on Patmos so God could reveal to him the final message to the church.
Jesus was crucified for the billions who would one day, eventually, believe.

It’s always about something else. It’s always a beginning. The end of our something is often the beginning of God unfolding His plan through our lives. You can’t lead someone where you haven’t been. You can’t walk with someone down a pathway unfamiliar and be of benefit. I think the fact we cannot see all the “why” answers to our situation is incredibly frustrating. It makes us want to give up sometimes, especially when the whole being faithful thing gets impossible. But if we could just for a moment see….if we could get a glimpse of what God was ultimately doing….if we could have faith in what we cannot see or understand, I think we’d see beauty.

Have you ever had the “aha” moment with God? Where all of the sudden all the cosmos align and you totally understand the plan and ways of the Lord in your life? They don’t come often, but when they do, it’s beautiful. When we finally see God has a plan; He hasn’t abandoned us; He’s working things for OUR good and HIS purposes, we can have peace, whether in the end or the beginning.

So our new beginning happens next week. In my mind I have expectations and thoughts on how this whole thing will go. But truthfully, we don’t know. We do know God has led us here. His hand has been evident from the very first google search. He’s proven His will over and over and over again. What will God use these last eleven months for in our future or someone else’s? No idea. But I’m excited to find out!

Maybe you find yourself at an end or even a beginning of something God is orchestrating (which is EVERYTHING). Trust Him…..that’s really all I can encourage you with. If you feel you’re in the throws of the fight of your life and you just can’t wait for it to end….trust Him. If you’re at the end of a trial or even a victory, look for the new beginning God is getting ready to start in you. Every end is a beginning.

And God’s beginnings are beautiful.

Parenting From the Middle

Have you ever been in that awkward position when you have to try to parent someone else’s kid? It’s really not easy to do for lots of reasons, but primarily because chances are, those other parents choose to parent their children in a way different style than you would. So when you try to correct or lead another kid, it often is difficult to do.

Now imagine trying to parent a child which is indeed your child, but over whom you’ve never had real authority….and frankly still don’t. But you are put in a position to try to do this.
This is what it’s like to be on a first adoption trip, have the children out and alone with you, need to parent them, but not really know to what kind of parenting they will respond or even how they’ve been parented in their foster home or orphanage…and forget the fact this older child, we’ll call her Abby, also spent six years with her biological family, followed by at least two foster homes. No doubt every one of those places parented differently…..or maybe even not at all.

Amy and I, during our whole visit, felt like we were parenting from the middle. Needing to parent but trying to do so with no real authority or permission. It was interesting.

But like usual, God had prepared a way. The story I’m about to tell you is probably one of my favorite, if not my favorite moment from the five-day visit with our children.

742Sunday was an interesting day. We did not go see the children until late afternoon since we needed to take a look at some potential places to stay with all 10 of us when we return. We found a lovely place with some wonderful hosts! We also ventured up to the town where the children were born and took a look at the Baltic Sea. Figured we were so close…..why not? Before you get excited about our “beach” visit, please know it was 40 degrees and VERY windy. Not exactly sun-bathing weather! But it was beautiful….looking from this vantage point, the next point of land would be Sweden.

After a nice lunch near the beach (I think Amy had two kinds of COLD FISH! I opted for the schnitzel and potatoes.), we headed back to the kid’s apartment for yet another 85 step climb. We had a nice visit for a couple of hours, playing with them in their bedrooms and then left for our hotel, promising to be back bright and early to take them for the day. It was cute when Abby, our oldest in this bunch, let us know all she had planned for Monday….a walk…shopping…photo booth at the mall….lunch, and fun. She was so excited.

In the course of the visit we discovered Abby had a Facebook page. Wait…what?
She’s eight years old, mind you. Then we found out talking with her, she has had it since she was SIX!! Yep, her biological parents set her up with a Facebook page so she could communicate with them and vice versa. Her biological father also gave her an old cell phone which couldn’t make calls but, when connected to wifi, could get on the internet. We were VERY UNCOMFORTABLE with all of this. But what could we do? We were only her mom and dad in our hearts, not legally yet. We had no authority to take the phone away or cancel her Facebook account. We knew it wasn’t Abby’s fault, she was innocent, but we were concerned.

We left with our concerns to our hotel and, as we were talking about it, I noticed some Facebook notifications on my app. Yes, you guessed it, Abby had found our Facebook page and started liking pics and even commenting on a few. She was very sweet and saying things which made our hearts melt, but that wasn’t the point! We wondered what the courts would think if they found out we had this kind of contact with her? Was this a good thing or a bad thing? We knew our biological children would not have access to Facebook (I can’t understand why any parent allows their young children to have Facebook, but hey, that’s us) for several more years, but here we are, stuck parenting from the middle. I called Grace and she was concerned. She said to “block her right away!” so I did. That hurt a little. My first great action as a parent is to block my daughter from having access to me. Wonderful.

Small caveat. How often do we do for our children what is RIGHT over what is POPULAR? Hopefully we always consider the wisdom of decisions we make for them, or help them make, based on what is best for them. I know as a parent we do sometimes make decisions for them on what is best for US or what we prefer rather than what is right for them. We must consider what we are teaching them; what we are showing them is important or unimportant in life; how they should respond to adversity or even victory and so many more things. I believe we would do better, present company included, if we more often made selfless decisions for their good. They won’t always like it, but this ensures they have the very best chance at life.
Isn’t this what God does for us?

So, I blocked her. It hurt a little.
Amy said, “We need to go over there and talk to her.”
I said, “Why? We can talk to her tomorrow?”
Amy said, “No, we need to go now. We can help her understand, but not from here.”
And this is parenting from the middle.
Amy was SO right, as much as it pains me to admit!

I called Grace back and explained to her why we needed to go back to the foster home at 8 o’clock at night. She came to pick us up, and again we climbed the 85 steps to deal with our first hard situation with one of our kids. We found Abby sad and a little mopey. Definitely not the lovely and bright little girl we had come to expect. We took her in the bedroom so we could talk privately with her. Through Grace’s translation, we had a conversation which went something like this:

Jeff – First, you’re not in trouble, and this isn’t your fault.
Abby – Bursts into tears and cries hard on my chest while I held her. Heart breaking.
Daddy – Facebook can be good but it can also be dangerous, especially for beautiful little girls like you……etc, etc, etc. Plus, you are our daughter in our hearts, but the courts have to make it official. They might not like us having this kind of contact yet.
In a family, when we make mistakes (and both moms & dads, and kids make them) we don’t stop loving each other; we don’t give up on each other. We fix it, forgive, move on, and most of all, never stop loving each other.
Abby (through the translator & paraphrased) – I thought I blew it. That you wouldn’t want me anymore. That you wouldn’t want to take me home to be your daughter.
Mommy & Daddy – Crying. SSSSOOOOO broken over this statement. She believed we wouldn’t want her anymore because in her mind she had blown this chance to have a family. Not only her chance, but her siblings as well. Wow.
Daddy – Abby, you are our daughter. We love you and nothing will ever change that. There is nothing you could do to make that stop, or make us not want you, or not want you in our family. You are our daughter. Period. Forever.
Abby – Giant smile through her tears. Relief all over her body & spirit.
Daddy – When we get you home, we will give you everything you need. You won’t have to worry about it. You won’t have to wonder. We will always love you, always provide what you need, always take care of you. That will happen in a few weeks. Until then, will you trust us? Will you trust we know what is best for you and will do everything we can to protect and love you? Will you trust us?
Abby – Yes, I will trust you.

We hugged it out, probably smooched on her A LOT and went back out in the kitchen with the rest of the family.
I cannot adequately express in this blog what this conversation did for us and for Abby – and probably by association, the other three as well.

When we arrived the next morning, Abby ran to us and in broken English told us on her own without a translator, “I deleted my Facebook, Skype, Gmail, and Instagram. I trust you.”

We melted.

I said, “Abby, we are SO PROUD OF YOU! This is very brave, and we love you so much for trusting us.” We had a wonderful last full day together.

I have learned a lot about trust in this journey. Trusting my agency & agent, trusting the process, trusting my instincts, trusting my wife’s instincts, and most of all, trusting God. Abby put her trust in our hearts even though we aren’t yet legally her parents and have no real claim over her outside of what’s in our hearts before God. But the trust she exhibited towards us was amazing…..and child-like. It’s how I’ve tried to approach God through this process, and now with everything in my life. I think my faith is more child-like now than it has ever been. I want the Lord to know I trust Him. Even when I don’t understand. Even when it hurts. I trust Him. Just like Abby trusts us.

Do you trust Him?

The First Day of the Rest of Your Life

“What questions do you have?” the social worker asked us through a translator.

Questions?

We’ve Got Questions.

Like a MILLION.

Just as we got to the top of those 85 steps and walked through the door, we were quickly ushered into the kitchen. The children were sent to the living room to watch a cartoon and wait. It’s important to note the children had been made aware of our family about a month before our arrival. Once we had official approval to adopt the children, the kids were informed they were being adopted and their new “mama i tata” were coming to visit. So we were not the only one’s who had been waiting…..and now, 10 feet away, we waited a little longer.

One. More. Meeting.

One. More. Meeting.

The short, thirty minute meeting with the foster mom, social worker, and our agency host, Grace, was actually very helpful. The foster mom told as much about the children. We learned some of their likes, dislikes, how they interacted, behavior, traits, nicknames, and more. She shared with us what she knew about their past, as did the social worker, and encouraged us with how wonderful these kids really, truly are. Then we were given a chance to ask our questions. I think Amy had filled out six or seven notebook pages of questions the previous night, so we were armed and ready! There was much to discover.
What is their nighttime routine?
What helps calm them?
Do they have a favorite toy? Will it be coming with them?
What do they love that must stay behind when we return?
How do they feel about being adopted?
What kind of contact do they have with their biological family?
How will they feel about new, Americanized names?
Are they excited? Anxious? Dreading this?
How much do they know about us? This process? That we’re leaving in a few days?
On and on and on…..things any parent would naturally know about their children, but about which we were completely in the dark. We barely had any medical information and nothing on their social/family background.

After about fifteen minutes of our questions, it occurred to all these smart adults, there were four children in the next room very nervous and anxious to meet their new mom and dad. We adjourned the meeting with a promise to answer further questions later. Right now, it was finally time to meet the children.

Our hearts skipped a beat.

I mean you must understand until this moment, these children only existed in a picture (ONE PICTURE!) and three very short videos. We have been working hard to bring these children home for nearly a year going on nothing but a sense of Divine providence and a picture. But now we were moments and steps away from meeting them for the very first time. This is how I felt just before Chloe, our oldest, was born. That moment, when you meet your first-born for the first time, is amazing. The wonder and awe one feels for God and His creative power is unmatched. The moment when Chloe was born (and all my children, but there’s just something about the fist time) I was overwhelmed with the power and presence of God. Just unfathomable unless you’ve lived it.
This moment was not unlike that moment.
We had only “given birth” to these children in our hearts. Yet the same feeling of amazement, Godly power and providence, and ultimately joy overwhelmed me. I honestly thought, leading up to this moment, I would sob like a baby. All the pent-up emotions finally being released. Amy and I were surprised when what overwhelmed us was pure joy. Joy unspeakable. And full of glory because these children, my children, were made in the image of God. The same image into which my biological children were made. This IS that moment. It’s actually now, as I reflect on this moment, the tears come.

They were shy and nervous. I am not a small man. I was afraid I may even be a little

Family Books

Family Books

scary. I had decided before we left I would get on my knees to be at their level, so I immediately dropped to my knees. An appropriate response when confronted with the miraculous. They introduced themselves and told us how old they were. The two littles were clinging to the foster mom for safety while the two older were rather stoic and reserved. We asked them questions and gave them the small gifts we had brought them; a teddy bear – we bought one for all eight kiddos, and the family picture books we had made for each of them. I can’t show you the whole book, but this picture is our page. There is a page for each of our biological kids naming them sisters and brothers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and finally, Charlie the dog. Our agency recommends these books so the children can familiarize themselves with the people they will likely meet first when they come home. You can check them out here. We walked each of the kids through their book (one specific for each child), introducing them to the family which would love them for the rest of their life.

They started to relax just a little. The children wanted to show us their rooms, where they slept, and some of their things. Now, I am a pretty big kid at heart and love to wrestle and have fun with my children. The kids had bunk beds so to break the ice I started picking them up and “flying” them high landing on the top bunk. They started to giggle, play with us, and let down their guard…..well…..all but the oldest. She was still keeping her distance, unsure of what to think about all of this.

After the “flying” got boring (more likely, daddy got tired!) we decided to walk to a nearby playground. The kids were already starting to call us “mama” and “tata” which is Polish for “daddy” (you can’t make this stuff up!). We played on the playground for about an hour and took some great pictures. The younger two girls were very interactive with us and I was just seeing a glimpse of it our older two. I would say on the playground is where I began to bond with my new eight year old daughter and six-year-old son.

The children needed to go in for lunch and the littles were going to take a nap so we decided to take their advice and head back to our hotel for a nap of our own. We had lunch with Grace and cautiously asked her how she thought things were going. She is WELL KNOWN for her honestly and FAMOUS (at least around Children’s House International Poland program) for being full of awesomeness. She did not disappoint. I kept telling her the whole time how grateful we were for her and we really couldn’t do it without her – all of which is true. But, see, Grace loves Jesus. Deeply. it’s not just we couldn’t do it without her, but that we wouldn’t want to do this with anyone else. She was and is incredible. We are glad to have her as an adoption liaison, but mostly as our friend.
Oh, and she felt like things were going very well!

We trudged back up the 85 steps to pick the children up and take them to a nearby mall which had an indoor play place. because the cars in Europe are so small, we had to make two trips. So I took the oldest and youngest and went in the first batch. Picture that. Jeff…..a giant American sitting in a mall with his two daughters HE HAS JUST MET FOUR HOURS EARLIER and who speak no English….for 45 minutes….alone.
I saw a frozen yogurt shop and, thanks to my friend Tim Enloe, knew the Polish word for “ice cream.” We figured it out and the girls enjoyed a small cup of delicious strawberry yogurt, one with chocolate topping and one with sour candy. Our oldest had ordered the sour but the youngest wanted that. I was so proud to get a glimpse of our daughter’s character when she preferred her little sister over herself and traded ice cream. It was so sweet.
Then the unthinkable happened……we had to visit the restroom.

So here I am, in the family restroom with a three-year old and eight year old daughters I’ve known for four hours, knowing no English, all by myself. Thankfully, we all survived….but let me just tell you, it was a little awkward. First time things often are.

The other group arrived shortly after. We played and had a great time in the playground.

When it was time to go home, we reversed the order and I stayed now with the middle son and the other daughter. The exact same scenario as before, and it happened almost the exact same way, bathroom visit and all. But we survived. We made it! We met our kids, hugged their necks, kissed their faces, with a language barrier, with some apprehension, with some awkward bathroom breaks……but with an enormous amount of love. They felt it. We all did.

I really believe we began to bond that afternoon. Lots of people will question how that could happen so soon, but I’m certain it did. It was an amazing “birth” day. Not with pushing and well….you know (thank God for epidurals!). But with the same wonder and awe at what the Father had done…and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

85 Steps

The journey began only 4,600 miles away. For the last nine months, though, it might as well have been a million. So many challenges; so many hurdles to overcome; so 456many setbacks and victories and breakthroughs…..so much God has worked in our own hearts as He also, no doubt, prepared those little hearts to receive us. We are not the same people who began this journey a million miles and nine months ago.

I think often we ask God to do major things in our lives, or at lease we hope that He will. Sometimes those processes seem like they take forever, like we will never arrive or the brokenness will never end. The most impact thing I’ve learned through this adoption so far, and I believe there is much more to go, is how God looks at our lives through many facets. I’ve already written about discovering this process wasn’t about me. Well, it is, but it isn’t. Or it isn’t JUST. Anything God is doing in your life is always about so many other people and situations and activities in which God is working. He has many different angles into which His plan is unfolding. Reading about our revelation of God adopting all of us may have deeply impacted your journey with God. Or God may use the adversity we’ve faced to help encourage someone else. Or maybe as we made this 4,600 mile journey to Poland, our contact with the foster parents, or the adoption center, or the social worker, or a slightly racist rabbi from NYC on a train, may plant a seed into their heart of something else God is working for them. Our obedience to this journey back in June may have been the key to someone’s heart being drawn to God. Your journey may be a million miles, or just 4,600. Many other’s journey will run parallel to yours or touch yours in some way. God is a comprehensive God…..using situations in all of our lives to teach us, yes, but also to influence and work on the hearts of others. This has been a major revelation for us which seemed to come together on this first trip.

455As we boarded an airplane in Chicago for the long flight to Brussels, Belgium and then on to Warsaw, praying for our pilots, we knew every hour in the air was a few hundred miles closer to meeting our children….and all those God had ordained to parallel our journeys. We arrived in Warsaw

Amy & me in Cloth Hall in Krakow

Amy & me in Cloth Hall in Krakow

(officially pronounced “var-sha-vah”) after 24 hours of straight travel and immediately boarded a train for Krakow (officially pronounced “kra-kov”). We wanted to spend a couple of days decompressing from “American life” before we headed into important meetings. For the record, Krakow is a wonderful place. We loved the people, the ambiance, the charm, and, of course, the food!

After enjoying Krakow for a few days and visiting Auschwitz, the most notorious of Nazi Germany’s Concentration Camps where 1.1 million people, 900,000 of whom were Jews were murdered, we headed back to Warsaw for one night. After 4,300 miles, we had a majorly important meeting with adoption center officials before we could make the last 300 mile journey to finally kiss & hug children we had only loved in our hearts. This meeting was HUGE. The adoption center had been critical of a few things in our dossier and had delayed and even threatened (at least it felt that way) to stop the process. We knew they had the power to send us home. We had been praying about this meeting for a while and were confident in the plan of God. Maybe He was working on these officials hearts through us?? Definitely.

Pierogis, Polish cheese, cheesecake, and lattes in Krakow! YUM!

Pirogi, Polish cheese, cheesecake, and lattes in Krakow! YUM!

On April 16th, we met with the adoption officials in Warsaw. They were kind, and overall, we enjoyed meeting them. We took gifts of Indiana University mugs filled with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, as these are a rarity in Eastern Europe. They asked us lots of questions about how we would manage to have eight children. We did our best to share our hearts, explain our plans, and help them understand. I think a lot of people do not understand how God helps us do seemingly impossible things. They did not question our motivation, just wondered if we were nuts. Maybe we are! But to be honest, living safely and securely through your whole life without attempting God-Sized-Things is boring and frankly, insulting to a God who specializes in impossible things! If I’m going down, I’m going down swinging! We honestly do not know what the new dynamic of our family will be. What will it be like to have eight children? How will we make sure and connect to each one? Do we have enough time in the day or love in our heart to give ourselves to all of them? I know in my heart the answer to all these questions is positive, with God’s guidance and help. God will help us and we will just do it. We do have some thoughts and strategies we plan to implement. BUT, how does one really know how God’s plan will ultimately unfold? I always want to know; I always beg God to tell me, but He generally doesn’t. Walking in the unknown without guarantees and clarity on the outcome is called faith. I can do faith.

Our Hotel in Pomerania

Our Hotel in Pomerania

The meeting went well, we felt, and we left immediately for the town in Norther Poland, in the region known as Pomerania, where the children live. 300 miles to go. We arrived around dinner time and enjoyed some great pizza. I know! It’s amazing how good the pizza is in Eastern Europe. So much better than most of what we get in the States. Our hotel was descent and we settled into our room for one final night with the children only existing in our hearts, 2 miles away.

I cannot describe the nervousness we felt as we approached the apartment where the children lived. Our hearts were thumping hard and we had butterflies in our stomachs.

85 Steps

85 Steps

When you have biological children, you are at least assured they have no history before you. There are no other adults who have had influence in their lives. You are all they have known, and for the foreseeable future, all they will know. This is not the case when adopting children. What if they dislike us or worse, are afraid of us? What if we struggle to make connections or bond with them? What if…….? Crazy things run through your heads at this point. In all honestly, we knew very little about them. We had basic medical info and opinions from psychologist, but not much. I can tell you everything you want to know about my biological children. I was there when they were born, and nearly ever day since. What I didn’t know about my new children was intimidating. Nonetheless…..we continued. We knew this was God’s plan for us and for them.

We were buzzed in and began traversing the staircase to their apartment. We counted the steps. 85. We felt so close to them, yet so far away from truly knowing them and making them ours. I mean it’s one thing to meet them and love on them and begin parenting them….it’s another thing entirely to know what makes them tick, who they are inside, and beginning to understand God’s plan for their lives as He so graciously and miraculously changes their family tree. 85 steps. We got to step 60 or so and they had come down to meet us, or at least get a first look to see what they could see. They had been waiting for us too. For about a month (after our official approval, the children were informed they were being adopted and pictures from our dossier sent to them). When I turned the corner and laid eyes on that first little girl it took my breath away….just like the moment of birth for my other children. Then I saw two more. And finally, on entering the house, I got a brief glimpse of the oldest. They were/are beautiful. I just kept saying to myself, “I almost can’t believe they are real!”

We felt like we’d come a million miles to this point. However we began to realize the real adventure was just beginning!

First Impressions

They say one only gets one chance to make a first impression. So we need to make sure our hair is combed, our face is washed, of course, we’re wearing clothing, and we don’t say anything stupid. This last one can sometimes be challenging for me! I would never say something inappropriate, but I’ve come to realize my sense of humor doesn’t often translate to Easter European ways of thinking. What I think might be funny or a way to break the ice could be confusing or even taken as offensive. This would not be good!

In one week, we will meet our children for the first time. Amy and I will travel 4,600 miles to be with them for four days. After which we will return home and wait some more….no doubt leaving half of our hearts in that tiny little town in Pomerania.

I keep wondering what I will say to them. One of my friends recently commented how incredible it is to love a child or children to whom we have given birth, not from our body, but from our hearts. This is aptly said and anyone who has journeyed a road like this could relate. We love them….We see no difference between them and the kids in our home already. When I walk up those front steps, what will I say? What will I do?

I will want to kiss them, and hug them, and tell them how much daddy loves them; how safe they will be with me; how sure I am about all of the incredible & scary changes coming their way in the next few months – that it will be OK, trust me. I will want to hold them – because I never have before – stroke their hair & face, look deeply into their beautiful eyes and sing the song I sang to my biological children when they were small. Just some goofy little song I made up when Chloe was young (like she’s so old at 11!), but that I have sang to every one of my children – still do sometimes. I will want to fix whatever wounds and gashes their little hearts have suffered – knowing full well this will not be possible in a four day visit. I will want to immediately take my place as their “tatus” (daddy in Polish – pronounced “tatoozs”) even though that time has only come in the spiritual sense. I will probably cry when I arrive and again when we leave to head back to the US. I hope they don’t think I’m crazy.

I know a little Polish. I can say “hello” and “I love you” and “beautiful girl/boy.” I have wondered if I should. Do I express these deep emotions to my children whom I did not bring home from the hospital? If this was the BIG trip to bring them home, then ABSOLUTELY….but this is basically visitation rights for a few days. I think the social workers and those in the adoption center want to see if we can do this. Can we connect with these children? Will we want to continue this adoption after we meet the kids? I can tell you for us, this is not a question.

We wonder if the adoption authorities will want to continue with us? What kind of first impression will they have of meeting us and spending time drilling down into our life to see if we’re thinking clearly (I really don’t think they think we are consciously aware of what we are getting into). All we can do is be ourselves, answer their questions honestly, and trust the Lord to be with us and give us favor. Both with the adoption folks and with our children……First impressions will matter a lot.

I think we’ve concluded to simply LOVE THEM ALL.

We will LOVE the folks we meet with in Warsaw who have the power to say YES or NO.
We will LOVE our wonderful agency liaison who will show us the ropes and keep us calm.
We will LOVE the Polish people as we experience their culture and kindness.
We will LOVE the social worker who will “observe” our first meeting with the kids.
We will LOVE the foster parents who have kept our kids healthy and safe.
And we will LOVE our children. Deeply. Honestly. With intensity.

The Bible says “LOVE covers a multitude of sins.” While I don’t think we’ll be doing any sinning, it’s comforting to know the Love of God through our lives overcomes things even as deeply as sin. If I say the wrong thing…….wear the wrong shoes……get emotional about everything……have trouble connecting with one or more of the kids…..over-share……tell jokes no one understands……But if I LOVE them all well, God will help take care of all the unknowns.

So if I’m authentic in my care & concern…..if I prefer them over myself…..if I’m conscientious of my words and how I treat others, particularly Amy…..if I keep my spirit resting in the Spirit of God, whether things go splendidly or if we have some rough spots…..if I make sure to be warm and kind…..if I go to serve rather than be served…..if I honor all of them deeply, honestly…..how can we fail?

I wish more of us lived that way in our everyday lives. I think I’ve concluded this will be my new norm. My new paradigm. I will just LOVE first…..and let the Lord take care of the lasting impressions.

Eph 5:1-2 – Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. 

An Update: Part II

I have purposely held out for this follow-up to our last post waiting on some things to come through. Now where did we leave off…………

On February 26th, 2015, the adoption committee at our children’s local agency reviewed our file and rendered a decision. Friday, we waited patiently (OK, that was a bit of a stretch), er, anxiously for the news of their decision. None came. We were so disappointed but were assured we would definitely know something by Monday.

Monday, March 1st, our family was in Kroger doing some middle-of-the-day grocery shopping on my day off. As we were walking past the juice aisle, my phone rang and it had a distinct Washington State area code. Of course I answered and found a bench to talk to Rebecca, our agent.
WE WERE APPROVED!! AH, what a relief it was (and not because of Alka Seltzer!). Getting this important news felt like a major hurdle had been overcome! Like we had broken through some barrier keeping us 4000 miles from our children, whom we had (and still have) never met but loved as if we brought them home from the hospital.
I found Amy staring at salad dressings, struggling to concentrate knowing the phone call I was on. When I told her the wonderful news, our family gathered right there next to the Hidden Valley and prayed prayers of thanksgiving and gratitude! I’ll never forget that moment.

But, there were a couple of catches. This is still a government, after all.
-First, they requested Amy and I travel for a week-long trip to interview with the adoption authorities, MEET THE CHILDREN, and spend a few days with them. We were really hoping not to have to make this first trip (we’ve known since July this was a possibility) but were ecstatic at the news we would get to love on our kids!
-Second, when we returned for the six-week long trip, they requested we bring our whole family – all four of our biological kids with us. Of course, this wasn’t an issue because we had always planned to do this. It adds around $7500 to the cost of the trip, but how could we not take them?
-Finally, and what turned out to be, most traumatic, they were sending our approval, plan, and full dossier to the Ministry of Justice in Warsaw for an “opinion” on what the committee had rendered. Normally this happens AFTER a family has immigration approval from the US and is set to travel. The MOJ sets the court dates and issues travel dates. It’s a little out of the ordinary to send them a family’s file this early, but they wanted their approval before we traveled.

We figured it would be a week or so for the committee to hear back from the MOJ, issue the referral, and we would submit our I800 in preparation for our first trip. Well, that didn’t happen.
It took A MONTH to hear back. A MONTH! Have you ever had to wait for a month for something you thought would take a week? Something big. Something important. Something life-changing? As the weeks passed, we started to wonder, could the MOJ reject the approval? Could they change their mind? Would they approve us for our children? To say we were cool, calm, and collected those whole four weeks, would be a lie. At first, we waited patiently…..sure. But then I got anxious. My wife is always the more steady-as-she-goes one of us. But even she began to wonder what was taking so long.

I would ask the Lord why the delay? We had an approval! Why now push us back? We didn’t feel like we needed to break a barrier or win an unseen spiritual battle like before. We just had to trust and wait.
That is SO DIFFICULT.

All the Lord would say is to remind us this wasn’t JUST about us. There were many angles on which He was working. Many people’s lives He wanted to touch through the process. We couldn’t see it, it didn’t make sense, but He kept telling us He had this.

In the midst of this waiting, I decided to write in my journal, all the things God had miraculously accomplished or provided; all the ways He had made Himself known; all the confirmations He had sent. Do you know what I came up with?
Miracles.
Miracles in connecting our family to these children. Read about that Here.
Miracles of approval when we should have been denied according to their own rules.
Miracles of provision to the tune of $35,000!
Miracles of confirmation from many – even some who didn’t know they were confirming.
The miraculous hand of the Lord had been on this from the beginning. I counted 17 distinct miracles or God-moments, big and small, since June of 2014. As of this writing there have been minimally THREE additional.

If God himself has that much invested into this, surely He wouldn’t pull the rug out now! Right?

This week opened with Palm Sunday. We had a great time with our children waving palm branches at church! They loved it! Next Sunday is Easter. Major day for churches everywhere. We’ve been preparing for this for a couple of months. Ready to welcome all of our regulars, newcomers, and what I call “Chreasters” (people who come to church on Christmas & Easter). I took Monday off, knowing this week would be insane later, and had a pretty discouraging day on Tuesday. I was frustrated. I wanted to know about our children. Admittedly, I was doubting whether God was hearing me.

Doubt is a human thing. It’s common to all of us. On occasion, we will even doubt or question our most dearly held beliefs. I think it’s normal to wrestle like that sometimes. And, contrary to what I grew up hearing, God is OK with your doubt. Consider Thomas, one of Jesus’ disciples. He doubted Jesus had actually risen from the dead. He basically said, I’ll believe it when I see it. When Jesus showed up and appeared to this doubter, there was no ridicule, no chastisement, no anger from the Lord…..just compassion and grace. And Thomas believed. God can handle your doubts, too. He only asks you to BELIEVE.

Yesterday, I heard. Rebecca called and said the MOJ had our final approval and we could travel for our first trip as early as next week!!! Frankly, I’ll get on a plane TODAY if I could! This is a MAJOR HURDLE overcome! We have our approval! The only way we can mess this up now is if I showed up to our interview sans pants or something (which will NOT happen – Amy wouldn’t approve!).  We will meet our children for the first time within the month! We were speechless at God’s plan and timing. He is perfect in both. Learning that has not been an easy process, but a necessary one. There is more yet He has in both of those paradigms for our lives….and honestly, for yours as well.

So what’s next?
Well, we will travel to Poland for a week or so in the next few weeks. We don’t have dates yet, but we appreciate your prayers.
When our official referral comes through via email we will submit our I800. I am grateful for Senator Dan Coats and our friend Jen who works for him. They are willing to make a call to USCIS on our behalf to attempt to expedite our I800 approval!
After our first trip and USCIS approval, we should be a month to six weeks from our six-week trip with our whole family…..so late May/June? June/July? Not sure yet.

How can you be part of this?
1. Pray for us, for our biological kids to connect and for our Polish kids to connect and bond as we merge two distinct sets of siblings.
2. Pray everything from here out is smooth and without incident.
3. Pray we get great deals on flights, hotels, etc for both of our trips. Our budget is tight and funds limited. TEN people have to travel home with us….that’s a lot of $$!!
4 Give. If you want to be a part of this in a tangible way, you can give. We certainly don’t expect this, but it is an option if you would desire. To date, we are still in need of around $7000 to cover the remainder of our estimated travel expenses. But you know how that goes….there’s always something which comes up for which you did not plan!
If you want to give, please give here at our gofundme.com campaign.

THANK YOU so very much for joining us on this journey!!

An Update: Part 1

So the last several posts have been some thoughts on adoption or orphan ministry in general. I thought in this post I’d give an update on where The Carlson Family is in the adoption of our children from Poland, but this will take a few posts to do, so be patient!

002

At the State House Getting Apostilles

Our dossier (the legal document put together in the US and sent to the country of adoption) arrived in Poland in early November. We really thought it would be translated and sent to be reviewed before Christmas. Well…that didn’t happen. There were some other needs which took president and our dossier wasn’t fully translated until January. It was finally submitted to the local adoption center on February 5th where they reviewed it and decided not to approve it that day. They were concerned about our income and our the size of our home.

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Our Dossier Fully Apostilled!

I think the committee chair even mentioned how he wasn’t sure if he wanted the adoption to continue.

Well that will mess you up!! We were scared and really spinning, unsure what this might mean. Had we fought for seven months for these children to now have it all fall apart? Had we raised $35,000 to make these children part of our family in vain? It couldn’t be. No way.

I was angry. How dare they. How can they have the nerve to threaten the continuation of this adoption now? I couldn’t’ believe what I was hearing.

But God….This didn’t surprise him. Amy and I were scheduled to lead a leadership retreat for the church we pastor that very weekend. I wasn’t sure how I could do it. I’m kind of an emotional person and generally this kind of stuff makes me want to do nothing but have a pity party.

But God….He was sitting right there in our guest room, as I talked with our wonderful case worker that Friday afternoon, calming my fears and whispering in my ear, like He has so many times….”Jeff, do you trust me?” I had to admit I did, but man I wanted to do something about this situation over which at that moment I had no control. I hate that feeling. Don’t you?

I went to the retreat. I led the retreat. I believe we were able to make MAJOR progress for our church and ministry that weekend.
Spiritual Battle #1: ACCOMPLISHED!

Sunday we showed up for church. I’m a driven pastor and like to stick to the script most Sundays, unless of course, God reveals other plans. I just felt a strong conviction of victory during the worship time. After worship, we tend to move into a time of prayer for people’s needs. One of our leaders prompted me the church should pray for the Carlson’s situation. Initially I said “NO, this can’t be about us.” I was wrong. Again, the Holy Spirit whispers to my ear….”Jeff, this isn’t about you, do you trust me?”

That’s the moment I understood something about God. When God does something, anything, in someone’s life, it’s never JUST about them. It’s about others around them. It’s about the people who will have to be involved. It’s about God showing up and showing off so that everyone will know how great He is. This roadblock wasn’t just about us and our emotions. It was about our agency seeing God’s hand move. This was about our advocate on the ground in Poland witnessing a turn of events God has orchestrated. And this was even about the committee, or the chair of the committee and God having a run at his heart. This was about my church, partnering with us for this miracle to rejoice what God was about to do. There are always so many facets to what God is doing. It’s never JUST about you. Remember that.

As the church gathered around my wife and I and prayed, the Lord reminded me of a story in Acts 12. Peter was in prison for preaching. The church was scared and doing only what it knew to do….they were praying for God’s divine intervention. As my church prayed for me, I heard Him whisper to me again, “When the Church had prayed, the angels were dispatched.” When the Church had prayed. Not before they had prayed but when they had prayed. At that moment, as we said “AMEN!” I knew it was done. At least this hurdle. It would be OK
Spiritual Battle #2: ACCOMPLISHED!

We answered their concerns with data and heartfelt letters (kill ’em with kindness, right?). As I thought about what they were asking of us, it actually made sense. They had only a lump income sum. They had no idea or way of knowing if that was a descent amount in Central Indiana or if we were living near the poverty line. Legitimate question, I would say. Our dossier and these explanations when back before the committee on February 26th………………….

Changing the Family Tree

We fight many battles in our lives. Some are worth fighting, others….not so much!
(Is the dress blue & black or white & gold?)

I believe in a spiritual realm. I believe in a God who holds it all together, has a plan for this world and my life, and finishes the things He begins in us. But I also believe there is an enemy, the “Dark Side” if you will, working every minute of every day to thwart the plans and purposes of God. Yes, I believe evil exists.

I DO NOT believe evil will succeed. I DO NOT believe evil can conquer God or His people when they stand firm in Him. I only believe it’s a real thing and a battle we must fight in our lives from time to time.

There are two places the spiritual battles we fight are most intense.

1. Your Marriage
If you’re married, the enemy will do everything he can to destroy your marriage. Why? Because when a marriage is destroyed, everyone connected to that marriage is affected. In fact, the word “divorce,” means “a tearing” or “a ripping.” And that’s exactly what divorce is and does to families. I’m not saying there are never justifiable reasons for divorce, just that when it happens, it leaves a wake of fear, defeat, destruction, and devastation – even if the reasoning was justified.

I’ve heard it said, the best thing you can do for your children is love your spouse and make sure you have a great marriage. I think this is true. I can buy my kids everything under heaven, but it won’t provide security and trust. It’s interesting how children can sense when there is tension between their parents. Even that little bit of tension in an otherwise healthy marriage, can bring up feelings of fear and uncertainty in a child. Please, if you are married, win the spiritual battle for your marriage, first.

2. Your Children
We have always battled in the spiritual for our kids. Frankly, I don’t want to pass on to them my own dysfunctions from my upbringing (just admit it; we all have them!). I want them to be free of the things I have battled my whole life. They will have their own struggles….I can’t insulate them from that. But I can work hard in the spiritual to give them the best chance at not carrying whatever I carry. I see some of those things in my biological children.
But I really have felt it to a new level with this adoption. I don’t know what these kids have faced. I don’t yet know what wounds have been inflicted. I don’t understand yet what healing and patience will be required. But I know the enemy will fight all of that tooth and nail – against all my children.

Why? Why does the enemy care?
He doesn’t want the family tree to change.
If your family has a cycle of debt and bad money decisions which has handicapped generations……the enemy doesn’t want that to change.
If your family has an established history of addiction – alcohol, drugs, power, sex, etc – he doesn’t want that to fall away.
If your family has a history of divorce, abuse, or bad marriages, he wants that to continue.
if your family has ____insert issue here____the enemy of your soul wants you to remain a slave.
Because now he can control you. Now he’s got you. Now you can never walk in freedom, liberty, healing, and wholeness. You’ll always be a slave to whatever has mastered you.

Jesus came to change the game. He came to change our family trees. He came to GRAFT US IN to HIS FAMILY TREE. WOW!! That changes things!

The enemy doesn’t want the family tree, the destiny, the future of our children to change. He doesn’t want them to break off the chains of generations and live in the freedom found in Jesus. He doesn’t want Amy and I to fight in the spiritual to loosen his grip, through the power of Christ, on our children. He likes them right where they are.

He’s going to lose.

Will he lose in your life? Will he lose the battle he’s fighting to destroy your marriage, and by so doing, your family? Will you fight for what is yours? For what God has intended for good and right and beautiful? Or will you roll over for the lures of the world and the mirage of a better life?

Will he lose in the battle for your kids or will you fight to change their family tree? Particularly if your kids are adopted….will you fight to break off the old chains and loosen the grip the enemy has had on their biological family which put them in this position to begin with? Will you lay it all on the line to win the war?

Psychology is important and counseling helpful but some things only come, are only loosed, are only defeated through fasting and prayer. If you’re fighting a seemingly loosing battle in your marriage or with your children, biological or adopted, have you tried fighting, not only in the natural with words, attitudes, new habits, and doctors appointments, but in the spiritual? Fast and Pray; Speak words of life; Speak words of change; Speak prophetically, like the prophets of old, over your children and watch the old things in them die, heal, break off, and loose them to a new place of freedom where their family tree has completely changed.

This is heavy. This is important. This is often overlooked by parents. So many children and marriages remain in shambles because we fail to fight spiritually. All battles are inherently spiritual. Fight there first and see God bring amazing victory out of what once looked like certain defeat. Maybe I’m naive. Maybe I’ll know better when our kids come home, but I don’t think so……Their family tree is changing! They’ve come under my covering, now! The battle is The Lord’s and will be fought and won in the spiritual realm!
What battles do you need to start fighting in the spiritual?

Thick Skin

We live in a very offend-able society. You and I are surrounded everyday by opportunities to be offended and really get something stuck in our crawl (wherever that particular body part might be located). In fact, the truth is, if you CAN be offended, you WILL be offended.

As we have not brought our children home yet, I cannot speak from any first-hand experience, but only through what many adoptive parents have told me: You have to have thick skin to adopt.

I would say you have to have thick skin to be human.

We love fairy tales and don’t like it when our lives aren’t exactly reflective of the latest Disney princess and prince movie. But I’ve heard stories about children rejecting their adoptive parents, or being rebellious as they get older, going off the deep end, if you will. There are times even parents reject their adoptive children….did you know there is a whole group of adoptive kids in America from other countries whose original adoptive parents gave them back?!?! I’ve heard of kids who are so difficult to help to heal because their wounds are deep and very, very raw that it takes every ounce of energy and courage adoptive (or biological for that matter) parents have just to survive with them. I’ve heard of adoptive families walking through the store only to be “encouraged” to use contraceptives – as if we’re helping to control the pet population. I’ve heard from other adoptive families of their children from another race, unfortunately experiencing discrimination and ridicule because of something over which none of us had any control. Thick Skin Required.

I’m sure, with soon to be eight kids, we will get some stares, hear some whispers, and maybe even get, as a gift, a box of……well you get the idea. We may have to endure some ill-thought-out Pollock jokes or even outright anger from folks who just don’t understand. Oh there are some WONDERFUL stories – they far outweigh the sad ones, I believe – out there. But it’s never a fairy tale. Never easy. I think God, lately, has been thickening Amy and my skin a little so we are ready for whatever this thing will bring.

Truth is, whether through adoption or some other circumstance, we all will have the opportunity to be hurt and offended by people, some well-meaning and some not so much, who just don’t know any better. The problem with offense is the one whom it truly hinders and handicaps is the one who offended and then harbors that offense, not the one who did the offending. I know it can be very difficult to get through an offense, especially when the wound comes from someone we may love (I’m still surprised by some close to us who are indifferent or even dislike the fact we are adopting these children). Regardless, God has a better way, and it generally doesn’t start the day one is offended.

God, from the day you’re born I believe, begins to develop thick skin over your life. He knows an offended heart is more un-yielding than a fortified city (Proverbs 18:19), and the bitterness and brokenness which results as our hearts, through offense an un-forgivenss, grow hard and un-movable will totally derail His plan for our lives. So He goes about the life-long process of helping us develop thick skin while preserving a tender heart. Think about the miracle that is!

If you’ve never been offended and you’re living in LaLa Land with pink unicorns and snowflakes which taste like Thin Mints, please know someday there will be a situation or circumstance that will test you to the limit. In that moment refuse to be offended. Be hurt, be wounded, be devastated….but don’t be offended at man or God.
If you’ve been or maybe even are carrying offense, let me encourage you to consider Jesus. Of course He can heal you and make you better, but that’s not what I mean. Consider the opportunity He had to be offended……Consider this:

1 Peter 2:23 – When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.

Trust Him. The process of creating thick skin has purpose. It’s to protect your heart. It’s to prepare you for what God has for you on the road ahead. And it’s to help you become more like Jesus.

Grow Thick Skin.
Refuse to be offended.
Trust your heart to the Master.
Forgive. Forgive. Forgive.

It won’t be easy, I promise. But it will be worth it.