Monday, November 9, 2015

#AdoptionRocks, Part 10: Meet my niece, Cristina

This is it, friends. The final post of this series -- and I'll admit. I'm sad it's ending. I'm honestly trying to figure out how to stretch it out just a little longer because these stories have been so amazing. Such beautiful examples of God's relentless pursuit of each of us in the most unique and personal way. 

And another thing I'll admit. This one? Well, it's my favorite. Not that I don't love every single friend that has shared their heart and their journey...but this is the one. This is the one that gave me another beautiful niece, Cristina.

It has been such a joy and blessing to watch my brother and sister-in-law fight for my niece over these past few years. We have prayed many prayers for their journey; to share their story today brings tears to my eyes as I recall the difficult journey they have traveled. My sweet sister-in-law, Stephanie, has such a beautiful way with words...and with her children and really just with people in general. She is one of the greatest blessings of my marriage into the Walton family. I'm so thankful she made the time in her very busy schedule to write this final post in this series with all its twists and turns and messiness, but ultimately with the most beautiful "end" result.

In Her Own Words...

We’re Jay and Stephanie Walton and we have 3 kids, 2 biologicals (Willie and Ruby) and our “adopted” teenager (Cristina) who has been in our family for almost 4 years. We live in Nashville, Tennessee. After Willie and Ruby were born, I actually desired another child but Jay did not share that desire. Honestly, I didn’t know if I really just needed another maternity leave! But, the desire to have another child stayed and I could feel the Lord telling me, you will have another child. I had a peace and figured one of Willie or Ruby’s friends might need us one day. I let it go and nonchalantly figured it would be interesting to see how it worked out. 
Stephanie, Cristina and Jay in the DR, 2010

At the time Jay was a college basketball coach, and we were involved with a ministry called Nations of Coaches. We went on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic and met Cristina in the orphanage she grew up in. We began sponsoring her financially and after another trip to the D.R. a year later, the Lord put in on Jay’s heart to do more for her. We didn’t know what “more” looked like given she was an older child—a teenage girl! 

Jay claims he was hesitant for several days to tell me this unconventional directive to expand our family. When Jay told me he felt we were supposed to do “more” for Cristina, he was so nervous but the Lord had gone before him and my heart was open. As much as I typically need a written, detailed, spreadsheet-mapped plan (and budget), it wasn’t necessary. Doing “more” was a done deal and only the Lord could have come up with teenage girl to expand our family. We couldn’t have dreamed up what our family looks like.

All in all, it took about two years to get Cristina to the United States so she could be in our family and get an education and opportunities that could truly change her life’s course. The lyrics of Trust and Obey “Trust and obey. Trust and obey. To be happy in Jesus. Trust and obey” replayed in my heart over and over through the waiting, not knowing, not being able to  explain what we were doing succinctly. I no longer had the feeling that I could be doing more for the Lord or that I should be doing more. In the heartache of waiting and wondering, we felt pure joy. We were obeying and we couldn’t control it. We could only figure out next step only and wait. Pray. Next step. Watch. Pray. Next step. This rhythm is how we lived life for 2 years. Cristina couldn’t be adopted due to her older age but we knew we were supposed to do “more” so we pressed on. After waiting over a year for the orphanage to produce paperwork to prove Cristina even existed in the world (kind of needed that for a passport and visa), six total trips to the DR, embassy visits, ups, downs, thousands of dollars for three different kinds of attorneys to help develop the best long-term path for her-- Cristina is on a student visa to study in the USA. Although we are not legally her parents, we are her family by love.

Her story is so beautiful to me in that she learned very early in her life she truly had nothing except for what the Lord was providing. It’s the same for all of us, but I learned it best from Cristina because of the starkness of her need -- not unlike millions of other orphans and foster children in this world. There weren’t any trappings. Because of her young age and dependence, I could see how only the Lord could provide in her situation. She knows this ordinary family from Tennessee couldn’t have come to her by any other way than through the Lord.
The Waltons
Jay, Stephanie, Ruby (8), Willie (12) and Cristina
As you can probably tell, our journey for Cristina cannot be neatly defined or summarized. There are too any details, twists and turn, ups and downs for one blog post. Our journey for Cristina is best defined as a scary, question-filled, faith-led journey of obedience. The outcome has been sheer amazement as the Lord has ordered our steps, and her steps. Recently, Psalm 63:7 spoke to my heart. “Because you have been my help, therefore in the shadow of your wings will I rejoice.” We’re currently trying to figure out Cristina’s college plans. Even though every detail isn’t determined or worked out in our finite minds, we are already rejoicing because we know He has provided for her until now and will provide again. We can stand in the shadow of His wings and rejoice because of what He has done and will do. We’ve seen Him so vividly work on behalf of His child Cristina. 

While I can’t tell you what she’ll be when she grows up or where she’ll go to school or how far apart we’ll all live (which we could say for all of our kids, right? ), we can rejoice! We’ve seen the Lord work. He is faithful. God is with us. Emmauel.

“So what should we say about this? If God is with us, then who can be against us? God let even his own Son suffer for us. God gave his Son for us all. ….Christ Jesus died but that is not all. He was also raised from death. And now he is on God’s right side and is begging for us.” Romans 8:31-34

We have learned: The Lord builds a family on love. Legal bindings do not make families. Love makes families. Love surpasses boundaries that laws cannot.

We have learned. The Lord shows up. He asked us to step out on faith and He has shown Himself to us through crazy, seemingly coincidental signs. Those signs not only gave us confidence in the moment but confidence when we look backwards that God was with us when we started the journey. 

We’ve needed that confidence.

We have learned. The Lord provides resources and He uses His children in His work. From the smallest of gestures to the most generous gifts, follow the Lord when he tells you do something. Follow that prompting from His Spirit.  He is getting something done for his Kingdom and he uses us together.

We have learned. Our faith can only grow by stepping out for Jesus in something we can’t define or control.

I feel like Peter in Matthew 14:28-31 most every day as we still try to figure out next steps.

Peter said, “Lord, if that is really you then tell me to come to You on the water.”

Jesus said, “Come.”

And Peter left the boat and walked on the water to Jesus, but when Peter saw the wind and waves he became afraid and began to sink.

He shouted, “Lord, save me.”

Then Jesus reached out his hand and caught Peter. Jesus said, “Your faith is small, why did you doubt?

No words, y'all. No words. Now it's just tears of joy as I think about Jay and Stephanie's obedience and their willingness to say "yes" - without a plan or timeline or any idea of what it might look like for them or for Cristina. Just "Yes!" to the call to do more. 

I pray as you have read these posts, God has stirred your heart to do more. To consider adoption, fostering or just financially supporting those who are already in those processes. 

We can all play a part in the orphan crisis. No part is "small" or "unimportant." Every part makes a difference for one. And that's all He's asking of us...just for one. 

Friday, November 6, 2015

#AdoptionRocks, Part 9: This is TRUST...

I have no words for what this World Adoption Day series has done to my heart, y'all - and it's not even over! With each post, God has opened my eyes and my heart to just how much He loves us (read: ME!) and pursues us (Again, read: ME!) - even in our most unloveable and undesirable state. I am so difficult to love and yet, His patience trumps my stubbornness every time, my friends. 

My dear friend (and I'm starting to say "soul sister") has some beautiful words of encouragement to share with you. Laura Choy and I ended up roommates much by happenstance last year at Noonday Collection's annual conference for Ambassadors. We did not know each other AT ALL but quickly realized God had knit us together long before we met that weekend. We talk almost daily now and her wit and encouragement are balm for my soul on weary days. We have since become "The Lauras" and couldn't be happier to be tied to such a beautiful soul. I am so thankful for her and for her friendship...and today, for her transparency as she shares their beautiful story.


The Choy Family
shortly after Aliyah's arrival.
While my husband and I were engaged, we had the opportunity to travel to Germany for a work conference that I was invited to for missionaries headed to all parts of the globe. A talk given on Ephesians by a man who had adopted a special needs child from Thailand stirred up a desire to adopt…in my fiancĂ©. When he asked if I would ever consider that idea, I bluntly replied, “Nope.”

Fast forward 4 years, our marriage and 2 children later, I had just been through an extremely dark season of cynicism and doubt regarding my faith. I had turned from God and was searching for new truths. It took a long year to find myself right back where I started but now more fully and more deeply convinced that Jesus is THE ONLY WAY and HE is in fact THE TRUTH! But more importantly I’d discovered His LOVE!

My journey of cynicism and doubt started as a young child who felt invisible and unseen. In my faith, I perceived God as good and very much in control, and in fact very loving, but just not loving of me. I thank God for letting me wander in the desert and yet graciously holding my hand while I tried to shake Him away. He was very persistent in His pursuit of my heart and extremely gentle.  Amidst the doubt and disbelief was a hunger. I kept finding myself reading a blog by Katie Davis who eventually wrote Kisses From Katie (HIGHLY RECOMMEND!). Even though I’d decided her faith in a loving God was silly, her life example shone so brightly I would feel His love shine through her example straight through the computer screen and the beautiful faces of those she ministered to. I would battle anger and hope and tears and joy as I read stories of Katie’s complete life surrender and pouring out of unspeakable love towards people barely hanging onto life. 

These sweet boys think their little
sister is pretty special!
My son Kyle would find me crying as I read and ask me about the children’s faces he saw on the screen. I told them about the plight of the orphan. He was 4 at the time and said to me, “Mommy! We need to pray that those kids can find a mommy and daddy!” And so he did and I listened feeling a slight tap on my cold heart.

In October 2009, I finally said to God, “I’m in! I believe you love me even though I don’t feel it all of the time. That is trust, and I am willing to trust again!"

Overnight, I felt the Spirit of God renewed in me once again. My faith was full again!! In November, our pastor taught on Ephesians 2 and from the pulpit invited us to consider the idea of taking what God so clearly teaches us in the gospel of His pursuit of us through adoption into His kingdom by grace, and to live that out through physically adopting a child if God might be leading.
I can't handle the cuteness of the Choy family!

I was almost literally sitting in my husband’s lap! I knew! He knew. We needed no words but the decision had been made.

By February, only 3 months later (a true miracle) our papers were complete and on their way to Rwanda, Africa. It took what seemed like forever but on Valentine’s Day 2011, we got our invitation to come pick up our baby girl and by March we had her home as a part of our family.

Loving her and pursuing her and now fighting for her heart past issues of trauma that cause her to reject me, has been such an amazing picture of how God fought for me and showed lots of enduring grace, that He in fact DOES SEE ME and that HE DOES LOVE ME!

I love how God weaves the tapestry of His story! I would never have been open to adoption alone. But He took me through a time of really tough suffering to show me who He really is and how He loves and how He wants me to love as well!

The Choys, Summer 2015: Jon, Laura,
Kyle (9) and Clayton (7) and Aliyah (5).
Seriously. I love this. All of it. Again, I am so grateful for Laura and time spent with her sweet family in Austin last month. I hope her story - and all the others that I've shared this month - have spoken life and hope and encouragement to you! I hope you have been reminded of our role as Christ followers to love and support the widow and the orphan. I hope your heart has been moved to respond to this command - in whatever way God has called YOU to. 

There's only one post left, and it's one of my favorites. Ok. They all are, but I have a beautiful niece brought into our family from the island I love so much! I can't wait to share the Waltons' story next...

Sunday, November 1, 2015

#AdoptionRocks, Part 7:...Even if the Answer is "No."

Oh, sweet readers! I cannot wait for you to dive into this post from my dear, precious friend Heather! Heather and I met 10 years ago on the Walk to Emmaus. She had just brought home her first child through adoption, and I was 5 months pregnant with our first child. I loved her kind spirit immediately! We have stayed in touch throughout the last decade and I am so grateful God continues to weave our paths together. To put it concisely: She is the real deal, y'all! Spend just a few minutes with her and you will see that her love for Jesus is not just lip-service. 

But I'm not going to waste your time with my words...just get started reading hers!


There is a song being played frequently on a Christian radio station that we listen to called “My Story” by the group Big Daddy Weave. It alludes to the fact that we ALL have a story that God is writing called “your life.” What I hope you feel from this chapter in our life called “adoption” is the hope and grace of Jesus, how His love is greater than any heartache or struggle and how He is present in all circumstances.

Our story begins as a young, excited about the future, eager to tackle life, newly married couple. We were living a little distance from all our family and happy about starting our life in a new town. After a few years we made the decision that we were “ready” to start our own family (quite comical to think about now, as if you could ever be “ready” for the adventure called children!). Things didn’t progress as we had hoped, and we entered the terrifying world of infertility. Months go by and we reach the end of that period, having prayed and prayed about how far God would have us pursue children via fertility treatments. In the meantime, we had become close friends with a couple who had adopted a beautiful baby girl that we had grown to love as our own. This was no coincidence that we became friends with them! No, God was knitting us together with fellow believers who were experiencing the same struggles that we were facing.

We decided to pursue adoption with our whole hearts and use Bethany Christian Services as our agency. It feels akin to jumping of a high cliff into deep waters below, but we were confident that this was God’s plan for us. The adoption process is tedious, time consuming and at times frustrating and humiliating. And yet, God’s love was manifested time and time again through our wonderful social worker, our friends and family, and our church family. After waiting for 3.5 years we got THE phone call that a precious birthmother would like to meet us after viewing our information at a Bethany office nearby…so this was IT, the moment we had prayed about and dreamed about for years! Nerves were tense and emotions were high, but our meeting went very well with her and two weeks later we got another phone call to come to the hospital and meet our new son. He was absolutely perfect, beautiful and healthy! God had answered our prayers in a mighty way and we will forever and ever be thankful for this special sacrificial gift from our son’s birthmother. Her gift of life to our son has blessed us for the last 10 ½ years and we love him more and more every day.
Catherine, 8, Rhett, 4 and Grant, 10
When our son was around 18 months old we started the paperwork to pursue the adoption of a second child. We were busy with our very active son and when he was 27 months old our social worker needed to visit us one night with an urgent message. Our special birthmother had become pregnant with another child and had given birth to a baby girl. We were being asked if we would consider becoming her parents – to which Brad, my husband, enthusiastically responded ‘Yes!!’…while I am too stunned to fully form a response! We had 24 hours to gather a few things before driving to pick her up from the hospital. Just like that, God in His big huge love for us had given us the privilege to parent our son’s sister. She was a tiny little thing, born a few weeks early, but oh so perfect and beautiful!! Overwhelmed with how blessed we were, we got busy with the hectic pace of parenting two little ones, and we were so thankful for both of our gifts from God!

Fast forward to our son turning 5 years old and our daughter is 2 ½…the time of year was spring of 2010 and I realized for several days in a row that I just felt terrible. Like flu symptom terrible! Days and days of feeling awful and finally it occurred to me that maybe, possibly, surely couldn’t be…I might need to take a pregnancy test. I was in full-blown denial, so I put it off for many days and finally decided to do it. It was positive, very much positive, and I was very much in utter and total shock!!! A visit to my doctor (whose ecstatic face I will never forget from that day as long as I live) confirmed that yes, we were going to have a baby the old fashioned way! Oh my stars! God are You for real??! This could not be explained medically, logically, any kind of way – which makes it a flat out MIRACLE! There have been so many people who just wanted us to explain how it happened after so many years, but y’all…guess what? That’s what a divine miracle from God is – it cannot be explained by our pitifully inadequate human minds! I had a textbook pregnancy with no complications and on December 21, 2010, we welcomed a little brother to our family and he was big, healthy and so perfect. Why did God give us this gift? I cannot answer that question. All I know is that He did. It wasn’t expected at all, but we cannot praise or thank our Father in heaven enough while we live this side of eternity for blessing us this way. 

These kiddos love their Bulldogs! Hail State! 
Thank you, Father, for the gifts that are our three wonderful children. They each came to us in different and unique ways, just as they are each different and unique in their personalities and temperaments. But I’ll tell you this – they are LOVED the same, they are each so cherished by us and we cannot imagine our family without the three of them as siblings. God redeemed some very dark and discouraging times for us spent in the valley of despair with a joy and hope that is indescribable. What I wish most for people to understand at the end of this chapter is this: IF our story had not resulted in two adoptions and one child born biologically, IF our prayers had not been answered this way, IF we had never been given the blessing of children…we would STILL praise His holy name! Still.

You see, as we were still in a time of “waiting” I had come to a point of total surrender after dealing with witnessing person after person after endless person have babies when I couldn’t. Coming to a place of utmost surrender to God is very hard sometimes, and it surely was for me, but can I tell you what happens? Total peace. A peace that only God can give you. I prayed and told God, “I will love You, I will serve You, I will praise You...even if the answer is ‘No.’”

God is in control anyway, this was just my acceptance of that fact. At this exact moment in my life (I remember it vividly), when I prayed this prayer, our son’s birthmother was already pregnant and we just didn’t know it yet. I’m telling y’all, God is in every detail of your life, every little detail. And He is Good, His love is amazing, His redemption of our dirty filthy souls is incomprehensible.

I urge you to pray for the orphans in this world who feel all alone, for the fostering homes who are doing their best to show love to hurting children, for waiting families whose arms ache with the desire to hold a child of their own, for adopted children who transition into new home environments, for Bethany Christian Services and other adoption agencies and their staff as they minister to families, birthmothers and children, and for birthmothers who show the biggest love imaginable by entrusting a part of themselves, their child, to families that will care for and adore them always. Adoption is a beautiful reminder of Isaiah 61:3: “To comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor." 

Dear Jesus, help me to always display Your splendor in my life. Amen

“My Story” ~ Big Daddy Weave
If I told you my story
You would hear Hope that wouldn’t let go
And if I told you my story
You would hear love that never gave up
And if I told you my story
You would hear Life, but it wasn’t mine

If I should speak then let it be
Of the grace that is greater than all my sin
Of when justice was served and where mercy wins
Of the kindness of Jesus that draws me in
Oh to tell you my story is to tell of Him

This is my story, this is my song
Praising my Savior all the day long
This is my story, this is my song

Praising my Savior all the day long.


Wow! Just wow! Could you still praise Him, serve Him, love Him - even if the answer was "No."? I'll be honest. When I read Heather's words, I was seriously convicted about the times when I have been angry or disappointed or felt like God hadn't heard my cries because His answer wasn't what I wanted or in my time. The Fleming's story is such a beautiful story of faith and patience and trust in His has been such a blessing to know Heather and Brad and to watch their beautiful children grow up under their loving guidance!

Two more posts, y'all! I can't wait to share my sweet friend Laura's journey as well as the one that has impacted me most - my beautiful niece Cristina! Stay tuned!