I choose you!

It happened every time I walked across the play yard to the baby room. And it started as soon as I was in view.

“Laurentz!” They yelled.

“Lllllaaaauuuurrreeennnntttzzz!”

photo1I walked up to the tiny fence where four beautiful dark toddlers looked up at me as their chorus of voices rang out.

“Ou Mama Laurentz?” They asked.

“Oui.” I said.

“Ou Mama Laurentz?” They asked, again and again.

“Oui, mwen Mama Laurentz.” I said as I touched their faces or rubbed their hair.

I looked over them to see Laurentz on his nanny’s lap. His bright eyes were waiting for mine and when our gaze met, his face lit up. He pointed in my direction. “Hurry!” he seemed to say as she finished getting him ready.

IMG_4296IMG_4300I looked down again at the babies waiting there. One or two had their arms outstretched. It was tough not to scoop up every single one. To be Mama Nathaniel and Mama Caleb and Mama Toto.

It wasn’t that they understood that I am actually Laurentz’s adoptive Mom, it’s just that they know I came for him. I chose him. Just like visiting missionaries who get attached to a certain child get dubbed Mama Lito or Papa Guivenson, I was Mama Laurentz.

IMG_4301I glanced again at Laurentz. He wriggled free from his nanny and came charging across the baby room with his too large shoes flapping on the concrete. He held up his arms to me and I scooped him up and hugged him close.

IMG_4305

Oh, how I love that boy!

“Ou Mama Laurentz?” The other babies kept asking, even as I walked away with my son.

Oui, I thought to myself, mwen Mama Laurentz. But oh, how I wished I could be Mama to all. I wished I could choose each one. I wished I could bring the kind of wide smile that brightens Laurentz’s face to each one of those beautiful babies.

I still wish I could say to each one: I choose you.

Those babies long for love. And when someone reaches out and says “I choose you,” it changes their entire countenance. When they know… No matter their saggy diaper, their runny nose, their too-big shoes… I choose you. Something significant shifts inside of them.

I remember that feeling myself. On my knees, in a chapel, not long after my divorce. Feeling horrible for the things I’d done and not done. Dressed spiritually in a saggy diaper, my hands dirty and my eyes to the ground. Figuring of all the people God would choose, it wouldn’t be me.

And up walked my God. I choose you. I still choose you.

Really?

And what I understand even more today is that it’s mutual. My response mattered to God. Just like when I walked to that baby room with such joy, looking for Laurentz – his joy at my arrival quadrupled my own. His smile, his delight, his wriggling to get into my arms – I loved it!

I don’t know how God does it, but He does. He chooses each one of us. He chooses you. And you. And you. In His world, no one is left behind. No one is left standing at the gate with their arms outstretched, tears on their faces.

And if my heart exploded with joy when Laurentz ran to me with a smile, how much more does our God delight when we run to him, when we receive his love and let the joy ooze out of every pore.

He chooses you. And you. And you.

And you.

Now run to him…. Let your shoes flap on the concrete as you raise up your arms and smile wide.

Because, my friend, he’s come for you.

Rats, spiders and love that won’t quit

The rat visited at 5:37 p.m. every night. While I was in Haiti, we clocked him by the minute. We’d enjoy dinner on the outside veranda and at 5:37, Ratatouille (as we affectionately nicknamed him), would run along the roof of the veranda and dash off to parts unknown. We made up a whole life for him. Father. Husband of Mrs. Ratatouille. Factory worker or garbage sifter, possible chef or tiny rat accountant.

Ratatouille was just part of the fun in Haiti.

One of the biggest joys of my time came as I met Jesus there. I met him in the director of the orphanage who has a heart for the starving children, I met him in the staff who love and serve from a deep place of compassion.  And I met him in Heather, an adoptive mom whose sacrificial love touched a deep place in me.

You’d like Heather too – fun, spunky and kind, her story is perfect to share as we come up on Christmas day.

Heather is a petite gem from the Chicago suburbs. She moved to Haiti in order to bond with their son, Izaiah. She initially planned to be there for just a few months – until the adoption was finalized. She and her husband, Matt, knew the separation would be worth it for what it would give their son.

heatherandIzaiah

Heather and Izaiah

Three months turned into six months. Six months turned into twelve. Heather is at nineteen months and counting now. Living in Haiti amidst the chaos to love, nurture and ultimately rescue their little boy.

Heather hates spiders, but has faced down multiple tarantulas with a grimace and a sturdy shoe.

She loves order, but has dealt with chaotic traffic, distant gunshots, cold showers and spotty electricity.

She loves her family, friends and her husband, but has spent many holidays and Sunday meals away from the comfort of their care and the warmth of their love.

Even today, as we all celebrate with family and friends in preparation for Christmas, she and her husband are in Haiti, tending to the needs of a little boy who knows them only as “Mom” and “Dad.”

Heather reminds me of Jesus. He left a world of comfort and peace. He left a place of love and order to come here. To enter a dusty, stinky manger. Heather didn’t have to give up her world of electricity, warm water and family fun to be with Izaiah. Nor did Jesus have to give up his world of divine hope, fellowship and comfort.

But that’s what love does.

Love enters our world. Love lives our pain. Love holds on despite the sacrifice. Love never gives up.

In a broken world where tragedy strikes on a regular basis, I’m profoundly grateful for the powerful examples of love God has planted in my path. And when I think of this young mom giving up every comfort to love her baby boy –  in order to one day bring him home to the place she has prepared… it’s enough to melt my heart.

Because that’s how Jesus loves us – He gave up everything to enter this dark place – so we could find our way to the home He has lovingly prepared for each one of us.

Happy Birthday, Jesus. Thank you for people like Heather, bright lights in our lives. And thank you for your sacrifice – not only to die and rise again, but to come and live in our mess in the first place.

Love is a risk

I don’t want to love them too much.

I don’t want to hold on too tight.

I mean, it was amazing when I was in Haiti – when two little boys with big smiles fell into my lap, when one fell asleep on my shoulder and I didn’t dare move so I could enjoy the sleepy weight of him, when I coaxed out deep belly laughter that rang like music in my ears. In those moments, my heart expanded with love so deep and rich and big, that I could hardly contain it.

But then I got home and they’re far away.

And we got word that the mom of one of our boys didn’t sign the paperwork that needs to be signed, and we can’t take a single step forward until she does.

So a voice in my head says, Guard your heart! Hold on Loosely! Don’t love so much because this will hurt way too much if it doesn’t go through.

Love is a risk.

But here’s the truth: Love is always a risk.

It’s a risk to love my husband. We never know what tomorrow will bring. A dear friend recently lost her husband in a matter of months. Her heart is utterly broken, her family devastated.

It’s a risk to love our friends. Life is transient and unfair and harsh sometimes. Friends move or fall away.

It’s a risk to love, period.

So the more I try to figure out how to guard my heart and still fight for our boys… I realize it can’t be done. It just wont work to hold on loosely when our boys need us to pray, hold tight, love deep.

When Brian and I were in Haiti, I snapped this picture of Brian with Laurentz.

Brian and Laurentz
A father’s love

The hand of a protective father holding his baby boy, Brian’s strong hand is planted right over his heart.

I look at that picture and my heart melts.

I realize that’s how we will love our boys, in spite of the risk. I realize that’s how we can allow the expanding of our hearts as we hold them, pray for them, fight for them.

Ultimately, even if our hearts break, the one who fixes broken hearts is right there with us, his strong hand upon us. He is big and kind and good. And He risks more than any of us. He loves each and every one of us deeply and passionately. He longs for us to be his children. And yet so many of us never realize it, or we say no, turn aside or walk away. I can’t imagine how his heart breaks!

If we can trust our hearts into anyone’s hands, it’s his.

And so we pray:

Please, Lord, if you would be so kind—bring our boys home. Hold that mother close and help her to know how much we will love her son. Pave the way through government red tape and financial need. Expand our hearts and our world. Fill us with battle-fighting, prayer-warrior, mom and dad kind of love. And then open every door to bring these boys home, that this risk will have it’s precious reward: a family united.

And if by some painful twist of events, things don’t turn out as we expect, hold us close, wipe our tears and teach us to cling to you.

Teach us to risk as you risked for us,

Elsa and Brian

Family
Family

When it hurts

Sometimes things fall apart.

A desire remains unfulfilled.

A dream is dashed.

A hope is deferred.

Death crashes into life with unwelcome abandon.

It’s tempting in those moments to wonder about God’s goodness.

Does He see us?

Does He hear our cries?

Does He know the desires of our hearts?

Does He notice our pain?

I remember talking to my brother not long after the loss of his 17-year-old son, Caleb. He looked at me and said, “Elsa, there is no anesthetic for this pain. It rips my heart out.” And yet a little later he said, “But in all of this, I don’t doubt God’s love for me. He loves me. He already proved that on the cross.”

Jesus gave it all so that we could have life.

He paid a huge price for us.

He gave us a way to God.

To life.

To hope.

To love.

To purpose.

He already proved his love.

So every disappointment we experience, every heartache we encounter, every dream that turns out differently than we expected… instead of running from him, we can run to him.

With our tears, with our pain, with our anger or frustration or fear.

For comfort.

For strength.

For refuge.

For hope.

Because He already proved it.

He loves us.

No matter what.

Hug a Wrinkle!

Everyone tries to get rid of them. Cover them up. Smooth them away. Botox the bejeebers out of them.

I’ve been hanging out with my mom here in Florida. Every sign at the mall talks of the next best treatment to take care of those pesky lines, grey hair, spotted cheeks and aching muscles.

Aging is the big fat enemy—fight it with the big guns, they say.

This month I have five nieces and nephews who graduate high school. They’re full of passion and excitement – they can’t wait to see what the future holds. Big dreams. Great relationships. Best-selling novels. Cozy houses. Beautiful babies.

At the same time, as I look around at the aging gems here in Florida, I realize they were once high school graduates with the whole world before them. Some of them conquered their dreams and did more than they imagined. Some felt they were thwarted at every turn and nothing turned out well.

And they all have wrinkles.

Some have pain.

Some can’t remember the last time they laughed.

Some laugh so hard that their wrinkles twinkle.

But many feel forgotten. You can see it in their eyes, their demeanor, their shuffling gate and downcast eyes.

We honor the young and can’t wait to hear of their dreams.

Then we forget to ask the old if those dreams came true.

So today, this very day, I’m instituting Hug a Wrinkle day.

Pass it on.

Say hi to someone older. Find out their story. Hug their necks and remind them that they (and their dreams) still matter.

And if you hear any great conquer-the-world, dream-come-true stories, share them here.

And if you find out a heart is broken, hug a neck and kiss a wrinkled cheek.

It just might make all the difference.

Six things you do that crater out God’s dimples…

When you first say yes to faith, yes to Jesus and believing in him. (He hits the “replay” and “share” button on that one.)

He sets something on your heart and you choose to listen instead of chalking it up to heartburn.

You fight a temptation in his strength—and win.

You sing loud and off-key (or on key if you’re gifted in such things), smile and worship.

Your heart hurts and you run to him instead of chocolate, alcohol or any other quick fix.

You first open your eyes to face the day and your hair is wild and your breath stinks and your face is all puffy… and you haven’t done a single thing but wake up.

He loves you then.

He loves you now.

He loves you always.

Mile Marker 42

I am so not dignified. Really. It’s mildly embarrassing how giddy I get when I’m about to see my man. When I arrived home Sunday night after a busy run of travel, I had a smile on my face before I even exited the plane.

My grin broadened as I walked through the terminal and climbed on board the train. Random people smiled back.

My joy grew by increments of warm fuzzies and mild goofiness as the train came to a stop.

I nearly bounded up the escalator before remembering, Come now, Elsa, professional women don’t bound.

Finally. I scanned the crowd. Caught glimpse of that smile. Threw decorum to the wind and bounded into my man’s strong arms and melted against his chest.

Oh, how I love coming home.

That was just the beginning. We gathered the luggage, jumped in the car and headed south. With each mile marker, my sense of expectation grew.

Mile marker 163… getting close.

Mile marker 200. The magic number.

Home!

I walked in the door to puppies jumping, and my girl squealing “Mommy!”

Yes, she’s 19. Yes, she still squeals “Mommy!”

Oh, how I love coming home.

As I lay in bed that night, content and warm, the thought came to mind: I have another home too.

And when I get there, my Savior will meet me at the gate. Broad smile, twinkling eyes, ready embrace. Without decorum, I will bound into his arms and melt into his love.

I’ll turn to see my dad, my nephew, my brother and my grandparents.

I’m at mile marker 42.  Not sure where the exit is, but the sense of expectation is growing.  Some day…. One day…. we’ll all be home. And if I’m goofy giddy at the prospect of my earthly home, I can’t imagine how explosive the joy will be when I bound into the arms of my Savior.

 

Oh, how I will love coming home.