From Tragedy to the Best Stuff Ever

Four years ago, it was tragedy that prompted my Christmas letter. Within two months time, our world was upended. In May my husband gave a kidney to our oldest son Sean, and we fought through the healing/rejection/healing process. Then my dad went sailing one warm July day and never came home. He somehow fell overboard and drowned at sea. Twelve days later my 17-year-old nephew was killed in a car accident.

I wanted people to know. Somehow it made it more real to write it all down – to say to myself and others… this really happened and it nearly broke my heart.

This year has been the complete opposite and I find myself in the same position. I want people to know. Because as horrible as 2009 was, 2013 was one of the best years ever. I mean, ever. Two major miracles happened this year and every time I think of them, my heart fills up with goofy, sappy Christmas joy.

Savannah Grace: She is our first miracle. Ten months old today, Savannah entered our world in the most unexpected, delightful way. After the heartbreak of a failed adoption (when a birth mom changed her mind), we began our pursuit of our Haitian children. Then in February of this year – one week before Savannah was due, we received a phone call – were we still interested in adopting a baby? Our hearts soared and two weeks later, Brian and I stood in the delivery room as Savannah entered the world. Moments later in a memory that will forever be etched in my heart, Brian cut the cord and Savannah Grace was ushered into our waiting arms.

A miracle. A delight. The best gift ever.

We have enjoyed every moment with Savannah since. The nighttime feedings, the drool, bath times, first smiles and today the wobbling stance as she grips the table and tries to stand.

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Savannah and her Christmas bear

Then another miracle. For nearly nine years, my husband and his daughters have been estranged. I had never met them, although we literally prayed for them every single day. Over the years Brian faithfully reached out. He so longed for relationship with them and refused to give up.

One day he received a text message. “It’s time to bury the hatchet,” said one of his girls.

Not too long after, Brian had a business trip to Ohio and invited the girls to dinner. They said yes. All of us here in Colorado prayed that whole day. Brian met them at a nice Italian place and as the hours passed, we anxiously awaited word. Did it go well? Were they able to enjoy one another, talk, laugh?

Four hours later, Brian called. He’d spent all four hours with the girls, lingering over a meal. Conversation and laughter flowed easily. “It was as if we’d never been apart,” he said.

My mom, Sam, me… tears. Joyful hugs. Awestruck delight.

Over Thanksgiving I had the chance to meet my step-daughters for the first time. They were beautiful, smart, gracious and kind. They met their sister Savannah and one day soon will get to meet Samantha.It all felt so right and good, so natural – better than any of us could have hoped for or dreamed of…

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First meal: Cassie, Sean, Jessica, Savannah, me and Brian

I don’t want to forget this, this overflowing joy of answered prayer. Life is hard. Painful. Broken. And I know so many of you come into this Christmas season carrying grief that nearly bends you double. I get it. We still carry the loss of Dad and Caleb in our hearts – even more so as we wish they could have met Savannah, Jessica and Cassie. But for some of you the pain is fresh and deep. After this last year I just want you to know, I want everyone to know – that there will be good days ahead. That God hears and answers prayer, that there is light (huge, bright and beautiful) still ahead.

Sometimes  I wonder – what will 2014 bring? Will we get to bring Wilna, Lovence and Laurentz home from Haiti? Will our hearts break with new tragedies? Or will there be some other unexpected bundle(s) of joy on our doorstep.

I truly don’t know.

But whatever comes, I am so very grateful for our God. He is the one who gives good gifts and yet still holds us when the heartbreak comes.

It may sound like just the type of thing I would say for Christmas, but it’s so stinkin’ true. In God’s arms I am safe no matter what comes and so are you. That is the very best gift we could ever receive.

Thank you, Jesus!

And Merry Christmas my friends…          

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.

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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

Real life stuff.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen Brian so sick.

High fever, shaking, barely able to stand. I’d already taken him to Urgent Care and they’d sent him home with some strong antibiotics to battle a bad infection that came on overnight. Only a few hours later, his temp kept rising. We knew the antibiotics hadn’t had time to work, but we were concerned about the high fever. And infection of that nature with only one kidney – it wasn’t good.

When the thermometer topped 104, I called the doc and they urged us to go to the ER.

The ER docs weren’t nearly as worried as I was. They said it was good we came in, but they simply gave him a strong med to bring his fever down and sent us home – with the condition that we come back if he got worse.

We kept a close eye on him, and he seemed to slowly improve.

That’s when the financial reality hit.

Brian switched jobs recently and his health insurance had yet to kick in. Nine days. Only nine days until his insurance would begin.

We’ve never been without insurance and in the time I’ve known him, Brian has never had to go to the ER.

The one time he had to go for medical help, we were without insurance. And of course, I took him to Urgent Care first. Two doozy bills in one 24-hour period.

And we’re in the midst of all our adoption travel and agency expenses.

I nearly went into a full-blown pity party. Really? This so stinks! Talk about bad timing… grumble, grumble, grumble, gripe, gripe, gripe, extra long sigh and a good old-fashioned whine.

A few hours later, I received a call from the director of the orphanage where our boys are living in Haiti. Miriam was broken down on the side of the road and they were waiting for help to arrive. She thought she’d check in. I listened as she told of the children they had just rescued. Thirteen of the worst were in the truck with her, along with some of the parents. Kids dying of malnutrition, others burning up with fever because of infection. She was just praying that they’d get the tire fixed quickly since it had already been a 13-hour trip across treacherous mountain roads. These kids needed help.

A few days later, two of the boys, Wisnor and Naisson – an 8-year-old and a 3-year-old, died of the lingering effects of malnutrition.

Wisnor and Naisson. There’s this deep ache in my heart that they be known. It was all so real. I’d talked to Miriam when these boys were in the truck. I heard the stories as they unfolded. Both sets of parents LOVED their boys. Wisnor’s mom had to leave to go back to the village and care for her other children. She planned to come back and check on her boy soon. The night after she left, Wisnor passed away.

How to even get word to her?

I have two hospitals within a five minute drive.

I have plenty of food. Most days too much.

Yes, Brian was sick and it was scary. But even without insurance, he received medical attention and was quickly on the mend.

I know a lot of us are worried about the election. We wonder what will become of our nation if this one or that one gets elected.

For me, this was a stark, vivid, powerful reminder that as much as I worry for our nation, I am blessed to live here, blessed to have medical care and food and a place to lay my head.

So as election results come out tomorrow – as various groups go into panic mode and threaten to move to Canada, I’m going to do my best to remember Miriam, Wisnor and Naisson and remain grateful for all that we do have at our fingertips—no matter who is in the White House.

Will you join me?

Oh, and friends, if you would like to help Miriam and New Life, you can go to their website and donate there. With the recent hurricane, the need has certainly grown.  Your funds will definitely go to good use. Click here to find out more.

 

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.

Even if you have to switch it up – live your dream!

I’m pigeon-toed.

I looked it up on Google and asked the question: “Do pigeons actually walk with their toes turned in?”

You would think that question would garner a lot of hits. Oddly enough, it didn’t.

What I did discover is that I was supposed to grow out of them when I was a kid. Why I didn’t is a mystery. Maybe God is partial to my birdie toes.

So why is this blog worthy, you may ask?

Well, my pigeon toes have caused my pigeon knees to have major issues. Things that shouldn’t be grinding together are making music as I walk. Tendons that are supposed to be supporting things are rebelling against their God-given duties.

So in my youthful adolescence, I’ve been diagnosed with arthritic knees, and I’ve been told in no uncertain terms that I am not allowed to run long distances.

“But I have a triathlon…”

“No.”

“But I made a big deal of my goal…”

“No.”

“But my pride…

“No.”

“And what about the cool t-shirt?”

“No.”

Well, poo.

So I’m here to tell you that my triathlon goals have been dashed because my toes like to smooch as I walk.

But don’t worry. For those of you who were going to bring pom-poms to the big race, there’s still hope.

I am not giving up. I’m losing weight and I found other races I can participate in. I can do a swim-bike-swim race or a bike-swim-bike race. In fact I just joined the Endomondo National Bike Challenge. Brian and I are called Team Hope (So if you want to join our team or create your own, come on! It’s a nationwide challenge to ride your bike tons and tons from May 1st to the end of August. Click here to check it out).

Bottom line, sometimes our dreams don’t turn out as we hoped, but that doesn’t mean we need to give up. With a little adjustment here and there, we can still hit the ground running. Or walking. Or cycling.  Or crawling.

Whatever works.

How are your dreams coming? Share them in the comment section and let’s cheer each other on!

Heroine unaware

I don’t know if she realized how beautiful she was. She sat on the stage, hands trembling slightly, eyes down cast. She took a deep breath, looked up and scanned our faces. I wondered what she might be searching for—judgment? Compassion? Someone… anyone… who might get it?

“I was 15-years-old when I got pregnant,” she began. She shared how she’d come from a Christian home, how she never expected that this would happen to her.

She went on to share how difficult it was to tell her parents.

This young woman knew she couldn’t care for her baby, so she began taking steps toward adoption. She sought out a family, she invited them into her pregnancy and then on the day her daughter was born, she set her into the arms of loving, adoptive parents.

She told her story with tears in her eyes. It was no easy choice to give up someone she loved so much. Even now, four years later, tears slipped down her cheeks as she thought of that painful moment of placing her daughter into the arms of another mom.

This lovely young woman still gets to see her daughter through the open adoption. Her smile broadened as she talked of how well her girl is doing, what a joy it is to see her thriving… and how much she loves her still.

There wasn’t a dry eye in the whole place.

I found this young woman achingly beautiful. I wanted to scoop her up in my arms and hold her tight and thank her for all that she did. Such an incredible sacrifice, such profound love to give life to a young couple that would experience it no other way.

Sometimes heroines come in small packages, small packages with humongous hearts.

I stand in tearful awe.

Beautiful.