How Motherhood Begins, Continues, And…

Recently, I went through a study with some friends through the book of Nehemiah. I was reminded during the study of our journey to adopt and bringing Nehemiah into our family. Two years ago today, our lives changed with a simple phone call. We often joke how you never know what a day will hold when you wake up and this day is a reminder of that.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Josh was preaching though Nehemiah when God changed the beating of our heart from {we will adopt someday} to {God is calling us NOW to adopt}. Our prayer through this time echoed that of Nehemiah: Break our hearts for what breaks Yours. And our hearts broke for the marginalized and orphaned…

After 6 months the initial paperwork was completed and we were accepted into our agency’s Ethiopia program, our desire was for an infant, just like everyone else. As the wait times increased we decided to pursue a concurrent adoption of an domestic infant.

We met a young birthmom, it would have been easy, she had been under the care of her aunt, had never missed an OB appointment, we fit right in with her and the family, and could imagine ourselves at BBQ’s with them all.

But she did not choose us.

A week later, we got a call telling us, “Come to the hospital, bring a car seat and some clothes because we have a baby boy for you!”

This situation was messy and would require so much more from us than we had imagined.

For our son, Nehemiah, God’s hand has been on him from before he was born. Literally, God saved his life. His birthmom was wandering the streets, she had decided to take her own life and the life of her unborn baby. Yet, God in his love planted a love in her heart for that unborn child which saved her own life and his.

The moment of adoption is surreal. So many things go into that moment that moves so quickly.

We found ourselves at the hospital, signing papers to become the parents of a child we had never met.

After we arrived at the hospital, Josh and I sat for hours in the cafeteria just waiting. We couldn’t talk, read or do anything, our hearts were pounding, just wondering what this boy would be like and how our lives would change. They were excruciating hours. Where all you can do is wait some more. You are so close, but you are just waiting some more.

We don’t know how he entered the world, in a fit of screams or a quietly and observant, he would be two days old when we got that call. He was little, born at 5 pounds and who knows how many weeks. Josh always joked that he looked like Benjamin Button because of how wrinkly his skin was and how he hadn’t grown into it.

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The birthmom’s first words to us were, “do you want to hold him?” The emotions in that moment were overwhelming. The answer was yes, but it was also so sad. We learned again in that moment the heartbreak that goes into adoption. Someone places a child for adoption. All situations are different, but adoption always has hurt in it at some level.

We talked with the his birth parents, took some pictures and just adored this little bundle. The birthdad left in a fit of tears, Birthmom went to another room to be discharged. And we were discharged with our newest son. We were in shock, and felt like we were taking someone else’s baby. Yet we were in love and knew that he was entering our family now.

Nehemiah entered our family and community seamlessly. He was little, but overall healthy.

It was the spiritual warfare that we felt during that time that was so hard. I remember waking up at night with him laying in the bassinet next to me seemingly terrified of him… the times of sensing someone else was there.

The tears that flowed after the endless meetings with birthmom the first few months, hearing her story of abuse and neglect, the oppression and demons that she had fought and was currently fighting. The birthdad spent time in jail, he only made it to one or maybe two visits. It was not clean.

The visits tapered off, partly because of our covenant and presumably because it was too hard for her to keep up her end of the agreement.

We have continued to pray, “Lord, break our hearts for what breaks yours.”

We are living that, though it is easy to forget and whitewash our Nehemiah’s journey. I wonder now what to do for Birthmom, she lives in squalor, without a proper kitchen. What is our role in her life right now? But I don’t have answers.

I had huge prayers for her to turn her life around to see and cling to Jesus. Those prayers have not been answered as I hoped. In all, you are reminded that you don’t save anyone. This is what people often say to us, “You saved him.” They mean well and we understand, but we didn’t save Nehemiah. We can’t. He’s a precious child that God loves dearly and has great plans for us, but only Jesus can save him.

When Josh and I are asked why we adopted 2 kids, our simple answer is, “God adopted us. This is the best way we know how to show that the world around us.”

Our lives have changed a lot in the last 2 years. We’ve brought Judah home, Nehemiah is now a tank of a kid and into everything as he’s grown. He brings a smile to our face and loves kisses and trailing after his siblings. We pray that as he grows, he will be like Nehemiah in the Bible. That he will grow as a leader, to be a man, that has a heart that breaks for the things of God. That he in some ways, lives up to the name we gave him.

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Heaven is for Real

With the movie Heaven is for Real coming out this week, I’ve gotten questions on whether I think this book and movie is worth seeing and reading and if it is true. This is the best thing I’ve found on it.

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The Top Blog Posts of 2013

This has been a week of sharing my “Best of” lists.

It started with the top sermon downloads from Revolution Church, then my almost best books & almost best albums of the year. Then I shared my favorite books and favorite albums of 2013. Today is the last list: the top blog posts of the year. To make this list, it had to be a blog post published in 2013, of which there were thousands to choose from. One of the things I love about this list is how many blog posts Katie wrote (which is a new addition to my blog this year).

Here they are:

13. I Can’t Compete With Your Perfectly Coiffed Hair & other Perfections

12. What Now for our Family (And How You can Be a Part of our Lives Now)

11. Adoption Trip Update #3

10. What do Stay-at-Home Mom’s Do All Day?

9. The Most Important Minutes to a Guest on a Sunday Morning

8. The Five Stages of Discipleship

7. My Arms are Too Short

6. The Power of Habit

5. Bring our Child Home from Ethiopia & Serve a Widow

4. Meeting our Son who we Didn’t Know Much About…

3. What our Family Does on Halloween

2. 21 Skills of Great Preachers

And the most read blog post of 2013 was:

1. Finding an Accountability Partner as a Pastor

Shouting So They’ll Listen

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In his new book, A Call to ResurgenceMark Driscoll shares some eye opening stats about our culture:

  • 88% believe Jesus existed.
  • 78% believe God exists.
  • 73% believe in evolution.
  • 71% believe in karma.
  • 68% believe in heaven and hell.
  • 67% believe spirituality exists in nature.
  • 65% believe in angels and demons.
  • 59% believe Jesus rose from the dead.
  • 53% believe in the devil.
  • 46% believe in extraterrestrials, aliens, or UFO’s.

This is the culture we live in, work in, play in, and pastors, this is the culture you preach to each week.

So how do Christians tend to communicate to this culture? By shouting.

We don’t necessarily walk up to people and start screaming, although, I’ve seen people with signs stand on a corner and shout at people.

Have you ever seen someone try to communicate to someone with a language barrier? Americans when they encounter someone who doesn’t speak English, they talk louder. As we’ve brought Judah into our home from Ethiopia, we have a language barrier to overcome as he speaks little English and we speak very little of his language. Our boys, in an effort to get him to play with them or do something, simply talk louder if he doesn’t respond.

That’s what Christians do.

We don’t change what we are saying, we simply say the same things only louder and with more force.

Yes, but the message doesn’t change.

That is true. The gospel is the same. Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. We never stop talking about the glorious news of Jesus’ sinless life, our brokenness and need for a Savior and how Jesus met that need by dying in our place and rising from the dead and sending us the Holy Spirit. We never stop talking about that.

But, we can change how we talk about that.

Instead of shouting, find common ground, a common language. Answer questions and needs that people have.

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Monday Morning Mind Dump… [Lunch Edition]

  • It was quite the weekend in our house
  • Saturday night after almost 4 years of waiting, Katie brought Judah home from Ethiopia
  • Hard to believe the journey to this moment has been so long
  • We are loving it and adjusting well
  • Say a prayer for us as we add him to our family, as he learns the English language and the patience we need while we adjust
  • Sunday was a great day at Revolution
  • We baptized 4 people
  • Always love hearing the stories of how Jesus has changed lives
  • Never gets old
  • I preached on John 14 and talked about who the Holy Spirit is and what He does
  • I had so many notes I could’ve preached for 3 hours
  • The Holy Spirit tends to be a divisive topic which is sad because without Him we are lost
  • He does so much and Christians tend to be ignorant as to what He does
  • If you missed it, you can listen to it here
  • Last Monday, I started my sleeve tattoo
  • Super excited about it as Katie and I have been planning it for almost 2 years
  • It is a koi fish with 6 flowers (1 for Katie and 5 for the kids)
  • The flowers will be colored in with their birth stone colors
  • Pumped about how it has turned out so far and I can’t wait to fill it in
  • I’m performing the wedding of some Revolutionaries this weekend
  • I love being a part of weddings and the process of premarital counseling
  • Really excited for this couple
  • We’re doing a child dedication in church next Sunday
  • I love seeing parents make a commitment to how they will raise their child(ren) and hearing their missional communities make a commitment to the parents and the child
  • It really is moving
  • Over the weekend I read through most of Malcolm Gladwell’s new book David & Goliath
  • Like his other books, this was utterly fascinating
  • His books are just so interesting
  • Picked up Mark Driscoll’s new book A Call To Resurgence this morning
  • Definitely a book every pastor should read as we don’t live in the Christian nation most Christians think we do
  • I was reading through John 15 this morning which I’m preaching on this Sunday
  • So much in those verses on how we stay connected to Jesus and not feel alone
  • Can’t wait to unpack them this Sunday at Revolution

Beauty Comes out of Brokenness

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We just spent 10 days on vacation in San Diego… And there were predictable, smooth, and wonderful days.

We were able to soak in the sun and enjoy God’s beautiful creation at the ocean and in the tide pools. We were able to start reading “The Narnia” series as a family, do a puzzle and eat amazing food. We were able to spend a day at sea world and Lego land.

Now we are going to ruin it.

By deciding to adopt, a 4 year old, from a different country, we have intentionally decided to send our family from a place of predictability to triage. Overnight.

Truth be told I have been afraid of the transition now that it is finally becoming a reality. Adoption is beautiful, but it is born out of loss and abandonment. For Judah Mamush to become a part of our family he must lose 2 languages, a culture, country, food, smells and sounds that are familiar to him. We do not take that lightly. There will be a grieving process that we will walk through with him and we don’t know what that will look like. It has scared me.

I am certain of one thing: we felt very specifically called to adopt, and although I know that call does not mean that it will be easy, it will be beautiful; whether on this side of heaven or the other. Praise Jesus that he is constant and our feelings do not need to control our reality.

As He is prone to do, God has reminded me of his presence and that he will hold and guide us through this.

Because our 4 kids who are at home with us were having a hard time with me leaving, friends of ours drove me up to Phoenix for an early morning flight. They are in the process of adopting internationally as well, so we had much to talk about on the way to the airport. Things that I have thought through, but won’t know how they play out until we have Judah Mamush home… Like how will he react to our routine, will he get along well with the other kids, when will we start taking him out of the house to church and the grocery store, have we found him a barber, how will he/we deal with the fact that we are a transracial family, etc. We have tried to educate ourselves to the best of our ability, but there is so much unknown.

I used the curbside check-in, it was a breeze. The attendant was African-American, he asked why I was traveling to Ethiopia, I explain. He asks if we have a name for him. Yes we do… And then he pulls out his name tag and tells me that we can use his name Jamal… It means beautiful. He got so excited and said he was proud of me and to enjoy my trip. It was such a lighthearted exchange and brought a smile to my face, after having tucked in 3 crying children the night before.

After sitting at the gate for a while we realize that our flight is delayed by a few hours, this is not a big deal for my travel plans because I will be staying overnight in DC before leaving in the morning for Addis. Many people were annoyed, but in God’s providence I got to sit and talk with a women who was born in Ethiopia and moved to the states with her parents when she was 9 under political asylum. We talked about the changes that have taken place in Ethiopia over the last ten years, but we also talked about the adoption. Her words were a balm to those places of anxiety. As I travel a peace is washing over me. I know that there will be a time of transition and a road to complete restoration in our family…. But isn’t that always to work of a family, of a mother. To help our children to see themselves as sinners and try to help them find their true identity in Christ, instead of their past.

I join in prayer with all of you parents who are facing a situation that is hard. I love that God sees the end, and we can trust him to that; while taking steps each day, enlightened by his word and prayer to get there.

Sometimes all we can do is trust God to be good, pure and right and take that next step in the direction that we feel he is calling us in. And so I step onto a plane to travel across the world to bring home our baby.

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Monday Morning Mind Dump…

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  • This weekend was the moment our family has been waiting for for the last 4 years
  • Katie left on a plane yesterday to go to Ethiopia to bring Judah Mamush home
  • Here’s an update
  • I’m so excited for him to join our family
  • And for Katie to come back home
  • I had a guy today who said, “Must be excited about a break from your wife”
  • As nicely as I could I said, “If I was excited I wouldn’t have gotten married”
  • Because of coming back from San Diego on our family vacation on Wednesday and getting Katie ready to leave, I felt out of sync when it came to preaching today
  • When my week isn’t normal it makes preaching hard
  • Ironically, I got more comments about today than most recent sermons
  • Go figure
  • If you missed it, you can listen here
  • Had a great week in San Diego
  • I love family vacations and the change of pace they bring
  • So many fun memories
  • Can’t believe we are almost done with the book of John at Revolution
  • I’ve loved preaching through a gospel
  • Can’t wait to start 1 Corinthians in January
  • Going to cover topics like divorce, spiritual growth, dating, sex before and outside of marriage, homosexuality, spiritual gifts, healing, speaking in tongues, heaving, hell and the afterlife
  • Should be fun
  • Say a prayer for our family as Katie is traveling
  • She will be exhausted and need supernatural strength as she travels home with Judah
  • Pray for the transition of him joining our family and all that will mean

The Beginning of The End

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I am on the LONG journey to finally pick up our son, Judah Mamush. The process of adoption is almost over, but the journey of integrating Judah Mamush into our family is just beginning.

The last two weeks have been a mix of emotions…

Earlier in the month we watched as a group of families who were a week ahead of us in the process be screened and clear embassy quickly; we anticipated that we would hear from the embassy right after them. If you know anything about international adoption, you know that it is anything but predictable and smooth. It was two more weeks before we heard anything from the embassy, and those two weeks were excruciating.

We were planning our trip to San Diego (which we had moved from the summer because of traveling to Ethiopia the first time), and waiting for any morsel of information from the embassy. Finally, we got word that our case was being screened and they were requesting a birth relative interview, this is not uncommon when there is a living birth relative, but it took a while to schedule an interview with him, because our agency couldn’t reach him by phone because of the remote location where he lives. After scheduling the appointment we decided to purchase tickets in anticipation of clearing and traveling the following week.

That decision ended up paying off, but was riddled with high emotion as we found out the embassy was booked almost solid because of holidays… Thankfully they took pity on us and scheduled a visa appointment that would work with our prearranged travel plans.

Josh and I started this journey of adoption in February of 2010… Just shy of 4 years ago. There are so many people and memories during that time. It has been a humbling experience having to ask people to help us accomplish something that we could not have doe on our own. So many of you have given time, money, stuff, prayers, and well wishes.

I still remember, one of our first small groups prayed over the initial paperwork, many of you worked at one or all of our rummage sales- sorting, selling, translating, folding, boxing, unboxing. Through this journey we have adopted Nehemiah, who we brought home from the hospital and straight to our MC! We we able to bless a local widow in tucson with a house facelift while raising funds for our adoption. Your support and love have been heard and felt.

Especially during these last few months as the wait from meeting Judah Mumush to picking him up has been gut wrenching. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you.

The journey is not over… We will still need your prayers and support. This next step I our journey will be riddled with educating ourselves and those around us how to best show Judah Mamush what a family is, and how that is played out within a community of believers.

Thank you for your part in our journey. We are closer to the end and the next step.

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Monday Morning Mind Dump… (Afternoon Edition)

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  • While last week was amazing as we celebrated our 5 year anniversary as a church and had baptisms, yesterday was incredible
  • We kicked off a brand new series on John 12 – 21 yesterday called Made for Glory
  • John 12 starts with the topic of generosity, giving and holding our stuff loosely
  • While most pastors hate to preach on the topic of giving and money, I’ve started to enjoy it
  • People in our culture want answers when it comes to their finances and the relationship they have with money and stuff and the Bible is the best place to get those answers
  • We did a 90 day giving challenge
  • We’ve done this twice a year every year since we started the church
  • It’s simple: if you aren’t giving back to God, start and if in the next 90 days you don’t see God expand your faith, move in your life and challenge you in the area of finances, let us know and we’ll give back everything you gave in the last 90 days
  • We’ve never had anyone ask for it back and we’ve had over 100 people take the challenge in the last 5 years
  • We had our highest ever yesterday with 16
  • Can’t wait to hear the stories of how God works in their lives over the next 90 days
  • It was a sad day in our house today because we’ve been praying and hoping that we would’ve woken up this morning to an email about being able to go to Africa to bring Judah home
  • That didn’t happen
  • We’re hopeful about tomorrow though
  • Say a prayer that we’ll hear tomorrow
  • I got invited to start doing crossfit with one of my neighbors in his garage
  • He has the whole set up
  • So, now I’m doing crossfit 3 times a week with a couple of Air Force guys in their 20’s
  • So far, I haven’t felt old yet
  • Hoping that continues
  • I got to have coffee with a college student last week who has attended Revolution for almost a year and has been exploring Jesus that whole time
  • He has a ton of logical questions about Christianity, which was awesome and fun to talk through
  • Love talking about how faith is logical and not just a feeling or an emotion
  • Katie and I went to one of our new favorite places for date night last Friday, Blanco
  • If you haven’t been, it is so good

A Mother’s Heart (From a Husband’s Perspective)

If men are honest, we’d like to understand our wives, we try to, but we are often left scratching our heads as to what they need, what they want and what they are trying to say. While men love to stay in the world of logic and avoid emotions at all cost, women stay right at home in emotions. For men, it rarely makes sense and if you ask women, they will tell you it doesn’t have to make sense.

Over the last month, as we’ve shared with people what is happening in our adoption, waiting to bring Judah Mamush home it has been hard to describe the agony of what it feels like. I told one guy that we’ve discussed putting Katie on a plane so she can go to Ethiopia to be with Judah Mamush until he passes embassy and he said, “Josh, you need to stop trying to control things.” I said the same thing to a couple of Mom’s and they all looked they were going to cry.

While the last month has been hard for me, it has been different for Katie. In that time, I’ve learned a lot about my wife and the heart of a mother that hopefully will be helpful to other men (whether they have kids or not).

Here they are:

  • A mother feels differently than a father. While this is true of men and women in general as I said earlier, when it comes to parenting it is even more true. A mother feels the loss of something different than a father does. I miss Judah. I can’t wait for him to be here, to play soccer with him, teach him to ride a bike, to do things with him. Katie longs to hold him, to snuggle him, hug him and tell him that he is loved. To give him a feeling he has not had in his life, a feeling of safety, of belonging.
  • Be honest with your wife about your heart. While men often get labeled as callous or insensitive because we don’t cry or feel the way a woman does, it is important to be honest with your wife about your heart. A wife always wants to know what you are feeling, what is running through your head and heart. When we left Judah Mamush on our last day in Ethiopia, he was on the ground screaming and crying because he didn’t know if we were coming back, he only knew we were leaving. He doesn’t speak English so we couldn’t say, “We’re coming back.” Katie is on the verge of losing it and I did everything in my power to pick him up and not cry. I couldn’t even talk or else I would’ve cried. I am almost crying retelling this story. As we left and over the last month, it has been important to my wife’s heart to know of my heart, to know how it hurts, to know my longing as a father for my son. To not be the man and just bottle it up and with tough upper lip. That’s why a wife thinks her husband is insensitive, because he holds back. 
  • Distance is easier for men to handle. Men can handle distance in relationships because of how we handle emotions. We are able to compartmentalize things, get busy and forget about things because we are laser focused and don’t multi-task our emotions. I can go a whole day and not think about something that Katie has thought about all day while doing 15 other things. This can create a sense for women that their husbands don’t care or don’t feel. That isn’t it at all, it is just that we push it to the back of our minds so that we can do other things. If I thought about Judah the way Katie did, I would never get any work done. She can think of him, teach our kids, have coffee with someone, make dinner and still think of Judah and post something on Facebook that isn’t related to Judah.
  • Hold a woman when she cries, don’t ask questions. This has been one of our rules in marriage from day one. Katie has told me, “When I cry, just hold me and don’t ask why.” This is just solid advice for a husband, but even more so in the moments of parenting when you as the father can’t fix a situation or do anything about it. I can’t make the Ethiopian embassy go faster or look at our paperwork. I can’t send Katie on a plane to Ethiopia to bring Judah home any faster than it is going and that is frustrating.
  • A mother’s heart is a mystery. While I’ve learned some things, a mother’s heart is a mystery to me and will remain so. It feels and responds in ways I can’t even imagine. It longs in ways that I don’t. It aches in ways that don’t even cross my mind. It is a mystery, and yet, as a father and husband I am grateful for it. It forces me to feel in important ways. I can easily be tough and not emotional, but walking with Katie through this time, meeting Judah and holding him and then the agony of having to say goodbye to him has taught me a lot about being a father and the love God has for me.

My hope with this post was to honor my wife and the beauty and power of her heart as a mother. But to also help men know how to best honor, love, care for and support their wives and the hearts that beat in them. To encourage them to be a mystery, to have emotion and to handle things differently from men.