MayDay!

When you give birth to a baby, you see their first moments.  The baby is born, she is placed on your chest, you nurse her or feed her.  You hold her and marvel.  Your breath catches.  You realize your dreams and your imaginings of what she would be like are nothing compared to who she really is.

You breathe her in.  These are holy moments.

These are those moments with my daughter, Lila.

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When you adopt a child, it is different.  The first moment I saw Sisi, I was in a car in a foreign country.  She was standing in the window of her foster home and I could see her jumping up and down saying, “Mama Chris!  Daddy John!”

The first time I held her was in her home and she was big and beautiful and excitement was all around us.  It was different, but still holy.

Sisi became my daughter in an office.  We hugged her close and marveled.

It has been two months since we stepped off that airplane onto American soil with our newest daughter.

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It’s been a wild ride.

But here we are.  I love Sisi as wholeheartedly and as fully as I love my other six children.  I love her fiercely.  I have crossed oceans for her, I have walked through fire day by day.

She is beautiful, she is fearfully and wonderfully made.  She is wild, filled with Great Big Feelings- love, rage, laughter, mischief.  It’s amazing to watch her learning English at the speed of light.  It’s amazing to watch her interact with her sisters and her brother.  I love how much she loves her brother in law and her dear friend, Chichco Musica.  I love watching her at Busch Gardens or going down  a slide.  I love watching her figure out English words and I love how she tells us Bulgarian words.

I love her wild hair and her long eyelashes.  I love her ferocity and tenacity.

It’s been hard but every day, it gets a little easier.

I think to myself, what if we didn’t answer the call?

We could have missed this.

On March 11, 2015, we went to Next Level Church to hear Jen Hatmaker speak.  It was the most amazing talk.  When it was winding down, she challenged all who were present to “put their yes on the table” for God.  John and I stood there with our palms uplifted and we put our yes on the table.

We put our “yes” on the table.

A short time later, we saw this photo on Reece’s Rainbow.

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And it was time to put action to our “yes”.

It took 19 months.  19 months of paperwork and jumping through hoops and panic over missed deadlines and So Much Fundraising.

19 months to bring this child into our family.

And now we are two months into her being home.  And I have no regrets.  My yes is still on the table.  And I still say, “Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders.”

I have a challenge for you.  And I’m not saying you have to adopt, but would you go to Reece’s Rainbow or Rainbow Kids or Adopt Us Kids, choose a child’s profile.  Print it off and pray.  Pray for that child like you would if they were yours. Do it everyday.  Put your “yes” on the table and see where it takes you.

Don’t miss what God has for you.

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He Sets the Lonely in Families

There are two things people say most often about adoption.

  1.  You can’t save them all.
  2. Do you really need another kid?

And I agree.  We can’t save them all.  And adopting one out of 154 million feels like a drop in the bucket.  But here is what I know.

It would only take 7% of the Christian population to solve the orphan/foster care crisis.  Only 7%.

Imagine if that 7% were empowered to bring these ones into their homes.  Imagine if the other 93% rallied around that 7%.

No, I can’t save them all.  But the body of Christ can.

And frankly, no.  I don’t need another kid.  (I sometimes wonder if I need the ones I have, hardy-har-har.)

This is not about me.  Or us.  Or our family.

This is about a child that God called us to rescue.  This is about a little girl who needs us. This is about giving God our yes.  This is the overflow of our redemption.  The overflow of how very loved we are.

This is about being a family for Sissy, not getting a kid for our family.  Our family already has a ton of kids.

From now until Easter, I’m going to share Reece’s Rainbow kids…I am asking you to pray over their profiles.  Give God your yes and see where it leads.  There are so many things that we can actively DO.

  1.  We can pray.
  2. We can give.
  3. We can show up for adoptive/foster families, helping with fundraising and meals and moral support.
  4. We can adopt.

This is Curtis

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Pray for Curtis today.  He is a person of eternal significance, created in the image of God.  Ask God what your part in these lonely ones’ lives is.

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My Beloved Speaks and Says to Me, Arise

Remember that time I almost died bringing Nora into the world?  Remember how she was super premature and all kind of terrifying things happened?

That was easier than adoption.

Adoption requires much.

You must first prove yourself to your home study agency.  You must then prove yourself to the country you’ve chosen.  You must then prove yourself to grant agencies.  Who also want tax documents for the past 75 years…at minimum.

Through it all, you have to hustle for funds because redemption is so, so costly.  Fundraisers, yard sales (I HATE yard sales), crafts, asking, asking, asking.  And it’s so beautiful to see your village rally, it’s so beautiful to see people come together to be part of a story of redemption.  But you wonder if they are sick to death of you asking…

Then you travel across the world to meet a child you would die for that you’ve never ever met.  You come with your heart in your hands and you savor the beauty of it all…and the heartbreak too.  Because with adoption comes so much loss.  You will take the child from the world she knows, from the only ones she knows…to a place that looks, sounds, smells and tastes different.  To a language she’s never heard, into a family that has spent a year preparing for her but that she is just not prepared for.

You do the hard work of figuring out just what her “moderate to severe special needs” look like, what it means.  You figure out what she needs.  You batten down the hatches and stay close…parenting in a new way, because what she needs is to know that she can trust you.  That she can let her guard down.  That there will be enough food, that she has a place.  That she is cherished.

God has done such a work in me through all of this.  I’ve had to lean hard into Him.  When fear threatened to steal my breath (and threatens to steal my breath), I lean hard.  When things look like they are unraveling or when issues arise or when it’s looking impossible…I just have to remember…

He called us to this.

He loves Sissy.  She is His.

And He owns the cattle on a thousand hills.  He changes the hearts of kings.  He is One who finishes what He’s started.

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And so I will.  Arise.  Freeze my hand to the sword, just like Eleazar and fight the fight until Sissy is home safe and sound.

You can help.

Donate directly to our agency atPure Charity  This is an amazing way to help us out!  $20 donations also automatically enter you to win a housecleaning by my friend Mabel.

Donate to our FSP at Reece’s Rainbow.  These funds will cover travel expenses.

Donate to our fund at Go Fund Me.  This is where we raise money for ALL costs.  (The two above our tax deductible.

Any amount helps, from $1 to $1000.

Donate items you make, items you sell, services your provide or gently used items with tons of life left in them from your home.  We have a HUGE auction coming up and we need your participation!

Come to our bake sale Saturday morning.  We will have TONS of goodies to tempt your tastebuds!

Eleazar and Me

On Monday, I basically had a nervous breakdown.

I just need to tell you, adoption is NOT for the faint of heart.

Things were very shaky on Monday and we were scared.  Really, really scared that we had failed miserably and the whole thing was going to fall apart.  More scared than people who belong to the Most High God really ought to be.

But we are just people.  And He knows that.  He knew who I was when the plan was made to spend eternity with me, He knew who I was when He died on the cross for me.

Monday scared me.  Because what if we failed her?  What if we did things wrong and we didn’t get to her?  What if we cost her a hope and a future?

We asked for prayer, we asked for good thoughts, we asked for advice.  We hustled with paperwork and phone calls and FedEx and emails to Eastern Europe, to Maryland, to Richmond.

Please Jesus…don’t let us get in the ways of your plans.

So many prayed and so many hustled along side of us and we figured out what will most likely be a solution- a letter that will give us one more month to get it all done.  Please Jesus, have mercy.

Other adoptive moms spoke into my ears and into my heart:

Keep wrestling til you see the blessing.

The Lord is fighting for you.  He is above, beside and behind.

You can do it.  Just keep swimming!

This IS scary, but if you look at all the warriors in scripture, they had NO time. They were NOT prepared. They had NOTHING to offer. Most of them even looked stupid. How many times did they march around Jericho…really?

Take a second to look back at your situation. Do you see God working? Do you see the enemy getting mad? Do you see the enemy’s plans of destruction? Gods plans CANNOT be thwarted!!

Do you believe God called you specifically to Sylvie?  Yes?  Then that’s the answer.  You keep going, you focus on THAT reality and not on the what ifs…They aren’t coming from you, they aren’t coming from God.

Here is what I know.  God is not surprised by this.  And He is not restricted by timelines or deadlines.  And when it all seems impossible, all the more probable that God has a miracle up His sleeve.

We are praying her home.

And then someone gave me an old Testament story from 2 Samuel 23.

 

9Next to him was Eleazar son of Dodai the Ahohite. As one of the three mighty warriors, he was with David when they taunted the Philistines gathered at Pas Dammimd for battle. Then the Israelites retreated, 10but Eleazar stood his ground and struck down the Philistines till his hand grew tired and froze to the sword. The Lord brought about a great victory that day. 

Yes.

Yes.  Freeze my hand to the sword, Lord as I fight.  The anxiety, the fear, it ebbed away and in its place was this surety that it wasn’t really up to me.  It might not turn out all right.  It might be more amazing than we can even imagine.  It’s going to go how it’s going to go and that has nothing to do with me.  I am not in control, but I will fight the fight that is before me and I will trust His will to be done.  I will trust God in this fight.

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So, I breathe again.  I dry my tears and seek the One who holds everything together.  I renounce fear, I ask for new mercies and they are freely given.

We ask for prayer and it is lavished on us, on Sylvie.

We ask for a solution and possibilities rise up.

We sleep and it seems less desperate the next morning.

“Redemption is costly,” says John and he is right.

Redemption is costly.  It is worthy.  But it is costly.

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The Powers that Be

It’s gray and gloomy outside and we are just under blankets and watching Peppa Pig.  The day has not unfolded as expected.

I have a bad headache and fibro is aching deep in my bones.  This weather does it to me every time.

Today, I saw my doctor for my routine bloodwork and check-ins.  We talked adoption and I told him what his part in the whole thing would be.  He has to say that he thinks I can handle adopting this child, this little girl who is already ours in our heart.

“They’ll want to know if you think health wise if we can handle another child.”

“Well.”  He said.  “Do you think you can handle it?”

“Yes.”  I said.  “I can do anything.”

He laughed and agreed.  He’s been my doctor for 15 years.  He knows.

As I drove home, I thought about the weight of his words with the Powers that Be in Eastern Europe..  How all of this rests in the hands of “Official” types of people.  Our social worker for the adoption, our home study social worker, our social worker in Sylvie’s country…the judges that will read over our files.

There is so much at play here and so many little windows for the Enemy to try and climb through.

So…today, as I snuggle in my chair with Nora and a heating pad…will you pray for us?  Will you pray for favor with the Powers That Be?

We’ve got to pray this Daughter home.

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Worth It

We are surrounded by encouragers.

What a gift a positive word is.

Yesterday was a wild day, lots of ups and downs and stressors.  Today looks brighter, but fibro has come to visit today. I’ll be forced to be still and know today.

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I believe in speaking truth about where you are in your journey.  Feel awful?  Say so.  Feel overwhelmed?  Say so.  Feel heartsick?  Say so.  I’ve long believed that things hidden, things in the dark lose their power when drug into the light.  So I tell the truth.  And my village receives me in my truth and speaks life and light into me.

Texts, Facebook messages, calls…all came through as we waded through the muck and mud of yesterday.  All with the same word:

God has GOT this.  He is with you.

And then this picture of this recued one in my Facebook messenger this morning.

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She’s the reason we know we can fight this thing all the way through.  She’s the reason we know that we can handle whatever comes our way. She has given us a face to the needs of the orphan. She has shown us the joy of being in a family, of being rescued.  She illustrates how we are all fearfully and wonderfully made and she is so specifically Aila, created in His image….

And her mama typed these words to me:  “She is here.  You can do it.  It’s going to be worth it.”

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I want Sylvie to have the joy that Aila does. To know that she belongs to us.  We want to teach her that she is created in His image.

God’s got this.
We can do it.
It’s going to be worth it.

5000 Miles

There’s a little girl called Sissy who lives about 5,000 miles away from me.

Right now, while I type these words and sip my coffee…she is halfway through her day in Bulgaria.  Is she taking a nap in daycare?  Is she playing? Is she coloring?

I think about her about a million times a day and I just find the whole thing so amazing.

We love her.

We have ever since we were told this could happen.  Since we were told that we could do this.  We could be a family for this very little girl who has no idea that she even needs us.

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We know her name.

We’ve seen her face.

And we can not wait to hold her.

Being a part of this story has already been so filled with God and wonder that it defies description.

He has been in the details.

And certainly there are stressors and concerns.

For creative, flaky people like us, deadlines and paperwork that must be done at the right time and in the right way…whew.  That part is hard.

Fundraising creatively and in a (hopefully) non annoying way is equal parts fun and difficult!

I keep saying this:  “Adoption is a full time job!”

Several well meaning friends have said this, “But what if her special needs are more severe than you realized when you get her home?”

And I respectfully reply.  “What if they are?”  Please understand that I don’t mean to be a smarty pants, I don’t mean to be rude…but it is my answer.   If her needs are more than I expect…doesn’t she still have them?  Aren’t they part of her story, whether or not we bring her home to us or not?

She is who she is.  Just as she is.  And she can have her medical issues in Bulgaria where there are such limited resources and no real future for her…or she can have those issues here in America, close to us, with unlimited opportunity.

I think back to tiny little Nora, born crazy early and would we have just chosen not to parent her if she had residual issues?  (I don’t think coloring on EVERYTHING and throwing tantrums count.)

I think about a couple of my kids who struggle with anxiety, one with dyslexia…one with wheat intolerance…I think about other kids I love who have special needs and I just have to say…

“So what if her needs are more severe?”

I guess we’ll just have to figure that out.

Because it bottom lines to these two things.

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“My friends, adoption is redemption.  It’s costly, exhausting, expensive and outrageous.  Buying back lives costs so much.  When God set out to redeem us, it killed him.”

We will pay the ransom (with a LOT of help from our village) and we will rescue our daughter.  Because we have been rescued and redeemed.  We didn’t have to meet any criteria to be redeemed.  And it cost our sweet Jesus.

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“I always questioned if I was ready to adopt, and then I realized no child was ready to be an orphan.”

Oh this statement stops my heart.

Surely Sissy’s first mother, the one who gave her life and a name…surely her heart’s desire for this beautiful girl was not that she would be an orphan.  Surely the foster mom, Sissy’s second mother, who is with her every day and has been for most of her life, surely this sweet mother who has sustained her for all this time and who prepares herself to say good bye…surely her heart’s desire is not that Sissy would live her life as an orphan.  And we look at her picture and we watch her videos and we listen to our six live life fully…and we just know that our desire is not that Sissy would live out the rest of her life an orphan.

This child, fearfully and wonderfully made, she deserves a mom and a dad and host of sisters and even one brother.  She deserves all these grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins.  She deserves to be welcomed in.

Weren’t we welcomed in to the courts of a King?

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Be a part of her story here:

To give:  http://www.gofundme.com/sylviagrace

Buy a t-shirt:  http://www.bonfirefunds.com/sylviagrace

Commission art:  cartestersonink@gmail.com

Buy a bracelet:  cartestersonink@gmail.com

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Apparent Project Bracelets $8
$4 goes to the moms and dads in Haiti that make them, $4 goes to our adoption fund.

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We are keeping a record of every single person who has participated in this story. On the wall, by Sissy’s bed, when she comes home, there will be a great big painting.  A painting of a tree.  And on that tree will be leaves and each leaf will have a name.  The name of every single person who believed she was worth rescuing.  The name of every single person who fought and gave and sacrificed to pay her ransom.

Peace In Disappointment

I don’t like feeling disappointed.

I really don’t.

And I know, I know, I know that no one does.  But today, I am bogged down in disappointment and discouragement and I am sad.

I have long held a dream close to my heart.  A dream of adoption.  I have felt a stirring for it ever since I was very young.  I specifically remember a couple of families from high school that had large families full of kids of all kinds- special needs, neurotypical, adopted, bio, foster.  I was always so fascinated by the whole thing.

I met my friends the Tiefenbacks and got to know their beautiful daughters from India and my friend Dianna and her beautiful three.  This dream, it has waxed and waned over the years but it has never, ever gone completely away.

It was set ablaze all over again in knowing and loving our sweet  Aila.  In watching several Facebook friends go through growing their families through adoption and fostering.  In standing with my sister of the heart Kristin and her husband Drew as they began the foster parent journey.  Watching another family I just love adopt their second daughter domestically.

I looked around one day and I realized that I know so many people who have a heart for adoption. I realized that even my current heroes in the faith (Sara Hagerty, Jen Hatmaker, Glennon Melton, Ann Voskamp) all also have Big Hearts for adoption, for protecting and serving children in crisis.  It’s all around me.  And God does not do coincidences.  Everything is purposeful, everything has meaning.

In my first marriage, adoption was not something my husband wanted to do, so that dream had to be surrendered.  And that was okay, because sometimes life is like that.

In my second marriage, it is something my husband very much wants to do.  Our heartbeats on this are very much in sync…and so somehow, now having to surrender it because of my health is just so much more painful.  It’s as though it was in my grasp and then was snatched away.

We fell in love with a three year old in Hong Kong last year, while my fibro was under control.  We tentatively asked if he was an option for us.  The answer?  He was already in process with another family.  Yay! That’s what you want.  For kids to get adopted.  No worries, there are 147 million children in need in this world.  Surely there would be one for us.

We fell in love with several sibling groups in Bulgaria but were warned by the adoption agency not to go that route because of how many young daughters we had still at home.     The situation for orphans in Bulgaria is heart wrenching.  You can learn more here:  

Okay, so we paused to regroup and pray for a while and see where God was leading us.  We had some goals in our personal lives to meet with our finances and John was in grad school and Nora was still so young.  It felt like the door was closing for just a little while longer.

Now, we are prayer warriors for four special little ones on Reece’s Rainbow.  And these four are just so precious and deserve a family so much.  And we would gladly adopt any and all of them.

Shyla

When I saw her face…she just looks like one of us.  Her name would be Lydia if she was ours.

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Brayden

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I just believe he would flourish in a family of his own.

Rubin

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This sweet love.  Is he beautiful or WHAT?!

And finally this guy who is about to age out of the orphanage, with the same name as my own son.

Charles

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These are just four of 147 million and my mothers’ heart longs to go and swoop them up, bring them home and love, love, love them.

But I have this disease that steals my days.  This disease that makes an hour long car ride into an excruciating ordeal.  This disease that makes travel to another country almost impossible.

The costs of adoption are entirely overwhelming but can be overcome.  This I know for a fact. I  saw the body of Christ come together and bring sweet Aila home.

But my health.

This fibro thing has been out of control since about January and nothing I have done seems to be bringing it back in line.

So…time to lay down the international adoption dream again.  It’s disappointing.  It’s heartbreaking.

But what I know is this:
1. God gave me the dream of international adoption.  And He is not going to ignore a dream He placed in me that falls right in line with His word:  “Pure and undefiled religion is this:  to visit orphans and widows in their distress…” Why would he set our hearts on fire for this and then render us inactive? He wouldn’t! That’s not who He is. He will show us our path, in His timing.
2. God loves these four I’ve posted here and all 146,999,996 others more than can even be imagined.  More than I ever could, even if I adopted all four of them.  They are of eternal significance to Him.  Precious, fearfully and wonderfully made.  Treasured and cherished by the God of the Universe.  He is their Abba Father, Emmanuel, God with us.
3. I can help in so many other ways, not just as an adopter.  There is much I can do for these four. I can pray every time they come to mind.  I can teach my children to pray for them, to have their hearts open to the needs of others.  I can raise funds to help them on their journey.  I can advocate for and speak for them.  I can be their voice, stateside.
4.  There is beauty in surrender.  God can turn my mourning into dancing.  He can rescue me in my sorrow and distress.  He meets us in our hurt places.  He walks with us.  He is the Great Healer, of all pain- physical, emotional, spiritual.

I don’t know where the adoption journey will take us.  There are about a million different ways it could go.

What I do know is that the crisis is epic.  Forget my sad little heart for a second and just consider the magnitude of the orphan crisis.  I type and I delete and I type and I delete because there is nothing I can say that can even come close to describing it.  Just research it for yourself.  Read up on foster care needs in your own town, scroll through the kids on Reece’s Rainbow, watch the documentary I linked to above.  Go to Show HopeThese 400Amazima and countless other websites.  Check it out for yourself.

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This is my prayer over these precious ones.

i will not

Please pray about the orphan crisis and please share your experiences with me and with my readers.  We are not all called to adopt, we are not even all called to give financially…but I believe that God does call us all to action one way or another.

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And that is where I am today.  This morning.  I feel peace about it, sad but peaceful.  I am just going to be still and wait on Him to give me the next step.  I’m going to advocate and pray for these four He has laid on my heart and I’m going to keep praying this fibromalgia away.

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If you want to help financially, you can donate to Reece’s Rainbow or to one of the four I’ve linked to specifically by clicking any link above.

OR, if you want to help through shopping, from now on, my retail profits from DoTerra and Norwex will go to these four kiddos’ adoption grants.  (You can read more about the adoption grants and how they work on the Reece’s Rainbow webpage.)

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And, stay tuned, because I’m opening my Etsy store soon.  It’s called CartestersonINK and it’ll be filled with art from our family.  20% of all profits will go towards our little RR friends’ adoption grants or to other organizations that are designed to help end the orphan crisis globally.

Faithful readers, I am thankful for you.

These 400

This morning, I sit in the Chair of Healing and tears stream down my face like a river.  I am watching a short video on Bethany Christian Services website about a program they are having called These 400.

These 400

Basically, BCS is seeking families for 400 waiting children.  400.  Waiting. Children.

Let that sink in.  BCS wants to find families for 400 children who have no one to call their own.  No one to root for them, no one to tuck them in at night, no one to tell them they are made in God’s image and that they are a good gift.

400 Waiting Children.

Out of more than 132 million.

Friends, lovers of Jesus….we can’t let this continue.  We can’t leave 132 million fearfully and wonderfully made boys and girls alone.  We can’t.  This is not who we are.

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This is what we are called to do.  Love God.  Love others.  We love others out of the overflow of God’s love in us.  These are HIS children.  The sheep He has asked us to feed.  The lonely He longs to set in a family.  The Ones He loves and died for.  I recently read “Kisses From Katie” by Katie Davis and she said something like this, “It’s not hard.  God told me to love others as myself.  I don’t want myself to be starving.”

I don’t want myself to be alone.  I don’t want myself to be without a family.

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I scroll through the photos of the 400.  My heart is in shreds.  These babies are beautiful.  Ages 3 all the way up to 17.  They have the same Jeremiah 29:11 call on their lives that my own six beautiful babies have on their lives.  God has plans for a hope and future for them.

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Are we part of the plans God has for these 400?  Not just, we the Cartestersons, but we, the body of Christ?  

I remember how the body of Christ came alongside us as I walked through so much to bring Nora into the world.  God’s people rallied and brought us through, stood with us and loved us even more than they loved themselves.

We can do that for These 400 too.

And I’m not saying that each and every person that reads my blog should be filling out an application to bring 2 or 3 orphans home.  But I am saying…

What can we do to help These 400 get home, to help reduce that number of more than 132 million..what can we do?  What can I do?  What can you do?  There are so many ways to help solve this orphan crisis and I will get more into that on Monday.

About two months ago, I prayed for God to set my heart ablaze for the things of His heart.  About a month ago, we fasted and prayed for breakthrough in our spiritual lives.

Today, I sobbed with a blazing heart in pieces over these ones that God loves.

Ask Him.  Pray this prayer everyday:

How can I help your people, God?  Here I am.  Send me.

Hereiam

 

Just start there.  And when you hear His voice, don’t be afraid.  Act.

Sources:  Unicef