Explaining New York

While driving around on some errands today, the boys and I were listening to U2. Liam listens to the All That You Can’t Leave Behind album on the iPod often and knows most of the words to those songs. During the song “New York,” Liam asked about the lines:

In New York I lost it all to you and your vices
Still I’m staying on to figure out my mid life crisis
I hit an iceberg in my life
You know I’m still afloat
You lose your balance, lose your wife
In the queue for the lifeboat
Gotta put the women and children first
But you’ve got an unquenchable thirst for New York

He understood that the iceberg bit was a metaphor of some sort but wasn’t sure what it meant. I explained that the entire song was a metaphor for the things that lure us away from what’s important in life (see 1 John 2.15-17). Any kind of addiction–money, work, drugs, video games, relationships, etc.–will draw us away from the life God intends for us. In the song, New York represents those things.

It’s interesting to set U2’s “New York” alongside Frank Sinatra’s well-known “New York, New York.” To Sinatra, the City represents limitless opportunity and possibilities for fame and success. It is modern and hopeful. By contrast, U2’s New York is dark, sinister, seductive, and dangerous–a place to be feared, where one’s soul is at risk. While Sinatra’s New York offers the naive outsider a chance to make it big, U2’s New York will entice you then take your life.

I was grateful for the chance to talk this over with Liam today. I’m reminded that nine-year-old boys pay attention to significant things.

Here are the lyrics to the U2 song and a video to a live performance of it. The song is one of my favorites on that album, musically and lyrically. The arrangement consistently points to the disorienting and seductive nature of the City revealed in the lyrics–really well done.

Just a Few Things from Addis Ababa

This isn’t really a post, just a collection of observations and thoughts from the past few days.

Aidan really likes the shower—I think he had his first shower ever here at the guest house. He squeals with delight in the falling water.

Aidan also had his first hamburger and ice cream here. When he first tasted the ice cream, he was surprised that it was cold but then discovered the taste. Brilliant. Today, after a huge bite of ice cream, he had his first “brain freeze.”

Eva is bonding well with Suzanne. It’s amazing that after just a few days, Eva has identified her as mommy—the one woman in her world who will love and care for her like no other. (And yet my heart breaks for the woman who gave her life and is unable to be Eva’s mommy.)

We’re recognizing that the transition home children are accustomed to being independent. That said, Aidan is adapting well to the new routines he’s learning as a member of our family. Although we need to correct him occasionally, we spend the days playing games, running around Addis, eating together, hanging out with the other families at the guest house. He’s learning, I hope, that we love him and that he can trust us.

Erin is a huge help here. She plays with Aidan and enjoys holding Eva. She and Aidan got into a giggling fit over dinner in our room today—it’s fun to watch them growing together. She’s also seeing and experiencing life the way most of the rest of the world lives, and I know this will have a deep impact on her.

The Coca-Cola here is made with sugar instead of HFCS. It’s the real thing.

We worshiped at an international church here in Addis today—young and old, Ethiopians, Germans, Britons, Americans, South Koreans, Australians, and all manner of other Africans, Europeans, and Asians. Beautiful to be gathered among brothers and sisters of every nation and generation.

As we were just about to leave our room at the guest house to get in the van for church, Aidan grabbed his backpack, looked at me expectantly and said, “Amereeka?” No, I said, but soon. Very soon.

Being here with the other AWAA families—Scott and Rachel Miller, James Smith, Eric and Billie Grant, and Courtney Hammons—and their kids has been a fantastic experience. The kids have had time to play together at the guest house, easing their transition from their life here to their new lives with our families. When we left Addis yesterday for a day trip and I forgot Eva’s diaper bag (with diapers, clothes, and bottles of formula), James shared an extra bottle he’d packed and the Millers gave us a diaper. What could have been a disaster (there’s no Wal-Mart in rural Ethiopia) turned into an opportunity for us to bless one another. Saying goodbye as they return to their homes in the US has been hard; good, but hard. James and his son Phin blew us kisses from the van tonight as they left for the airport.

I read Proverbs 3.27 this morning: Never walk away from someone who deserves help; your hand is God’s hand for that person. We walked through the neighborhood around the guest house today and bought a couple pounds of fresh oranges at a small grocery store (for about 90 cents, no less). We then passed an old woman shuffling along the sidewalk, begging for money from passersby. Erin handed her one of the oranges we’d just bought. Your hand is God’s hand for that person. A couple blocks down, just as we were about to cross the street to return to the guest house, two young urchins in dirty clothes walked up with smiles and outstretched hands. Erin gave them each an orange; as they turned to walk away, we noticed that the older of the two, a girl of no more than 10, had a baby strapped to her back. Your hand is God’s hand for that person. We entered the gate at the guest house and a cheerful little boy who lives in the neighborhood waved to us. I sent Erin back out with an orange for him, which he received with gratitude. Your hand is God’s hand for that person.

We can’t fix every problem in the world or even in this small corner of Addis Ababa we’re in right now. But God calls us to make life better for those who deserve help, so we do what we can. Maybe it’s a few dollars (or a lot of dollars) here or there, maybe an orange for a hungry person on the street, sponsoring a child, or caring for an orphan.

Your hand is God’s hand for that person.

I Had Christmas Down in Africa!

Today we said “Melkem Genna”—Merry Christmas in Amharic—as Jan 7 is Christmas Day in Ethiopia. Our Embassy group decided to head out of Addis and take a two hour trip to the gorge. The waterfalls we were looking forward to were not there because it was not rainy season, and the baboons we were hoping to see were not around—probably to stay out of the heat. But one of the best parts of the trip for us was our time with some of the local kids who tried to sell us baskets and hand-made cross necklaces so they could attend school. They also asked for pens. (We made sure to tell the next group to bring lots of pens to pass out!) To end this unforgettable day, we had an amazing time of worship together on the way back to Addis—such a beautiful time together!

When we got back to the Guest House, Rachel Miller showed us a song by Straight No Chaser called “The 12 Days of Christmas” that is quite funny! It has an allusion to the 80’s Toto song “Africa” which I actually downloaded on my ipod before our first trip for court. Thought you might enjoy it as well! I hope the YouTube link works—not sure since I’m trying to do it from Africa!! 🙂

Straight No Chaser – “The 12 Days of Christmas”

On a deeper note, I want to share something about being here on Christmas that I have not told many people before now. I have held onto a promise I felt God made to me a year ago—not sharing it but with a couple people for fear of putting words in God’s mouth or looking silly myself to think God would speak to me. Last Christmas, 2009, I was decorating our tree with my ipod earplugs in, listening to praise music—it was such a meaningful time for me. It was the evening of the last day of one of our fasts about our adoption and I was not hungry at all, except for the hunger I had to praise our faithful Redeemer! I was not thinking about our adoption at all at the time, and yet in the middle of it all, out of the blue I felt like God told me that we would be celebrating Christmas with our Ethiopian kids next year. What?? Really! OK, well, we’ll see what happens. Then when it was coming down to the wire, I really thought we would have the Dec 22 Embassy date and be home in time for Christmas. As time went on, I started to really worry that wouldn’t happen. I think one of the main reasons was because I was afraid God wouldn’t follow through with His promise, or that I was crazy and not really hearing His voice after all. Finally, I came to a place where I could trust Him no matter what, like Abraham with Isaac—that God would provide even if I didn’t understand how (see my earlier blog post when I finally let go of this worry).

Now I understand. We DID celebrate Christmas with our Ethiopian children! Not in my myopic thinking of having it in America, but we celebrated with them in THEIR homeland! It was such an unforgettable experience!! I had to hold tears back much of the evening of the Christmas Eve kids’ service with the children at the Transition Home. I SO wish we could publish the little pageant that they did—I have never seen anything like it and I have seen a lot of Christmas programs in my lifetime! 🙂 Rachel Miller and I kept looking at each other through wet eyes, incredulous of the moment we were sharing, in awe of God’s timing and grace to allow us to experience it, and thankful that God, in His incredible mercy, saw past our complaining and worrying and begging to get our kids sooner, in order that we could experience something “even greater than we could ask or imagine,” and so that God could be glorified!

2011: The Year of the Lord’s Favor

We passed over the ocean yesterday, passed into a new year, and are passing into a whole new chapter in our lives. When we got to the Guest House in Ethiopia (basically a hotel where we stay), I signed us in and was surprised to see the dates we were “arriving” and “departing”: 1-1-11 and 1-11-11.  It’s a year of firsts as well.  We are excited to see what God beholds for our family and our community!

As most of you know, there is some trepidation for this trip in that we never truly received “confirmation” of our Embassy appointment on Jan 5.  We were told there “should not be a problem” and that it happens that way sometimes (see our past blog entry).  We have to acknowledge in writing that we are taking a risk in coming, yet we still have to come or we will miss our Jan 5 appointment.  It is our choice, but do we really have one??

Then, right before we passed through airport security in Peoria on Friday, we got a call from our agency to tell us that there is another piece of paper that the Embassy wants that is in Ethiopia and “should not be a problem to get on Monday or so.”  So even more turmoil in the pit of my stomach.  I’m a pretty practical person, for the most part, and common sense tells us this is a “crazy” way to spend our time, energy, and money if we don’t even know for sure how things will go with the Embassy.  But we walked through security and got on the plane.

We flew up out of the stormy darkness (literally—that was the day we had tornadoes and 60 degree weather on New Year’s Eve!) and above the clouds into the beautiful sunshine.  I got my Bible out to continue in my reading in Isaiah at chapter 60.  I noticed that the sun was beaming through the window right onto the pages.  Then I read this:

“Arise shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” (Isa 60:1-3)

I thought, “Oh, that’s cool.  Thank you, God, for this special little gift of sunshine in my life, far above the storms below.”  But then I continued:

“Lift up your eyes and look about you;
All assemble and come to you;
your sons come from afar,
and your daughters are carried on the arm.
Then you will look and be radiant,
your heart will throb and swell with joy;
the wealth on the seas will be brought to you,
to you the riches of the nations will come.” (Isa 60:4-5)

Tears I wasn’t expecting came streaming down my face, as they are right now as I write this.  Who am I, that God chooses to give such specific comfort to??  Some may doubt that this was a “Word from God,” but I believe that He was reminding me of his promise that he made to me years ago and He is continuing to work out now.  He will see it through—He is forever faithful!  So I will not give in to fear or doubt him.  I will trust him, even when things don’t look like they are going like I thought they would or should.  I believe that, still in His timing, we will bring our “son home from this far land” and our “daughter in my arms”!  “Joy will radiate out of me and my heart will swell” as “many will assemble” and come to us at the airport (and later at home) after we bring our little “riches from across the seas” home forever!

Thank you, Lord for your Word of Encouragement to me!  I trust you will do YOUR will in our lives and that no one, not even government officials, can thwart your plans because, as you say at the end of this chapter in Isaiah:

“I am the Lord;
in its time I will do this swiftly.” (Isa 60:22b)

Thanks to all who are praying and following us on this journey.  May you be encouraged as well of His eternal faithfulness.  I do ask, please, that you would pray that we will find out Monday morning that all is well with the Embassy.  I will trust Him no matter what happens, but I will be able to let my heart truly live this experience better knowing that we are bringing these children home at the end of this week!  Tomorrow afternoon we are supposed to go get them and they will be with us for the remainder of our stay here in Ethiopia.  But it would hurt my heart if something went wrong with the paperwork and we were not able to keep them after they lived with us for a week!  Even if it was a matter of timing and we had to come back again, I can’t imagine how that would affect the kids, feeling abandoned once again.  So it is difficult to let my heart fully attach when there is the slightest possibility that we might not bring them home this week, and mostly difficult to think what that would do in the kids’ hearts.  I am not doubting God’s power and will, but I cannot proclaim to fully know how He will enact His will either.  Whatever happens, we pray He is glorified!

As I continued in my Isaiah reading later on another flight, it seemed fitting that I was next in Isa 61:

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…” (Isa 61:1-2)

I know these Holy Scriptures were written to the prophet Isaiah, not to the prophet Suzanne.  I know there is context to these verses that goes far beyond what we are doing in a small home in a little town in central Illinois.  But I also believe God’s Word is “living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword,” and it has pierced my heart throughout this journey. These are not words He has spoken only to the Gowin family.  It is clear all throughout Scripture that it is His divine will that His people lift up and care for the poor, the brokenhearted, and the prisoners, as in Isaiah 61 above.  God may or may not be calling everyone of His people to adopt orphans, but He IS calling everyone of them to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, invite in the strangers, clothe the needy, look after the sick, and visit and encourage prisoners who are in all types of slavery (see Matt 25:31-46).  It is my prayer that this year, 2011, will be the Year of the Lord’s Favor—that God will glorify Himself and do countless acts of justice and mercy throughout the world by working through the lives of all of His people.

Put a Red Dragon in Your Nativity Scene

© Michael Gowin

Since last year, we’ve started putting a red dragon in one of our manger scenes—that’s it in the photo above. Why? The apostle John puts a dragon in his Christmas narrative in Revelation 12.1-5:

A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.” And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. (NIV)

Our friend and mentor Bob Lowery has done this for years. Read his essay, “Christmas on Patmos,” and you’ll want to add a red dragon to your nativity scene as well.

Side note: this year our dragon keeps finding himself placed on his back some distance away from the baby Jesus. Evidently our girls have been doing this to indicate the dragon’s defeat. Our children understand what Christmas is about.

Helping Others Celebrate Christmas

World Vision Christmas Catalog  (photo © 2010 Michael Gowin)

As a kid, I loved the JC Penney Wish Book. This was the department store’s annual Christmas catalog, about half the size of their seasonal catalogs but the back half was full of toys and objects of desire for children. It would arrive at our house in the mail several weeks before Christmas and I’d spend hours and days sifting through the pages, making and revising lists of all the stuff I’d want. This is the sort of thing that helps establish the foundation for a lifetime of consumerism. As fun as this was for me, I’m hoping to keep my children from the same obsessive behavior. Thankfully, the good people at World Vision have taken a cue from the department store marketers to help turn the focus away from ourselves.

For the last several years, we’ve received and loved the World Vision Gift Catalog. It too arrives several weeks before Christmas but contains gifts for others rather than for us. You can purchase farm animals (goats, cows, chickens) for families overseas who need them. You can send girls in developing countries to school or purchase a sewing machine so a woman in a poverty-stricken nation can earn a living. You can buy warm clothes for children in cold climates or a well to supply clean water to communities which lack these basic resources.

Choosing gifts from the World Vision Gift Catalog has become a tradition in our home. In the past few years, we’ve given medicine, seeds for garden vegetables, soccer balls, bicycles, a sewing machine, and other emergency supplies. The kids always enjoy choosing gifts and use their own money to pay for them. We love that they are learning that Christmas is about more than the gifts they receive, not to mention that their simple gifts can make a huge difference in the life of someone else.

Consider giving a gift to someone through the World Vision Gift Catalog this year. Your gift might make the difference that helps someone in another part of the world live to celebrate Christmas next year.

Between the Testaments

No, we don’t have any new news about our paperwork, but I did want to share some of my personal reflections now so that God can be glorified when all is fulfilled.

To be honest, I haven’t been very worried during most of this journey.  I have known that I can trust my God who has led us this far, and I trust His timing and His provision.  Until now.  It’s actually really bugging me that I am letting a little thing (a very common thing, actually) like not passing court the first time, bother me.  But here are my honest worries:

  • that we won’t pass in time to get the kids home before Christmas
  • if/when we do pass, we will have such a short time to get flights that we won’t be able to sit together with our new kids (plus Erin) on the long flight home (not to mention the 3x cost of airfare at Christmas!)—you know, a mommy needs to keep all her little chickadees safe under her wings!
  • that we won’t pass at all—feeling forgotten by the social agency that was supposed to have written the last piece we need to pass court (the same agency that has written numerous other letters since our court date)

I know in my head that God has it all under control, that His timing is best, that He is powerful enough to take care of a piece of paper and some plane tickets, and that this is HIS story to write, not ours.  I KNOW it.  But I’ve had a hard time letting go of the control (that I don’t have anyway!) and letting my heart be OK with that.

This week God has been impressing some things on me that have helped me to let go.

  • Last Sunday we sang a song at church that reminded me that God has “overcome.”  He has already “breathed” this story, intended somehow for His glory, and we are simply His ink, writing it down.
  • Rom 8:28: An oldie but goodie—“And we know that IN ALL THINGS God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
  • Gen 22: In faith, Abraham obeyed God and took his only son Isaac, the one through whom God had promised blessing to all subsequent generations, to sacrifice him on the mountain.  When Isaac asked where the lamb was for the burnt offering, Abraham answered, “The Lord will provide.”  God took Abraham down to the wire before he stopped Abraham from sacrificing Isaac and provided a ram instead.  Abraham renamed that place “The Lord Will Provide”—a phrase that later became an important name for God.
  • Dan 3 (from church today): Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego knew they would be thrown into the fiery furnace if they did not worship the statue as the King ordered, but this was their response: “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king.  But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

So it finally sunk in to my heart today.  My God WILL rescue and deliver our children to us, in His timing and by His method.  But if He does not (worst case scenario), I will still trust in His faithfulness and redemption and will trust Him with my life and my heart.  To quote a song from today, whether “the sun is shining down on me” or I’m a “road marked with suffering,” “I will choose to say: Blessed be Your Name!”

In my Beth Moore study of Esther this week, she providentially reminded me, “God’s plan for Israel hadn’t fallen through the cracks between Testaments.”  During the time between the OT and the NT when God seemed silent, He was, in fact, doing a major work behind the scenes to prepare the world for His most glorious work—the birth of His Son!  Similarly, during this silence between our two trips to Ethiopia, it is easy to wonder if God has forgotten us and our court issues.  But I truly now KNOW that even in His silence, I can trust that He is preparing a glorious work for us—the adoption of our son and daughter!  Hold on tight, Babes, “God Will Provide” is providing a way!

What are you waiting for?

David DuChemin, a photographer and writer whose work I admire, reflected yesterday on the brevity of life and choosing what’s important. This is a theme that’s been coming up frequently for me in the last several weeks. Francis Chan discusses it in his book Crazy Love (which I’ve mentioned recently) and it’s an idea that comes up repeatedly in the Bible:

As for man, his days are like grass,
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more. (Psalm 103.15-16)

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. (James 4.13-14)

It’s a thought that arose while we were in Ethiopia last week as well. Much of the time I’m oblivious to the reality that my time here is short. Being uprooted from normal routines in a vastly different culture on the other side of the world, however, affords one some opportunities for reflection and focus.

To be honest, the past 15 months of the adoption process have been hard on me. Adding two children to our family—at once—brings with it some significant uncertainties. How will they fit in with our family? Will they bond with us? Do we have enough space for them? Can we afford the expenses of adoption, much less the food, clothes, vehicles, home maintenance, and the thousand other attendant things that go along with a household of seven? What will our family and friends think of us and our decision? Do I have what it takes to be a father to five children? What if…? I could fill a dump truck with the “what ifs” and doubts that have crossed my mind in the last year and a half.

All of these doubts have a common origin: fear and unbelief. I’m afraid that I don’t have what it takes to get things done and I don’t believe that God will come through. Why? Maybe because I live in a setting that requires so little faith. Jesus told his followers to ask God for daily bread; I have a kitchen full of food, an adequate salary with which to buy more, and a grocery store a few miles from my house. Jesus said that birds have nests and foxes have holes but he had no place to lie down for a nap; I have a very nice home. If I get sick, I have access to hospitals and doctors. If I die, a life insurance policy will provide for my family’s financial needs for years after I’m gone. I’m grateful for all of these things but where is there room for me to depend on God? Where has God had opportunity to work his strength in my weakness? Billions of people in the world live without these safety nets; I’m not one of them and neither are most of the people who live in America, Canada, or Europe.

While the adoption process has been hard, it has stretched me and helped me grow. It has taken me past what I know and forced me to do things I wouldn’t do. I like my life and family here in central Illinois just fine, thank you, but now I’m seeing beyond the corn and bean fields that surround us. I’m not a huge fan of travel but I had to fly over land and sea to attend court and meet our children in Ethiopia. Each day in Ethiopia put me on someone else’s agenda, not my own. This has been good and is helping me to learn trust and faith. These are lessons I’m not sure I’d have learned another way.

We don’t get many opportunities to do life-changing things for others. Or maybe we do but we don’t do them or fail to see them. Either way, if our time here is truly short then what we do or don’t do matters all the more.

I’ve dragged my feet through the past several months, to my own shame. Having been in-country, though, and having spent time with the children—and not just ours, but those of the other adoptive families as well as dozens upon dozens of children waiting for families of their own—God has opened my eyes and my heart. We are doing something that matters to these two children and to their mom who so wishes she could support and raise them but loves them enough to let them go. It is an incredible trust she is placing in us and I want to honor that trust.

So we, the Gowins, walk into the unfamiliar, into uncertainty, leaving behind a portion of the life we’ve known, a life that is comfortable and befits us. But we walk in faith in a way that we have not known, and with that has come an unusual peace as well. I’m looking forward to having our children, all of our children, here with us at home.

Fear and uncertainty have held me back but I’m moving forward. If we are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes, what’s holding you back? What are you waiting for?

(*note from Suzanne: Now, please also go back up and click on that David DuChemin link that you passed over.  It’s worth your time. )

Gleaning the fields

While we were riding in the combine the other day, “helping” with the last of the harvesting, God was making some connections for me to his Word and to my studies.  I was reminded of the research I have done lately for my thesis: “God’s Heart for the Fatherless.”  It seems that so much of the Israelites’ life was tied to and formed around the harvest.  Their social status was determined by whether or not they owned land, the widows and the fatherless being at the bottom of the class system because they had no property or land.  Their understanding of God’s blessing was displayed by how well the harvest did that year, and many of their prayers revolved around that blessing.  Every seventh year, the land was to have a Sabbath: no one was to plant or harvest on the land but the widows and orphans were allowed to pick what sprang up voluntarily.  The tithes and free-will offerings were mostly given from their harvest, and God instructed the landowners to give to a storehouse every three years enough to provide for the widow and fatherless.  Some of those tithes and offerings went to a community feast that God made sure included the widows and the fatherless so that they felt a part of the covenant community as well.  And God gave explicit commands to His people on how to provide for the widows and the fatherless by leaving the gleanings behind for them to harvest themselves.  The landowners were commanded not to go back to a wheat field or to the olives and grapes a second time to make sure they didn’t miss any.  Some especially generous landowners, like Boaz, actually left extra behind on purpose to provide for the poor.

As you can see, Israel’s life was intimately tied to the harvest and the orphans and the widows depended on it.  As I experienced the harvest the other day, I realized that some very generous, gracious people have left behind some of their gleanings, purposefully, to help provide for the fatherless children we are bringing home.  Thank you, Father, for that connection and for that very tangible display of blessing in our lives.  You are truly “Father to the Fatherless.”

Yes, We’re Crazy

A number of friends have asked us how things are going with the adoption process.   Since we received our referral in July, we’ve been in a holding pattern. We’ll need to travel to Ethiopia for a court date but court has been closed in August and September. We expect, though, within the next week or so we’ll get a call assigning us a date and Suzanne and I will then likely travel sometime later in October. That’s our best guess.

This intermission, though, has given me time to reflect. When people learn or ask about our adoption, responses vary from “That’s awesome!” to “Wow, you guys are so brave–I could never do that” to “Are you sure? That sounds crazy.” There’s a wide gray swath on the continuum between bravery and foolishness; most days, I’m in that gray area.

Our church is going through a series on love and, as a congregation, we’re reading Francis Chan’s book Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God. In the foreword, musician Chris Tomlin writes:

Crazy Love is the perfect title for this book. When Jesus was asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” he responded with “Love.”

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt 22.37-40)

As Francis so brilliantly illustrates, the life Jesus calls us to is absolute craziness to the world. Sure, it’s fine and politically correct to believe in God, but to really love Him is a whole different story. Yeah, it’s nice and generous to give to the needy at Christmas or after some disaster, but to sacrifice your own comfort and welfare for another may look like madness to a safe and undisturbed world.

As I look back, our entire journey as a family has involved some manner of madness at each step. We had to undergo fertility treatments to have our first child and there was a real possibility that we could have had multiples. Instead, Erin was born eight weeks premature and Suzanne nearly died in the process.

The second and third pregnancies did not go well either–in both instances, Suzanne was debilitatingly sick for months. When we came to the hospital for delivery each time, the nurses remembered us from our first experience and looked at us with shock: “Are you crazy?” During that last pregnancy, Suzanne’s mom stayed with us for seven weeks. I was working full-time and in grad school and taking care of our other two children; we would not have survived that time without her help.  Do we regret the journey?  Of course not and we have three wonderful children.

Now we stand on the doorstep of inviting two more children into our lives, children from another mother on the other side of the world. We have not entered into this on a whim. Suzanne and I prayed through the fall of 2008 for God’s direction about this decision. We then spent nine months completing paperwork, being interviewed by social workers, attending training, reading books, being scrutinized by state, federal, and international governments. We will invite these two children into our not-so-very-big home on our not-so-very-big income. We are giving up our established routines and rhythms and some of the few comforts that we enjoy to stretch our lives and budget further. There are undoubtedly challenges in front of us that we can’t imagine. Frankly, it doesn’t make sense for us to adopt.

But we believe that the love of God compels us. I’m aware of how unlovable I can be, and even then I fail to grasp the depth of my own darkness. And yet God reaches into that darkness at tremendous cost to Himself and gives me hope and a future. Crazy–that’s the kind of love that God has for us. It’s a love that defies common sense and reason. When that kind of love embraces a person, it’s not uncommon for unusual decisions to follow.


In the film As Good As It Gets, Jack Nicholson portrays Melvin Udall, a self-absorbed obsessive-compulsive misanthrope who also happens to be a best-selling writer of romance novels (go figure). In one scene he dismissively tells a visitor to his apartment, “Sell crazy someplace else, we’re all stocked up here.” When it comes to crazy love, though, there’s always more room somewhere on the shelf.

Do our plans to adopt make sense?  No–I readily admit that and can’t justify our decision.  Do we know that adopting is risky, that we can’t predict how our new children will fit into our family?  You bet, and at times this is scary.  Seriously: who goes around looking for ways to make their lives more complex, forgoing what is known and safe and comfortable?  I don’t.  But in this case, I think God–who loves us relentlessly–has called us to demonstrate His love in a crazy way.  That’s the best explanation I can offer.  I trust, however, that if I play my part to the best of my ability, God will be faithful.

Giving in to God’s crazy love is dangerous and will lead you to into an unpredictable, possibly uncomfortable life.  What, though, is the alternative?  Consider that Jesus was often accused of saying crazy things.  On one occasion he told a crowd that if they wanted to be God’s followers, they’d have to eat his flesh and drink his blood.  Unsurprisingly, the crowd found this hard to accept and many walked away.  When Jesus asked his closest disciples if they were going to leave as well, his friend Peter responded, “Master, to whom would we go? You have the words of real life, eternal life. We’ve already committed ourselves, confident that you are the Holy One of God.” Indeed: to whom would I go?

So, yes, we’re crazy–but only because the love of God is crazier than ours.