Just Look...

Just Look...

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Mountain Thinkin'

I've always loved the idea of mountains. I have loved looking up at them, looking over at them, and looking off of them. I've always been confused, however, by "mountain thinking". Sometimes people talk about mountains as the obstacles and the valleys as the peaceful places. Other times, the valley is the hard part and the mountain tops are the peaks of joy. So I've never been really clear on whether or not mountains as symbols are supposed to be challenges or successes.

This past year, I have realized mountains are both. At the same time, quite frequently.

Since August 11, 2016, we have been climbing a mountain. We have had mountains in our way that God has had to move. And we have enjoyed the beauty of the summit. 

The adoption journey itself is every bit like climbing a mountain. There are mounds of paperwork (mountains in themselves), there are obstacles in the way, it takes persistence and faith and perseverance. Some days are stormy and you just have to batten down the hatches of the tent and wait it out. Some are exhilarating, when you get glimpses of the view that is to come. And the entire process is one foot in front of the other, holding to the Lord's hand. 

Due to our need to expedite, we had mountain after mountain that God had to just move for us. The financial mountain was a huge one. And He did. The approval mountain was another. And He did. The timing mountain and the fact that we needed one document approved by March 12 (and got it with FIVE DAYS TO SPARE) was another. And He did. 

As for the mountain as high point metaphor, we have also now experienced that. We met our kids on June 10 and it was the most incredible and surreal experience of my life. (more on that later) Every day since, as we have grown closer and gotten to know each other more and bonded, has been more of a summit experience. 

During our Skype calls before we went, we asked the kids if there was anything they wanted to do while we were in country that was within the right distance for us to do (we ALL wanted to go to Palawan, but it wasn't close enough). They immediately said Taal Volcano. I had seen pictures on Pinterest and I was ALL IN. I couldn't think of anything more appropriate than the 7 of us climbing a volcano together as our first real family outing. And the internet assured me that it was a "moderate, dusty trek" and that the climb was "relatively easy". {I think the internet may have been written by people in better shape than me.} My mother-in-law considered staying back, saying she wasn't sure she could do the climb, and I promised her it was apparently not a big deal at all and she would be fine. (Remember this part.) 

We set out for the volcano excursion clad (thankfully) in tennis shoes and armed with full bottles of cold water from SP, accompanied by a sweet SP staff member, Bo. The ride to the volcano was long and curvy, which meant I was feeling pretty car sick by the time we got there. I knew once I got out and started walking, I would be fine. (Remember this part too.) We boarded the coolest boats to take across the lake to the island where the volcano is located. I was so excited for the journey, taking pictures of the beautiful scenery and my beautiful children. They didn't know it then, but I had a surprise in my backpack... a leather cuff for each family member with "Davis 7", our family verse, and each person's individual verse on them. I had visions of the beautiful moment at the summit when I would bestow each bracelet onto each person and talk to them about our new family, maybe even have a little prayer together. I was so excited about the beautiful photos we would take together at the top. (Remember this part too.)

When we got to the shore and started the walk (and it was truly just a walk at that point), I was relieved that the internet was correct about the difficulty level of the journey. Then the dust turned to ash. Then the level ground went steep. Then my PEOPLE, who were supposed to LOVE me, basically started to RUN. I started to breathe harder and harder, get slower and slower. Eventually they were having to stop and wait on me, my mother-in-law, and Emma (who stayed with us out of pure kindness, not because she was out of shape). I kept sipping water, thinking surely I just needed to walk a bit and I would be fine. 

{My pride is requiring that I include the following information. 
1. We had been at Royal Family Kids Camp the week before. I do not eat much at all at Royal Family Kids Camp. 
2. I had eaten only a burger in the 36 hours of travel. 
3. I had not eaten much in the two days we had been at SP. 
4. I had SEVERELY neglected hydration, both at Royal Family, in travel, and in the Philippines. 
5. I DO have a diagnosed heart condition. ;) (The winky is just because I don't know that it factored in, not because it isn't real. It is. ) 
6. My emotional state was a little wonky, as anyone's would be at that point.
7. I AM terribly out of shape. However, I can and have done hard physical things. This was ... different. I don't know what happened to me.
8. Rather than start at a leisurely pace, we started FLYING, which exhausted me from the get-go.}

Eventually, a little over halfway up (they have Stations of the Cross all the way up which, I'm not going to lie, felt very fitting), it became clear that I could either stop and wait for them to return or I could orphan these children a second time. I was shaky, dizzy, and my pulse had only gotten up to 51, which couldn't be good. I told them to go ahead and I would see them after. I tried to get our guide from SP to go on with them but he refused, saying he would stay with me and my mother-in-law. Emma also refused to go on, staying with us. We sat on the edge of the trail and rested (in the shade) while I engaged in a serious pep talk with myself, not to keep going, but to let go of my expectations and not be disappointed that it didn't play out the way I had envisioned. 

After sitting for a little while, we decided to try again. I made it a very short distance before I knew it was stupid to keep going. We sat down again. I kept urging Emma to catch them but she refused. My mother-in-law and I both hated for Emma to miss it, so she finally said she would try to go further with Emma so that Emma could see it. I gave them my blessing and sent them forth, finally having come to terms with my expectations being unmet. And that's where Bo becomes a major player in my story. 

25 years old from Palawan, Bo has been with SP for a few years. He was a baker before he felt God calling him to do something meaningful for other people and went to work at SP. We sat and chatted. He was so kind to me, had already pulled a rock over for me to sit on every time we stopped. At some point, Bo told me he thought there was a better place to sit a little further up if I felt like I could go a little further. I agreed, and we walked a while longer until we reached the better place to sit. Eventually the sun shifted and Bo told me that there was a nice shady spot on up, if I wanted to go to it. We went a little father to that shady spot. Time passed. I kept thinking they would be back down at any point, but they weren't and weren't and weren't. A Filipino couple stopped beside us, she was struggling like I had been (and she was also lots younger and more fit, so I felt better). I told her there was no shame in just staying there. ;) Meanwhile, horse after horse passed us, carrying smarter people on their backs. (You can pay to ride a horse to the top. However, I knew if my sister had any idea that we had ridden an emaciated horse to the top of a volcano, she would never forgive us. So we chose our feet. Clearly a poor choice in regard to MY feet.) Bo then told me if I went just a little bit farther, it would level off and maybe I could just walk a while to meet them. I was feeling much better, so we did. Until I stopped again. After THAT rest, Bo pointed out that actually just around the corner, you could SEE the summit. He wondered if maybe I would want to do that, just to see where they were. I agreed, so we walked to that point. That's where the trek changed. A LOT. What had started as a bit of a hike, then leveled off some, then became a hike again, at this point became a CLIMB. And I was SO HOT AND TIRED. Still dizzy. 

But here's the thing..... when you can SEE the summit..... you don't stop. You don't get to the point where you can SEE the top, SEE people enjoying it, KNOW that the view is just over the crest... and WAIT. You GO. You summon everything in you and you CLIMB. 

And that's what I did. Bo asked me my favorite songs and played Christian music on his phone, singing sweetly. I talked to myself and Jesus in my head the entire way, reminding myself, "With Jesus, I can do hard things" and begging Him to just help me put one foot in front of the other. (I also had a lengthy plea with him for my people not to have come down on another trail because IF I HAD CRAWLED TO THE TOP OF THAT VOLCANO AND THEY HAD BEEN GONE I WOULD STILL BE LAYING THERE. Truth.) I slipped and I sweated and I stumbled and by the time I got to the stairs, I was almost crawling, but I reached the top of that mountain. With Bo by my side and Jesus moving my legs, I made it. And my people were all still there. With cold bottles of water. And joy (and surprise!) in their faces to see me. (My mother-in-law, who is old enough to be my mother, ;) made it relatively easily. I did not. It's ok. I'm good at other things. HAHA!)

And in my life, that moment will be one of the most beautiful for me. Not because it looked anything like it was supposed to, because it did NOT. Not because I accomplished it with anything like grace or beauty, because I did NOT. Not because I ever want to do it again, because I do NOT. ;) 

But because I made it. Because He girded me with strength. Because Bo was the most incredible encourager I can ever imagine. Because my family was waiting for me at the top.

And with great gasps for oxygen, I gave them their bracelets. And soaked in sweat, I took photos with my family. There was no prayer, no speech, just sweaty hugs and sweet relief to be at the top.

***Edited to add that the trip DOWN was probably even worse for me. There was a point almost at the bottom when I had to sit down, family around me, out of water, and came frighteningly close to laying down on the ground, which I imagine would have freaked out my three new children. I stumbled the last few yards to the boat, sat in the floor of the boat with my head laid over on the bench the whole way back across the lake, slept in the van for the ride up, and by the time we got to the restaurant and I went to the bathroom, I had double vision. I truly have no idea what happened to my body that day, but it was more than a little scary and a lot embarrassing.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Part the Sunday School Teacher's Flannel Board Left Out

When the words from the 8th chapter of Genesis appeared on the screen as this morning's sermon context, I felt my brow furrow as I fumbled for my phone and swiped back a chapter. Yep, there it was: "The waters flooded the earth for a hundred and fifty days." Last verse of chapter 7. Before my pastor even started his sermon or I knew where he was going with it, I was already thinking to myself what a powerful message it was, the days of the boat just floating on the waters, no rain but also no land in sight. And I was also wondering how I had been a Christian for so long and somehow missed this part of the story.

When I think of Noah and the ark, I think of the days of humiliation and verbal abuse he likely took from those around him (thanks, "Evan Almighty", for making that part of the story vivid). I think of the strange and somewhat misplaced relief he probably felt when it actually DID start to rain, relief that quickly turned to dread and concern for his neighbors and even fear for himself and his family as the storm raged. I think of the forty days and forty nights of rain and thunder and lightning.

And then, I think of the end of the story. I have the same flannel board Sunday School memories of every other churched child of the late 70's and early 80's. He sent out the raven, then the dove, then the dove again and it returned with the olive leaf in its mouth, then the dove again and it didn't come back. And then of course the end of the story, the rainbow and the covenant God made with Noah and His people... but that's always where I have left it.

Today, as our pastor preached a message that made some of these points and a few others, I thought about those days on that ark, waiting on the water to recede. I don't know what it was like for Noah and his family because I didn't know Noah or his family, but I can tell you what it would have been like for me.

The long, hot days of building the ark while being taunted would have been very hard for me. I don't like public humiliation at all, I don't like to be out front, and I would have hated every second of that stage of the process. However, I think I could have kept it together and persevered.

I would have been strongest in the forty days and nights. I am one of those people who does very well in the moment of an emergency situation then falls apart afterward. My adrenaline will carry me very far, even in my fear, and it gives me strength.

Do you know when I would have fallen apart? In the 320 days after the rain stopped (apparently this number is highly debatable, give or take 20ish days, but I'm going with this number). I don't do well at all in the "almost, not yet" stage. In fact, I am basically helpless in that stage. It's not a lack of faith, either. Very seldom do I question God's deliverance. It's 100% a lack of control. Noah worked hard building that ark. I bet the days of the storm were busy ones where he calmed frightened animals, checked for leaks and rationed food and water. I do well when I have lots to occupy myself and can feel like I am making progress on something. It's the days of looking out the window, watching for mountaintops, hoping doves will find a place to roost that get to me. I can't imagine Noah walking the halls of that ark, day after day after day, somewhere around 320 of them, ready to start his life again post-ark and yet unable to do so.

I have a lot of our adoption story left to write and this story of Noah reminds me of the section of time of which I am least proud. In the days between the visa appointment (May 5) and our travel approval (June 6) and departure (June 8), I pretty much felt like I was going completely and totally crazy, and not the kind you laugh and joke about. The REAL kind. I was irritable, I was impetulant, I was illogical, I was insufferable. At the peak of what I call the insane period, I spent several days legitimately feeling like either everyone around me had lost their minds or, more likely, I had. I was angry, too. I felt jealous that that phase was faster and easier for others in the same process, I was mad that the timing had to be so challenging, and I was livid that I didn't understand the details of what was happening (or, in our case at that point, NOT happening). I paced this house like a caged lion, much like I imagine Noah paced the aisles of that ark. I remember one entire day (the girls were gone somewhere, I can't remember where) that I had so much I needed to do to pack for camp and the Philippines, things left to do in their bedrooms, and a house to leave clean, and all I did was sit on my bed and basically sulk.


I JUST. WANTED. THAT ARK TO FIND LAND (or more specifically, I wanted to land in the Philippines).

I lived in this period for one month and one day. Noah lasted a year. But whether it's the dismal failure that I was in that one month and one day or the unwritten description of Noah for that year, the Truth remains the same. God remembered. Genesis 8:1, the Scriptural context of my pastor's sermon today, says, "But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded." As my pastor stated today, God remembers us. And we will see the mountaintops again, no matter where we are.

If you are floating in that boat on the waters, having already weathered the storm and now being held captive in the "almost-not yet", this is the Promise for you, too. God remembers you. And one day, hopefully soon, those mountaintops will surface, that dove will return bearing Hope in its beak, and your feet will find dry ground.