Our Big Announcement

Q: What do you get when you cross four Americans, four Ethiopians, and a nine-year-old Congolese girl?  

A: The Shores Family

Yes, we find ourselves in the adoption process once again. A few months ago, a friend of a friend contacted us and asked whether we would be interested in adopting again. In another “second chance adoption” scenario much like Joseph’s, this person knew someone whose adoption of a little girl from DRC was going to be dissolved and she needed a new home. Might it be ours?

We prayed for clarity and asked questions and waited.

We realized how much we have (and what little we need):

–We have room; We only need a bed, a mattress, and a dresser.

–We have food; What’s a few more potatoes, one more patty of gift beef from Hempie’s farm?

–We have a vehicle large enough.

–We have a shelf full of homeschool curriculum and a dining table full of lively students.

–We have experience (and success!) with her particular needs.

–We have already journeyed into the world of mental health with its therapists, medications, and tools to succeed.

–We have kids who understand loss and pain and who gather around each other to pray for one another in the dark times.

–We are equipped and called by the God who is teaching each of us who know him how to respond to his grace and how to trust him with our whole hearts–no matter how long that takes.

And so, after months of deliberation, we go forward–with strength and courage that only comes from the promise that we follow the God who is with us wherever we go. (Joshua 1:9). He is worthy of our obedience.

If you would like to donate to the adoption costs of E. please do!  While the costs are relatively low, we need all the help we can get to afford the homestudy and legal fees.


Above, E. had a play date with us.  Here she posed (center) with Abby and Zoey–her future roomies.

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iParent Product Review

Review ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

$$$

My husband and I received our new state-of-the-art parenting helmets this week. Deemed the iParent (they’re an Apple product, so they sync with our iTunes accounts, obviously), this technological wonder looks like a basic motorcycle helmet, but has the ability to completely alter the way in which one views the world.

Let me begin by saying never have I had such unhindered insight into the way a fourteen-(and a half)-year-old-boy (who wants to date my daughter) views the world. The sound and graphics on our new iParents were so clear that at times I had lower the brightness and volume just to keep from developing a headache and nausea! The helmet’s translation feature performed flawlessly and we were able to pick up the dangerous subtext in virtually every conversation, as well as the actual meaning of various rap lyrics (the iParent heavily relies upon the Urban Dictionary for this feature). I must say, I don’t think I will ever be able see youth culture in quite the same way as I did before my iParent arrived, but I’m also not sure I’d want to go back to my previous blissful ignorance.

While the iParent set me back a hefty $299 and has definitely contributed to my feeling much older than my years (you must trade in your Cool Parent card in order to purchase), it has also greatly enhanced my prayer life, providing a safe space to pray continuously for wisdom and discernment, while muffling my frequent groans and disguising my eye-rolls during conversations with my child’s suitor. I can’t wait until next May when the air-conditioned iParent 2.0 is released! It will be available in a wider variety of colors and prints harkening back to the bold styles of the 80’s and 90’s, such as the neon-hued model “Papa DO Preach,” which will support the content of a double date.

Outsiders

On September 11, 2001, two planes piloted by Islamic terrorists crashed into the World Trade Center—an American symbol of prosperity—killing thousands, injuring thousands more, and exposing the American idols of wealth and politics. Fifteen years later, we are still feeling the ripples of this wickedness, but perhaps the most disturbing aspect is what it has revealed in the hearts of the Church. I am shocked to witness some of the tactless thoughts of fellow believers who are driven by fear on the subjects of Muslims, refugees, and immigration. On one hand, I get it. I was afraid that day the Towers fell. I was anxious for retribution. Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, every Mohamed and Fatima who looked guilty between here and Baghdad? Let’s get ‘em. We’ll show them who’s boss. They won’t mess with us again. “Mission Accomplished.” I cheered from my dorm room.

But, you see, there’s another pronouncement uttered 2,000 years ago: “It is finished.” It is a pronouncement that initiated a Mission that supersedes every other mission. A mission to take a message of Good News to murderers, thieves, liars, and disruptive neighbors, and by Jesus’ account, we are all guilty of the worst of these, (Matt. 5:27-28). (This Good News of salvation must be preceded by the bad news of sin.) We who are holding our picket signs (or memes) higher than the gospel are no better than terrorists. Do we see that? Do we grieve over our sin the way we want to make them grieve over theirs? Do we believe that God can change the hearts of our enemies today and make them into brothers and sisters? Do we believe that we “do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the . . . spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places”? (Eph. 6:12).

If we do, then why do we insist upon preaching such hatred from social media? Would seeing a church-going individual post their thoughts on how people like you should be banned from their city, state, or nation encourage you to join their faith? How is such a view representative of anything Jesus ever taught? Did he say, “Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, but first and foremost, destroy them if possible”?

I’ve served among Muslim refugees for more than a decade, and several of my children are Muslim Background Believers (MBB’s). Their extended family members are still practicing Muslims. In terms of adoption, this means that my extended family members are still practicing Muslims—their family is my family. This is personal to me. I’m just going to be brutally honest right here: If your church leaders are posting hateful messages about evil Muslims, lazy African Americans, job-stealing Hispanics, the apparently massive annoyance of having to press 1 for English, etc., my family and I will be unable to worship with you when we’re around. We just can’t. I may be the weaker sister, but I can’t raise my voice and sing to the God of the Nations knowing firsthand that I am surrounded by people who will spend the next week preaching their own sermons from their laptops against the very people I am praying and weeping for. I can’t entrust my children to you during the Sunday School hour. I can’t send them to your Vacation Bible School.

I’m not looking to make friends with this post. I’m not looking to massage egos. I want to see the Kingdom come.

“I found out that I’m not alone,

and there’s plenty of people like me. 

I said there’s plenty of people like me.

All outsiders like me.

All unashamed and all unafraid to live out what they supposed to be.

Outsiders.”

–Lecrae, Outsiders

 

Speak

I am learning something new right now: that sometimes when you speak truth, others will not receive it, and that is OK. Usually, I am so concerned with whether or not what I have to say will be accepted. There have been so many people to please throughout my life. I went from a [mostly] well-behaved little girl, to a young woman reiterating all the “right answers” at Bible college, at church, to parents and in-laws, to other cultures, closing all possible loopholes as I set my children’s boundaries, questioning every word I write, speaking (unfortunately) faster than I can question, trying to gauge my tone (too abrupt?, too bossy?, too shy?, too loud?), and storing up verbiage for my internal thesaurus, oh, God, did I say something heretical?

My people-pleasing led me to obey too quickly, to attempt to hush my voice to a whisper when I needed to shout the truth. Because bold, loud girls are not submissive. But bold, loud girls call out injustice. And I am learning how to boldly, loudly, call out injustice. And if I misspeak? I will speak again. And if I struggle to find the right, uh, word, for the, um, moment? I will speak on. God speaks through those in whom his Spirit dwells, and I am ready to be strong and unafraid.

“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” – Galatians 1:10

Nine Ways the Church Can Love the Struggling

I admit it was a bit lazy. I have a habit of reposting articles that relate to my experience, and hopefully provide a better way. Yesterday, I reposted “What Not to Say to Someone Who’s Been Hurt by the Church.” (And who, by the way, hasn’t been hurt by the Church, if you’ve spent any amount of time with her—after all, she’s only human.) My comments about our experience with a former church [unsurprisingly] drew some fire. One member said, “That’s so negative. Why not post positive things a person can do?” Well, because that requires me to sit down, think it through, and type it out, but since the kids are occupied right now, I’m freed up for the task.

I’ve been turning this over in my mind for the past ten months. What could have been done?  What if I could go back and successfully hide all my grief?  Would I want to?  Or would I still be walking secretly through it for the rest of my life if I hadn’t been honest about it?  I’ve tried to release guilt and shame related to the pain I experienced. I’ve tried to forgive and let live. I’ve prayed, God knows I’ve prayed, my heart bleeding on an altar, my tears filling a thousand bowls.

I thought I’d forgiven. Finally. I didn’t give up on the Church, because Jesus didn’t give up on me. I found a safe place to heal. My wounds were bound up by the kind words of brothers and sisters who loved me again. Their prayers were a balm, as they spoke words to God in my presence for joy and peace, and yet they did not know the details of my pain.

And now, I find myself at the end of the year. Ready to begin anew. Ready to lay aside the pain of the past and embrace that joy and peace. Ready not to care anymore why we were cast aside, unloved and unwanted by those who were left.  Ready to accept God’s love.

As we have learned, though, from raising children from broken families, no one heals without first walking through their pain to the other side. Sometimes that means calling out the wrongs that were done. One can say “I forgive” in a moment, but it takes many moments to walk out that forgiveness, to choose and to feel that forgiveness over and over until the wound is a just a fading scar. Ignoring a broken arm does not bring about healing. Resetting and protecting it does. The cast that is worn says, “I am still healing from injury. Please don’t inflict more.” One day, the cast will be removed and the bone will be stronger than ever. But not right now.

I need to set the stage. We were at our church for five years. I was baptized there by a pastor whom I, at one time, thought knew and loved us.  It’s the place where we first learned about grace.  Our community group was like family to us: we saw each other almost daily, we shared things, we supported one another. It was all very Acts 2. We disagreed, we challenged, and we sought Jesus together. Over the course of a year, all but one person from this group moved away to serve Jesus somewhere else around the world. Our community disintegrated, and no one else invited us into their circle in the same way. About the time the first couple left, we accepted the adoption referrals for our daughters. Adoption is traumatic for everyone involved. It’s totally worth it, but it’s traumatic.

A week later, after I began having panic attacks and neurological issues, I was diagnosed with a chronic illness (Hashimoto’s) that required me to change my entire diet. I learned I have food sensitivities to gluten, dairy, eggs, yogurt, and black pepper. I rightly feared that this would further hinder us from being accepted by the larger group. Leaders thought I was lying or that I was crazy and the issues were related to a psychological problem. I eventually agreed to see a therapist, where I learned that I was indeed not crazy, the food struggles were real and that, by this point, I was depressed. A “Dark Night of the Soul,” the therapist called it. I struggled to find where God was in all of this mess. I couldn’t feel him at all. I couldn’t figure out how I’d sinned so that I could finally make amends and feel the Holy Spirit again. I had fought to believe and follow God through the hard things and now he was distant, silent, and his Church refused to embrace—or even pray for—me during the first major crisis I’d faced during our time there. I lost faith and tumbled deeper into depression.

When our girls came home, our church hastily merged with another in the area and everything changed:  the people, the location, the leadership. Now, I was supposed to make new friends with people who did not know me, or even want to know me. I sobbed all the way home from church every Sunday. I would begin to make strides during the week and then I would return to the weekly service, feel like I was watching a movie, float out to the car without a word from anyone, and begin the process all over again. I began taking medication because I now cried all the time over everything–ridiculous things. I worried about what the kids thought, and then I would cry harder out of guilt for what I was probably doing to them. Harsh words were spoken to us by the leadership. At another point, the leadership did not speak to us for six months, because they thought that would somehow help. We (even my husband) were removed from every avenue of meaningful service with no plan for restoration, even though they repeatedly stated that I had not sinned. At every meeting, we were given less and less hope for inclusion. Ultimately, the leadership became more interested in image than in the healing of broken hearts.

I tell this story because it is My Story. Notice I don’t mention the name of the congregation. I hope that things will be rectified there and that this will never happen to anyone again. I still believe that Jesus’ Church—when members are living with their true mission in mind—is the best hope for the broken in this world. We have found goodness and truth in another of the same.

My story is a story of brokenness and redemption, of a life restored, because eventually God rescued me out of depression and out of a place of pain and indifference. It is a reigniting of a passion for justice that will finally be delivered for the broken: the orphan, the refugee, the sick, the oppressed, those who cannot return hospitality, yes, even the mentally ill, the clinically depressed.  All who need good news.  Jesus came not for the well, but the sick.

As I’ve learned with our children who were adopted, the hard parts of their stories are still a part of their stories. We don’t sweep it under the rug because it is hard, embarrassing, or unconventional. We tell of the brokenness because it leads to redemption.

This is my story. I own this story. I walked through what was surely the closest I’ve ever been to experiencing hell on earth—the terrifying feeling of the absence of God and the dreaded thoughts of escape that visit in the silence of night, the loss of an identity that had once been deeply rooted in Christ, but was scattered by the wind. I understood what Jesus meant when he cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” on the cross. I have earned the right to tell this story, and it is a bridge between two of the most joyous periods of my life. So, if I must bear the scars of these past two years, and I must, I will tell my story that gives them meaning.

So, in keeping true to my purpose for writing this in the first place, I present to you nine positive ways to care for the struggling in your local Body.

1. Really Listen

Talk to the person who is actually walking through this crisis. Talking only to the elders, a spouse, or other church members is not acceptable. Listen to what she is saying, not to what you want to hear. A lot of misunderstandings would have been avoided if someone had spoken directly to me and really listened to the heart behind what I was saying.

2. Allow for Transparency

It may be difficult to hear that someone is struggling with the reality of what they know to be theologically true, but we must be open to hearing it out. Telling me that God was present was like telling a colorblind person that the grass is green rather than brown. Sure, it might say it in a book, but she is not seeing it for herself. Questioning in itself is not wrong. In fact, it can deepen faith. Feeling like you must gloss-over your struggles and keep a smile on your face in order to be accepted does not deepen faith or community.

3. Keep the Lines of Communication Open

Check in with the person on a regular basis, recognizing that a depressed person can barely choose what to have for breakfast, much less whether or not she should check in with you. A brief call or text once a week (especially if it’s encouraging) helps a lot.

4. Understand that People are the Church

The Church only exists because of the people that belong to it. People are always, always, always more important than whatever image your church is trying to send. If your church is full of broken people, then God wants you to minister to broken people right now, not to get rid of all the broken people so that you can fill it up with the most competent. Para-church organizations can get away with hiring only the best and brightest. The Church cannot. In fact, I’ve come to believe that if your church gets rid of all the broken people, God will just send you more broken people, because there’s still something for the church to learn about brokenness.

5. Gentleness is a Fruit of the Spirit

Personality is no excuse for an elder speaking harshly to someone who is broken and hurting. Some really ridiculous and painful things were said to me by elders and their wives, who just wanted me to get over it all.

6. Let the Person Serve

If the person wants to serve in a meaningful way, let her. Communicate about how and where she might be able to serve in her giftedness (by the way, asking a depressed person to be a greeter is not helpful). I had asked to step back from leading a small group, but not to be taken out altogether. I wanted to be able to see people at the quarterly meetings and to host or lead prayer occasionally or hear my husband teach. I wanted to be part of a team again (something I lost when my friends left). I just didn’t want to be singularly in charge of all the things.

 

  1. Pray for the Person

Pray for her immediately and often. It was ten months before leadership thought my illness was real and serious enough to pray for healing, though we had asked for it before. This might sound petty, but when you fully believe in the power of prayer and in the biblical command for elders to pray for healing for the sick, this is a big deal. Prayers are both free and effective, so why should it take weeks or months to plan for this? It could easily happen during service time (as it does in our current church).

  1. Invite the Person to Events

Fellowship is one of the five purposes of gathering together as a church.   It doesn’t matter how good the preaching or worship time is if every time a group gathers for a meal or a birthday or holiday party, you leave out the broken. Sure, she may not be the life of the party, but you will be proving that you love her despite the fact that she is in the pit. I can’t tell you how many times I wished someone would just invite us out after church, even if I had to sit and drink a Coke because of all my dietary issues.

  1. Have a Plan

Plan out how the person can regain their former level of service in time, if she wants. A plan is a hope for being able to function again. This is not the time to say that the person has done enough to serve God for one lifetime and that she should now sit back and retire (while her friends have gone off to do even bigger and better things). Do not tell her to quit doing to very thing that she is gifted to do! This was the point at which I lost all hope. I knew God had called me to work in a certain field and I am grateful that he has since restored that. If you don’t have a plan to reinstate someone to community, let her go somewhere where she can find hope again.

I have hope! And God has a plan—he is not finished with me. I refuse to walk in the darkness of shame anymore.

 

Final

(My husband David Alan wrote down a few thoughts about Joseph’s adoption this past week.  Please enjoy.  Also, now that the adoption is complete, we’ll be doing that iPad drawing in the next few days.  Somebody’s getting a nice Christmas present!  –Lindsay)

I’ve been thinking a lot about what happened for us on Tuesday. FINALIZATION. It sounds so formal and complete. We know, however, that the process of helping Joseph to understand that he is fully a Shores will take a great deal more than a judge’s pronouncement. We know the process of weaving his talents and contributions into the family tapestry are only beginning, not ending. What is hopefully ending is the wonder and doubt in his mind.
The process of adoption easily lends itself to easily to a discussion of spiritual adoption. That, of course, is true of Tuesday.As I focus on it, I tend to end up thinking about the bigger picture. “What does this experience tell us about God?” Here are of few of my very random and scattered thoughts:

1. Final:  When the judge declared that Joseph is indeed a Shores, it was final. No amount of changed minds or regret can take him away from our family and move him back into his former home. Because we won’t let it.

2.  Grace:  Joseph’s status within our family was not secured by his good behavior or ability to follow rules. He has not worked his way into the family by proving himself worthy. He was pursued and secured by Lindsay’s and my own desire and will. He did not start it or seek it out. Rather we sought him and fought to secure his place in our family. How could someone miss this clear reflection of God? We were lost and dead. We could do nothing. He pursued and fought for us.

3.  Come as you are:  Joseph has come through some terrible experiences and situations. Way too many for someone of his age. Some were way beyond his control. We did not ask him to fix all these issues before we went forward with him Tuesday. In fact, we said “yes” so that he has the chance to move forward. I feel that as followers of Christ, we too often forget that it was “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us,” (Romans 5:8).

The First Friend

On a busy downtown street, at the intersection of several bus routes, there was a little store that was hardly noticeable from the outside—the first Somali grocery story in our city. Inside the run-down building, a couple of aisles held items that were considered necessities to the East African immigrants and refugees that frequented it: dates and cookies, exotic spices and perfumes, special sticks that served as toothbrushes. On the other side of a partition hung a few brightly patterned, flowing skirts for sale. Behind a counter, halal meat could be purchased.

Eventually, a restaurant opened next door. The dining area was clean and white, but sparse. The large windows across the front provided diners with an unobstructed view of the street. There was no “ambiance” to speak of, save the poster of the menu that hung on the wall. Orders were placed at the small window beside it that opened into the kitchen, where a couple of men were busy grilling meat, cooking rice, and slicing bananas. The restaurant had moderate success during the week, but business really picked up on Friday afternoons, as men returned from the mosque hungry.

One July afternoon, DA and I sat at a table, waiting for our food and watching the traffic pass. A younger man wearing a white jellabiya with a koofiyad upon his head brought our plates out to us. We had never seen him in the restaurant before, so we struck up a conversation with him. It turned out that the man, Hussein, and his family had only been in the United States for about a week. As we continued to probe, he described his journey to America. He was part of the Bantu or Maay Maay people who were beginning to be brought to our city.

Hussein had been born in Somalia where he grew up on a farm, surrounded by mango trees, and monkeys, and a crocodile his uncle had supposedly placed a curse on. A civil war was raging in Somalia, so it wasn’t surprising that other Somalis frequently attacked the farm. Hussein’s family was a large one, with many brothers and sisters. His father had married multiple wives which was allowed by Islamic tradition. After his parents were brutally killed, the rest of the family felt so threatened that they fled their farm, the mangos, the monkeys, and that confounded crocodile. They walked many miles to the Kenyan border. Along the way, some died of exhaustion, starvation, or from animal attacks. They were relieved when they finally reached Dadaab, a refugee camp in the desert of Eastern Kenya.

Their relief would be short-lived. Dadaab, is the largest refugee camp in the world and is severely overcrowded. Built to house only 90,000 people, it currently contains about half a million. Refugees are not allowed to leave the camp and enter the rest of Kenya, leaving them with little hope of a future beyond the camp boundaries. They are wholly dependent upon handouts. By 2003, it was not unusual for refugees who were beginning to be resettled in America to have lived in a refugee camp for ten to fifteen years. Many of the other young adults who currently reside in Dadaab, (because they still wait for the opportunity to be resettled in a host country), have never set foot inside of Somalia, but have lived their entire lives in a Kenyan refugee camp.

After being chosen for resettlement in America, Hussein’s family was moved to Kakuma refugee camp in northwestern, Kenya, where the average daytime temperature is 104 degrees (Fahrenheit). Here, they learned some basic lessons about what to expect in America. Unfortunately, this education did not adequately prepare them for their new home.

Their new home, which they had moved into only a week prior to our meeting, was an apartment complex past its prime in a diverse area of town. This particular building has provided fresh starts for refugees from Vietnam, Cuba, Iraq, Bosnia, Nepal, and Burundi over the years, offering a lower rent rate with multiple bedrooms for larger families, and it provides easy access to the city’s bus system. A local refugee organization was charged with helping prepare the refugees’ new place, which included providing hand-me-down furniture and clothing. The refugees were expected to pay back the cost of their flight over the next several years. They were encouraged to go to English classes that were offered around the city, and they were expected to find jobs within three months of arriving. If a church or another organization decided to sponsor a particular refugee family, a small stipend would be provided each month. It could use to buy things like work boots, for example, as one Karen friend of ours did after he found a factory job. Most, however, were never sponsored.  Food stamps would begin eventually, but that process, of course, takes time.

Hussein’s family had not yet received their food stamps, he told us. He was filling in at the restaurant to earn a bit of money and to hopefully take home a plate of leftovers at the end of the day. His story broke our hearts and we wondered what we could do. When he returned to check on our table, we awkwardly asked if we could take some groceries to his wife and children. Hussein readily agreed, blessing us for our offer to help. In careful print, he wrote out the address on a scrap piece of paper: 154 Global Arms Apartments, Apartment 2.

Serving Refugees: My Journey

I have felt for a while now that I would like to write about our weird little life. In some ways, it astounds me—“How did we get here?!” In other ways, the oddity of it all has become almost monotonous—“Of course a refugee I’ve never seen before from Burundi just rang the doorbell to ask when my next English class starts. Guess I’d better pull out my teaching materials and plan one. Ho, hum.”

It seems that it’s been a long journey. My husband and I were married on May 17, 2003. The first half of our lives was spent in rural Tennessee—he lived on a farm, while I lived in the “city,” which means that we had a Wal-Mart. We met in high school, dated, were engaged for way too long, and finally said our vows before a sleepy-eyed crowd at 6 AM, just as the sun rose and shone down through the stained glass window of Jesus that made the early hour choice worth it. Eventually, we found ourselves in a much larger city to our north. I came here first to go to college, but once we were married and he found a teaching job, we bought our first house. We knew then that our time here would not be short.

Along the way, I took a class trip to East Africa and fell in love with the refugee population I met there. They were displaced by civil war in their home country and now overflowed the slums and refugee camps of the more stable nation next door. The beauty of the landscape there was overwhelming enough, but the people were beautiful in their own right. Both the host country natives and the refugees were generous and hospitable, even while many lived in poverty. But the needs, too, were great. People needed jobs. People needed education. People needed the hope of Jesus, something I had found only a few years prior.

I’m not exactly what attracted me to refugee populations in the first place. Perhaps it was because, at 18, I had also suffered personal tragedy—I lost my dad to a fast-moving cancer. At 20, I found myself all alone, friendless in a new city, and living in a basic dorm room with school-provided furniture. I arrived with a few bags and immediately had to find a job on campus doing whatever was available to pay my rent. I regularly got lost driving around the city. I used phone cards to call home and wept from loneliness when the line would cut-off abruptly, before I could say good-bye. Even once I was married, we were perpetually broke, buying Aldi’s generic, one-ply toilet paper (or nabbing it from campus bathrooms) and relying upon the inadequate bus system when our car quit a week after our wedding. Often, between our four part-time jobs and my education, we’d have less than $4.00 leftover at the end of the pay cycle.

I had also experienced the generosity of the Church. Just before my dad was diagnosed, I began to date my now-husband, D.A. He (or his mom) would often drive the 40-minute round-trip to pick me up and take me to their church on Sunday mornings. I was just excited to get out of the house and spend time socializing. The content of the sermons meant less to me than the fact that, even after a year, the pastor could never remember my name. That fall, once we learned of my dad’s lung cancer, I began to seek God like never before. I begged for healing. I committed to read a certain amount of the Bible each day, and had mediocre success. I searched hard for encouraging verses, often taken out of context, to give me peace during what had turned into a real bummer of a senior year. I asked God, (and youth leaders, and pastors, and any friend who called himself a Christian), all of the impossibly hard questions that crossed my mind.

Anyway, one Sunday morning, soon after I began following Jesus, Mrs. Dot stood up to announce that the benevolence committee (What was that anyway? And while we’re asking questions, What the heck is a Lottie Moon?!) needed food donations to help the needy in our community. One Saturday soon after, D.A. and I helped his parents with a small job that earned us $20 to split. We decided, in light of the announcement, that we would spend it on non-perishables for the benevolence bin. With great joy, we wandered up and down the aisles of the Food Lion, choosing only the best: brand name macaroni and cheese, the largest canister of peanut butter, vegetables normal people eat. On Sunday morning, we sneaked into the church basement and secretly delivered our stash. We were quite proud that we were going to bless some poor family and no one would ever know it was us.   Isn’t that what Jesus said to do?

After Sunday night service, Mrs. Dot asked me to bring the car around, because she had something for my family. She knew my dad was no longer able to work the long hours and double shifts he once had.   I pulled up, bewildered, just as she stepped out into the night with . . . the benevolence bin: the macaroni and cheese, the giant peanut butter, the corn and peas, and a few additional cans that we hadn’t purchased. We were the poor, needy family! Needy? The idea had never before crossed my mind.

Once I got past the immediate shame, I realized that the church was only doing the thing that Jesus told them to do, loving my family, in the same way that we had obeyed him earlier. I saw that just as I couldn’t have pride about providing the items, I also couldn’t have shame in accepting them. It might have been the first time I understood the church as more than just a social organization and as a community working together for one another’s benefit, the actual hands and feet of Christ.

When my dad died just two weeks before high school graduation, I was a new believer who experienced the safety net of God’s grace. As I found myself in greater need of Jesus, I fell more in love with him. He was faithful! He would not leave me, even if I lost all of my family. This understanding went hand-in-hand with the love I saw in my first real church family. They wrote notes, showed up at the funeral, and prayed. Mrs. Brenda made the white dress I was required to wear under my graduation robe and my future mother-in-law planned a party to celebrate with my family afterward.

At all stages in my Christian life, and in every church we have been a part of, we have seen God’s love expressed through the community of believers. I really don’t know how we would have survived the frantic early days of our marriage without the Church. And we were English-speaking Americans, with college educations. We knew how to count change for the bus and how to fill out job applications. We knew not to put a fork in the microwave.

I also learned what it was like to be dropped in the middle of a busy African city with an English-to-Swahili dictionary and a lot of prayer. I saw what it was like to place my life in someone else’s hands—in my case, my Muslim tour guide’s—not knowing if I would be robbed and left in a garbage heap somewhere, with my terrible college ID photo posted on the news back home. I watched her angrily chew out a tall man behind us who thought he was entitled to stroke my long red hair. He quickly retracted his hand, as Swahili flew from her tongue. She was bound to protect me, after all. Day after day, she showed me around the city with great care, served me chai in her aunt’s mattress store, helped me find a safe ride, and routinely scored the best prices for me at the market. This girl was gold.

So, maybe I identify so strongly with refugees because I know that as a Christian, this world is not my home. Or perhaps it’s because I’ve experienced great loss. Or it could be because I know what it is like to be in need and to find myself alone in a new place. Or it may be because I have experienced times of deep loneliness, even while in the midst of others.

When I returned home, my husband and I began to search for my African tour-guide’s people group in our city.   What we found was that many were beginning to be resettled in America at about that same time. Refugees were routinely stepping off airplanes and into a whole new world and we were just in time to experience the start of it. Though the work was hard, and we never did truly accomplish all that we hoped for, in the end, I do have stories. I want to share a few of those stories.

Give me time—I’m mothering a houseful of people, but I will share my stories here.   I promise to write if you will promise to read.  I will change some names to protect privacy. I will attempt to be as honest as I can in my writing, while also acknowledging that I may get events out of order or forget actual dates or possibly misquote someone.   If you know for a fact that something I’ve said is incorrect, please let me know. Many stories will be positive, but I will include some of the negative ones, as well, because refugee work is hard. Just like pastoring is hard. And teaching is hard. And parenting is hard. But it’s also worth it.

A few words of warning:

  1. I write long.  And I can’t change that.
  2. I am not a professional blogger, which is why I don’t know how to manipulate the settings on WordPress to make this look like a “real” blog.
  3. I’m no Jen Hatmaker, though I’d love to meet her, but then I’d probably just be too embarrassed to say anything, so let’s just forget I mentioned it.

But enough about me.  It’s time to tell their stories.

Dear Refugees

Dear Refugees,

If you’re already in this country—the United States of America—and you’re in my neighborhood, please feel free to drop by sometime. Our house is small by modern standards, but somehow everyone always fits. We may need to scoot our chairs a bit closer. If you’ll let me know you’re coming, I’ll set an extra place at the table—for you, and for all eight of your kids, if you decide to bring them along. It might just be rice and beans, but that always goes a long way in our family. Call me crazy, but I’m pretty sure that there have been occasions in the past when God miraculously stretched the rice just enough to feed everyone at my table. (Those times always remind me of his faithfulness.) If you forget to let me know you are coming over (and you probably will, because that’s the way relationships work in your native country), don’t worry; we’ll just have chai, coffee, or Tang, while we watch our kids play together. I will not fear that your religious beliefs will infect them like some kind of new bird flu that is contaminating our neighborhood.

If you are Christian, come! If you are Ethiopian Orthodox, come! If you are Muslim, come (I promise I won’t serve you pork)! I don’t care if you’re Hindu or Buddhist, Sunni or Shia, humanist or atheist, you are welcome at my table. If you’re a single male, I’ll ask you to come back after my husband is home. If you’re female, we’ll go inside and talk about where you come from and celebrate your victories of navigating a college class, the insurance system, or mass transit. I’ll lend you the air pump to inflate your bicycle tire, and I’ll be thankful when you return it to me. I’ll lend you our jumper cables and when they don’t come back, I’ll forgive you, because you win some, you lose some. (Seriously, though, if you find them, please bring them back.) We’ll pray for your family as they face difficulties back home. You can ask me to teach you to make fried chicken and then be disappointed that it doesn’t come out tasting like Indi’s. I’ll taste one of your dishes and try to hide the shock of the five-alarm fire in my mouth behind a glass of water.

I should warn you: I’ll probably talk about Jesus a lot during our visit. I’ll try not to be weird about it, but I am always talking about Jesus with my friends, and I consider you a friend, so it would be weird to avoid talking about Jesus with you. I know you, and you will likely talk about your faith, as well. That’s cool with me. In America, people often try not to talk about our spiritual beliefs for fear of offending someone. But where you are from, your faith is a part of your everyday life and it affects everything you do. My faith in Jesus affects everything in my life, too. I will tell you about what he is teaching me and possibly share my Jesus Story with you (some people call this a “testimony”). I might tell you a story from the Bible if the moment is right. If you are seeking an answer to a problem, I will give you an answer that is based in the Bible, because that is how I make decisions. I will pray for you regularly, because I pray for my friends. I may invite you to church or to a small group, (or to a birthday party, a holiday celebration, or a road trip, because who doesn’t like to bring their friends deeper into their lives?).

If any of this bothers you, as it has a small number of acquaintances in the past, I respect your decision not to visit again. As they say: “It’s a free country!” But, if you decide to continue growing our relationship, (and I sincerely hope you do), please know that I have no plans to “convert” you. You see, Christians believe that only God, through the work of the Holy Spirit, can change anyone into a Christian. It’s an internal change. People can’t do that to one another. Hanging out with me doesn’t make you a Christian and I recognize that, so I’m not going to spontaneously baptize you, or kidnap you and drop you off at a church building, or something. I also don’t expect that you will act like me. I hope you’ll be honest and kind and I know you’ll be generous and hospitable (you’ll probably out-hospitality me), but I don’t expect that you won’t use “That.Really.Bad.Curse.Word” or that you’ll eat ham just because I set it in front of you (and I won’t, remember? I already promised.) I don’t expect you to bow your head and close your eyes when we pray before we eat, although you are welcome to. If you want to share a plate with me and eat with your hand, let’s give it a shot!

If you decide to join me in following Jesus at some point in the future—great! I would love to have a new brother or sister. But if you never, ever do that, I want you to remember that I loved you, truly loved you, in the name of Jesus. Others may be successful for their own reasons, but I know that on my own, I would never have it in me to love a stranger, an immigrant, a refugee, someone with another language and skin tone, who comes from a land best known for pirates, terrorists, and AK-47’s. This, Friend, is the power of Jesus in me.

So come on over soon and hang out with us. We’d love to meet you.

 

Welcome, Joseph Eshetu!

Celebrate with us as we welcome Joseph Eshetu Gabriel Shores into our family! (After hearing the redemption story of Old Testament Joseph, he has changed his mind and wants to be called Joseph. But if you say Eshetu [Eh-shet-tu], that’s ok, too!)Joseph is seven years old and came home this past weekend from Maryland.

He’s originally from Ethiopia, but we are his second adoption and there will be a lot of mixed up feelings about that. I will share the amazing story of how he got to come home in a future post. Today, I just want to share a few thoughts so that might help you, our friends and family, when you meet Joseph.  1. Joseph had a hard life as a baby. Now, in many ways he is a brilliant, creative, and amazing seven-year-old, but in other ways (emotionally), he’s still much younger.  He is a very sensitive little boy.  He will spend most of his time near David Alan and myself, almost like a toddler. If you think that this looks weird, rest assured that we are following the advice of attachment therapists and we know what we’re doing.  2. We have to make many decisions about Joseph. Some of these include things like homeschooling, discipline, medications, sleeping arrangements, food options, etc. We do not make these decisions lightly and without consulting trained professionals. If you have an opinion that you think truly needs to be shared with us, please do not do it in front of Joseph. We know that you don’t want to undermine our parenting, but correcting us in front of him will (as experienced when our daughters came home). Please, do encourage us in the hard times!  3. Please try not to overwhelm Joseph when we come into a large crowd of friends. Feel free to come over and greet us, just try not to make that group too large. Let him take the lead on whether or not he wants a hug or a handshake or just to stand near you. (Please try not to say things that imply he’s “lucky” or “blessed” for being with us). Do, compliment him when he does something well or shows character, and remind him lots that he is a “Shores!”  4. We’re experimenting with Joseph’s diet in order to support his health, so please ask before you give him anything to eat.   5. Unfortunately, a tantrum is not out of the question. If you see Joseph having difficulties, please allow David Alan and/or myself to handle it. Don’t be surprised if this otherwise sweet, silly boy says unkind things or when we do not discipline him for saying those things in a “traditional” way. We will be providing discipline in the ways recommended by therapists who work with children like Joseph on a regular basis.   6.  We don’t want to share everything about Joseph’s background with everyone.  Please understand if we can’t give you an answer, and know that we won’t hold it against you.  (I would be curious, too!). ;)


7. Even though it will be hard for us to return messages or phone calls immediately, please forgive us and don’t leave us! We need our friends and family. It will be nice to get out of the house sometimes and have adult conversation, so please, always ask—even though we might have said no the last five times. Even the asking means so much to us. Also, it would be appreciated to know of a couple of people who would be willing to give us a night out on occasion or come over and help supervise Joseph while I organize (there’s still so much left to do!). Please let me know if you are willing.  That said, Joseph is a blessing for us to have in our home. Lydia, Ruby, Abigail, Zoey, and Isaiah are over-the-moon! They are thrilled that he is home and so far we’ve had some marathon Lego-playing sessions and a lot of yard wrestling with the boys. He has the mind of an engineer and is insatiably curious. He loves cuddling up with his big sisters and me. David Alan and I are well, but tired. He will not return to work until Thursday, so maybe we will catch up on rest before then.

Thank you all for your support—with finances, with prayers, and with calls to Frankfort to bring our son home. We could not have done this without you. God clearly has a plan for our precious boy!