Thursday, May 31, 2012


It was back in the Spring of 1999 when we said "YES." I love to tell this story because it still amazes and excites me. Stephen and I were sitting in a parent meeting at our children's small Christian school and Susan Hillis had just gotten up to speak. The meeting itself was actually over, but she had asked if she could share about an opportunity to have Russian orphans spend a summer in your home. I didn't know Susan at the time and I was busy filling out a form that the school required; I was not listening to her and had no interest at all, to tell you the truth. As my head was bent over the paper, I had this sensation of someone lifting my head, kind of like a marionette string being gently pulled. At the same time I heard, "You need to do this." I did not hear with my ears, but I will tell you, it was so clear to me that it was as if I had heard with my ears. I turned to Stephen and said, "I really think we are supposed to do this," to which he responded, "I know."

The Call

There have been many times over the years of our adoption journey when Stephen and I have said, "We really didn't know what we were getting into, did we?" Have you ever said that? Often we will laugh a bit and thank God that He doesn't show us our whole future ahead of time, for fear that we would pull a Jonah and run in the opposite direction! I believe we would have been quite overwhelmed had we realized what we were saying YES to when God called us to adopt. But that's the thing right there-- 

Our YES was not to the CALL; Our YES was to the PERSON.

I have just come to this realization this week as I listened to a spontaneous song by Misty Edwards. I was reading a blogger friend's  post on the challenges of the first year of her treasured son's life in their family and she shared this song. When you have a moment, listen to the voice of Father God to you. Oh how this song has been ministering to me! 

The Person
The problem with my YES being only to the call of God is that I can never fully know the extent of this call, can I? Looking back over the past 12 years I realize that I didn't really know WHAT I was saying YES to. I have no relationship with the call. But I did know WHO I was saying yes to! If my YES is to JESUS,  to the one who calls, then there I am safe. I am fully known, even if I don't fully know. Jesus never leaves me, nor will He forsake me when I don't measure up to the call of adoption. I don't have to measure up with Jesus, for He has measured up for me. I don't have to be good enough, for He Himself is Good and has imputed His Goodness to me. 

He Knew What He Was Getting Into
You may not have known what you were getting into when you said YES, but God knew what He was getting into when He called you to parent your children. He is in no way shocked by your weakness, nor is He shocked by your sin. He knew who you were, He knew who I was, when He called us to adopt. And so He, God Himself, says,

... I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support. [I will] not, [I will] not, [I will] not in any degree leave you helpless nor forsake nor let [you] down (relax My hold on you)! [Assuredly not!] 
Hebrews 13:5 (AMP)

When my yes is to the call, then I am under pressure to perform-- pressure to meet up to a standard of parenting and success. And I find I may be tempted when I am not doing well at all to hide or pretend that all is going well and that I am fine. However, when my yes is to Jesus, the lover of my soul, then I don't have to pretend to be something that I am not. He knows me; He is not surprised by who I am. As a matter of fact, He sees the beauty and strength in me that I don't always recognize. There are seasons when we only have eyes to see our weaknesses and our failures. If you are in that place right now, I encourage you to allow the voice of the Father to speak through the song in the link above. He has such good things to say about you today. Yes, even this day when you are so aware of where you fall short as a parent.
Yes to the Living God of Living Hope
I can't know the Call like I know the Person who calls. My yes is not a one time static and finite event that I have to live up to all these years later. Oh thank you Jesus that my yes is to the Living God who is an ever present help in time of need. (Psalm 46:1) Do you see that?-- an ever present help. 

This Living God, our Alpha and Omega (Revelation 1:8), sees the end from the beginning. He knows where I am going when I am so absorbed in the moment that I can't really imagine the future, much less how I'll make it to bedtime! Because I have said YES to Him, because the adoptions of our children come through my relationship with Jesus rather than through a one time event back in 1999 in Atlanta, GA,  I always have hope, a Living Hope in a Living God. 
(1 Peter 1:3)

Maybe you are reading this right now and thinking that your yes was more to the Call than to the Person and wondering how you will continue on. I believe that even now the Lord is right there, ever present, to receive your YES. He is the Faithful and True One for you beloved. 

If you would like encouragement in your adoption journey, whether you are waiting for your child to come home or whether, like me, you are 12 years into it, join us at HOPE AT HOME 2012 
October 5-6 in Atlanta, GA. For more details and to register click HERE.

Monday, May 28, 2012


We welcome Scott Means back to share on our monthly series on marriage. You can read last months post by Brad Aldrich here.
You will have the opportunity to hear both the Aldrich's and the Means at HOPE AT HOME 2012. Registration is now open-- we'd love for you to join us. If you would like to have people stand with you in prayer and faith as a parent and be filled with a renewed sense of who God is and what He alone can do in your family, then this is the conference for you!
My inspiration for this post came from a blog post that my wife, Jenni, recently put on her Facebook wall, How to Miss a Childhood from the Hands Free Mama blog. This fabulous post addresses the reality that too many of us are often more connected to our cell phones and computers than we are to the real relationships in our lives. The author, Rachel Stafford, encourages her readers to hang up their phones and go “hands free” where their kids are concerned; to instead grasp what really matters.  
Jenni, my wife, was quick to point out that the same holds true for marriage.
As a marriage writer and blogger (I blog at Journey to Surrender) I feel a significant pressure to maintain my online presence in order to better ensure “success” in the blogosphere. There is some well-known advice for how to build readership and to increase your following as a writer: post on your blog at least twice a week, engage your Twitter followers daily, keep your Facebook page active and interesting, read and comment on other blogs, and do as much guest-posting as you can on related blogs. 
On top of trying to do all this, I also have to keep up with my personal email, Facebook and Twitter activities.  In addition, I happen to keep my calendar, to do list, budget and daily devotional readings on my phone.  And of course there is the occasional Words With Friends or Sudoku game.  

Do a Screen Audit

Since reading the hands-free article above, I have been much more aware of how I have slowly been sucked into an electronic vortex. A substantial portion of my waking hours is consumed with writing, social media and other activities associated with my blog life as well as my personal life. Between my phone and computer my hands and my gaze are constantly engaged with some type of screen.  
My wife and I were amazed to discover how often we immediately and instinctively grab for our phones during every free minute, seeking out that latest Instragram photo, Facebook post, tweet or next game move.  So we made a decision to be much more deliberate about being “hands-free” in our marriage.  We’ve realized that instead of holding, gazing on and engaging with our phones during our time together, we can actually do the same with each other. We are now much more aware of how many opportunities we have missed to connect with each other.

Hands-Free Marriage?

The next time you are riding in the car together, instead of picking up your phone, spend that time getting caught up on your day.  Ask each other meaningful questions.  Heck, even talking about the weather is better than idly passing time texting or playing a game of Plants vs. Zombies!
Waiting for a table at a restaurant? Pocket those phones and hold hands instead.  Whisper sweet nothings to each other. When your table is ready, keep the phones out of sight and gaze longingly into each other’s eyes.  Talk about your future; reminisce about the past. Engage!
If your bedtime routine includes scrolling through your phone to check your email or catch up on Facebook, think instead about how you might better put your hands to use.  If you were to go hands-free at bedtime and instead give each other your full attention, perhaps you would find the opportunity for a little more marital hands-on [wink].

Virtual vs. Real Intimacy

I often say that intimacy comes from being fully known and yet completely loved.  When we consistently hide behind our cell phones and computer screens, even if we are virtually engaging with hundreds through social media, it can actually stand in the way of the interpersonal interaction that builds intimacy in your marriage.  Since being more intentional this past week about putting down our phones, Jenni and I have actually experienced a noticeable increase in intimacy. By purposefully disconnecting from our virtual lives, we’ve noticed that we are better connected to each other. 
I encourage you to spend the next week being acutely aware of how much time you spend with your attention focused on the screens in your life. Make a concerted effort to hang up, turn off and unplug from your electronic gizmos and use the time you gain to focus on your spouse.  I can almost guarantee that you’ll sense more intimacy in your marriage as a result. 

Monday, May 21, 2012


 Click HERE for details and to Register for HOPE AT HOME 2012 Conference for Adoptive and Foster Parents!

From Susan Hillis:

Susan and Brian in the early days 
of their adoption journey
I was desperate. Fifteen years ago I was desperate to find someone who had walked through years of parenting children who were deeply scarred by their painful past. I'm talking about children who have been seriously abused in some of the worst imaginable ways.  I wanted to find several experienced believing parents who could speak to what helped them as parents to walk their children forward into healing and wholeness, after the adoption was final. Isn't it ironic that we describe our adoptions as 'final' when in fact they are only beginning? I certainly felt like a beginner, navigating relatively unchartered territory without help from others who had learned invaluable lessons from years of real experience with real children in real families. So, now, with our ten kids ages 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 23, 25, 26, and 27 years old, I finally have a little time to think about how I may be able to share with you, dear reader, what I was desperate for those many years ago. I would love to hear back whether any of you find you connect with these ideas!!!!!

Are You Crazy?
So my first lesson is this:  don't be crazy.  In other words, don't depend on your own efforts to become an expert in painful pasts and positive parenting to bring healing and wholeness.  Oh, instincts and positive parenting are good, but they are secondary, not primary.  What is primary is receiving from the Lord's life in and with and through us, what we need daily, that daily bread, to love the children with whom we are entrusted.  As we read in the Message translation,

"Something crazy has happened...Let me put this question to you:  How did your new life [as an adoptive family] begin?  Was it by working your heads off to please God?  Or was in by responding to God's Message to you?  Are you going to continue this craziness?  For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God.  If you weren't smart enough or strong enough to begin it, how do you suppose you could perfect it?....Answer this question: Does the God who lavishly provides you with his own presence, His Holy Spirit, working things in your lives you could never do for yourselves, does he do these things because of your strenuous moral striving or because you trust  him to do them in you?...anyone who tries to live by his own effort, independent of God, is doomed to failure [aside:  I have tried this and it doesn't work!]...The person who lives in right relationship with God does it by embracing what God arranges for him.  Doing things for God is the opposite of entering into what God does for you."  (Gal 3:1-6).  

In other words, it's not my job to fix them;  it is simply my job to trust in the Lord's love and wisdom and revelation in and through me and Brian, and many others in our church and school communities, to give our children what God intends to give them through us.  This is unspeakably freeing, as I do not take responsibilities of heavy burdens on my shoulders that are not mine to carry.  I stop being crazy.  I stop thinking that I can learn how to lift a crushing load off of an injured heart single-handedly, by studying how it's done!  Oh, I'm all for studying and learning, but my primary hope is not in my becoming proficient.

Primary and Secondary

What is primary, I have learned, is my own vital personal walk with the Lord.  Out of that intimacy between the two of us, I receive the help and hope and acceptance and forgiveness and wisdom I need for His call on my life.  It is as though He is often rechanneling my thinking (Rom 12:1), when I find myself discouraged and disappointed.  Rather than dwelling on the afflictions, we can chose to dwell on the testimonies of what is good and true and worthy of praise (Phil 4:6-9).  In this regard, I am so touched by Psalm 119 in the ESV -- there are 20 verses that describe "testimonies" and only 5 that describe "afflictions." [Because I love math I just have to point out that this is 4 to 1 odds!! and because I love the Scriptures I have to dare you to count for yourself and to meditate on these verses!]  

From this I see that the testimonies, in our Lord, are intended to outnumber our afflictions.

 I think of testimonies as fresh applications of eternal truths regarding the character of God in the life of the believer today.  And we all know all too well that afflictions are serious and often seemingly insurmountable personal problems. Generally speaking, I have found over the years that when my walk with the Lord is primary, and my focus on learning all I can about excellent parenting is secondary, it is much more natural for me to love my children who are in hard places with freedom and hope, rather than to worry over them with fear and despair. When fear and despair are bigger in my experience, it is then that I call in my soul-tender friends to pray and help.

Hope at Home

I will close this post by passing along the news that

registration is now open for the Hope at Home 2012 Conference 

which will take place the week end of my birthday (how cool is that!), October 5-6, at Northlands Church, Atlanta, GA. Click on the link for more information and to register. Check out our speakers and breakouts-- we are so excited about what God is putting together for us all! 
If you find yourself connecting at all with what is written in this post, then that conference may be a place you can find the refreshment and encouragement to continue forward in great hope for the family in which the Lord has placed you as a leader, to parent them in His love and His strength and His wisdom and His revelation. I cannot begin to tell you the freedom I have found as I have let go of many burdens that were just crazy for me to be carrying!  

May the Lord bless you and your family, and may you find today that your testimonies outnumber your afflictions!

Monday, May 14, 2012


From Susan Hillis:
For those who are moms now, know moms, or ever will be moms, I have an idea:  Let's live like it's Mother's Day every day. Seriously!  Let's recall the gifts the Lord Himself has placed inside us - that we are perfume, mirrors, and treasures, and that these gifts are the kind that keep on giving.  These gifts are the kind of gifts we are and have and receive daily.  

Perfume,  Mirrors, Treasures! 
So it is pretty easy to remember where to find these gifts, just by remembering the numbers 2, 3, 4!  The verses from II Corinthians that remind us of these gifts are at the end of chapters 2, 3, and 4.  I myself am planning to paste them on my bathroom mirror, to see them every day!  So, here goes, the truth about these daily Mother's Day Gifts...and my prayer that goes with them in the mornings....


"Thanks be to God, who ALWAYS (every day!) ... spreads through us the sweet perfume of the knowledge of Him in everywhere." (2:14)
Lord, thank you that You say I am the sweet fragrance of the knowledge of You today in every place.  Lord, make me this for my family and for the people I work with and for anyone else I will relate to today.


"But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit." (3:17)
Lord, it is amazing I am beginning to see Your presence in me more than the wrinkles or hair that is not quite right.  Thank you that You are changing me on the inside every day to be more and more like You.  Do it today, Lord!


"But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us." (4:7)
As I put on this jewelry, thank You for the reminder that You are doing something invisibly wonderful through my struggles and afflictions.

Trusting that the person I am created to be gives joy and hope and meaning and love and faith in an enduring way to those I love most!  I have found that this is most likely to occur for me when I am having my own 'love tank' filled in a meaningful way by the love and presence of God.   It helps me to start most days by spending time with the Lord and by meditating on these verses when I am getting dressed.

God shows me it's true!
And the Lord uses those sweet gifts of words and symbols to remind us that indeed, we are perfume, mirrors, and treasures, on Mother's day in our honor.  I felt so very loved and appreciated yesterday by the album my sweet kids put together for me, writing letters of thanks to me for being their mama.  Of course I was crying as I read them - tears of JOY!  I go back later and reread them, and can only think that in spite of many struggles our family has seen, I am most impressed with this:  "My God, I stand in awe of You; oh, God, I stand in awe of You; To Him to Whom all praise is due, I stand in awe of You." 

He has made so many testimonies from our tests, so many messages from our mess!  
It IS Mother's Day every day!  And we will place our eyes on the invisible God to become more and more visible in our daily lives as we live, love, and serve.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


Thinking of all of you wonderful mothers this week. Enjoy your Mother's Day. We at Hope at Home honor you!

Driving down the road in my ginormous brown van feeling stressed and stretched and strained and DONE, I heard the whisper of the Lord posing a simple question. Whenever the Lord asks me a question I know I'm in for some freedom. His questions always seem to lead me out of a problem and into an answer. 

"What would you rather be doing?"

So simple. And immediately my complaints of dealing with sibling arguments, of correcting rude behavior, of dropping off and picking up seven children all within seven years of each other in age, figuring out AGAIN what we would have for dinner--you know the story-- were transformed from overwhelming to strangely satisfying. The plain truth of it was that I would not rather be doing anything else in this world.

Beautiful Feet 

I love a lot about my life; I love a lot about being a mother. I think the thing I like best of all is that I get to create the first forum for the Gospel to be experienced by the seven people that God has given me to mother. Think of the missionaries over time who have had the absolute thrill, the challenge, the honor of taking the Gospel of God's Goodness to a people for the first time. 

"How beautiful on the mountains 
   are the feet of those who bring good news, 
who proclaim peace, 
   who bring good tidings, 
   who proclaim salvation, 
who say to Zion, 
   “Your God reigns!”
Isaiah 52:7 

Isn't that a description of what you and I do everyday-- over and over and over? How often have you "proclaimed Peace" today? (Wouldn't it be lovely if being a Christian family meant the absence of conflict?!) In the thick middle of conflict about whose turn it is to sit in the front seat, or who got to pick the movie last time, or who borrowed whose clothes and didn't return them......, you and I get to be the one who release the Peace of God. Isn't that what we are doing when we walk our children through conflict? How beautiful on these mountains of family life are my feet, and yours, because we are the ones bringing the Good News. 

We mothers have the "Ministry of Reconciliation." 

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:  that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.
2 Corinthians 5:18-20 

Reconciliation is defined as "making oneself or another no longer opposed, settling a quarrel or difference, making two apparently conflicting things compatible with each other." Hmmmm, strangely familiar?! This ministry is our child's first and primary exposure to the beauty and freedom and power of the Gospel. I truly consider it an honor to have such a ministry, although I must admit that in the middle of conflict and opposition I do not always have thoughts of beautiful feet or being honored! But really, what would I rather be doing with my life? To be able to foster an environment where the truth of God's love is experienced, lived out, enjoyed, challenged, tested......Wow, what a wonderful and honorable calling is motherhood!

No Light or Trivial Thing

Dearest ones, be encouraged in what you are doing in your homes. It is no light or trivial thing. You are doing a kingdom work that bears eternal fruit. Indeed, all those daily tasks and irritating interruptions are actually the God-ordained setting for the proclamation of Peace, the sharing of the Good News, the declaration of Salvation and The Reign of Our God. 

It is true you know--- we mothers do have Beautiful Feet!

Monday, May 7, 2012


From Susan Hillis:
3 words, 4 syllables.  This is the story of my life.  Period.  God is BIGGER!  The storms arise, and Jesus always arises higher, bigger, above them.  They are still storms -- frightening, miserable, disturbing, uncomfortable.  BUT, God is bigger.   It has been said that even great writers always are telling the same story....over and over and over again, just through different characters.  That is really all I do with my stories -- they are all the same, over and over and over again.  God is BIGGER.  Can I invite you, dear reader, today, to join my story?

The Great Rescuer

Many of us started out on our adoption/fostering/loving orphans (literal and figurative) with this false notion of wanting somehow to be a part of the Lord's rescue in the lives of dear children who needed hope and help, and a family and a Father. I know this is how I felt 15 years ago when I first saw that picture of precious Anya with that huge dimple, and Alex with his mischievous smile. Now, with 10 kids ages 18 to 27, I realize with relief, that it is the Great Rescuer Himself who rescues us and them.  Here is my favorite quote about that:

"I thought that I was supposed to give life to 'save the world.'  What these little hands [I was holding] would shake me back to life with was the truth that the world was already saved by the One who became a suffering servant.  We didn't need to be the 'women of power for the hour.'  All we were asked to do was to be little children.  Yielded, trusting, and willing -- excited to be with the One who loves.....We are not called to be mothers and fathers to the poor.  We aren't even to take the burdens of rescuing the afflicted.  That's not our job.  Our job is simple.  We ask the Rescuer Himself to come, and He takes our little hands in His. Together we watch as God becomes what only He can be -- the One to save everyone, including ourselves!" (J.L. Davis, For Love's Sake, p. 74).

The Rescuer Guarding Lives

With Cristi and Elyse on the plane going
home from Summit
I just returned from a three day conference at Saddleback Church, California, the Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit VIII.  It was my great joy to be there with two of my heroes -- my daughter Cristi along with her 4 week old little baby Elyse (already loving orphans, that girl!!!), and my son Alex, and my dear friend Michelle. It was unspeakably moving on the last night of the conference, to see 4 leaders on stage from 4 regions of the world -- Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Eastern Europe, believing God to rescue all the orphans in their respective areas of the world, and praying in their native languages for these dear children to become sons and daughters of the King of kings!!!  I wanted to jump up and down, and scream with glee, as a 'shameless audacity' prayer of my heart for at least 8 years has been, "Lord, please place a believer in the life of every orphan in the world."  I wanted to scream, "Lord, you ARE doing it!  Lord, you ARE bigger!!!  Oh, God to whom all praise is due, I stand in AWE of you."  The message to match the testimony was so anointed through Russell Moore, as He spoke of the fact that only the Lord rescues us and them!

The Rescuer and His Team

The Rescuer's team is His church.  So now I am praying, "Lord, please place a believer and a church in the life of every orphan in the world."  The importance of the church to support and uphold each of us as the Lord's adopted sons and daughters is so central in Acts and the Scriptures as a whole.  The story that so movingly illustrated this at the Summit was the testimony of the young FBI agent who had been in an abusive family situation growing up and so, removed from her home when she was in middle school.  She told the story of going to church even while her biologic family was in extreme disarray, of loving to go to church because she felt so loved there.  The scary night came when someone she didn't know came from Social Services and took her away from her home to 'place' her in a family and make a 'care plan' for her life.  Well, she showed the church leaders her 'care plan' and that plan wasn't good enough for this precious girl, in their opinion ("That the leaders took the lead, bless the Lord!" Judges 5:2).  So they countered by writing their own care plan for social services, proposing that her 7th grade Sunday School teacher, a single woman who knew her only as one of the kids in the class, become her foster mom.  And that is just what happened.  The church became her family.  Fast forward to the point in time when she is planning her wedding, and they come to the question of who is going to speak for her when, in the ceremony, the pastor asks, 'Who gives this woman to be married to this man?'  They decide that the entire church will stand for her and say "we do."  Can you IMAGINE that????  The entire church saying, 'we do'?   I just started crying right there when I heard it!

God is BIGGER!

We have lived through many storms.  Five years of infertility, a child with a fatal illness, a child killed before our very eyes on a family bike ride, a daughter in jail five times, a child with reactive attachment disorder, several children making many worrisome decisions that sadden us and displease God, becoming homeless 2 years ago when the Atlanta floods destroyed our house. 
And I will say to you today, dear friends, indeed I will beg you to believe that:
--- God is BIGGER!  GOD is bigger!  God IS bigger!  

I adore you and the Lord adores you so much more than you can imagine.  That is the motivation behind His determination to be bigger than all our afflication.  I leave you with Psalm through it and count all those afflictions - classify them - ours will fit in one of the categories, as will those of our children -- then see what the Lord does EVERY TIME we cry out to Him in our trouble:  

"Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble and He delivered them [the Rescuer] from their distress...let them thank the Lord for His steadfast love, for His wondrous work to the CHILDREN OF MAN!"  (Ps. 107, 4 times).  We and our children, are only, in the end, all together, His own precious children!  

We wait, oh Lord, for this rescue, as the watchman waits for the morning, believing You for the invisible to triumph over the visible struggles in our lives and in the lives of all we hold dear, because we and they are created in Your image for Your purposes.  Doubly blessed.  We love you, Lord.

We are hard at work on HOPE AT HOME 2012-- Save The Date! October 5-6 in Atlanta. Registration opens later in May. Tell your friends and plan on a time to be filled with Hope in what our God will do in each of our Homes.