Faith Isn’t Stationary

I would sit on my mom’s lap and fidget with her cross necklace trying to turn down the volume of the booming voice in the sanctuary. The pastor of my early youth was a product of the Billy-Graham-tent-revival-altar-calling era. He used boldfaced words, exclamation points, and dramatic gestures to preach the word of God. It was mainly out of fear of burning forever in hell that I knelt between my parents on my 5-year-old, skinned-up knees and confessed my faith in God. Dodged that bullet, I thought.

After my scare into faith, I soaked in memory verses in Sunday school and pondered messages in youth group. Our evangelical church taught us to have our testimony at the ready … to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have”. On graduation Sunday, I stood in front of the church along with my fellow graduates and was commissioned to “go and make disciples of all nations”. With a smile on my face and a Bible in my arms, I felt prepared. I had been given the tools – the words – to share my faith. Scripture was memorized. My testimony was written. A verbal explanation of the Gospel was mastered. 

However, I quickly learned that words are empty unless backed by deeds.

Some people have a way with verbal communication. They can engage strangers and somehow manage to segue from a light-hearted conversation about the day’s weather to a deep theological discussion on the Trinity. I have not found a way to do this, nor do I have any desire to do so. Another way suits me better.

His faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete. – James 2:22

The book of James points to two people of the Old Testament whose faith and actions worked together. Abraham’s faith was made complete by what he did – being willing to sacrifice his own son. And Rahab was made right with God by her actions – hiding away two Jewish spies whose lives were in danger.  

Our very lives are our testimony. Hardly any words need to be spoken.

This was made apparent to me recently by a comment of a friend who saw a picture of me holding our medical foster child, Christ. She said, “I love how you carry around with you your beautiful testimony.” My eyes immediately began to well up with warm tears after I read her comment. I needed to hear those words on a day that wasn’t going all that great. Christ was not happy and not taking to his new prosthetic legs very kindly … the very reason he traveled to the States. I was hot and cranky. Yet, even in my failures, my faith was showing through my actions. And with that, God can work wonders. 

Though faith alone can make one perfect, faith is only perfected by action.

Maybe you too are carrying and gently caring for a child who needs to be fed and clothed and bathed and loved. God sees you in your house. Other parents see you at preschool, at doctor appointments, at the grocery store. Hear these words: Well done, good and faithful servant.

Maybe you are a reliable employee, showing integrity and perseverance in a difficult work environment. God notices. And so do your co-workers. Well done, good and faithful servant.

Maybe you donate your time to fight legal battles of the oppressed, weed the gardens of the disabled, ladle soup into the bowls of the hungry. Your work does not go unnoticed. Well done, good and faithful servant.

Maybe you are choosing light over dark, honesty over lies, justice over injustice, courage over fear. Your light shines bright. Well done, good and faithful servant. 

But now, my God, strengthen my hands. – Nehemiah 6:9

Faith is not stationary. As a body is dead without air, so is faith without action. Keep up the good work.

(Photo by Kyle Ellefson on Unsplash)

A Footnote

The traditional Easter greeting took on a footnote for me this year.

Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.

The phrase, known as the Paschal Greeting, has its origins in the ancient church. In fact, the custom emulates the first disciples who said, “It is true! The Lord has risen,” (Luke 24:34) after recognizing the risen Savior. It is a phrase bubbling over with joy, relief, comfort, and hope. Nothing can overshadow the meaning of this phrase, yet when I saw it spelled out this Easter season, I couldn’t help but also think of our own little Christ.

And that leads me to the footnote …

At just 3 weeks after his bilateral amputation, Christ has indeed risen. I am amazed at the resilience of kids! I complain of a hang nail or a stubbed toe for days, but Christ was smiling the evening of his surgery. Dr. Abbott said everything went as planned and confirmed his satisfaction with Christ’s healing at his two-week post-op appointment last week, when we left the hospital with nothing but a single bandaid over a tiny portion of one incision that was still a little raw.

If you would have told me that a child would be released from the hospital just 24 hours after a double amputation, I would have met that statement with a significant amount of skepticism. Yet, that’s what happened! He slept much of the first day and night, then eased back into his usual routine over the following few days. We used the stroller in the house for several days until it was clear he wasn’t having it any more. On day 5 post-surgery, we gave in. He was not going to be kept down.

His bandages were to remain on his stumps until his two-week follow-up appointment, but he decided to take them off around day 10. I had a bit of a flashback panic moment … the time when Ma took out her prosthetic eye for the first time. Like then, I just started screeching, “Don’t panic. Nobody panic. It’s totally fine. We’re not panicking,” as I obviously panicked. But like then, there was no need to panic. I whisked him to the first aid kit only to observe a very clean and boring-looking sewed-up incision. Boring is good. We like boring when it comes to medical stuff.

Christ’s attitude throughout all of this has been amazing. Generally speaking, he is easy-going and pleasant and seems mostly unfazed by his surgery … except for the day last week when his bandages came off for good. He kept pulling up his shorts and looking for the rest of his legs, then looking at me for answers. This is where the communication barrier grows taller than Trump’s proposed wall.

Just as I was feeling terrible about his predicament, I was reminded by a friend that this is why he came. His parents knew why they were sending him. And his doctor knew that this was the best course of action, his best chance at future mobility. And if that reassurance wasn’t enough, I had three different people share personal stories with me about how the choice to amputate a limb was the best choice they or their loved-one ever made … easing them of pain and frustration, and opening the doors to mobility and a normal life.

It is my understanding that Christ will go home in another month or so with compression sleeves for his stumps. They like to wait several months after surgery to ensure healing is complete, swelling has subsided, and pain is absent before moving onto prosthetics. In the meantime, he will work on gaining strength and motion … something that was previously hindered by his lower limbs.

Our little Christ is rising strong. He is rising strong indeed.

Bananas

Bananas. Just bananas. This perfectly describes life at our house recently.

Christ joined our family two weeks ago. He is absolutely the sweetest, most chill little boy you’ll ever meet. Seriously. And the cutest. I just wish I knew what was running through his sweet little head. Let’s review: 1) he bid goodbye to his mom, dad, and sister; 2) boarded a plane from Burkina Faso, Africa, to Paris, then to the States, escorted by lovely American Airline workers who donate their days off (bless their souls); 3) was met by our family in Columbus, OH; 4) driven to Ann Arbor, MI; then, 5) met at our house by an overly excited dog.

No wonder he shut his eyes and fell asleep for 12 hours! Isn’t that what you would have done?

Shut. Out. The. World.

When he woke up the first day, he just covered his dark brown eyes with his arms. His bottom lip quivered. Our hearts just melted. He didn’t know if he wanted to be held or left alone. Could he trust us or not? It’s heartbreaking to witness. Yet, these kids are resilient.

So, so resilient.

Over the first week, we saw him open up. Make eye contact. Even smile. A few words in French helped, though it appears he only understands Moore, his local language. Once in school, he will learn French, the official language of Burkina Faso, but for now, only Moore. The only word he’s spoken in the last two weeks is “Mama”. And it wasn’t for me … though I responded as though it was.

Sweet little man.

He sleeps now right beside me on the couch … next to the fluffy dog who cleans up his Cheerios and chicken and rice. Eating. We’ve branched out. This first few days it was only bananas. Just bananas. Now it’s yogurt, and chicken (bone-in, of course, because that’s the only way), guacamole, peanut butter … on bread or off … doesn’t matter. He’s a messy eater. Probably used to eating outside and spitting gristle from the chicken and seeds from the fruit on the ground. But that’s ok. We have a dog who is happy to clean up. (And I’m currently monitoring the dumb dog for any adverse affects of eating a whole chicken drumstick).

Christ had an appointment with the orthopedic surgeon last week. It was determined that he has caudal regression syndrome. You can look it up, but there’s not much info. It’s pretty rare. It’s a congenital disorder that impairs the development of the lower half of the body. As a result, his best option for future mobility is to amputate his lower legs.

Bummer, I know.

But I get it. And I’m confident it’s the right decision after discussing all options with his doctor. His lower legs are “just getting in the way,” as his doctor stated. Once they are removed, he’ll be able to walk on his stumps, gain hip and upper leg strength, then be fitted for prosthetics. No more needing his hands for mobility.

So when’s the date? Tomorrow!! His doctor is going on a missions trip to Kenya later this week, so he wanted to fit Christ’s surgery in before he left. They say it’s a pretty straight forward surgery … though I questioned that as well. Barring any complications, he will spend a night or two in the hospital. Once his incisions heal properly (about 6 weeks), he will most likely go home to his family for they typically wait 6 months before fitting for prosthetics. And he needs to be with them. Not us.

Christ and his big sis.

A complete whirlwind! Right?

Please pray for comfort for Christ. For wisdom for his medical team. For peace for his family. And ours. We are grateful for the team of people who are lined up to help us this week in running the girls, feeding us, and filling in for our normal responsibilities. We couldn’t do this without our people. We so appreciate all of you sending your love and prayers.

Oops! We Did It Again

To quell the rumors that may be circulating after two boxes were spotted on our front doorstep – one containing a stroller, the other a carseat – Imma gonna let you in on a little secret …

Nope.

I am most definitely NOT pregnant. This body decided it was done with that process years ago.

No way.

But … we are hosting again!

Most of you know all about little Ma, who joined our family for a time about 4.5 years ago when she came to the States for treatment for retinoblastoma. Well. We’re doing it again for another child. Here are the details:

A week from today (2/24), a 3.5-year-old little boy from Burkina Faso will be joining us. Burkina Faso is a West African country that borders Ivory Coast, where Ma is from. He will be treated for clubfeet. His name is Christ … pronounced like Chris … with a “t” at the end.

I’m considering changing his name on the hospital records to just “Chris” without the “t”, but there’s a large part of me that wants the nurses to come to the waiting room and say, “Um. Is there … Is Christ here?”. Then I want to say in a sweet, angelic voice, “Honey, Christ is always here if you just call his name. But if you’re looking for ‘Christ’ pronounced with a short ‘i’, he’s right here.”

Can you tell I grew up in an evangelical church in the 80’s? I’m pretty sure God rolls his eyes at my behavior a lot, then yells at the group of angels attending their weekly bowling league, “Hey! Which one of you is assigned to Nicole? Will you get down there before she truly messes things up!”

Anyways, while the excitement in our household is the same as the last, this time has a different feel. First off, he’s a boy! So there’s that. Secondly, while Ma’s trip to the States was a life-saving necessity, Christ’s trip is life-enhancing. Hugely life-enhancing, we hope, but thankfully his life is not on the line.

Also, we feel more prepared. We know that a 2 month commitment can turn into 2 years. We know that it will be hard and often times lonely. We know the challenges of the language barrier, cultural differences, and most importantly, the trauma these kids face as they are separated from their families. We know they can exhibit similar emotional distresses as adopted and foster children, even if they understand they will return to their families once their treatment is complete. We also know our hearts will be captured by another child, and our lives will forever be entwined with another family in Africa.

If you are the praying type, please join us in praying for Christ and his family. Generally speaking, these families are excited and so grateful for this rare opportunity, but they are still saying goodbye to their little boy for an unspecified amount of time and sending him to the care of a crazy family like ours. There’s a lot of trust happening there. Also, pray for Christ … for his heart that will most certainly be aching for his family. And pray for his health. There is talk that he may need amputations, but we’re hoping for alternatives.