Sunday, July 24, 2016

My Crown

For the past 5 years, I've had the honor of speaking to all of the Miss Alabama contestants at the annual Miss Alabama Pageant Luncheon... just hours before a new Miss Alabama is crowned. Each year, I share a little bit of my story about how the Miss America Organization and the Miss Alabama Pageant impacted my life. On June 11th, I had the opportunity to share with them again. This year, I decided to share the full story of why I stopped competing in the Miss Alabama Pageant (and it turns out, that difficult decision ultimately led to our adoption!) So I wanted to share with all of you here, what I shared with those contestants a few weeks ago. Here's an excerpt from my speech that day...

I have always loved pageants. I actually competed in 45 pageants over 19 years before I "retired". I started competing in this program (the Miss America Organization) because it was my dream to be Miss Alabama – and then Miss America someday. I got the chance to pursue that dream twice – once in 2004 as Miss Gadsden Area, and again in 2005 as Miss Auburn Opelika Area. I loved it. I loved serving my community as a local titleholder. I loved everything I learned during my years of service, the scholarship money I earned, and the sparkly crown I got to wear. I loved the friendships I made, and I loved this week each year at Miss AL. But after my 2nd trip to Miss Alabama, I began to hear a still small voice inside my heart – calling me away. (Now I knew this had to be the voice of God, because I do NOT walk away from rhinestones and sequins willingly ya’ll! I would still wear a crown everyday if it was socially acceptable!)

There’s a worship song that I really identified with at that time. The lyrics are “we fall down, we lay our crowns at the feet of Jesus”. I felt like God was literally asking me if I would lay down my crown. 

It took a lot of prayers and tears, and months of God prompting my heart, before I chose to be obedient. I didn’t want to give up on this dream, but God was making it clearer and clearer to me that He had a different plan for my life. I was brokenhearted. But I knew that I had a choice to make, and I chose to be obedient (even though I had no idea where this path would take me). 

In 2007, God’s plan became a little bit clearer.  The fact that I wasn’t competing anymore, meant that I could say yes to a mission trip to Swaziland, Africa – the EXACT week of the Miss Alabama Pageant. So I did. And while my friends were putting on their 5 inch heels and glamorous evening gowns, I was sitting in the dirt with some precious orphans halfway around the world. 

It was on that trip that I met my husband, Rusty - whom I absolutely would have missed, if I’d still been competing at The Miss Alabama Pageant. That was also the trip where God burdened my heart for children in need… which led my husband and I to create a charity that would help orphans and vulnerable children around the world. It’s called The Sound of Hope, and for the past 6 years we’ve helped provide consistent holistic care for more than 200 children in 4 countries. But my story doesn’t end there... because this new path God put me on also led me to Thailand.

My husband and I lived in Thailand for almost 4 months back in 2011, setting up a new Children’s Home for The Sound of Hope. We absolutely fell in love with the country, the culture, and the children. We fell so much in love, that we began the process to adopt a child from Thailand. And for the past 4 years I’ve mentioned it up here, in this little speech – how we were still hoping, and waiting, and praying for our little girl.

Well friends, THIS year – I get to make a very special announcement. After more than 4 years of working and waiting and praying – we are finally matched with our beautiful little girl – Kate Suwichada Jackson.

Now – here’s where the story gets really good. We chose to name our daughter Kate, but we wanted to keep her Thai name as her middle name too. Suwichada is her given Thai name. Of course, before we officially decided to keep it – we called a Thai friend to ask what it meant. Now imagine my surprise, when our friend informed us that Chada means CROWN.

My daughter’s name literally means crown. So when God asked me to lay down my rhinestone crown all those years ago… He knew that He had a much more precious crown in store for me.

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I went on to tell that room full of exceptional young women that God has an extraordinary plan for each of their lives - no matter whether or not they left with a crown on their head that night. And that is absolutely true. I truly believe that God has "exceedingly, abundantly" more in store for us than we could ever imagine... and my story is living proof of that.

There are so many things that have confirmed that this little girl we were finally matched with is absolutely our daughter... and the meaning behind her name was the one to top them all. For those wondering, a "chada" is actually a specific type of ancient Thai crown. It's worn by Thai royalty (the King, Queen, Prince or Princess, specifically) or by a Thai performer playing the part of royalty in a classical dance. So not only does our daughter's name mean "crown" - it is specifically a type of crown worn by royalty. So all those nights we prayed for our "little princess" - we were praying for a daughter with a name that means "royal crown". How fitting!

I haven't even held our daughter yet... but when I look at her photo, into her beautiful face, I cannot imagine missing her. To think that all those years ago, in my stubbornness, I could have held onto a cheap, rhinestone crown and missed out on her?! I can't even fathom it. I am so grateful that I was willing to hold my (small) dreams in an open hand - because it gave God the opportunity to take them and turn them into something much bigger and more beautiful than I ever could have imagined. 

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Sweet Kate, you are my most favorite, most beautiful, most precious crown! I cannot wait for the day I get to hold you in my arms, and tell you just how valuable you are to me! I would have been thrilled if I'd been crowned Miss America all those years ago... but that happiness doesn't even come close to the JOY I feel in knowing that I get to be your mommy. I love you baby girl!


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Introducing Our Daughter...

Today is our little girl's half-birthday. Kate is officially 3 and 1/2 years old. I can't tell you how difficult it is to watch the months pass by as she continues to grow up without us. As much as we wish we could be celebrating this milestone with our daughter (since we have missed all 3 of her actual birthdays), we did want to at least mark the day by sharing something special.

About a month after we were matched with our daughter, we received some additional photos of our beautiful little girl. This is a rare gift that we did not know we would be blessed with. Many families only get their referral photo when adopting internationally, but our sweet Kate is at a wonderful, well-staffed, Catholic orphanage, and they document the children's lives with both photos and reports. So we are blessed to have a few priceless photos of her from 20 days old, until now. It is hard to watch her grow up in these pictures, knowing that we have missed so much... but at the same time it is such a gift to be able to see how beautiful she was at each precious stage of her life!

So today, on her half-birthday, we would like to introduce you to our daughter...

[We still are not allowed to publicly share photos of our daughter, so this is a password protected video. If you are a family member or friend, you are welcome to contact us for the password. We ask that those with the password please do not post this link on social media, or share the password with strangers. Thank you for understanding!]

The song you'll hear while watching is one that is very near and dear to our hearts. We have thought of "Mine to Love" by Dave Barnes as "Kate's Song" since we first heard it live at one of his concerts several years ago. To be able to see her photos set to this song after so many years of waiting is a very special thing. We hope you enjoy the song, and the photos of our beautiful little girl! Please continue to pray for a miracle of August travel dates. We are so anxious to hold her in our arms!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The In-Between

A few months ago, God started whispering to my heart that we would be traveling to get our daughter in August. Not one to keep good news to myself - I started by sharing it with my husband, and then my brother and sister-in-law. Then after we got matched, I shared it with the world via my blog (and literally every person who has asked about our adoption in person!)

Well - now I've gone and done it. I heard a word from God... a word that will require a crazy miracle... and then I spoke it out loud (like a crazy person). Now here I am in the in-between. I've got my word... but I don't have a miracle yet. And let me tell you... the in-between is a very uncomfortable place to be.

You start out in this place in full FAITH - while the voice of God still feels almost as if it were audible. You do faith-full things... like buy clothes, plan baby showers, and start working on a room. You might even turn down a job or two for the Fall (because you are convinced you'll be traveling in August of course!)

And then time passes... and 5 Adoption Board Meetings happen without your approval. And you start to doubt. And you start to wonder. And you start to feel the fear set in.... "What if this doesn't happen?! What if I was wrong? What will people think if we don't travel in August? What if they think I'm crazy?"

Sometimes I forget that you have to FIGHT to be FAITH-FULL. It's an active thing, this "taking every thought captive" sort of life. I let myself feel guilty and ashamed for those fleeting doubts recently, until I re-read an old journal entry I wrote several years ago (just after we started our adoption) about Phil 4:7, "And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

In that journal entry, I wrote about how guard is a verb. It's something that happens actively - not passively. This leads me to believe that doubt is a pretty normal thing (just part of a broken world I think)... and usually, it manifests as logic (because operating in faith has always seemed foolish to the world!) but God uses His peace to actively guard our hearts. Which means He is always at work - always on the job! We just have to be willing to listen.

I have seen God show up on hard days in this "in-between" lately, with specific truths to guard my heart. At just the right time, the right verse will pop up into my mind or show up on social media. On just the right day, God will give me a song that will encourage me.

But even with the encouraging verses and songs, it's easy to think I should fill this time doing things that will help bring Kate home. Somedays I wonder if I should be fasting... or fervently, tearfully praying (all day every day). I wonder if this will somehow be my fault (did I pray enough?!) if we don't get travel dates in August. But then I think about how I didn't ask God for August... I felt like He told me August on His own. So why would I beg Him to do something He's already said He would do? After all, Hosea 6:6 says God desires mercy (relationship) not sacrifice. And do I really think that I can control whether or not Kate comes home? (Do I really think I have that much power?) Or do I need to trust that God is in control - not me?

This realization helped me see that a lot of this "in-between" time is best spent learning to trust Him more. If I know God loves me, then why can't I trust Him?

I was talking to my husband about it all recently - in light of how we want Kate to love and trust us. I told him...
"If I took Kate to school one morning, and told her that we would get ice cream after, then I would want her to trust that I would do what I said (because she knows I love her). I would hope that she would spend the day excited about the treat waiting for her after school... never doubting it would happen. I would *not* however, want her to worry, or stress, or be fearful that I wouldn't actually take her for ice cream.  
I also wouldn't want her to call me 15 times that day and beg me by phone to take her for ice cream (when I already said I would). And I wouldn't want her to skip recess or lunch to write down all the chores she was willing to do in return for the ice cream. I would want her to enjoy her day.... rest, play, and be happy, knowing the treat I promised was waiting on her. "
I am trying to figure out how to fulfill this myself. If I want Kate to trust me someday... then I'm quite sure God wants me to trust Him. And most of all, I think He wants me to trust His love for me (and it's not the kind of love that requires fasting or tears or begging or bargaining or days filled with worry. He doesn't require sacrifice like that, and he doesn't delight in seeing us fearful or tearful.)

And so... in this in-between time I am working on that. I am fighting to take every thought captive... watching as God gives me the truth I need to actively guard my heart... and working hard to trust Him more. I have never felt this much peace about a word from God before (despite what logic says!)... so I am fighting to stay in a place of FAITH... to actively HOPE... to focus on things unseen (Heb 11:1). It is not an easy place to be - it is actually quite scary to think "what if I'm wrong" with so many people watching our story unfold. But you know what? I'd rather be wrong than be faithless. 

One of my favorite quotes in college was from Oswald Chambers. "Always be in a state of expectancy, and see that you leave room for God to come in as He likes." And my old boss used to say, "We believe in doing things that will fail if God doesn't show up."

So here I am. Completely helpless unless God shows up. Trusting. Hoping. Believing (or trying to at least) - and learning more about a God who loves me (and my daughter) more than I can comprehend.