Here in Switzerland it is nearly midnight. I sit on the floor beside a twinkling Christmas tree, a few presents already wait beneath it. Only the muffled hiss of radiators warming the apartment and the gentle snores from my husband and 2 daughters can be heard from the next room. I wander through my thoughts and pray. I pray for our not-yet adopted daughter in Armenia. Is she sleeping? Is she warm? Did she laugh today? “Jesus send an angel to cradle her.” My mind wanders to the news of Aleppo, bombings continue, civilians killed, more orphans, more refugees. “Lord, the earth groans. People killing other people. How long, oh Lord? How long?” Tomorrow my daughter’s kindergarten is singing Christmas carols in the village square. I’ll have to be sure and lay out her tights to go under her jeans. It’ll be freezing. I think about how warm it probably is in my hometown in Texas, its even still daytime there. “God your world is so wide, and rich, and full, so broken, so hurting, so wasted. We’re full of love and full of hate.” I lay on my face and our rug smells like juice and I pray to God for mercy and grace. Intonations of thankfulness calm my spirit and I know… He holds the future.
This past Sunday at the church/cafe/refugee oasis that is across the street from our house, I handed out forks, spoons, cups of water, napkins, and big bowls of salad to each table; about 90 refugees this time, possibly more including all the kids running all over the place. Some refugees are thankful and enthusiastic, some are dazed and exhausted, some are impatient and greedy; all are hungry and weary. I had the privilege to meet an Iranian Christian refugee who recently fled ISIS and made the journey to Western Europe leaving his whole life behind, many of his loved ones dead or now dispersed.
When I met him he was jubilant to have just experienced his first western church service. He was beaming and grinning from ear to ear, his crystal blue eyes, (a surprisingly common eye color of many of the Syrian, Iranian, Afghani, and Iraqi refugees) piercing eyes that expressed how thankful he was for the food, the fellowship, the new jacket. But he said his one need was for a bible. He spoke perfect English in addition to his native Farsi.
The church had plenty of bibles in German and Arabic but none in English. “I have a bible in english you can have, I can run home and get it.” I said. ” Oh no. No I cannot take your bible.” he pleaded. I assured him that we have more than one. Thinking to myself, I tried to count-up how many bibles we actually have, it’s easily more than two per member in our house, two of those members can’t even read yet. “Its ok! Don’t leave yet, I’ll go and get it.” I ran home grabbed one of our spares (eye-roll at myself and the ridiculousness of the thought of spare bibles just laying around my house as if I get tired of the one I’ll just use another, not to mention the app on my phone that has literally every English translation of a bible there is.)
I ran back and handed it to him. He gently held the bible. He ran his fingers over the words “Holy Bible.” He turned the pages in gentle awe. Then he said, “This is the words of God. For us.” And smiled a huge smile at me. He asked me to write my name in it and the date. So I wrote To: his name, From: my name, and God Bless You, because every bible I’ve ever been given (again, eye-roll: graduations, birthdays, Christmases, etc seriously, tons of bibles, y’all) whoever gave it to me always wrote “God bless you.” He touched the words I had written and goes, “oh, God bless you as well.” And shook my hand firmly. It was as if I had given him a treasure.
I was immediately convicted. How flippant am I, how ungrateful? These ARE the words of God for us. He got it. He knew it. He saw people die for it. He ran for his life because of it. I later prayed, “Father forgive me. My comfort and affluence blind me to my daily need for the only true treasure of knowing You.”
Now I’ll keep all the extra bibles on hand…on purpose.
We hung out with refugees from Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan last Sunday after church and Ive thought of little else since that day. They were all such sweet, joyful people. Most of them touching our daughters’ blonde hair and kissing their cheeks. Each touching my arm or my hand as they told me stories of their walk, walk, boat, walk, truck, walk through war, poverty, cold, sea, storm, little food, darkness, and finally their arrival to Switzerland.
Little Ali, 10 years old, told me through broken english and Charades of how his family packed their things in a bag and walked from Iraq to a boat, even his little 2 year old brother “walk, walk, no sleep, no eat, walk, walk.” Then in a dramatic tale of hand gestures he explained how the boat tumped over and their bag floated away, his “mama cry, cry” and his father held tight to his 2 year old brother. My husband sat reading books to Ali and a few other boys, mostly 9 and 10 years old. They all kept a soft hand on each others’ shoulders or on my husbands knee as he taught them the names of farm animals in english. A syrian mom told me that her baby went days and days without milk or formula as they crossed Serbia with no food left until they finally arrived in Hungary where European Union funds provided food and clothing, but they continued on. A 9 year old boy told me his father was killed in Syria and gestured sleep and then toward heaven. A crowd of giggly, silly girls proudly showed me their new coats they had received from a clothing distribution center; each one beaming and gesturing what I assumed was snow. They haven’t seen it yet, but winter is coming.
Mothers and Fathers sat smiling, sipping “shay” which is hot tea in arabic, as their children ran around, happy to have activity other than simply waiting around at the refugee camp. Each of them were so thankful to have finally arrived in Switzerland and for any kindness and act of friendship shown to them. This is their home now. This is where they start over.
The church across the street from our house picks up bus load, after bus load of refugees from the camp and brings them to church for worship, songs, a hot lunch, and a small art project for the kids. They can help themselves to the clothing, jackets, and toys the church has on hand in a sort of garage-type store. The pastor and his wife are passionate about these displaced people. They love them, they pray for them, they feed them, they often times house them in the church building itself, they even employ them in the cafe that is linked to the church, as well as the school inside, where our daughter goes to pre-school. The majority of them speak arabic and some english. They’ll all begin to learn german soon, as they search for work, homes, and a new life here in Switzerland.
Because I am fascinated and in love with these people, I packed up my youngest daughter today and we walked about 30 minutes out to the camp. I had never been there before today, so I decided to go. People at every bench, railing, phone booth, fire hydrant, porch stoop, and windowsill were all sitting around waiting. Waiting on phone calls, waiting on papers, waiting on a word from home, waiting to learn a little more of life in Switzerland. Everyone waiting…but happy. I can’t explain how happy and glad they are. A kid was playing with a broken scooter and 6 adults sat smiling at him as he tried to make it roll. I said hello to a group of teenaged girls and they all said “heylo, thank you” and giggled. I handed out some oranges to little kids and I said “Marhabaan” which Ive learned is hello.
Its safe to say that our family will spend as many Sundays as we can, from now on serving and loving these people. I love them, I don’t even know them, and I love them.
I overheard my 4 year old explaining to her friend today that “a refugee is a person that had bad soldiers fighting bad soldiers and no good soldiers anywhere at their country, so they had to run away so they came to Switzerland because its good here.”
I have often said that the more you say yes to the Lord, the more adventures He sends you on. We began our adoption because of the Lord’s calling, and because of the adoption we had to move to this new apartment which happens to be across the street from Refugee Church Cafe and School. And wouldn’t you know it, one of the Iraqi families I met on Sunday had a precious little girl with Downs Syndome. I prayed silent prayers for her future as if she was my own child, as well as for the other sweet kids we’d met; Ali, Fatima, Hussein, and all their Mamas and Babas. I’m humbled and overwhelmed by the crazy things we stumble upon, but like I told the pastor’s wife, “Just come-up with stuff for us to do and we’ll keep saying yes!” Thats our life right now and its a beautiful adventure.
We’re finally settling-in to a smooth rhythm here in our new apartment after a month of hustle and bustle. During our first week, we gathered pinecones from the back yard, it’s a shared garden space for all the apartment blocks that we are connected to, then we painted them bright colors, and Daddy wrote a note (in german) for all our neighbors saying who we are and that we hope to get to know everyone. As it turns out, people love pinecones painted pink and turquoise! Every neighbor came to say hello, some even volunteered to share their laundry days with us! (we get one day to wash per week, so offering to share that one day is a big deal.) Word must have spread to the other buildings beside us that a new family had moved in, because a few days later we were playing in the garden and an older woman leans from her balcony and calls down, “Are you the new Americans here? My son lives in San Francisco! I’m sending him a picture of you!” (takes picture of us on her phone) Then, another time we were out in the garden we noticed a girl, teenaged, obviously special needs of some kind, rocking and kind-of moaning on her balcony. So the girls and I walk over and call to her, “Hello! What’s you name?” she didn’t answer but she smiled and rocked a bit faster, so we told her our names and waved. From the day I saw her I prayed, ” Oh Lord, I see what your up to around here. You’ve got all sorts of threads and weavings going on. Well, you brought us here, just show us what to do.” Later I made it a point to take the girls and walk to where she sits on the balcony to say stuff to her everytime we noticed that she was outside. Finally one afternoon her brother, also some sort of special needs, was on the balcony with her, he speaks english and he told us their parakeet is named Sam, they are half African and half swiss, and that his sister is Meredith and she likes to give high fives. (high fives Meredith to prove it) Sure enough, she grinned and stopped rocking or moaning to give a solid high-five. That night I was filled with gladness, we’d made friends with Max and Meredith, and Sam the bird, for the timing and nearness of this precious family just a few doors down from us, knowing God had placed them and us into just the right spot.
Yes, adoption is expensive. Some criticisms we have heard include “Isn’t that like buying a baby?” or “That’s so expensive, I wouldn’t want to pay into a corrupt system.” It is costly, and on paper it basically is like buying a baby. The international systems are often times corrupted and the mountains of paper work are daunting. It is also important to remember that when God specifically calls you to adopt, the price is, in a way, part of the obedience. It is a sacrifice to save and restrict your spending for a few years in order that you can be obedient to God. But we are obeying. Similar to giving money to the poor, it’s not up to you if they misuse it and buy alcohol with it. God tells us to “give freely.” He did not say “give to the needy unless the needy person is gonna be wasteful and probably buy drugs, in which case, keep your 5 bucks and buy whatever stupid thing you want.” Nope. He just said give. So we give. When God says “care for the widows and the orphans” he doesn’t say “Care for them when it’s cost efficient and when it’s most convenient for you.” No! Care for them despite the beuraucracy that you have to file and notarize your way through. Care for them, love them. So we do.
We have been saving for 2 years for this adoption. Right now we have saved up to about 5,000. We had also been planning to do some fund-raisers to scrounge up as much as we could. We aren’t rich folks around here. We were told the estimate in Switzerland for adoption was around 30,000. But we have never worried about the cost, not for an instant. We know and have known God would provide for any cost that we may not be able to meet ourselves. From the start of our marriage when I was working 2 jobs, as a waitress and in a clothing store, while my husband was in full/time school, God always provided. He used those times to teach us a lesson on how to live on less, and to appreciate simplicity. Money to us is a tool and nothing more. It can be used to glorify God, or it can be used to build yourself a nice little earthly treasure store that will rust, rot, wither, and fade…You pick.
We sat in our meeting at the agency (a 2 hour meeting entirely in French, mind you) and by “agency” I mean, an older couple who live in the French alps and have 10 children, 6 of them were adopted and all 6 have varying degrees of special needs. This husband and wife are so passionate about giving life to special needs babies, that they began this agency out of their home in the mountains 25 years ago. (The husband also raises donkeys, fun fact.) So we’re sitting there with these two people who are, without a doubt, the most humble people I have ever met. They were utterly beaming peace and patience and kindness. It was incredible just to meet and to know them.
They explained all the ins and outs of the process, what our chances look like, more paperwork, etc, etc. and then we get to the business part. They said, “We want you to know, we never charge anyone. There is no fee.” (I’m sorry what now????) They don’t charge? NO filing fees, NO form fees, NO agency fees, NO translation fees, NO meeting fees, nothing! They are fully funded by outside donations, so ANY family willing enough to adopt a special needs child can do so through them FOR FREE. All this time we have been thinking this is all gonna cost us around 30,000 and we were just told free. Free! FREE! In that moment I felt somewhere between needing to sit down (but I already was) and complete numbness as if I was dreaming. My husband had to ask (in French) for them to say it again. Yep they really said free. The old man laughed. We laughed. My tears were streaming. We grabbed each others’ hands and were in awe.
Then, as if this wasn’t overwhelming enough, the agency folks said if all goes smoothly once our paperwork is complete, we should have our child home in about 7 months. Before Christmas we could get our new baby. The final bit of news that had tears streaming down my face was that, when we go get her, we get to bring our other 2 daughters with us! They’ll get to meet their new baby sister at the same time we do!
I don’t know if you’ve ever seen those African warriors that do that jumping up and down thing and holler “Le-le-le-le-le-le!!!” But that’s basically what we have been doing every day since we got overwhelmed with all this fantastic news.
When I say God is good, I mean…God is sooooo good. He is real. He is so near. He is whispering to you, “This way, this way. Follow me. Trust me. Obey me.” He has made each of us to glorify Him, you just have to say, “ok God, you can have it all. Take my whole life, I’ll do anything you ask me to.”
The day before yesterday we drove 3 hours, way up into the Swiss/French alps to meet with our adoption agency. Our poor oldest daughter, who vomits on any car ride longer than about 20 minutes, was a trooper. She held her little vomit cup the whole winding way til she finally fell asleep.
Aside from vomit, it was a beautiful trip; snow still on the mountains, an incredible lake edged with rocky cliffs. God’s handiwork was on display all around us. It is easy to look at His great, wide creation and marvel and think, “God is so big, how could He know me or care about me and my tiny life?” But oh, how he knows the tiniest details, more intricate than a spider’s web.
On this adoption journey we have been warned that we fall 200 francs below the recommended monthly income level for a family adopting a 3rd child. We’ve also been in need of a larger apartment before the child can be matched to us. Our constant prayer has been, “Lord we don’t need a dream home, we just need sufficient enough to make this social worker happy. We just need one more room so we can bring our girl home.” A few Sunday’s ago, a woman from our church told us of an unlisted apartment that was soon to be available. We called, and though it was one day past the last day for applications, the man kindly accepted our application anyway.
Now, back in November and December I kept having a dream of our family in a new apartment and in every dream the number 875 kept showing up. It was either the house address in my dream, or the street number, or a bus number. I told my husband, “I think this is significant, we should pay attention to this number for some reason.” He kinda chuckled but by now he is no scoffer, “Ok, we’ll see what happens.”
Skip forward to 3 weeks ago. We applied for this already-too-late apartment, not knowing anything about it, having never seen it, only knowing that our friend said it was cheap and that it was one room bigger than the apartment we live in. As we glanced through the contract I see in bold numbers 875 and I shreik, “What is this number??” Wouldn’t you know it, the new rent is 875. 875 would come out to about 200 francs less than what we pay right now for our house. 200 francs, as in 200 francs per month that we had been lacking. A few days later, on my birthday, the man called and said we had been picked! And the floor plan of the house? It is almost identical to where we live now, but the hallway is longer and it has one additional bedroom, just enough to allow us to continue the adoption. “Lord we just need one more room” we prayed. And how about this, the family that currently lives in the apartment is moving out to build their own home, and my husband’s father is the foreman for their kitchen and bathroom construction.
How beautiful is God’s handiwork? From the massive Swiss alps to our need for a home; how great and mighty is He.
In moments when I begin to wonder, “Can we do it? Can we raise a 4 year old, a 2 year old, and a Down Syndrome newborn? Do we have what it takes?” I immediately think, “Nope, we can’t. But God can. He has provided every need, He will teach me, God will.”
I woke up on January 1st at 8:45am after having slept a solid 15 hours. All of us, even our 18 month old had slept all night and even then some. We’d arrived the afternoon before after 26 hours of travel; Texas to Switzerland. What a relief to be home. None of us had slept on the flight, and hardly any during our layover in Paris. All four of us were nearly catatonic by the time we got home to our cozy little apartment, our beds, our sounds and smells and toys. We arrived home, I think we ate, we bathed, put on our pi’s and went to bed before the sun went down. I suppose snow had fallen all night, because when I woke there was a silence — that soft, peaceful silence that follows a heavy snow. Even the foggy, greyish light coming through our windows was soft and quiet. Our youngest had slept in our bed, now she was nuzzled up under Daddy’s chin, both their mouths hung open and their heavy breathing reminded me of bears hibernating. I peeked out the curtains; no sounds, no movement outside. Maybe the whole city was sleeping. I turned the rusty knob to our radiator all the way up to 5 and put on my house boots. Our oldest was curled into a chilly ball so I straightened her legs and pulled the covers up over her, then went to make myself some tea. These quiet moments are rare, and I have a feeling will become even rarer in the months and years to come. “Good morning Lord,” my soul whispered as I looked out over the snowy cargo train loading docks that is our front yard. “I have loved this home. Thank you Lord. But help us find a new place soon, so we can welcome our new little girl.”