Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Story of the Stolen Bicycle

There are parts of Lifa’s story that would scare away your average superhero. His exposure to the underbelly of humanity began when he should have been swaddled in safety, beheld in joy. 

We all have different responses when we encounter brokenness. Lifa’s was to turn to a quiet place inside of himself, clutching self-preservation as a stand-in for peace.

Over the years, Lifa has begun to believe that he belongs. He has soaked in the truth that he is valuable, celebrated, and purposefully created.  

He’s practiced being a hero by trying on other people’s capes. They felt good.

We taught him about other superheroes’ powers, and then helped him identify his own.  That felt good too, so he made his own name, cape, and flag. He’s currently working on his theme song.

Max Man and his bike, the Cobra 200
Lifa’s bike has been a monumental part of his journey. He’s tested his autonomy, putting wind and distance between himself and his parents (as long as we were watching!) 

He mastered one skill after the other, from staying on to falling like a boss. He practiced a tailspin, riding without hands and going down steep hills on trails. We’ve even tied his sidekick pup, Kraven the Hunter, to his
handlebars and let them fly Batman and Robin style. (The Batmobile has nothin’ on the Cobra 200.)

Lifa puts on his cape for a ride on the Cobra 200 before we take on the seemingly insurmountable piles of homework after school. I walk the dogs, and he lets that cape flap in the wind, singing and basking in the bliss of childhood. It feels good.

It’s been especially fun since Chris’ parents came to visit! Lifa has accessed a new level of adventure and courage when we let him lead his doting grandparents by themselves on a tour of the neighborhood.
Grandparent HEAVEN
Yesterday, we were all going out together. Three generations and two puppies were ready to hit the sidewalks for our afterschool outing, and everything changed.

The Cobra 200 was not in it’s parking place.

Somebody stole Lifa’s bike.

We saw tire tracks up the wall. Someone has reached through our gate and maneuvered the bike up and over it. 

GoGo Sherry (Chris’ mom) pulled Lifa in to that special kind of hug a grandma was made to give. Lifa’s hero eyes filled with tears. Three generations stood by in shock next to tire tracks on the wall, disappointed together.

I handed Lifa the leash I was holding. Three generations, two puppies and one cape walked together. We laughed at how the dog behaved better for Lifa than me. We talked about feelings and how the real tragedy is for the person who couldn’t find a way to solve his problem without sin. Chris’ dad powers were on point when he cracked a joke about how disappointed the thief would be when he realized the bike’s chain pops off if you go too fast. Lifa cracked a giant smile, and then puffed out his chest a little bit as his grandparents promised to buy him a brand new bike.

I think Lifa found a new level of freedom on that walk – freedom to be both deeply disappointed and richly loved. Freedom to experience sorrow and hope at the same time. Freedom to be encircled by family when you need them, to stroll instead of soar for an afternoon.

Last night, tucked under his superhero blanket with his arms wrapped around Spiderman, Lifa asked Chris questions like, “Why do people steal?” “ Is our neighborhood always like this, or is it usually safe?” 

He played through old fears he’d encountered in other places he’d lived, sharing terrible stories we'd never heard. He asked Chris what he would have done if he had been there when those scary things happened. He wanted to know if things would have been different if a father would have been there. 

At the brink of being overcome, our strong boy had the courage to turn his head away from his fears and look to his father. Lifa knew he could count on his dad to let him borrow some of his bravery, to help him right the wrongs.

Lifa’s questions eventually turned to wondering if the thief could still go to heaven. We kissed him goodnight after redeeming conversations of forgiveness and salvation. He slept well last night.

On the day a thief came to try to steal, kill and destroy his symbol of freedom, Lifa took his biggest risk yet. He exposed a deeply-buried fear so it could be redeemed and rewritten. He let his protecting, comforting, load-bearing father into his story.

Lifa woke up to the same tire tracks on the wall, the same world he fell asleep to. His responded by pulling out the new Adventure Bible his grandparents brought him and turning to verses that help you when you feel worried. He talked himself down from worry, shame and fear all morning long, rehearsing every Bible verse he'd memorised and recalling our prayers last night.

He’s clinging to Truth and family because, no matter what kind of fear and bondage this day or lifetime tries to dish out, the Truth shall set you free. And you shall be free indeed.

There’s a Father to let into the story. He's eager to rewrite and redeem. 
There's a whole table full of His Family. We are better together.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Draw the Line

We love long, quiet mornings in the Ladd house.

We love them so much that we get up before 5am every morning to fill our coffee cups, read our Bibles and soak up morning sounds before the rest of the world wakes up. It makes the whole day different.

We want to instill that value in Lifa, so we stocked his room with storybook Bibles, devotions, journals, and our personal favorite, The Power of the Praying Kid by Stormie Omartian. On weekends, he stays in his room for the first 30 minutes of the morning to pray, read, draw or write.

Reading to me from The Power of the Praying Kid

We spend many car rides and dinnertimes talking about personal prayer times. Lifa is developing his own expectant, enthusiastic faith as he learns about ours.

One Saturday morning, he came out of his room with a handful of colored pencils and a plan. “MOM. I KNOW WHAT I’M GOING TO DO!!!” He’d been reading his Power of the Praying Kid book and had an idea: “I’m going to write down the questions I have for God, and then I’M GOING TO DRAW A LINE.”

He waved his journal in my face. Each question had its own line and color. God would answer Lifa’s question, and Lifa would write down the answer on the appropriate line. Obviously, God might not answer them all on the same day, so there was a space for each one for whenever God was ready. 

It’s about drawing the line. The line is clutch.

I asked Lifa what kind of questions he had asked God. “It’s stuff about the church, like what the name is going to be, where it will be, how many people will be there, and what it will look like.”

I did my best, but I don’t think I played it very cool (i.e. I screamed, squeezed him and did a happy dance in the kitchen) as it sunk in that Lifa is just as invested as we are in our family’s call to church planting.

A week later, Lifa exploded out of his room and said, “MOM. WHEN I OPENED MY EYES THIS MORNING, GOD TOLD ME THE ANSWER TO ONE OF MY QUESTIONS!”

We had just chosen the name of our church, and Lifa had already filled that in his journal with a checkmark next to it. (Get ready for the big announcement next month!) Now Lifa had his own answer from God he wanted to tell me about.

“I asked God how many people will be in our church, and God told me there’s no number. There will always be people coming in.”
Check. (Proud mom explosion.)

Later that week, I told Lifa I’d been praying for the type of friends he would choose while I read The Power of the Praying Parent (also by Stormie Omartian). Every morning, I drop him off for school in a city where he’s much more exposed to the ways of the world than ever before. We pray for him, and we trust the Holy Spirit to give wisdom and discernment to a 9-year old who asks for it. We talk about Lifa’s play and interactions nightly at dinner and meet with his teacher regularly. We do everything we can to set him up for success and make space for God to parent him much better than we can. We started asking God to show Lifa who to make friends with at his new school during out bedtime prayers.
When we got home from school later that week, Lifa ran to his room to put on his cape before he flew into the kitchen for his 431st meal of the day. (He won’t stop eating or growing.)

I handed Lifa a ginormous smoothie, and he said, “Mom, God spoke to me again today. He said Bruce is very kind, and I should be friends with him.”

Just like that, he hears the voice of God, sips his smoothie, adjusts his cape, and flies out of the room to find puppies.

God has told our family to do a lot of crazy things. We don’t know how to do any of them on our own. Every day we see and hear stories of our city that makes us ask questions… Why? How? What do we do? 

We’re pulling out our brightest colors and drawing many lines.

Raising Lifa without paperwork or promise has kept me continuously needing to hear answers from God because the answers don’t exist in this world.  There have been days, weeks and seasons of unknowns that felt like they just might break me.

But I’m not going to break. I’m going to draw a line.
I’m going to pick a question, pick a color, and draw a line.

God drew lines of colors across the sky a long time ago and told us He would take care of us. The answer to every question was painted over us by His hand, and, just in time, God will fill in the space we’ve given Him.

He made the colors, and He is the answer.
We just have to ask the questions, and draw the lines.

A dinnertime rainbow over our new street.
Today, I’m overwhelmingly grateful for a life full of color and lines. I never want to live a life that doesn’t require the voice of God because I like to keep Him close.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Multiplication is Hard

It’s getting real over here, y’all. Fourth grade just got tough.

We are learning the ropes to the South African education system four years later than the others, and we’ve got some catching up to do. (Click here to read that amazing story.) We’ve been ironing school uniforms, learning how to ask questions in class, checking backpacks, meeting teachers, tying ties, maneuvering morning commuters, talking about making the right kind of friends, learning how to use a library, trying out for choir, picking a sport, packing lunches, and learning what happens if you don’t clean your lunchbox. (i.e., Your mom screams and throws a lunchbox full of cockroaches at you, threatening to make you eat them for lunch. Please withhold your judgements. He did not have to eat the cockroaches.)

We hit the first bump in the excitement last week. It actually felt more like a HEAD-ON COLLISION than a speed bump. 

The 4th graders are preparing for their first national exams. No more reviewing; it’s time to move forward. Memorizing multiplication tables is hard. Really hard. And now there’s DIVISION. (Don’t even get me started on fractions.)

The division did it. Lifa’s could no longer secretly count on his fingers under his desk to try to hang in there with the other kids in class. His ten little fingers just wouldn’t do long division. He couldn’t grasp the new math concepts, and suddenly the bottom fell out on his ability to endure. He regressed rapidly and was unable to hold onto the basics. No counting. No adding. It was like he’d fallen and couldn’t get his legs back under him. He lost tests before he could turn them in, was easily distracted, and couldn’t listen or retain information. Lifa’s self-confidence tanked. His happy, go-lucky 9-year old world was permeated with confusion. He felt trapped inside himself, suddenly unable to communicate in complete sentences. It didn’t help that his mom hit a wall shortly after he did.

Frustration hit me like a freight train after spending another evening in front of homework books with his eyes glazed over. Why can’t he count by 5’s today when he could multiply last week? I couldn’t understand. I was tired. I felt wildly incapable as a mom. Honestly, I felt incompetent as a human.

I committed to raising this boy for God. Did I break him? Did I screw this deal up? My kid can’t count. Or complete sentences. And, for the love, no matter how many times we practice those note cards, he CANNOT remember 2x8=16.

After a solid wallowing in self-doubt and a downpour of failure’s tears, I knew I needed to get some perspective. My handsome husband stood in the kitchen with me while I stress-cooked. He spoke out God’s promises for Lifa today and in the future. He continuously turned me back to thankfulness that we get to be a part of the legwork for God’s glory.  Can you believe God would trust us in the daily grind, the mundane tasks that makes way for miracles? God even trusts us with multiplication tables.

I told Lifa’s teacher the promises God has spoken over Lifa as we rallied together for his good. The stories of struggles, setbacks, injustice and trauma in Lifa’s life were the testimonies that gave the greatest glory to God. It made multiplication look easy. And worth it.

That night I came to the dinner table with new perspective and new hope. I am not an incapable mother. I am not an incompetent human. What an amazing privilege to be called worthy to equip our child for purposes that will multiply God’s glory on the earth. (See what I did there with multiplication?)

Lifa came to the dinner table with a story about his new friend Xavier.
“Xavier’s mom won’t let him go to church. She throws away his Bibles because she said he’s not born to be a Christian. Can you believe it? She throws them away. Today I started telling Xavier stories from the Bible. He already knew Jesus died on the cross, so I told him about Jesus being born, God creating the earth, Adam and Eve, and Cain and Abel. He wants to hear more tomorrow and asked if we could do that everyday.”

Lifa beamed. I exploded. Chris covered him in encouragement while I continued to gush and celebrate. THAT’S OUR KID!!!

Over bowls of soup, we talked about different kinds of families, the purpose of the church, and how cool it was that Lifa knew the Bible well enough to teach others. There was no reining in my proud mom ooze-fest.

With a spoon in his hand and soup on his chin, Lifa grinned across the table in agreement with our joy. Casually and purposefully, he looked at his parents, who’d been on knees in desperate prayer for him, and said, “Yeah. I was made to tell people about Jesus.”

Moral of the story:
Multiplication is hard, and it almost got us this week.
But a mom and a dad hit their knees to get back to God’s perspective. Lifa knows his purpose in life, and he’s already living in it. He’s equipped, excited and unstoppable.  

2x8: You will not win.
My kid knows what he was made for.

Being a mom is hard. Being a human is hard.
But we hit our knees. We tell stories of what God’s done and remember what He’s promised. We find our purpose, and live it unstoppably.

Multiplication and division are no longer a threat in the Ladd house, but a promise that there will always be more ground to gain.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Assume the Position

Every Friday night, we go to a market in Hout Bay. It’s the highlight of our week! We look forward to seeing the beach, mountains, every type of person you could imagine, stalls filled with artists and their products, a live band, and the most amazing selection of fresh, cheap dinner options. We go early, draw our weekly cash from an ATM, and find a seat before it gets too crowded. I take a break from cooking, and everyone gets to choose what they want for dinner – even dessert!

Bay Harbour Market is the perfect place for us to learn the heartbeat of the city we're learning to love.
Photo credit: www.marketscoop.co.za
Until our own church starts meeting, we worship at a local church weekly. The pastor has graciously welcomed us as church planters into the city. Every Sunday morning as we drive to that church, Chris looks at me and says, “I think we’re supposed to give all of our cash to the church again today.” It’s become the standard to deplete our wallets and pockets for another church’s offering bucket.

This week, Chris had pulled money for both of us, and we ended up giving the church double! He shook his head incredulously. It’s (almost) comical that the more financial need we see in our own lives, the more God asks us to give. Before we pulled into the church parking lot, we had taken our stance and spoken it aloud: Thank you, God, for asking us to give all we have because it means you’ve given us everything we need.”

And did you know that we’ve been called to live and serve one of the very most expensive suburbs on the continent?
And Chris is starting a Master’s program soon?

Thank you, God, for asking us to give all we have because it means you’ve given us everything we need.

Recently, while Chris was out on a run, his mind started racing about overwhelming financial obligations, an exorbitant amount of litigation ahead, early stages of church development, getting equipped with a higher education, moving into our new neighborhood, and on and on… But he stopped. And God spoke.

The King of Kings told him we are perfectly positioned for miracles. He is delighted when we live lives that need Him.
Bring it on, Lord!
Lifa in Hout Bay

God the Father loves lives that die to live, not live to die. He loves emptying our pockets so we can open our hands. He doesn’t need us to make sense of it. He just asks us to be obedient and use wisdom.

We’ve learned a lot about that as a family.

A few months before we got married, Chris apprehensively told me a figure God had given him for our housing budget. A big one. It was absolutely impractical for the rural community we lived in at the time. We couldn’t even find a home to pay that much for, and we weren’t able to yet. From that day, we started organizing our budget accordingly. We moved into a very large home for less than half of the price we were working toward and began slowly building up a collection of used furniture that we adore. Little did we know that, 18 months later, we would be moving all of that charmingly old furniture across the nation to fill a home that is exactly the amount He had told Chris to plan for.

A few weeks ago, we didn’t know if Lifa would be able to go to school because he had no government registration number. God said to position ourselves for His favor, we bought school supplies, uniforms, and everything we needed to start the 4th grade. The door didn’t open for Lifa to attend the first day of school, but the waters parted with a miracle and he went, fully prepared, on the 2nd day. (Here’s the story, in case you missed it.)

We’ve got testimonies to stand on, even when one hand is full of lawyer bills and the other is dropping all of our cash into another church’s offering bucket. We are perfectly positioned for God’s provision. For God-filled, God-requiring lives. And that’s exactly where we want to be.

He asked us to sell my car and move to a city where we’d need it more than ever. I'm proud to report that we've learned to be grateful during the daily transportation strategising. It's been a journey, and not every day has been easy-peasy, but we've learned that it's a gift to live a life with larger parameters than you can provide for. The Ladd Family is honoured to have a calling to this densely-populated city, no matter how many vehicles we have to maneuver it with. 

When God trusts you, when He really trusts You with His most beloved, He asks you do do things you can't do on your own. He uses every open hand to make space for more of His miracles.
Photo Credit: https://capetown-airport.co.za
He asked an army to dig ditches while they waited on the rain (2 Kings 3). He asked His Son to die so you could live.

Tomorrow morning, we wake up to a new season. Our sabbatical will be complete. This is the time God has set to begin planting the church. This is when we are moving into the house with the budget he prepared us for, on the street He’s put in my prayers for months. We will joyfully drive our car to get the work done, and spend the rest of our time walking, loving and knowing the neighborhood He's placed us in. 

The table has been prepared.
Tomorrow we are moving to the foothills of Table Mountain to plant a church. 

We can't wait to sit at our dinner table again!

We are perfectly positioned for God’s love to birth miracles and abundance into our family, future, home and into this city. Thank you for praying and participating on this journey with us.
Friday night in Hout Bay

Saturday, January 28, 2017


The Ladd Family has something to share. It’s big, bold and urgent.

Many of you have followed along on our family’s journey. (Here’s a link to a silly story of us coming together as a family.)

You might have been there in Tennessee when Chris gave up his passion for trail running and mountains to move to Africa. He came as a single man, willingly surrendering his desires for a family and the mountains. Or perhaps you remember me finding deep fulfillment in my family counseling career and painstakingly giving my therapy licensure back to God, choosing to stay permanently in South Africa to care for Lifa. He has no birth certificate and the circumstances were messy, so I accepted the likelihood of being a lifelong single mom without any legal way to protect my child.

There have been dangerous and difficult times since we said “yes” to God’s call in our lives, many of them better left unspoken. But we have also learned when it’s important to speak, and today is one of those days.

Today, we can tell you that surrender, the gut-wrenching, wholehearted, painful surrender counts. Every bit of it. And it’s worth it.

This week, we see the secret surrenderings over all those years, even the midnight ones were not hidden from God. They’re worth something to Him, and He’s restores what we lay at His feet in the way only He can do.

Yesterday, we took a risk and shared our story with some family lawyers.

We have decided to pursue legal co-guardianship of Lifa. That means Chris, myself and Lifa’s biological father would all have parental rights over Lifa. He has never been counted and has no legal rights. With guardians, Lifa could be safe, secured and provided for.

He can be a kid. With parents
A human being. With rights. 

We weren’t sure we could even afford the one-hour consultation cost, so we prayed, researched and made phone calls first. We decided that these particular lawyers would be the best stewardship of our family’s resources. As it turns out, the family law advocate we will trust to take our names and future to the South African High Court lives on the same street that we will move into next week. It’s the very street and its residents God has been prompting me to pray over for the past 3 months!

The lawyers soaked in every detail and document and then spelled out the process. They said, “Within a few weeks, you could easily have co-guardianship of Lifa.”

They just said it like it was a normal sentence.

They said it like heaven hadn’t just come down to earth, as though they couldn’t hear the chains falling off over the sound of their pencils scratching facts on legal pads. They said it like breaking off generational curses is their day job. (It basically is.)

They told us the cost and the steps:
First, they will write affidavits for parental rights for myself, Chris and Lifa’s biological father. Next, Chris will have to fly across the country to Lifa’s father, have the affidavit translated and explained to him so he can sign and legalize it. Then, we will bring it back to the lawyers. The advocate (who will be our neighbor by then) will submit them to the High Court. With the favor of the court, LIFA WILL HAVE GUARDIANS WITHIN 48 HOURS OF SUBMISSION.

South African High Court in Cape Town

He’s been invisible for 9 years.
It’s been 7 years of fighting, striving, surrendering, and doubting.

And it’s time for payback.

Since our arrival to Cape Town, God has kept us tucked into His favor. He has restored my husband to the mountains. He has even given me a place to exercise my passions and use my clinical counseling skills. He’s paid back those small surrenders that seemed so big at one time. He’s paid them back with more purpose and abundance than we could have dreamt on our own.

And now… Even now…
He’s paying back what Lifa’s never known he didn’t have.
He’s paying back the prayers of a parent’s raw, rendered heart.
He’s paying back 6 years of sleepless nights.
He’s paying back all those tears and struggles with identity.

He’s giving Lifa a name and a place.
He’s recognizing me as a mom and Chris a dad.
Even Lifa’s father, who’s never had a name or an identity, is becoming a dad. His name will be written down for the first time in history.

He pays back what we didn’t even know we needed.
He deposits more into us than we could ever spend of ourselves.

Pray for a smooth and easy process of establishing legal co-guardianship of Lifa.
Pray for Lifa’s name, his father’s name, our family’s name to be written, sealed, secured.
Pray for our finances to pay for legalities, our communication with Lifa’s father, Chris’ upcoming travel, family relationships, favor with the High Court, wisdom and discernment.

Pray for all the dead dreams being resurrected into something bigger and better than we ever imagined. Pray in faith with us, and remember it.

This same payback is available to you – maybe even more. Whether it’s your midnight or your morning, your prayers and your renderings count. Share your faith with us and share in the bounty of this testimony.

Everything you spend counts for something. Everything you give for God comes back exponentially. Don’t stop in the middle of the night, whether it’s been 7 years or 70. It counts.

If you would like to give toward our upcoming lawyer fees or join our family’s monthly support team, click here.

Joel 2: 12 "Yet even now," declares the Lord, "return to me with all your heart… 25“So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten. The crawling locust, the consuming locust, and the chewing locust, my great army which I sent among you. 26You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied and praise the name of the Lord your God Who has dealt wondrously with you; And My people shall never be put to shame.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

It's Like Taking a Walk on the Beach

After my first year in South Africa, I visited my family in Texas. I took a walk… No, a stomp down the beach on Galveston Island, spiritually arrested with the choice God had laid before me. He gave me a “Yes or No only invitation for a very special kind of life and family.
When I ran out of beach to walk, I took a spiritual leap. With sandy feet and a tear-salted heart, I said, “Yes, God. You can write my family story. From this day forward, I will commit to being Lifa’s mom, no matter what happens.”  

There was no paperwork to validate the invisible covenant I had made and things only got harder from there. When I returned to South Africa, I spent countless hours advocating for justice for the invisible children around me, with one especially in mind.
Lifa is a person – real flesh and blood with a beating heart – but there’s not a piece of paper in the world to prove it. Lifa deserves an education, health care, protection, a hope and a future in his nation.
I’ve heard “It’s impossible,” a trajillion times out of every type of social justice officer in South Africa. Everything changed once my feet landed on Yes in the sand that day. Everything became possible. Not easy. Not immediate. But possible.
A few years later, I took another fateful walk down a wedding aisle. We made a covenant to be a family that walks in God’s miraculous love. We knew we were better together and committed to live in a way that shows and requires God's miracle-sized love. 

Some days, that journey is tough.
South Africa started school yesterday, and Lifa had to stay home.

Lifa has never had the right or access to a proper education. I’ve lived in South Africa for seven full years as of yesterday, and I have spent six of them fighting for his rights. My husband’s YES to stand in the gap with us has been a game-changer. We believe in the power of our united prayers- the impossible doesn’t stand a chance when a Miracle Family brings it to the throne.
We brought it. We had an excruciatingly disappointing day while all the other kids went to school, but we know all things are possible with Christ - in Cape Town and to the ends of the earth.
AND GUESS WHAT: Impossible started losing this morning.
The God of all things possible started “The Great Cape Town Takeover." 
Mission: All Things Are Possible. 
Today is the first day of my 8th year in Africa
Today Lifa started his first day of school. 

Legally. Validated. Visible.
Invisible and impossible is broken off forever.
There was just one school in all of Cape Town that did not send us away with an impossible “No.” The principal invited us into his office and said “Yes, if…” If we were able to make the invisible boy visible to the government.
The school’s admissions counselor has not eaten breakfast or had coffee in a week because she’s spent all of her mornings on the phone with me and the education department. She's denied herself push for possible, fighting for the "Yes, if" with us.
Yesterday, I made my way into the big boss’ office in the Department of Education. I went with folder full of paperwork and a boatload of prayer. I sat in the office and watched everything impossible become possible. She made a phone call, sent an email, and IT WAS DONE.
She told me Lifa could go to school the next day. I kept my cool: I burst into tears and asked if I could hug her before I went to cry in the car. I called my husband, and we wept miracle’s tears together. I drove straight to the school to give hugs, flowers and chocolate to the admissions counselor. I went home to hug my guys HARD. And we got to work… there were books to cover, lunches to pack, ties to tie, stuff to do.
EIGHTEEN notebooks covered by the incredible Mr. Ladd.

Getting the tie ready for the first day.
Lifa is also really good at keeping his cool.

This morning, as we headed TO SCHOOL, I looked at Lifa and said, "It's like we're walking through the Red Sea this morning." I asked him if he remembered when everything felt impossible for the slaves who were trying to get to freedom, and then suddenly God made it possible His way - He simply opened up the ocean. Lifa looked at me and said, “I was thinking the same thing, Mom.”

“Lifa, this drive to school is like taking a walk on the beach.”
We’ve faced fears, struggles and a lot of impossibilities, but impossible has parted like the ocean and made way for the possible. It took a lot of work and a lot of people, but we know Who made the sandy way.

Lifa was full of questions about what the day would hold, but not about Who held him. We’ve got a lot to learn here, but we’re going to keep our feet sandy and our hearts set on Yes.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

It's Not What We Expected.

Three sets of folded legs sat in a shaded circle in Cape Town. Three sets of hands plucked blades of grass and doodled with twigs in the dirt, mirroring our internal fidgeting that day. Our family gathered in Chris and Lifa’s favorite Frisbee field to talk to Lifa about what to expect before we took him to visit his biological father.

As Lifa has learned to thrive in Chris’ loving, engaging fatherhood, it became almost unbearable for him to know anything different. As he thought about visiting his biological father, he created a fantasy, hero-dad that takes him shark-diving in the middle of a dry nation. He developed an entire relationship that never existed. Lifa had amped himself up to the point of exhaustion for visiting his hero-dad, and we had to help him put himself together and develop some realistic perspective before we could drop him off.  

He was sure it was going to be different this time.
We all hoped it would be different.
We expected it to be different because we’d made some major investments into some major changes.

While we were moving to Cape Town, we were also moving Lifa’s dad away from the oppressive household he was living in before. Lifa’s father has always lived in other girlfriends’ homes, full of chaos and people. He has little contact with Lifa during Lifa’s visits, and it’s been an increasingly unpleasant experience for Lifa. With the help of a local pastor, we secured and furnished a home for Lifa’s father in a safe community near people we know. We tried to set him up for success, to be the head of his household and have all the physical elements he needed for a good Christmas with his son. It could be his first experience getting to know Lifa.

Lifa was STOKED. He felt so loved that his dad got a new house, that he would have his own bed for the first time, and he would never have to go into the scary house with the mean family he’d visited before. Chris and I were excited to know that Lifa would be safer, closer to us, and great pastors were watching out for him. We knew parenting would be a whole new ball game, so Chris shared some basic principles of how to protect your child with Lifa’s father and taught Lifa how to make his own eggs. I filled a suitcase with enough clothes to never have to do laundry and enough activities to keep him busy.

With Lifa’s nail-biting anxiety in full-form, Chris (also a nail-biter) made a deal that if Lifa’s nails were longer than his when we picked him up, we would go straight to Toys R Us. Lifa could choose any toy in the store he wanted. (Chris the super-dad has a super-soft heart… he basically just agreed to spend our life savings on Lego’s so Lifa would have something to look forward to. That’s my man.)

We want his dad to always have a hero’s place in Lifa’s heart, and we’re committed to doing whatever is within our capacity to help with that.

Lifa has been at his dad’s house for 10 days now.
It’s not been what we expected.

The Ladd Family arrived with Lifa and a truckload of home goods. With the pastor’s translation, we told Lifa’s dad stories of Lifa’s strengths, skills, and Lifa made plans to make placemats for new table we had just delivered.

Although we’ve helped change his physical circumstances, Lifa’s dad is recreating the lifestyle he lived before. Most days, Lifa has slept over at the pastor’s house because his dad invited a new girlfriend and her child to live with him. Lifa doesn’t have enough space to sleep and the girlfriend doesn’t treat him well. Lifa told me on the phone the other day that he worries relentlessly because his dad is not home at night, and he’s afraid he will never come back… but he has not touched his nails. “No way, not even once. How’s dad? What’s he doing? Is he biting his nails?”

Chris and I considered abandoning all plans and going to pick Lifa up. I cried on the phone with the pastor, prayed with Lifa, and pressed deeply into God with my husband. Finally, we had nothing left to do but remember the promises and instructions God had given us before because He is the only One who does not disappoint.

Years ago, when I cried by myself on the road to drop Lifa off with his father, God told me to keep making that drive until He told me to stop. I have no authority to take Lifa’s relationship with his father in my own hands. I don’t have to understand God’s plans for them to be fulfilled. I just have to get in the car. The distance is a lot further, but that word still stands true.

The King of Kings spoke to my husband about one little warrior He is raising up with passion and purpose for the nation of South Africa, and that warrior training was not something we should protect him from. He said to Chris, “It is finished.” His Fatherly seal of guardianship and safety is over Lifa and that would not be compromised. God’s protection, training and purpose fulfillment may not look or feel the way we want it to, but it’s good. It’s better. It’s bigger. It’s everlasting.

It’s Christmas week. It’s not exactly the way we would have planned it, and it’s not the kind of Christmas we expected Lifa to have with his dad.

That puts us in the perfect position to celebrate Christmas for what it really is.
If there’s any holiday built on not being what was expected, it is Christmas.

Can you imagine the potential for devastation of unmarried teenagers on a government-mandated, extraordinarily uncomfortable, 9-month-pregnant road trip on a donkey - only to find out that their baby would be born in a stinky stable?

Can you fathom the disappointment of history itself when a dirty, fatherless baby entered the working class world and called himself the Way to the Father?

That first Christmas might have been the greatest unmet expectation of all time for those who thought they knew what salvation and redemption would look like. Expectations can disappoint us, and they almost always do. But hope… Hope does not disappoint.

Just like in Lifa’s life, the words the Father spoke are still true for all of us. We can try to make life look the way we expected, or we can believe for something bigger than we can fathom. We can celebrate that His Family makes room for the illegitimate, the dirty, the downcast, the ones who don’t know how to live any way than they’ve lived before. We can celebrate the Father who will go the extra mile, even when it looks like suffering, to make sure we’re strong enough for what He has planned.

We can celebrate that Christmas is the miracle of a family that lets go of their dreams of the way it should be for the way it could be.

We could go pick up Lifa right now and have a rockin’ family Christmas filled with Lego’s and pumpkin cake. Everyone would be relieved for the moment. We could undo all our unmet expectations with our own hands and hugs.

But there’s more than that.

My man and I are going to have a two-person, awe-filled, sweaty, summer-in-Swaziland Christmas together. We are going to give deep thanks to the God that has more for us and for Lifa than we could ever dream, think or imagine.

His safety is better than ours.
His purposes are eternal.
His preparations are far better than scrambled eggs and clean laundry.

Merry Christmas!