2016: A son, a mother, and one relentless Love

js2-familypictures036

Without a question, 2016 was the year of Gabriel.

It was a year of becoming family. A boy and a girl learning to be brother and sister; and mother and father learning to be parents of two. It was a year of abundance and cacophony, family dinners with food on faces and the floor. It was a year of learning new languages and asking questions—about origins and superheroes.

Continue reading

A New Name, A New Family

African American father and son text messaging on cell phone.This article was first published in Prison Fellowship’s Inside Journal.

We knew his face long before he saw ours.

Three years ago, we saw his picture for the first time. An 18-month-old toddler with no known parents and no known name. From the other side of the world, we gave him a name. We became his parents. He became our son.

And three years later, when he was four-and-a-half, we held him in our arms for the first time. The little boy we had known all along finally started getting to know us—his “Mommy” and “Papa.”

It is a story of adoption. It is a story of the lost being found. It is a story about God.

Continue reading

Keep Your Eyes on the Prize, Part 2

bilo-at-christmas

February 1, 2013–I typed the words “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize” as a blog entry. We had just learned that our expected 6-9 month wait to bring Gabriel Bilo home was now estimated to take 3-6 months more. For the sake of our fragile perspectives, God is kind to keep the future a secret. On February 1, 2013, it might have crushed me to know that 26 months later we would still be waiting for our son.

Continue reading

The Costly Call to Care for the Orphan

407x226_FEAT-orphan2

(Reprinted with permission from byfaithonline.com)

Like many American Christians, Morgan and Grace Dillow of Lexington, Kentucky, believed God was calling them to adopt. That was four years ago. Today, after a journey that has often been devastating, they don’t doubt His calling; they just see far more clearly a world that’s under the influence of rulers, authorities, powers of this dark world, and spiritual forces of evil (Ephesians 6:12) that stand firmly opposed to God’s command to “look after orphans.”

The Dillows are left with questions and anger — and the promise that God uses even senseless events for a good they cannot see.

Continue reading

Philomena Gets It Wrong

Philomena_678x300_thumbnail_detail

Philomena tells the story of Philomena Lee (Judi Dench), a British woman who goes in search of her son who was adopted almost 50 years earlier and taken to America. Based on Stephen Frears’ book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, the film shows Martin Sixsmith (actor/director Steve Coogan), a disgruntled ex-BBC journalist, teaming up with Philomena to help her confront her past and write a book about  the supposed injustices committed against her and her son.

Early in the film, Philomena, a young Irish teen, gets pregnant out of wedlock and is sent by her family to wait out her confinement and birth at Sean Ross Abbey in Roscrea, Ireland, a home for unwed mothers and their children run by the Catholic Church. At the Abbey, Philomena is denigrated by the nuns for her immoral choices and then spends the next several years working hard labor, only getting to see her son about once a day. Although she signs a document relinquishing her child, she is still shocked when she discovers that her son is being adopted by an American couple, presumably after they pay the nuns a steep price for the child.

Fifty years later, Philomena remembers the circumstances with regret and goes on a mission to track down her long-lost son, making a pilgrimage to America with Sixsmith at her side. While there, she discovers that her son, a gay man, had been a successful senior level aide to President Reagan and had died just a few years earlier, presumably of AIDS. After returning to Britain, she discovers that her son had made a similar journey the year before he died to the Abbey in Roscrea, looking for Philomena. Philomena and Sixsmith pressure the Abbey to explain why the records of her son’s adoption had never been made available to her and why the Abbey hadn’t contacted her when her son showed up. The nuns implied that the records had been destroyed in a fire. Later, it’s implied that it was a fire they started.

In the end, Philomena makes peace with her tragic past, forgiving one particular nun who was supposedly the main barrier between Philomena and her son, and visiting her son’s grave (he chose to be buried at Roscrea). It is a bittersweet ending, one that raises serious concerns about the Irish Catholic Church and its potential involvement in child trafficking.

That is, if it were true.

Continue reading over at Marriage Generation blog . . .

Kobanga Te

When we began the journey to adopt, we estimated that we would travel to pick up our son sometime this past summer. That was before a lot of things happened (head over to our private FB group to learn more).

As every month passes, we have eagerly looked forward to photo updates of our boy, who turned two in September. The weekend of Thanksgiving, we received an enormous treat when we got to Skype with Gabriel for the first time! Although the connection was poor, he was able to see and hear us clearly, and we were able to communicate to him how much we love him. That same day, he received two little buttons with photos of our faces and recorded messages from us to him. We learned later that he kept pressing the buttons over and over. He particularly liked the recording of Michael’s voice saying “Bilo, nazali Tata. Tata alingi yo. (Bilo, I am Daddy. Daddy loves you).

Continue reading

Bilo Erler

bilo-sign

First of all, we apologize that it has been all quiet on the Gabriel front for the past month and a half. While we have been silent on the blog, there has been anything but silence in regards to the adoption process. On July 5th–just two days after my last post–we received notice that our case had successfully passed through the Congolese court system!

We celebrated with quesadillas, fish tacos, and adult beverages.

Over the next month, we waited as various other court documents trickled in–documents such as Gabriel’s birth certificate, which we would need in order to submit our petition to USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Services). During these weeks, we often grumbled to ourselves–“What’s taking so long?”–but we were often reminded that things work more slowly in the Congo. Sometimes the guy you need to sign a document doesn’t show up for work that day. Or maybe someone’s lawyer had to wait four hours just to meet with someone pertinent to the case. Regardless, it was another month submitted to God’s workshop in patience.

Finally, we had a half-inch worth of documentation to mail to Texas. A $30 Fedex fee later, and . . . we were in line for another wait–this time to receive approval from the government that we can move forward in adopting Gabriel. (Yes, I’ve stopped counting the steps in this waiting game).

But to make the waiting more palatable–or perhaps, more unbearable–we recently received updated photos of our little guy, smiling, wearing different sandals, and holding a sign that read “Bilo Erler.” Bilo: his Congolese name. Erler: the name that makes this whole crazy adoption business finally feel real!

At this point, we’re anticipating another 4-7 month wait, as the US Embassy in Kinshasa initiates a final investigation into our case. Please pray for rapidity in this process.

We like the number 4 better than 7.

Frayed Flip Flops

It’s July 3rd, and still no news on the Gabriel front. We’re trying to wait patiently, knowing that there are many circumstances outside of our control. If you’re praying for us, would you please pray that we’d have news soon that we’ve passed the court, so we can move on to the next step in the process of becoming Gabriel’s parents? In the meantime, I wrote this little poem after seeing the most recent photos of our little guy.

frayed-flip-flops

Baggy blue overalls,
A physical cord that vanishes the miles,
Chosen by us, worn by him.

A toy yellow motorcycle,
Clutched in one-year-old paws,
A secret delight to the mind of a miniature adventurer.

Flip flops,
Frayed in the Congolese dirt,
Early steps of a future world traveler.

Eyes that smile,
Once worn in tears,
And a hundred sadnesses only he may ever know.

Arms outstretched,
Beckoning us,
A preview of a thousand embraces yet to be ours.

Little Do We Know

So, it’s been a little while since our last blog post when we announced our referral for Gabriel. The silence has largely been due to the fact that there hasn’t been much to report, except that–thanks to a brief update on his height, weight, and location and a few new pictures–we know that Gabriel is alive, well, and living in a foster home in Kinshasa (Congo’s capital city). We haven’t heard where our case is in the court system, and we don’t know when we will hear.

It seems that with every slight piece of information we receive, there are countless other pieces of information we don’t receive. We are quickly learning that international adoptions are not for those who must have all the facts.

At this point in time, we know Gabriel’s given name (Bilo), but we don’t know–and might never know–the names of his biological parents, grandparents, let alone siblings. We know the name of the street where he now lives, but we don’t know the name of the street on which he was born. We know how much he weighs now, but we don’t know how much he weighed at birth. We know he can walk, but we don’t know who helped him with his first steps.

We are hopeful that we will get to be privy to his future, but only the Father knows his past . . . and, for that matter, much of his present. And that might be the hardest part.

Every day that goes by, we can picture the face of a little boy more than 7,000 miles away who desperately needs parents. And we desperately want to be those parents. But there is little we can do about it. We can send 100 emails a day, but that won’t make our case move any faster. We can send him care packages filled with clothes and toys and parents’ love, but we can’t guarantee that it will get to him. We can get all of our documents in order, get all of our immunizations scheduled, and arrange all of our flights, but that won’t secure us the right to be Gabriel’s parents.

At the end of the day, we are in the hands of those we have contracted with to care for our future son and to pursue our case on our behalf (thankfully, we have reason to believe that these hands are trustworthy). But even the kindest of foster mothers and the most dependable of lawyers don’t have the power to make Gabriel ours anymore than we do. That’s a matter for the One we know as Lord.

And so we do the only thing that is truly in our power: we pray. Every night, as we lay our heads upon the pillows, we ask God to care for our future son, as he begins his day while we are closing ours. We pray for our case and everything that we don’t know about it. And we pray for His perfect timing in bringing Gabriel to us.

And so, when you ask us what you can do to help, please pray. For patience in the waiting. For grace in the unknowing. And for the speedy coming of a day when we will no longer see our son through a few sparse photographs, but face to face.

And Then God

(In the midst of our waiting for a referral, we have been reminded that we are not the first people in the universe to wait for something. In fact, we are preceded by a long line of folks who waited much longer, much harder, some more patiently, perhaps some less patiently then us. This is something I composed in tribute to them, and as a reminder to us that God has not forgotten the waiters.)

simeon2

Abraham and Sarah
Waited for a child until
Age had claimed them;
Skin loosened, hands gnarled
Beyond the clasping of a prayer for an honest heir.

Continue reading