Saturday, January 26, 2013

And She Will Be

"I just read a newspaper article that was very sad and heart-breaking. It was about this guy who has aids and has no one to take care of his 8-year-old disabled son Geoffrey when he dies. The dad is really worried about it. I know it sounds mushy, but my heart aches for Geoffrey. It's just so sad what he has to go through."

I wrote those words in my journal when I was nine. By that point, I had been a foster sister for a year. My eyes, previously limited to mostly-Mayberry scenes, had now been opened to the suffering of children. What I saw -- suddenly all around me, it seemed -- pierced me to the core. (And people say homeschoolers are sheltered. Hardly!). Through newspapers, books and magazines, stories from other foster parents and in my own home, a seed fell on my tender heart.

This photo of Shelbea and me is blurry, and that's a good thing. If you look closely, you'll notice I am wearing a Winnie the Pooh necklace, earrings, shirt and shorts. Thank God I left my matching hat and socks at home. It was a phase I'm still not pleased my mother let me stumble through.

When my seven consecutive birthday cake wishes came true and I finally got a baby sister, that seed sprouted. Since Shelbea slept in my room, I always checked on her before going to sleep myself. She had this funny habit of sucking on a pacifier upside down before somehow flipping it right-side up again, only to repeat the cycle as she slept. I loved that quirk, often giving it to her the wrong way on purpose just to watch her little tongue work its magic.

One night, standing over her crib, I marveled at my foster sister's baby beauty. Yet images of so many others just like her crowded into my mind. What good could I do? I was only 11.

Shelbea sighed in her sleep, then twisted her pacifier. And unexpectedly, I had a moment.

She is my one, I thought. She is my first contribution to this world. I will help rescue her. Knowing and loving Josh and Keith, then Shelbea, and then Jaimie not long after, nurtured that first seed into a full-on, growth-hungry sapling. And it's never stopped.

Rescue has long been my life theme, specifically of the innocent. Sponsored kids, foster kids, disabled kids, trafficked and abused didn't matter. If I could do something -- ANYTHING to help even one, I did it. And do it.

Fast forward to today. I tuck five-year-old Jack in, listening to his prayers. He snaps his eyes shut and clasps his hands tightly. "Oh Jesus," he says, "Please help Colt find a good family to adopt him before it's too late. Please keep him safe, God."

My heart breaks all over again, in ways both wonderful and tragic.

My girl within me thumps and Wombas (like baby Zumba...get it?), reminding me of her presence. I instinctively reach for my stomach, cupping my hand to feel her sweet kicks. "I haven't forgotten about you, little one," I say. Jack has grown used to this weird habit.

I am more than 30 weeks now, closing in on the day when I will meet my daughter. I still haven't gotten used to that word. My daughter.

Just like my relationship with his daddy, it took time for me to fall in love with Jack. When it happened, I fell hard and permanently, gulping in deep breaths of both, making up for lost time.

Jude was different. My love for him was ever-present yet cautious, a first-time back handspring after a mastered cartwheel.

But this child. I felt a connection with her from the beginning, embracing the beauty of new life while simultaneously not knowing a single thing about her.

No matter. She has a personality, and I can feel it.

Every day, I feed my rescue obsession by reading child advocacy blogs, writing to my Compassion kids, checking out the kids on Reece's Rainbow, networking with other child advocates on fundraising, etc. It's incredibly painful knowing that so many precious kids around the world are discarded, abandoned, being used as political pawns, sexual slaves and more. Sometimes, my only response is to pray, cry and touch my tummy. "I will always protect you, little one," I swear. "I will never let anything like this ever happen to you or your brothers."

She understands. I know it.

Nick and I believe in the power of name meanings. We've chosen Jack and Jude's names accordingly. But with this one, we were stuck. Exhibit A: after agreeing on and liking Sydney, we found out it was a contraction of St. Denis, a 3rd-century martyr most famous for his decapitation. As in, after they chopped off his head, he picked it up and walked a 10k to the nearest church, preaching about Jesus the whole way.

Um, no thanks. Despite the love of Jesus and exercise (two very important things in my life), Sydney was out.

I wanted something that encapsulated everything I stood for -- everything positive I wanted to pass on to my first girl. So when I found a name that meant "Compassion for the least of these," my heart started pounding. Compassion is it. Nick and I sponsor and/or correspond with five Compassion International kids. I was the race director of a 5k/10k called Run for Compassion Salem. My favorite worship song's first line starts out, "Everyone needs compassion."

I couldn't agree more. After a few tense days of wondering, Nick came home from work and announced, "That's it. That's our name," making me squeal with delight.

So around April 3, I can't wait to introduce you to Avinly Dawn Kupper.

(Yes, Avinly like "Anne of Avonlea." If I can name Jack after C.S. Lewis, why not this one after L.M. Montgomery and my favorite Canadian redhead?)

She will be another priceless gift from God, the result of a love between two people that only grows with time. She will be cherished by her big brothers, her extended family, her church and community, just like every child is supposed to be, even if that dream doesn't always happen in this fallen world.

Most importantly, Avinly will grow up knowing about "the least of these." And I know in my spirit that she will live up to her name.

It may not be about kids; her passions may not be my passions, and that's okay. I've found that the longer I'm a mother, the more my roots of love and compassion sink into my soul. They anchor me to both my known and unknown babies around the world, even if the fruits of their hearts look slightly different than my own.

Avinly will be a world-changer. For the least of these. And that's the most I could hope for.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

10 Books to Read in 2013

I love reading like Simon Cowell loves v-necks. Everyone just knows it's true. Exhibit A: when I heard Pauline Phillips, AKA Dear Abby, had died this weekend, I mentioned to Nick that I've been reading her column every day for years. "How many?" he asked. I thought about it. "Um, since....kindergarten."

Yes, folks, I may have been the only 6-year-old in the world to need a fresh copy of Dear Abby with her after-school snack.

To that end, I set a goal of reading 25 books in 2012. Any guesses as to if I reached it?

24. Of course, I finished with 24.

And here, in no particular order, are the top 10:

1. "Where Children Sleep" by James Mollison.
My fellow Compassion International advocates suggested this photo-rich book, and I'm glad they did. Mollison, a professional photographer, travels all over the world to capture images of children's bedrooms. Sounds weird at first, but take a second look. What you'll find is a fascinating account of what each culture values for its youngest, smallest members -- or doesn't. I am so pulling this baby out if/when my kids ever complain about not having enough technology in their rooms.

 2. "Strengths Finder 2.0" by Tom Rath.
One reason why I love volunteering with Compassion is that they don't simply suck you of your time and talents. They invest in you. As part of my training with this awesome non-profit, I had to read this book, take the assessment and finish the follow-up. And it was worth it.

I've taken a lot of personality tests before. But this one was better. I never realized, for example, how important the theme of maximization is in my life. Yes, I love to accomplish; I've always known that. But before this book, I thought it was merely a psychological feeling of satisfaction. As it turns out, it's not. Thanks to Strengths Finder, I now know how I can serve Compassion in a more efficient manner. Read it for yourself to figure out what makes you tick and how you can harness those talents for good.   

3. "Pornland: How Porn has Hijacked our Sexuality" by Gail Dines.
This pick might shock some of you. Because, let's face it, pornography isn't exactly a book-club topic, and usually not for a church-going, etiquette-course passing, only-kissed-2-boys sort of a girl like me. But this might have been the most important book I read in all of 2012.

This book, written by a scientist and social researcher, is not Christian. It is not pleasant. It is raw, disturbing and contained so many obscenities that I switched bookmarks (I didn't want the pictures of my beautiful sponsored kids' faces that I usually use next to some of the scenes!). And when I convinced my best friend Rochelle to sample it -- she of the "has seen it all" genre -- she called me back. "Um....whoa," she said. "That was seriously intense."

Before, I would have said, "Porn doesn't affect my life. I don't use it, my husband doesn't use it, and I wish more people didn't use it. But we're safe." Maybe you feel the same way. Or perhaps you think porn is no big deal, and even healthy and/or fun. Seriously, READ THIS BOOK. This is not a religious, thou-shalt-not-have-fun-or-sex issue (though I have to remind you about studies proving that people who attend church regularly have lots more and way better sex than those who don't). This is a brain issue, pure and simple, one that our society's future depends on.

4. "Redemption: a Rebellious Spirit, a Praying Mother, and the Unlikely Path to Olympic Gold" by Bryan Clay.
I don't make a lot of money, but my freelance writing gig has some serious perks. Like free autographed books and phone time with famous athletes. Bryan Clay, the "World's Greatest Athlete" and two-time Olympic gold medalist in the decathlon from 2004 and 2008, was one of them.

True, he failed in his quest to become the first-ever three-peater gold medalist decathlete. (This year's crown went to Oregon's own Ashton Eaton -- Go Ducks!). But Clay has an amazing story and my total respect. One of the nicest guys I've ever interviewed.

5. "No Biking in the House Without a Helmet" by Melissa Fay Greene.
Melissa Fay Green is a woman after my own heart. She makes big bucks as a freelance magazine writer and newspaper columnist. She's a straight-shooter who is always good for a literary laugh. And she has a total heart for adoption. This memoir of growing her family from 4 kids to 9 isn't a cotton-candy read; she doesn't hide the crappy parts of adoption. Instead, she delivers an honest tome on adopting internationally. And boy, is it funny!

6. "Bella" by Lisa Samson. I still haven't seen the movie. But the book definitely makes me want to. I immediately got hooked by the story of Nina, a struggling NYC waitress in a crisis pregnancy, and Jose, a handsome former soccer star with a dark secret. I think you will, too. (Anyone seen the film?)

7. "My Seasons: a Literary Celebration of Sports & Life" by Bob Welch.
I've been reading Bob Welch's Register-Guard columns since...well, since I've been reading Dear Abby. Unlike Abigail Van Buren, however, Welch's world is my world: Oregon. The Ducks & Beavers. Family and faith. Loving sports but not being nearly good enough to make varsity, so turning to sports-writing instead. Discovering you're way better at writing than you ever were at sports. Darn.

Bob Welch is the Forrest Gump of Oregon sports. As in, he hasn't missed any important athletic event, accomplishment, scandal or milestone involving Oregon sports in the last 50 years, and in fact has had a direct connection to many of them. Since he's around my dad's age, almost every essay left me saying, "Hey, I remember Dad talking about that!" If you love Oregon and you love sports, you'll likewise love this easy read.

8. "Choosing to SEE" by Mary Beth Chapman.
Steven Curtis Chapman, one of Christian music's most successful artists, lost his adopted daughter Maria in 2008 to a tragic car accident. But what happened in the aftermath was even more heart-breaking, tear-jerking...and beautiful. Written by his wife, "Choosing to SEE" is a must-read for any parent and a should-read for any human. Break out the Kleenex and prepare your soul for some serious searching. 

9. "Bloom: Finding Beauty in the Unexpected" by Kelle Hampton.
If you're an American woman who's spent any amount of time in the blogging world, you've probably come across photographer Kelle Hampton's blog. Over the past 3 years, she's become, quite literally, an internet celebrity because of just one blog entry -- her amazing account of giving birth to Nella, a daughter with the unexpected diagnosis of Down Syndrome. "Bloom" is a continuation of that blog of Nella's first year. Full of STUNNING photography and a gripping, poignant narrative.

10. "The Chair" by James L. Rubart.
Another autographed book and a lovely chat with the author....but this time I had to pay for it and quickly scooch away from the bookstore table so the next person in line could get their own copy signed. Ah well.

I first learned of Jim Rubart when he was a keynote speaker at my writers' conference last summer.
As a lifelong Bible geek and fan of Lloyd C Douglas' "The Robe," the premise of "The Chair" instantly intrigued me. Whatever did happen to all the carpentry stuff Jesus made before he started his ministry? Was it popular? Were his chairs and tables and utensils brimming with special powers? (Most importantly, did his family carpentry shop have a clearance section?).

Grab a copy of this book to find out what might happen if one of Jesus' pieces survived to modern day. Great fiction with suspense and food for thought.

And now it's your turn. What's on YOUR list of must-reads in 2013?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Jude, my Manly Praise of Judea

My sweet Jude turned 2 last month. And like all mothers, I couldn't help but think of how he came to be (his WHOLE story, people, not just that part. Although, that was pretty fun, too.).

I should confess something. I was terrified of Jude before he even existed.

Thanks to a hideous first-birth experience with Jack, I truly thought we would adopt the rest. There was no way I was going to go through that trauma again. When Jack turned 2, I still felt no desire for another child. Yet God began whispering to me (that's his most lethal weapon, by the way. Fear the whisper).

As the months passed, I knew in my spirit that Jesus was telling me to have another baby. And in typical Crystal-fashion, I protested.
Lord, Jack's the most perfect kid ever. Plus, Jack's birthday was the worst day of my life. I love my job and don't want to give up any more of my precious free time. I hate gaining weight! I want to run another marathon!

One by one, God began patiently answering my terrified questions. He surrounded me with a group of natural-birth fanatics at my MOPS group who convinced me that a positive birth experience was possible. He sent me a doula who listened to my birth story with a dropped jaw, then said, "Um, Crystal, what you went through was not normal...and possibly illegal." And I found a group of midwives who found my tendency to run while pregnant awesome and who all had names like "Happy" and "Kitty." Pretty different from my last experience, where the first thing my newborn saw was a doctor in cammo who previously told me that I was putting both my baby and myself in grave risk by running a marathon pregnant.

I still wasn't feeling all that excited about it. So I made a deal with God: I would run another marathon, then I would get pregnant. Feel free to debate the theology of that with me some other time.

I remember standing in a hotel bathroom in Redding, California on January 17, 2010. I had just finished the Redding Marathon in the pouring rain. I was crying and shaking, getting ready to throw my birth control in the trash. But I just couldn't do it. I was so terrified.


And then, I heard the whisper again.

I know the plans I have for you, Crystal. Plans to PROSPER you and NOT to harm you....plans to give you a hope and a FUTURE.

Well. At least I took that as a sign that I would live through the birth.

Obviously, I did. Like always, God completely knew what he was talking about.


December 1, 2010 turned out to be the exact opposite of November 15-16, 2007; instead of wondering whether I was going to die, I marveled over my body's ability to bring forth life in its own time. For the first time, elation absolutely flooded my body and heart as I held my newborn boy. For the first time, all those cheesy Hallmark baby cards made sense. For the first time, I realized that despite my past, I was made to be Jack and Jude's mommy, imperfections and all.

It was, in short, one of the best days of my life. Because that was the day God used Jude to heal me.

Jude, before you, I carried a wound deep in my soul. I had messed up Jack's birth. The horrors of that night were all my fault, so I thought and had been told. If I had only done this, or that, it would have turned out differently. I couldn't even do what young, uneducated Third-World teenagers know how to do, so how could I be a good mom afterward? I couldn't, I told myself, and I treated myself and decisions accordingly.

Yet you proved me wrong. After you, I changed. I forgave the horrid, yet well-intentioned doctors at that awful military hospital. I recognized that the agony of Jack's first year was not my fault. I gave myself permission to grieve, and then heal, and then admit that maybe I AM a good mother.

My sweet Jude, it is because of you that I felt nothing but excitement last summer as Nick and I planned for another baby. It is because of you that I face April 3 (or thereabouts) of this year unafraid.

Jude Andrew, your name means "Manly Praise of Judea." And I love that. You are, and have always been, a man-child from the get-go. And you, sweet son, are my song of praise, the offering back to the Messiah from Judea who gave you to me.

So today, at the ripe age of 25 months, I celebrate who you are. Your ability to ride a bike but refusal to potty train. Your goofy nature but intense focus on practicing free throws on your little plastic hoop. Your hysterical love of imitating your older brother. Your beautiful eyes, lashes and curls. Your rounded belly and chunky buns. Your fear of nothing (except the toilet). Your first word of "Gracias." Your singing of the ABC's and full-on rendition of Jesus Loves Me. You sing it because you know it's true. Jesus loves Jude.

So do I.