Wednesday, December 28, 2011

it's like Lyla without the "L"

Warning: this post will make a lot more sense if you read the last one!

One of the questions we get a lot is, "Where did you get the name Ayla?" I usually don't have time to tell the full story (and let's face it...not everyone wants to hear a long response to what they thought was a simple question). In short, one of the little Filipino girls from our very first choir was named Ayla. She went by "Sugar," so nobody called her Ayla. I just thought it was a pretty name the first time I heard it, and Sugar was a very sweet (no pun intended) girl!

We had not picked out a name when we started the process last September, and we really weren't in a hurry. We had a few names "in the hat" (one of which was Ayla), but thought we might just wait until we got our referral to see what our little girl's Chinese name was before we settled on one. But, God is SO in the details. He confirmed her name before we ever saw her face. And so, here is the best part of the story that I often don't get to share...

I guess it was about a year ago, give or take. We had been in the adoption process for a few months, and I was thinking about how much I liked the name Ayla. So I decided to see if I could find out what it meant. The meaning of a name is important to me, so as I typed those 4 letters into the Google search bar, I just knew it was going to mean something amazing- like "beauty for ashes," or "spring". I could practically hear the drumroll as the search results came up and I clicked on the first one...and then I saw it...the moment I was waiting for...the name Ayla means..."oak tree". Suddenly the drumroll turned to crashing cymbals (it felt like the scene from "Christmas Vacation" when Clark Griswold plugs in his 25 thousand twinkle lights, but none of them work). Oak tree? Really, that's it? I quickly hit the back button to see if it might mean something better on a different site. Nope. Still oak tree. Oh well, it's still a cute name. We'll just put it back "in the hat".

Now fast forward a few months. We really hadn't given much more thought to a name, but I was painting in the new baby room, which made me think a lot about the little girl whose room it would be. I was thinking about names; trying to come up with something with a special meaning. And then I got to thinking, "there is something about an oak tree in the Bible...or maybe it's just a tree..." Suddenly, it hit me! I knew exactly where it was...I ran to my dresser and pulled out a t-shirt that has part of Isaiah 61 on it. Guess what passage that is? The one that talks about beauty for ashes! I could not believe it! Just look...
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor and the day of vengeance of our God! To comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion- to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor." Isaiah 61:1-3

No. Way. I was so giddy, I could hardly wait for Steven to get home from work so I could tell him about the sweet moment God and I had! Needless to say, we had a name. I have mentioned before that the adoption process is full of mountains and valleys. That day was definitely one of the mountaintops! What a sweet reminder that God is in control and involved in the details of our lives. God continues to use these mountaintop experiences to sustain us when we go through the valleys. He reminds us that He's faithful. We have a history with Him and can trust that He is there through all of it.

I couldn't have thought up a sweeter meaning for our little girl's name. Of course it has deep meaning because of what God has brought us through, but when I think of Ayla's story, I love the picture it paints. Every single adoption is the result of a previous tragedy that left that child helpless apart from the intervention of someone else. For Ayla, it was being abandoned when she was just three weeks old. For all of us, our sin made us spiritual orphans... helplessly separated from God in our sin. But God intervened when He sent Jesus to pay the price of our adoption into His family. God delights in giving beauty for ashes because it sets the stage for His glory to be displayed. And so our prayer is that God will draw our little "oak tree" to Himself, that she may be "a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor."

Thursday, December 15, 2011

our top 78 inspirations to adopt

I am not one of those people who have always known I would adopt one day. In fact, if you had asked me 10 years ago if I would ever adopt, I might have said something like, "Probably not, I want to have 'my own' kids." (I know, I have offended myself just by typing this, but sadly it's true...or was). God sure showed me.  And like He does so often, He showed me in a way I could never have imagined...well, in 78 ways to be exact.

Steven and I were married in August of 2003. Eight days later, we had 19 children from India, Uganda, Brazil, The Philippines, Nepal and Burma (now Myanmar). We made a 1-year commitment to direct an international children's choir, and we hit the road for a 10-month tour of the US. It was the hardest, best year of my life up to that point. We fell in love with our kids and loved being called "Auntie Tiffany" and "Uncle Steven" in the cutest little accents you've ever heard. Our hearts broke when we had to say goodbye after the year was over. I never wanted to feel that hurt again, but God had other plans. Our year-long commitment turned into three. The goodbyes never got any easier, but God was using these precious kids to break my heart for the orphan. For me,"orphans" hadn't been much more than a collective word used to describe a distant, detached group of poor, dirty kids half a world away. Now it was different. I knew them... they had names and sweet faces, and they were right in front of me. I loved them, and my heart would never recover.

Our choir kids were not up for adoption. Many of them came from very large children's homes, so we were the closest thing to a mom and a dad that many of them would ever have. That reality is heartbreaking, but it also points to the hope we have in Christ. Some of my most cherished moments are the ones where we got to talk to the kids about our heavenly Father and the love He has for much that He sent His only Son to die for our sins. Over the years, we had the blessing of seeing many of our kids trust Christ. And while they may not be adopted here on earth, they have a Father who has adopted them for all eternity! He is a father to the fatherless (Ps. 68:5).

After three tours, we came home to Birmingham and opened our wedding gifts. I was thinking we would start a family within a couple years, but after a year-and-a-half, we committed to go back on the road for a fourth tour...with our rowdiest bunch of kids yet! I knew going back was also choosing to postpone having kids, and God gave me total peace to wait, even if it meant mothering choir kids year after year.

At the very end of the tour, we had the amazing opportunity to record a song with Steven Curtis Chapman, called "Spring is Coming." It was part of the first album he did after the tragic death of his little girl, Maria. I will never forget how still and quiet the kids were in the studio as "Uncle Steven" told them about Maria and the journey God had his family on. So many of them could identify with loss. Then, he shared the words the kids would sing...
Out of these ashes, beauty will rise. Sorrow will be turned to joy. All we hope for, soon will appear. Out of the dark, God's glory will shine. All of earth and heaven rejoice. Spring is coming soon.

Well, you guessed it. We said goodbye to our 4th choir, and welcomed our 5th about 6 weeks later. We found out very early on that this group would be singing "Spring is Coming" with "Maria's dad" for Cry of the Orphan weekend. I can't tell you what state we were in on this particular October morning, but I do remember that the kids were about to sing for a high school chapel. We had some extra time, and I was going to start rehearsing "Spring is Coming" with them later that day. I wanted the kids to understand what they were singing and why, so I  printed an article to read to them that told the story of Maria's life and some of the things God is doing as a result. We were all crammed into a small section of a locker room. With a big lump in my throat, I read. We talked about how many of them had experienced losing someone they love, but how God can take the hardest things in our lives and use them to do something beautiful for His glory.  We may not be able to see it or understand it, and it may still be painful, but we can trust that God can give us beauty for ashes. That day in the locker room and over the next few weeks, several of the kids trusted Christ. Beauty for ashes became kind of a theme for us during that tour.

Then came December. And it brought winter in every way I could imagine. Our time with the choir came to an unexpected end as a result of circumstances totally beyond our control, and we did not get to tell the kids goodbye. I found myself in a heap of ashes. Here I was having to practice what I preached, and I could not see how there was any way for something good, much less beautiful, to come out of what happened.

Tears still sting my eyes when I think back to almost exactly 2 years ago. There is still pain there, and there are still lots of questions and things I don't (and may never) understand, but God has been faithful. Nothing has taken Him by surprise. He allowed our time with the choir to give us a heart for the orphan. And He was sovereign over when we came home because He was calling us to care for the orphan in a different way...through a process we never would have started when we did had we completed the fifth tour. God has graciously allowed us to see one way that He is giving us beauty for ashes, and her name is Ayla.

Our first 78 kids will always have a special place in my heart. I remember a well-meaning friend telling me after we said goodbye to one of our choirs, "One day you'll have your own kids, and that will be even more fulfilling." My thought was, "I hope not...I hope it's the same." I guess I will know soon, but I pray I loved those 78 like a mother loves her own children. God used them to change my heart and to prepare me for number 79... my own daughter from China.

One of the most amazing things of this adoption journey has been how God has used it to show us the great lengths He went through to bring us into His family. How grateful I am for a heavenly Father who sees His adopted children as His own. 
How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God. And that is what we are! I John 3:1
Our 2nd Choir
Manuelly, Pedro, John Paul- Brazil
Joan, Jackie, Teo- Uganda
Kim, Thieng, Ram, Lal, Ngaka, Jehovah- India
Rica, Arniel, Gimmar- Philippines (not in this pic, but we love you!)

Our 3rd Choir
Duda, Italo- Brazil
Emily, Carol, Lydia- Uganda
Nicole, Christine Mae, Brian, Denmark- Philippines
Ting, Moi, Tracy, Saijo, David, Lulun, Mang- India

Our 4th Choir
Ericka, Blanca- Guatemala
Suzan, Catherine, Ritah, Juliet, Esther,
Jonathan, Francis, Wilber, Matia- Uganda
Suresh, Deepesh- Nepal

Our 5th Choir
Winnie, Jeannie, Mariam, Sharon, Kieth, Gideon- Uganda
Chielo, Charie Rose, Regin, Jade, Christian, Jhunrey- Philippines
Rachanna, Lakpi, Yam- Nepal

Our 1st Choir 
(before we had a digital camera...I will add your picture)
Carol, Maria- Brazil
Michael, Edward- Uganda
Aling, Sugar (Ayla Grace), Patricia, Edgardo- Philippines
Leishi- Nepal
Chichin- Burma (Myanmar)
Correne, Pui, Mawi, James, Jack, Jugesh, Peter, Sam, Aron- India

And our sweet #79...coming this SPRING!
Ayla Mae Hailston- China

Monday, December 5, 2011

A long time coming...

This title has a double meaning. First, because I have been wanting to start this blog for a long time. So, here it is! And since this is my first blog, it'll probably be a long one...just to warn you. Why start it today? Because we received LOA (letter of acceptance) today. It too was a long time coming! 82 days to be exact, but that was just if you're counting from PA, which came a couple days after LOI, which was preceded by getting our referral, which happened after a 4 month wait from LID...I could go on, but I'll spare you! You get the point. Adoption has its own language as you can tell, and it is a long process of mountains and valleys...with lots of waiting in between!

LOA feels different from all the other acronyms though. Up to this point, every milestone we reached started a countdown to waiting for yet another document (or more like a pile of documents) to be sent, received, processed or approved by the US and/or China. But this time, our countdown is to scooping up our precious little girl and welcoming her into our family. And now that moment is just 2-3 months away!

I wish I would have blogged milestones as they happened, but during these next couple months, I am excited to reflect back and write about all God has done since we started this process in September of 2010. He has been so faithful, and I have learned so much about my own adoption into God's family as a result of being on this journey. One day (and I know it will come all too soon), Ayla will read this. My prayer is that she will see how God's hand was on her before we ever even knew who she was or saw her face, and how He prepared us for each other.

Tonight though, she's halfway across the world in an orphanage, totally unaware that a mom and dad are pursuing her, loving her, and will sacrifice whatever we must to bring her into our family. We do this because we have a Father who pursued us, loves us, and sacrificed His only Son to bring us into His family. We adopt because we have been adopted...eternally!

So, feel free to join me as I chronicle our journey up to this point. I hope it's a blessing and encouragement to you! Lord willing, I will update this blog when we're in China, so you can follow our trip!

Well, I warned you this would be a long one! To show my sincere appreciation to you for reading this, I'll leave you with a few pictures of the most adorable little girl... Ayla Mae.