Tuesday Grace Letters

Dear You,
My earliest memory of hearing about Africa is from my kindergarten year of elementary school. A married couple, American missionaries on furlough from Ethiopia, came to my small, Christian school and spoke to us of the history and culture of the country, the tragedy of the starving people, the dying children, the orphans.
Over the next twelve years I would encounter numerous Pastors and missionaries who’d become intimately involved in African ministry. I started taking notice of adoptive families, the ones who stuck out in a crowd because of their variety of skin tones. Still, I never imagined myself becoming one of those families and I certainly never imagined myself living in Africa in order to become one.
Yet, in God’s wisdom and by His sovereign will, here I am.
I don’t want to be here. In fact, some days I’m certain I want to be anywhere but here. As soon as noon rolls around I can think of nothing else but the arrival of 12:45 when Brad and I can Skype for about 10 minutes before he heads off to another day of hard work, followed by an exhausting evening as a single dad to our three daughters. Some days we are able to have a real conversation but more often than not we just make faces at each other and exchange yawns as I wrangle babies and corral my ornery toddler. Today, not unlike some others, we cried together, each of us silently asking God why our family is separated by more than 8,000 miles, desperately trying not to let on that our hope is waning.
Still, I see grace in our story. Every, single day I see grace, mostly in my relationship with Jecoah, in the way he trusts me implicitly, the way he hugs my neck tight and kisses me big anytime I ask and, sometimes, even when I don’t.
I see grace in the roommates and friends God has provided for me in this place. They are funny and kind, they are good mamas to these beautiful little people, they are the only women on planet earth who will ever truly know the depth, the breadth, the impact of adoption from this country on a mother’s soul. They are my sister wives without the weirdness on every level of a shared husband.
I see more grace in technology and the ability it gives me to stay connected to not only Brad, my girls and my parents but also to my extended family, to you, to everyone who has loved us and loved us well throughout this journey. I love hearing about what is happening at home, what the weather is like, that your children won an award and even about the salad you ate for lunch. Nothing is as good as really being there, but the internet might just be second best.
I see grace most in your words of encouragement, your support, your love for my husband by feeding him and sparing him the extra work of preparing meals, praying for and with him, your patience with and love for my daughters as they navigate this time without their mom. Thank you isn’t enough.

Mundane Faithfulness
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Bring Jecoah Home

Brad and I continue to be amazed at the generosity and support that so many of you have shown to our family these past difficult months. From feeding my family to committing to pray, contributing monetarily or offering encouragement on a daily basis, your friendship has sustained us throughout and we are grateful.

I’m praying earnestly that our time here in Africa is coming to an end soon and that this will be our final fundraiser. I am weary of fundraising and I fear that you all are even more so than I. Hang with me for just a bit longer, friends. Dream with me about the celebration of joy that awaits us at the airport when Jecoah sees all of your beautiful faces and you see his.

I hope you’ll all be sporting one of these awesome Bring Jecoah Home shirts created by my friend, Linda Scotto and Tees with a Purpose when we arrive!

Each shirt is $20 and you may choose from either Men’s, Women’s or Children’s sizes. (Please add $5 for shipping if you’ll need your shirt(s) to be delivered outside of the Colorado Springs area.)

Ordering is easy. Just click on the Donate button below. Be sure to specify in the purpose section of Pay Pal how many of each style shirt you’d like and what sizes.

We’ll coordinate a date, time and location where you’ll be able to pick up your order once the shirts have arrived.

Love you all so much. Thank you for being in our corner!

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Men’s Shirt available in sizes Small through 4XL

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Women’s Shirt available in sizes Small through 3XL

Children’s Shirt available in sizes XS through XL

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Freak Show

I wander into the bathroom each morning and am surprised at the woman I see in the mirror. This experience, this place has aged me well beyond my years and the evidence is written all over my face. My body feels frail, weak, exhausted; certainly, I’m a different version of myself than before I moved to Africa.
The stench of burning garbage hangs thick in the air most days; it’s hard to know if it is overcast each morning or if the pollution only makes it appear that way.
I’ve become mostly accustomed to the points and stares when we venture out of our apartment and into the chaos that is the city center. Grocery shopping is an adventure and going out to eat is us just begging to be on display, much like a circus freak show. It can be quite uncomfortable at times.
Mostly, though, the people here are only curious and the majority of run ins we’ve had have been very positive. At the hospital yesterday, Jecoah and I walked into a tiny room crammed with desks, scales, nurses and a Dr so that he could be weighed and measured. The Dr had originally seen him back in September just a couple months before Brad and I initially arrived in Kinshasa. The nurses seemed genuinely happy to see him and immediately began talking excitedly in Lingala amongst themselves. My translator said that they wanted to know if I was married and if I had other children. I pulled up this picture on my cell phone to show them:

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They were so kind to me; they smiled and laughed and passed my phone around and each one commented that my husband is handsome, that our daughters are beautiful. Jecoah stepped on the scale and one of the nurses recorded his weight and height. She was clearly pleased to see how much he’d grown since she last saw him. Just before we left my translator told me that they’d said, “She is a good mama.” I wanted to cry but the last thing I needed was to draw more attention so I only smiled and nodded instead.
I am a good mom. Still, I battle constantly the guilt that comes with having chosen to come to Africa and to live here, apart from my husband and my precious daughters, indefinitely. Not once since I’ve been away have I worried that they might’ve missed a meal or that they went to bed at night not knowing that they are loved. If I were home at this moment I couldn’t say the same for my son.
So, I will continue to wait, to hope, to trust. Still, my heart is weary and the ache for my family to be whole again is ever present.
Thank you to everyone who has loved on my family since I’ve been gone. That we are so beautifully supported by so many is so humbling and overwhelming. I look forward to reciprocating and I pray that I have the opportunity to do so very, very soon.

Jecoah

Five months ago, nearly three years after we’d started the adoption process, Brad and I finally got the call telling us that we could travel to bring our son home. Less than one week later, we arrived in Kinshasa for what we expected would be both our first and last time. We would meet our son on day one and spend the next three weeks getting to know one another while we waited for some final documents, including the exit paperwork required by DRC for him to leave the country.
We were stunned to learn that, even though we met the criteria to receive an exit letter, we would be forced to return home without our boy. We’d spent five weeks parenting him, caring for him, falling in love with him, amazed at the honor and privilege that God has given us of being his parents. We’d watched him transform from a scared and hungry little boy to a child who’d fallen in love with his mommy and looked forward to morning walks with daddy. He trusted us to refill his cup with clean water when he was thirsty, scoop a second helping of dinner onto his plate when he was still hungry, hold him and kiss his tears when he cried.
The sound of our son’s screams as the driver pulled away from our hotel to return him to the orphanage will be forever burned into my memory. No child should ever, ever have to know what it feels like to be abandoned and no parent should ever be forced to do so.
It didn’t take long after we returned home for Brad and I to make the decision for me to return to Kinshasa to be with Jecoah until he is allowed to leave the country. I spent seven weeks preparing my family, our girls, my friends and myself for what we anticipated could be a very long and difficult season in our lives. Just as we would never allow one of our daughters to live in an orphanage 8,000 miles away from home, neither could we allow it for our son.
Seven weeks ago, I arrived in Kinshasa for the second time, but without my husband and with no idea when I might return home.
Recently, our case and the cases of several hundred other DRC adoptive families was taken on by adoption attorney Kelly Dempsey. Kelly was featured in the documentary STUCK a few years back and has assisted many other families in similar situations with getting their children home. We are thrilled that she is helping us!
There are a few ways you can help, too:
1. Click HERE and take less than three minutes to sign the petition to Congress asking them to help us resolve all pending adoptions by US citizens from DRC.
2. SHARE our story with your Facebook friends, your friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc. Encourage them to sign the petition!
3. Yes, as much as we wish things were different, we are still in need of financial support while J and I are living in Kinshasa. By rooming with other adoptive moms and their kids and also by fostering a baby I’ve been able to cut my expenses by nearly two-thirds. We are so thankful and have loved seeing how God is providing in unexpected ways! Still, it is incredibly expensive to live here and my portion of our rental fees is more than our monthly mortgage payment in the States. If you would like to offer financial support with a one time or ongoing donation, please click the DONATE button at the top of this page.
4. And, finally, please continue to pray for our family. This separation already has been so hard on Brad and I and our three daughters. We are all very close and our hearts are fragile; I miss my babies. I miss my love.
Thank you so much to all of you who have been following our story and have committed to praying for and supporting us. It is our heart’s desire that God will be glorified through our family.

Unexpected Gifts

I expected my nerves would keep me from sleep last night. Instead, the wind was what robbed me of any significant amount of quality rest. Perhaps it was a little of both…
Brad and I woke the girls up at 3:30 this morning so that they could go with us to the airport. The airline agent that helped us check in seemed quite alarmed that I was traveling alone and wanted to check six large suitcases. Each passenger is allowed only two checked bags; additional checked bags incur a cost of $200 each. My stomach was in knots at the thought of the $800 that was about to leave the adoption account. I mentioned to the agent that most of my baggage was full of clothes, shoes, food and toys that will eventually be donated to the orphanage. At that moment we were met with such grace; over $500 in baggage charges were waived and I took my first deep breath of the day.
Saying goodbye to my husband and our daughters was even harder than I’d imagined. We prayed and cried together for a few minutes before I turned and walked away for what I pray will only be a short time, but also fear could be our longest amount of time apart ever.
I was met in the security line with the sympathetic gazes of strangers who saw my tears; I’m fairly certain that at least a few of them were tempted to hug me. I probably would have let them if they’d tried.
Even before my tears had dried I began to feel a very real sense of peace and of strength; not the false sense that results from the motivational pep talks I speak to myself sometimes, but the peace that can only come from the Holy Spirit. I feel strong, not because I am but because He is – His power is perfected in my weakness.
My flight to D.C. was….loud. The poor girl who sat next to me must have the worst cold ever; she sniffled and snorted and snotted no less than four THOUSAND times in the course of our two and a half hour flight. I thought about offering her a tissue but I worried that she’d be offended.
Instead, I shoved my earbuds in my ears and cranked up some of my favorite praise music. Sadly, I couldn’t hear the music over the sound of the jet engine roaring loudly behind me. RIGHT. BEHIND. ME. Yep – last row.
Still, I see the grace gifted to me, even on that loud stinking flight: the plane landed safely and on time, with a short layover before my flight to Brussels.
Now, I’m hanging out at the airport, sipping a hot latte, writing, reading and people watching.
God is good.

Family

A Guest Post By Justine Atkins

This is my first blog post ever. And I can’t think of a better way to enter the ‘blogging world’ than to talk to you all about a little boy I’ve never met but who I love so much, and his parents and sisters who desperately want him in their arms, in their home.

Shellie is my cousin. More than that, she is one of the closest people to me. A bonus sister, if you will. I’m going to brag on her a bit 🙂 She is one of the funniest people I know, stupid beautiful, and she loves, loves, loves Jesus. The work God has done in my dear cousin’s heart is beautiful. She truly is the iron that sharpens iron in my life. She really has been the hands and feet of Christ and I am blessed she is in my life.

My heart is breaking though watching helplessly as she, Brad, and their three precious daughters ache for the day Jecoah is home. I so badly want to take the pain away. Then my aching heart is prompted to pray. Especially as I sit on my couch with my three precious daughters and while I snuggle my son in my arms, just like Brad and Shellie would love to be doing. Then I imagine what I’d be doing if my son were being held hostage from me by another country’s government. Only by the grace of God are Brad and Shellie functioning right now.

This road that God has called them to walk has been hard. Very hard. I have watched as God has given them the grace to walk it with such self-sacrifice, love, faithfulness and patience. I see God gently use friends to speak truth to Shellie’s heart on her darkest of days….days she can hardly get out of bed. I know it’s been the hardest thing they’ve ever done, but anything is worth going through for your children, right?

I’ve never seen anyone work so hard for something. The moment God prompted Brad and Shellie’s heart to adopt they started working as hard as they could to raise the money; saving, willing to sell anything they own, and starting a business refinishing furniture and knick knacks and selling them. Shellie cleaned homes and painted kitchen cabinets to raise money. We have done online auctions and sold freezer meals. She was willing to work anyway she could to raise this money. Many have given so generously….I can’t tell the number of times she was moved to tears by the generosity of friends and family.

Adoption is SO expensive, especially when the country you are adopting from is literally holding these children hostage from the parents who are legally theirs. Jecoah is legally a Costain! The government just needs to sign his exit letter. So, that being said, I’m asking if you will pray about donating to this adoption. Any amount helps. And in return you will be emailed the JPEG file for this beautiful print of Psalm 37. A dear friend designed it for this fundraiser. How neat to be able to be a part of something bigger than ourselves! We can be part of the plan that God has for Jecoah to come home in his parents’ arms!

Shellie leaves soon to stay with Jecoah in DRC until they sign his letter. And who wouldn’t? If one of my children were being kept from me by a foreign government, I’d be by their side too! Oh I can’t wait for the day when I finally get my arms around that boy, and my lips on those cheeks of his! I know it will be one of the happiest days of my life! Please join me in prayer and support for all 6 of the Costains as they embark on yet another part of the journey in bringing sweet Jecoah home!

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Befriend Faithfulness

Two weeks from today, God willing, I’ll be somewhere between here and Washington D.C., on my way back to be with Jecoah. I ache for the moment my precious boy will be back in my arms…for good this time. I’m resolved to wait out the suspension with him and, while our heart’s deepest desire is that I will only be gone a short time, the reality is that I could be gone for a long while. I’m nervous and sad and maybe even a little scared to leave Brad and the girls here at home, but we feel that it is our very best option at this point to disrupt their norm as little as possible. Separation isn’t all bad; our five weeks apart over the holidays certainly made us appreciate one another more than ever. It’s good to be missed and it’s also good to have someone (or, lots of someones) to miss.

The next two weeks will be filled with lots of busy work preparing for my trip and tying up loose ends from the auction. It was beautifully successful and Brad and I were absolutely overwhelmed by the donated goods and services, many by people who we’ve never met but who heard our story and wanted to help. The funds raised are enough to cover nearly two weeks of food, lodging and transportation for J and I in DRC. Praise God!

I’m incredibly excited to share with you our next fundraiser, an idea born as a result of a great deal of prayer by my dear Kara and executed so beautifully by my friend Becky (who happens to be a gifted photographer. Please take the time to visit her website HERE to see some of her lovely work.) and her equally gifted husband, Mark.

I’m so, so proud of this, friends. It’s a lovely poster, consisting of my very favorite colors: grey, white and teal.

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Psalm 37 ministered to Brad and I continually during our five weeks in Africa. Mark chose the perfect selection of verses to include in his design for a poster to offer to you all, that you can print, frame and hang in your home. We would love it if you would pray for us, for Jecoah, for all the Congolese children who have moms and dads and siblings who so desperately want them to come home. We pray that this Psalm will minister to you as it has us.

Here’s how the fundraiser will work:

In exchange for a donation of any amount we will send you an email with an attached pdf file and instructions to print either an 8×10 or a 16×20 size print of the Psalm 37 poster. (Your poster will not have the word “sample” emblazoned across it. 😉 ) You need only click the button below to make your donation.

Thank you, dear friends. Thank you for sticking with us, for loving us so very well.

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Brokenness

Oh, my friends… You’ve all loved Brad and me and our girls so well. I’m so thankful. You tell me that you admire my faith and my strength and my courage as we face each seemingly endless hurdle. If I’ve demonstrated those things ~ the faith, the courage and strength you claim to see, it’s not been honest. Today, I am broken. I am scared. My faith is desperately weak.

Yesterday was a terrible, awful day. I woke up after a particularly fitful night’s sleep feeling like I’d been in a brutal physical battle. My body ached, my throat was on fire, I had a gnarly headache. And, then the tears showed up; the big, shoulder shaking sobs that I’ve held off since before we left Africa on Christmas Eve. A sadness like I’ve not felt until now has enveloped me like a heavy blanket, replacing my peace with fear and my faith with doubt.

I long for the day when all four of our children live under the same roof, when our life is dull again and we can be the givers instead of the receivers. It is so humbling to continually be on the receiving end of selfless love, encouragement, prayers, donations. I feel so unworthy. Sometimes, I say to Jesus, “I’m humbled enough, right? Can I be done now?”. I think the answer is no.

Brad has asked me to postpone my trip back to DRC for a couple extra weeks and I’ve agreed. I need the extra time to prepare, to love on our girls and to be with my husband.

Our online auction is going beautifully. It looks like we’ve raised enough money to pay for just over a week of living expenses in Kinshasa for Jecoah and me. Unbelievable, right? There are still several items that haven’t yet received any bids. Feel free to head over to Facebook to do some shopping.

 

Back to Africa

After a great deal of consideration and prayer, Brad and I have decided that I will return to DRC in early February to wait out the suspension with Jecoah.
We pray that my trip will be a quick one, but we are doing our best to prepare ourselves, our girls and our extended family for the possibility of my being gone for quite some time. While we know that we made the right decision in returning home on Christmas Eve, we also know now that The Lord is sending me back to be with our son while Brad stays home and cares for our daughters.
As you might expect, our adoption fund all but imploded as a result of our discovering that Jecoah’s exit letter would not be signed and our subsequent longer stay in Africa.
Once again, our incredibly supportive friends are working on a couple of really creative fundraisers that we pray will allow J and I to cover our living expenses in Kinshasa. The first one will be taking place very soon and I would love for YOU to be a part of it!
On January 25th, my friends Connie and Wendy will be facilitating an online auction that will include many handmade items made by some of the most talented artisans in Colorado Springs and beyond, as well as a photo session from Jen Lints Photography, a hand-painted, vintage Drexel Heritage china cabinet and much, much more. If you or someone you know would like to contribute a piece of artwork or a service to our auction, please contact me via Facebook (Shellie Barnhart Costain) or via email at costainpartyofsix@hotmail.com. If you’d rather shop than create, please contact me and I’ll add you to our auction page on Facebook!
Thank you, friends for continuing on this journey with us. We feel so fortunate to have been loved so well through this season of our life.

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