Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Fortnight of Forty Celebrations

Last month Steve turned the big 4-0 and we decided that a birthday this big deserved a full fortnight of celebration! Ok, truth be told it was really just a great excuse to have a great time with each other, family, and friends. Here's the full listing of our Fortnight of Forty celebrations:

Sensory Deprivation Tanks

One can't embark upon a full two weeks of celebration without starting fresh, so we hit the "float spa" for a new adventure. It was... interesting. Basically, you float in a tank of water about 6-inches deep filled with 1,000 pounds of Epsom salts. You couldn't sink if you tried. For the first few minutes, all I could think is, "how can I have that many nicks in my cuticles, and how can they hurt that much?" but after a while I was able to relax into the experience. It was interesting to be in the darkness and stillness and silence for a full hour. Worth the experience; not sure I'd go back. But a good start to our celebrations!

Katy Perry

In stark contrast to experience 1, Katy Perry was loud, fun, and very, very entertaining. Steve even purchased a pair of Katy Cat ears for each of us, so we could fully immerse ourselves in the experience. Unsurprisingly, they were sized for tween girl heads. But we were committed to the look (you can understand why - we looked so good in them) and persevered.

Our seats were amazing, the concert was amazing, and day two of celebration was a complete success.


The next day we hit Buca de Beppo and a movie with friends. It was great! Being that it was a major occasion, we even secured the Pope Table for the event. That's how you know it's a real party.

We had originally planned to go to Brewvies to see a movie, but they weren't showing anything we wanted to see, so instead we headed to the Broadway to see Ladybird. Admittedly, a movie about a teenage girl's coming-of-age was a bit odd for a 40th birthday party, but the movie was everything its 98% fresh rating promised and we thoroughly enjoyed it.

Puzzle Room

The day before Steve's birthday we hit the puzzle room for a festive Candyland breakout adventure. Never fear, we made it out, and with minimal hints at that! And as a bonus, there were enough parallel puzzles to keep all six of us entertained for most of the hour we were locked in. And for the rest of us, there were Santa costumes to play with.


The next day was Steve's birthday proper. We celebrated with gifts (of course) including my coup de gras of gifts - Steve's very own monoboard! Unfortunately, the gift budget did not extend to a vintage 80's neon one-piece ski suit so if anybody is looking to get Steve a late birthday gift, there are plenty available on eBay!

There were other gifts (but, really, who can remember anything better than a monoboard?) and we headed out to Tucanos for all you can eat dinner. It was pretty much a dream birthday.

Weekend Away!

But wait, there's more! Thanks to fabulous grandparents who kept the house and children in one piece and mostly funded the trip, we were able to take a long weekend in Seattle! I travel to Seattle every other week for work and we were able to extend the trip over the weekend and enjoy the city together. We did a lot of walking, a lot of seafood eating, and a lot of just enjoying being together.

The Pinball Museum was definitely a highlight of the trip - it was soooo much fun. They had machines made in the early 1900s all the way though modern games, all in wonderful condition and all playable. We played for hours and had such a great time!

Another highlight was MoPOP (the museum of popular culture). The Jim Henson exhibit was our personal favorite, of course, but we enjoyed the whole museum and definitely appreciated having something fun to do indoors because (no surprise here) it rained for most of our visit.

In the evening we walked to an independent theater and caught The Disaster Artist. It was such fun! Attending the opening weekend of a movie like that in a city like Seattle where everybody knows every inside joke in the movie was a total blast. And the movie was fantastic - a must see for every fan/hater of The Room.
And with that, Steve's Fortnight of Forty was complete! And now we get to go on to planning for our 20th anniversary this summer! The celebrations keep on coming!

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Focus of God's Love

This week I had the honor of sharing a message at the annual CenterPoint Church Women's Christmas Dessert. This year's event was as beautiful as always - lovely tables, over 500 women joining together to enjoy each other's company, festive carols, delicious desserts, fellowship and worship. Mom and I teamed up to host two tables full of our neighbors and friends, and I loved sharing such a special night with our Utah Valley community.

It was such a joy and privilege to speak at this year's event. I got to share about some of the beautiful, transformative truth I've learned over the past few years about how adoption is the perfect analogy for how we join God's family. And to ensure that I never lose the notes, here they are! I hope this truth touches your heart this Christmas as deeply as it has mine.

The Focus of God's Love

Hi, my name is Jamie Morningstar. My family and I been a part of the CenterPoint Church family for 16 years. We started coming to CenterPoint after moving to Utah from Maryland right after college and CenterPoint has been our church family ever since.

I work in Provo as a Software Product Manager for Qualtrics, I’ve been married almost 20 years, and I have 4 kidlings - 2 by birth and 2 by adoption, ages 8-16.

Tonight I get to tell you a little about how our journey to adopt our daughters has changed my perspective of God’s love for me,
for you,
for each of us.

Our Adoption Adventures

Let’s rewind to 2007.

Our sons Sam and Ben were 4 and 6. We had survived those crazy baby and toddler years, the boys were sleeping through the night and could get their own cheese sticks from the fridge. We had hit our groove as a family, and it was clear to me and to my husband Steve that it was time for another adventure.

After 6 months of research and prayer and financial planning we decided that it was time to grow our family, and that we wanted to grow our family through adoption. To dramatically oversimplify the decision, at the end of the day we knew that there were kids in the world who needed a family, and we were a family who wanted a kid. That equation made sense to us.

And so we decided to pursue international adoption.

Thus began one of the most challenging, expensive, exhausting, growing, stretching seasons of our lives. Adoption is HARD WORK! Meetings with social workers, collecting form after form and document after document, physicals, immigration paperwork and immigration interviews. Plus there was all the work of preparing our emotions, our family, and our home for welcoming in a new child coming from a tough situation 6,000 miles away. Those months for me are a blur of FedEx envelopes and official seals and parenting books.

But there are a few moments I will never forget, a few emotions and mental snapshots that define the whole experience for me.

Like, when we received our first photo of our daughter.

Of course, the adoption process had always been a personal journey, but the moment our daughter became not “our daughter” but when we saw her face and knew her name, that changed everything. We weren’t just pursuing a process or pursuing a child - we were pursuing this child. Our child.

I remember when her photo came, when we opened that email attachment and my heart caught in my throat and all I could think was, “Oh! It’s you!”

I remember the intensity of my fury at any delay, any snag in the paperwork that kept me from that child, from my child. I remember thinking, “Don’t those government officials know? Every extra day they take processing this form is a day longer our daughter is suffering? Every day is one day longer that she isn’t getting the medical care she needs, the nutrition she needs, the love she needs?”

And, of course, I remember the visceral, body-wracking joy of that first meeting.

That joy wasn’t really our daughter’s. She didn’t really understand what was going on as these weirdos who didn’t talk right, smell right, or look right swooped in and got their happy tears and snot all over her.

Those first few minutes of inexpressible joy, that was the joy of parents who has labored for months and years and traveled half the world finally holding their daughter in their arms.

There is little in my life that I have worked so hard for, that I have sacrificed so much for, or that I have received so much joy from.

Our Adoption Story in God

So far, I’ve talked  about the struggles and joys of our adoption journey to Sasha, our eldest daughter. So in fairness to WanYing, our second daughter, whose story is every bit as beautiful and miraculous, here are is a photo of that adventure.

But we’re not here to talk about me, or to ooh and aah at adorable pictures of my family :) Adoption was and continues to be an incredibly growing, stretching experience for me. The biggest change that the experience of adopting our girls cultivated in my heart was a totally new understanding of God’s love for me, as expressed through Jesus.

Through our adoption adventures, Ephesians 1:3-6 has become an incredibly personal passage of scripture for me. It reads
How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.
Do you see hear this is saying?!?

God chose you as the focus of his love!

God planned to add you to his family!

Motivated by his love and desire for you, God pursues you!

God adopts you!

And God celebrates adding you to his family!

It’s like that experience when we first saw Sasha’s photo, and suddenly we were no longer pursuing the idea of a daughter - we were pursuing that girl. Our girl.

God has known you and dreamed of adding you to his family since before the dawn of time. He didn’t have to wait for a picture to arrive. His pursuit of you has always been the unique, individual, personal, tender love of a father.

In Jesus, he came to you. He was born as a helpless baby - that’s what we celebrate at Christmas! We celebrate Christ coming to us, becoming like us, all for love.

Not only did Jesus sacrifice his authority and position as God to be born in a stable, raised by normal working class folks, sharing in our pain and sorrow and weakness, but Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice so that we could be made right with God. He died for us.

God is perfect; we can never be - and God’s perfection cannot abide the sin of our nature, our prideful rebellion against him. And so Jesus - all God, all man, and completely perfect - took our sin upon him and died. Jesus sacrificed himself, so that we could call God “Daddy”, so that we could enter God’s family fully accepted,
fully loved,
made right with God.

And this is all God’s work! It’s a lot like our journey to Sasha - Sasha literally did nothing. She couldn’t! She couldn’t go out and find herself a family halfway across the world. She couldn’t apply for a visa or U.S. citizenship. She couldn’t pay lawyer and court fees or buy herself a plane ticket to the U.S.! The idea of a toddler doing any of that is completely preposterous, right?

The same thing goes for our adoption into God’s family. We can’t earn it,
we can’t make ourselves good enough.
We can only say “yes” and accept that love.

And when we say, “God, I’ve got nothing going for me. I can’t be perfect, and I’m done pretending - take me as I am. I accept Jesus’ sacrifice for me on the cross. I want to be yours."

When we accept God’s love, the Bible says there’s a party in heaven! There is sheer, exuberant, unrestrained joy at our adoption into God’s family!

The Bible is clear - when we are adopted by God, we become children of God. We get to call God, “Daddy”. We get to live with him forever as part of his family.

Our Response

So what? What does all that mean for you, today?

First, I challenge you to care for the vulnerable.

There are 140 million orphans in this world. 40 million people live in modern day slavery. Just as God sacrificed and reached out to you, we get to do the same for the neglected and abused in our world.

There are 1001 ways to care for the vulnerable, from considering adoption as a way to build your family, to supporting organizations like International Justice Mission that rescue slaves and defend the rights of the poor, to supporting the CenterPoint Mission team and the Hogar de Amor orphanage as they care for vulnerable kids in Colima, Mexico.

But this isn’t about what you need to do. This is about what God has done for you.
Listen one more time to what the Bible is saying to you about God’s love:
Long before God laid down earth’s foundations, he had you in mind, had settled on you as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago God decided to adopt you into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted you to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.

If you have already said yes to this love, then this Christmas revel in that joy in a new way. Bask in being the focus of his love.

And remember that it’s ok if the journey is still bumpy. I know of no “happily ever after” “everything is smooth-sailing” adoption story. Our relationship with Sasha takes daily work. It’s a two-way street now, and as our daughter Sasha is a part of deciding how that relationship is going to evolve and grow. The effects of her early traumas provide very real challenges to her and to our relationship. Living as family is hard.

But as parents none of the hard stuff changes our commitment to our relationship. In fact, the tough times often bind us closer together. Sasha is our daughter.
Focus of our love.
fully loved,
and totally ours.

The same is true of your relationship with God - life can be hard, even if you have already said “yes” to his offer of adoption. In the sweet times and in the heart wrenching times, he is with you, leading you, loving you. Nothing ever can or ever will change your position as his daughter,
the focus of his love.
fully loved,
and totally his.

And this Christmas, if you don’t know if you’ve said yes to this love, if you aren’t sure that you’ve accepted his invitation to adopt you, you have the opportunity to accept the greatest gift of all.

Say yes to God. Accept God’s perfect, astounding love for you and his sacrifice to adopt you - that he has chosen you, sacrificed for you, done all the work to make you his daughter.

Revel in his joy in welcoming you to his family.

Respond to being the focus of God’s love.


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