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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Freedom & Captivity

This past Sunday, my pastor stood before our little church and said this: “Lately, the Lord has really been speaking to me about freedom.”

His statement took me by surprise because lately, the Lord has been dealing with me on the exact same topic. Freedom – it’s central to our Christian faith. After all, Christ came “to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.” – Isaiah 61:1.

Captivity. It's the opposite of freedom. And it's never pretty, no matter how you slice it.

I’ve walked the grounds of M and I’ve seen physical captivity.


Yes, that would be a picture of a child imprisoned in a cell.

I’ve witnessed spiritual captivity among my unsaved friends and family members. These are people who are dear and precious to me who simply will not admit their need for Christ. They are prisoners to their own self righteousness and captive to their own resourcefulness.

But captivity is not just for non-believers.

Among the Christians in my life, I know many who are held captive by the sin in their lives. I know people who are in bondage to alcohol, to lust, to anger and bitterness and much more.

And, without question, I’ve experienced my own share of captivity. Haven't we all?

I am amazed at our ability to subject ourselves to captivity again and again. "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." -- Gal 5:1 (empasis mine). How often do we throw off one yolk only to put another one right back on?

We can radicalize our lives and throw off the chains of materialism and the American Dream… only to shackle ourselves inside a prison of legalism – a set of rules and regulations for how the “real” Christians must live.

We can beat down the beast of laziness and surrender our free time to launch an international ministry… only to take on the yoke of pridefulness -- because we've done this thing and others have not.

And once we fall prey to pride, we’re in big trouble.

I believe that pride is the greatest danger of this blog world, and perhaps to any proclaimer of God’s Word. A well-intentioned writer or speaker can come up with a couple of good words, receive a little affirmation, a little praise of man… and poof! You’re a prisoner. It owns you. And in case you can’t tell, I’m speaking on all this from personal experience.

I’ve seen it in myself and I’ve seen it in fellow bloggers. Last week, I came face to face with a situation that rocked my world and broke my heart. It was the result of someone being truly imprisoned by pride, to the point that they hindered their own ministry. It was captivity at its very worst – and that’s a place I hope to never, ever go myself. Because it doesn't really matter how many people you're encouraging, how many you're able to spur on to action -- if you're not doing it for the glory of God, you shouldn't be doing it at all.

I sincerely pray that the Lord will shut my mouth and turn off my blog long before I ever get to that point. Because apart from the Gospel, there's only one thing I know for sure: I don't know it all. I never have and I never will on this side of Heaven.

Whew. I’m glad that’s off my chest. Moving on…

A few weeks ago, I was asked to help with the Pre-Summit event for adoptive moms in Louisville, KY in early May. In keeping with my earlier point (you know, the part about “not knowing it all…) I will not be a speaker at this event or a teacher of any kind. I’m just helping organize the event and I may facilitate a small group or two.

If you’re considering attending the Summit, please join me. I may not have anything to teach but I’ve sure got a lot to learn. Come learn with me, I’d love the company!
Monday, April 25, 2011

I'm Not the Only Crazy One!

Remember this picture?



That’s my friend, Joy Harty, and me just before we headed to the airport to fly to Uganda in November 2010. Joy and I look so happy, content and excited to start off on our big adventure, don’t we?

But don’t let the picture fool you. Here’s what you don’t see: Seven hysterical children wailing in the background. Three of the children are mine, four are Joy’s. There are tears streaming down little cheeks, big kids begging us not to go, babies screaming in their car seats and two Daddies doing their best to calm the situation and assure us that they’ll be “perfectly fine” for the next week or so.

Now, I had no choice in this matter. I had to turn around and get on that airplane. I had two children, one attorney and a court date waiting for me in Uganda. But Joy… she chose to be there with me. She purchased a $2,000 plane ticket, arranged and paid for a week’s worth of childcare and flew to Africa to just to stand by a sister in Christ. Now that’s a friend.

Joy and I spent a week together in Africa. I met Hannah and Joseph for the first time. We served with SixtyFeet. We appeared in court for my adoption hearing. And then we left my children in the very capable hands of Ernest and Catherine and headed on home.



Two weeks later, Dan returned to Uganda for our court ruling. This was the week before Christmas and, to be honest, it was a very hard time for me. I knew that Dan probably wouldn’t make it home for Christmas. I knew that once he was home, our family would never look the same again.


But mostly I was struggling with the idea that Dan was going to be all by himself, on the other side of the world, caring for two children he barely knew, with no help at all. My man is capable – but that’s some major stuff.

About a week into Dan’s adventure in Uganda, one of his best friends decided to fly over and help him out. That friend just happened to be Joy’s husband, Scott. Nevermind that it was the week of Christmas. Nevermind that their family had to purchase another $2,000 plane ticket to help our family out. Nevermind that Scott is a busy international tax attorney. 

Scott had every good excuse in world NOT to go and join Dan in Africa. Perhaps his best excuse could have been “buddy, this isn’t my problem.” He could have offered to pray for us. He could have offered to help out financially. But he wanted to put his faith into action and do something.

Scott spent a full week in Uganda with Dan. That week, He was literally the hands and feet of Jesus to my husband. Dan needed a friend, he needed some support and Scott was there for him. Scott flew home on Christmas Eve – but only because Judd Harper, another of our dear friends, was coming over to take his place.

This is sacrificial friendship at its very best.

Throughout our adoption process, the Harty’s stood with Dan and me right on the front lines. They prayed with us through the good times and the bad. They cried with us over the lack of support of we received from other believers. They helped us raise money. They helped us gather enough courage to go through with the thing when we wanted to quit.

You’d think that seeing these struggles and challenges first hand would have scarred the Harty’s for life. You’d think they’d never want anything to do with international adoption ever again. You'd think they'd never want anything to do the Owens again.

But you’d be wrong.

This crazy experience actually had the opposite effect on them. This weekend, Scott and Joy announced their own plans to adopt from Uganda!!

So why am I telling you all this? Well first, because it’s one heck of a story – and I know y’all love a good story. But second, because I hope you’ll hop on over to Joy’s blog, sign up as a follower and keep up with the Harty adventures.

Pray for them, encourage them, even support them financially if you feel led. This family is one of a kind and we all have so much to learn from Joy and Scott. I, for one, cannot wait to follow every step of their journey.

“A friend loves at all times.” – Proverbs 17:17, NIV

And by the way, Happy Easter from the Owens Family to yours! Rejoice for He has risen!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

We Now Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Program

A couple of years ago, I was at the dermatologist’s office for a completely harmless visit. I think I was looking for a new moisturizer or I had some other vanity-related issue. In the course of our visit, the doctor noticed a small mole on my shoulder, told me she didn’t like the look of it and asked if she could remove it. The spot looked fine to me but I figured, what the heck, she’s the doc. I told her to go ahead and take it off and I never gave it another thought.

Until my doctor called me two days later. You know it’s never good news when the doctor herself calls.  “Shelly, that mole we took off was cancerous. It’s melanoma. We have to schedule you for surgery immediately.” Um… excuse me??

Early the next week, I underwent surgery and now I have the nasty scar on my shoulder to prove it. Dan and I spent the next 4 days talking and praying and wondering what the future held – but that Friday, the doctor called with good news. The surgery was successful, the borders were clean, no chemo or radiation would be required. Whew, major sigh of relief and all thanks be to God.

Ever since, I've been very vigilant about regular skin checks. Two weeks ago, I was at my regular bi-annual appointment and my dermatologist found another questionable spot. This one was on my back. She told me “I’m going to take this one off but I’m sure it’s nothing.”

But two days later, I got a call. This time it was not my doctor but her surgical coordinator. It is definitely never good news when your doctor’s surgical coordinator calls you. “Shelly, it’s the same drill as last time. We need you to come in immediately.”

WHAT?? I have to deal with this again? Now? I’m kind of busy here. Besides my usual crazy life, I’m helping organize a national cupcake sale this week and I'm hosting a giant birthday party for my newly adopted children. GREAT.

We went ahead with our week as planned. We did the Cupcake Kids thing:



We did the giant birthday party:




And first thing this morning, I went in for my out-patient surgery. They’ll call me with the results in a couple of days.

No, this was not part of my regularly scheduled program – but it certainly didn’t catch our Lord off guard. There’s nothing about doing His work, no matter who you serve, how you serve or how dedicated you are – that makes you exempt from these situations.

The idea that we serve, we give, we’re faithful with our resources – and then no harm will befall us... well, that’s nice but that’s not the Gospel. There's nothing we can do to earn His love and there is no extra credit for good people. And by the way, there are no good people.

We should never give and do and love and serve because we expect to get anything in return. If you love Jesus, that is enough. And this other stuff is all just part of the job/life.

“Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep… Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told what to do? So you also, when you have done everything you’ve been told to do, should say ‘we are unworthy servants. We have only done our duty.” – Luke 17:7-10, NIV
Sunday, April 17, 2011

What If?

Here’s a secret… one night when I was in Africa, I almost backed out of our adoption altogether. I had a hard time in Uganda. Everywhere I looked, I was surrounded by desperate, extreme poverty and raw emotion. The equatorial heat was pounding on me, the malaria meds were making me nauseous and the ambien was not helping me sleep. I missed my family terribly. I was over it. I was done.

I started to lose my courage. I began thinking “maybe I didn’t hear the Lord right on this one. I’ll go home, turn off my blog, keep my head down and let the whole thing blow over. I can’t do this. Furthermore, I don’t WANT to do this. I’ll just go home and live my regular old life like a normal, sane person.”

Joy and I sat up late into the night. We ate pizza and chocolate and talked and prayed and laughed and cried. And by the time morning dawned, the Lord had restored my strength and my courage. I still didn’t feel like I could do it. But I knew that He could. I would proceed in faith.

Five months later, I look back on that night and I almost cannot breathe. It makes me shudder to think this thought: what if I hadn’t done it? What if Dan and I had chickened out? It’s impossible to quantify the blessings, the privileges, the opportunities that would have passed us by.

Today we celebrated Hannah and Joseph’s birthdays. It was also a celebration of their homecoming. But mostly it was a celebration of the Lord. Of His goodness, His blessings, His unique ability to bring absolute beauty from ashes. Pictures to follow soon... I promise.

Today we also announced the to-date total for the National Cupcake Kids sale. And the same story really applies here… again, it makes me cringe to think “what if?” What if Dan, Michael, Scott and the other guys hadn’t started SixtyFeet? What if they’d been too busy to hear the call? What if they’d been too consumed by their careers, their sports interests, their lives in general? What they just hadn’t cared?

Families all over the country and across the world stepped up to participate in the SixtyFeet fundraiser this weekend. Cupcake stands were scattered from New Hampshire to New Mexico, from Ontario to Texas, from Singapore to Atlanta. So far we've only had one third of cupcake stands report their totals. And that one third has already raised a combined total of $29,711.12. Now that’s humbling.

And to think it all started just because a couple of regular ol’ families fell in love – with Jesus, that is.

At some point, we’ll all face a crossroads. And then we have to choose – His path or mine? As for me and my household, we choose the Lord. His ways are not just higher, they are infinitely better.
Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Week That Just Might Kill Me

Ok, I have officially undertaken too much. I am in the midst of a week that only a crazy person would take on. Not a “cool” crazy person with a heart for Africa, a passion for orphan advocacy and a great love of adoption. But an actually crazy person. That's me.

It’s the week of the Cupcake Kids national sale in support of SixtyFeet and we are in the midst of a full on Cupcake marathon around here.

There’s Please, with a Cherry on Top:


It’s Not Easy Bein’ Green:

Somewhere Over the Rainbow:


And much, much more… You should see the disaster that is my kitchen. Today was our family’s first sale of the week. We hit up Daddy’s office and made $1,037 in one hour. Apparently those Buckhead businessmen love their cupcakes.



Friday we’re doing a Cupcake Kids sale at Madeline’s school and on Saturday, we’re teaming up with the rest of the SixtyFeet families for a huge sale at Piedmont Park in midtown Atlanta.

But on top of all this cupcake craziness, we’ve got an even bigger celebration brewing around this place. On Sunday, we’re celebrating Hannah and Joseph’s birthdays!!

When we filed our court papers in Uganda last Fall, neither child had a known date of birth. I doubt either of them had ever even heard the word “birthday” at that point. So the courts allowed us to choose birthdays for Hannah and Joseph, based on their medical reports.

Dan and I already have three Winter babies and we thought it might be fun to have some Spring birthdays around here. So we picked April 15 for Hannah and April 23 for Joseph.

And this Sunday, those two little people will have their first ever birthday party. It’s long overdue and we have a lot of lost time to make up for. But our God is in the business of “restoring the years the locusts have eaten. “ And I have no doubt He will deliver again this time.

We're celebrating with popcorn, cotton candy, two giant birthday cakes and an Easter egg hunt. And you bet I’ll share some pictures on Sunday night! Here’s what else I’ll share - the grand total (so far) raised for the National Cupcake Kids sale! Hannah and Joseph are the lucky ones who get to announce the total at the party on Sunday! They are so excited about this.  Don't forget that the funds raised will directly benefit some of their own friends -- children they know, love and have lived with in Uganda.

If you're in the Atlanta area, please come out and support one of our sales this week! If not, support us virtually by clicking on the cupcake below. Purchase a virtual cupcake for any amount that's on your heart and support the Owens Family Cupcake Kids Sale! Team up with us to serve SixtyFeet and we'll upload videos and pictures on Sunday night and show you what happened!





I know... I am a glutton for punishment for taking on so much in one week. But I've got to say, I love my life and I wouldn't want it any other way.

"And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us." -- Hebrews 12:1, NLT
Sunday, April 10, 2011

Changing Course

In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.” – Proverbs 16:9




2010 was the year the Lord set our family on a different course. It’s not like we were on Path A and He said… “hey, y’all scoot on over to Path B now.” It was like we were on Path A and a gale force wind picked us up and hurled us all the way to Path W.

In 2010, Dan and I started a ministry in Africa, we adopted two children from Uganda, we left our world renowned mega-church to plant a little church that meets in an elementary school cafeteria and we made the decision to leave our private school and start homeschooling our children. That’s a lot. Is it too much for one year?

This year, my friends Terrell and Jane moved their family from the Atlanta suburbs into a rough inner city neighborhood. They are also in the process of adopting an HIV + child from Uganda. What about Jane and Terrell? Too many changes for one year?

Dan and I regularly hear this question – why do ALL of this right now? Why spread yourself so thin? Why so many crazy changes all at once?

Well, the easy answer is this – often these changes flow from one another. Dan and I adopted because we started a ministry in Uganda and because we spent a lot of time in that little, beautiful country and saw the great need. We are homeschooling because we recently adopted two children and we think our family can grow stronger bonds by staying at home together next year.

But the harder answer is this – why would I partially surrender my life to Christ? Why would I give Him a little piece of my life to work on when He requires all? “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength.” – Luke 10:27. My understanding of the gospel is that it’s an all or nothing deal. You are either all the way in or you’re out.

Two thousand years ago it was just a regular day on the beach. Jesus approached two fishermen and said to them “come, follow me.” And the fisherman “immediately left the boat and their father and followed Him.” And with that, the lives of those two fishermen completely changed forever. Nothing was ever the same again.

Dan and I may not have literally jumped out of a boat, abandoned all our possessions and walked away from our lives – but we did fully exchange one lifestyle for another. This new course we’re walking is not easy and it’s not always fun, but it’s full of Jesus. “Rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed.” – I Peter 4:13

Is your life marked by suffering for Christ? Or is your life full of ease and comfort? Don’t buy into the prosperity gospel – the idea that we do our part and then God will bless us with health, wealth, comforts and ease. The life of a disciple of Christ should be marked by trials and sufferings, not the other way around.

Have you, like those humble fishermen, encountered Jesus? If so, your life should reflect it. We cannot serve two masters and we can’t walk two paths at the same time.

Note: If you enjoyed this post, you'll love the latest post on the SixtyFeet blog. I had no idea the guys were writing on this exact same subject this week. I should check in with my husband more often :-)
Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Incredible Story -- Final Chapter

Thanks so much to everyone who’s been following the Ernest and Catherine story.

Dan and I felt compelled to share this story of radical sacrifice. We wanted to write about it and we wanted all of you to know. But it was hard to share these details. The facts are just so humbling.

For sure, Dan and I have received some criticism since adopting Hannah and Joseph. We get weird looks in the grocery store and we endure rude and insensitive comments all the time. But in the grand scheme of things, we haven’t sacrificed much. We’ve given up our free time, our extra money and some space in our house – but we got a son and a daughter in return. Ernest and Catherine gave much, much more. And they got nothing in return. But great is their reward in Heaven.

Ernest and Catherine have the kind of faith you couldn’t buy in the wealthiest church in America. Indeed, we’d be hard pressed to find anyone in America with their kind of faith. Here, we depend on our wealth, our riches, our stuff. We confess with our mouths and we say we believe in our hearts that Jesus is Lord – but do our lives reflect His Lordship?

Ernest – he depends on God. Just before Dan left Hannah and Joseph at his home, back in July, he turned around one last time to look around. Dan pulled Ernest aside and asked him “do you have enough money for all this? Does the church pay you enough to take care of all these children?” Ernest looked Dan square in the eyes and replied “No. But I like it that way. It leaves room for God to work.”

The Lord has proven Himself over and over to Ernest and Catherine – because they’ve continually put themselves in situations that require their total dependence upon Him. They intentionally put themselves in situations that they simply cannot handle on their own. And to God be all the glory.

This week, the Lord proved Himself faithful to Ernest and Catherine once again. The completely unpublicized fundraiser on this little blog raised $8,300 in three days, including the SixtyFeet match. Tell me that’s not God.

The extra money (I would have mentioned this earlier but, frankly, my faithless little heart never imagined all this!) will be used to build the Sunday school building for the new church. Because right now the children are meeting like this:


Some donations came from people who know Dan and me, some came from folks who know Ernest and Catherine and some came from people who have never met any of us. Thank you for trusting us in faith. You will not be sorry.

I hope you are as inspired and moved by Ernest and Catherine as I am. This life they are living -- this is pure and faultess religion.

“Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings who cannot save… Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God.” – Psalm 146:3,5
Sunday, April 3, 2011

Incredible Story, Part 2

Note: This is Part 2 of a two-part post. Please read Post 1 before proceeding.

When we left off last time, Ernest and Catherine had a decision to make. The choice was this: either return two small children to the horrible place that is M – or stand to lose every bit of security they have in this life – their home, their farm, their income, everything.

If faced with this decision, I’ll tell you what I would do. I’d make the responsible choice. I’d be smart about this. Ernest and Catherine were already caring for a house full of orphans. Shouldn’t their first responsibility be to those children? Without their farm, how could they feed everyone? Without Ernest’s income as a pastor, how would they provide? We can’t just go around making foolish, impulsive decisions based on emotion. After all, Jesus calls us to be wise, right?

And yet the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. – 1 Corin 3:19

So what did they decide? Well, for the faithful few, such as Ernest and Catherine, the choice between earthly security and obedience to Christ is not really a choice at all. I’m sure you’re not surprised to hear that they stood by Hannah and Joseph. It didn’t matter that they already had a house full of orphans to care for. It didn’t matter that Hannah and Joseph were not their own children and never would be. All that mattered was Jesus and His command to care for least of these.

The church made good on their promise and they eventually forced Ernest and Catherine off of the land. Ernest lost his job, his home, his farm, his income, his church and his friends. But he didn’t lose heart.

He and Catherine took the children and moved on. And in January of this year, they started taking in other children from M. And since they were moving to a new area anyways, they went ahead and planted a new church. I mean, why not?

Last week, members of the SixtyFeet team were privileged to spend time with Ernest and Catherine in Uganda. We were able to help them put a roof on their new church and they invited Scott, one of our board members, to preach last Sunday. To which Scott remarked “what could I possibly teach these people about faith?”

Flora, Ernest, Boaz, Scott, Faith and Moses standing outside the new church, new roof in progress.
On this trip, we learned that Ernest and Catherine are currently living in a 2-bedroom apartment with 10 children. The living conditions are very cramped. Ernest and Catherine basically have no privacy or time to themselves and they must walk 90 minutes, each way, to their new church.

Dan and I feel a heavy burden to support Ernest and Catherine because of the amazingly sacrificial gift they gave to our family. Sixty Feet also desires to support their ministry, as they are now intentionally seeking to serve more and more children from M.

We’ve found a beautiful piece of property, including a large 9 bedroom home, in very close proximity to their church. $4,500 will pay their rent for the entire year and move them in immediately.

Scott and Ernest checking out the big house.

View from the house. God's handiwork is amazing! Saints like Ernest and Catherine deserve this view.
If you’d like to contribute any amount to help move Ernest, Catherine and the children into the new home click on the link below. Nothing is too small. Sixty Feet will match all donations, dollar for dollar, up to $2,250. Dan will be back in Uganda in May and we’ll share pictures and details.

You’ve heard me say it before but I’ll say it again… one little family can’t change the whole world, but you can change one little corner of it. Take this opportunity, right here and right now, and do something big for the Kingdom.