Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Inner Views of Jen Avellaneda

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."
James 1:27

One day, last summer, I was in the midst of a quandary,
as I was seeking God's will about something that concerns my family and me.
I had earnestly prayed and asked God for direction,
and in that prayer, I asked Him to give me a certain "sign" to confirm what I felt He was already showing me.
Later that evening, I came in to check email, and there it was...
on my computer screen...
contained in the last part of an email from a blogger I had been following
and linking up with for quite a while.
Of course, she had no idea what I was privately praying about.
Only God knew.
But, He worked through her...and He spoke straight to my heart through her words.

I couldn't believe my eyes, so I emailed her and told her about what had happened.
She wrote me back right away and told me that she didn't usually have the house to herself,
but, for some reason, that day her whole family was gone at the same time,
and God had prompted her to go outside on her porch and compose that email to her blog followers.
It wasn't even her normal time to send out that email!!!

It turned out that she was writing that email around the same, exact time that I was praying that prayer...
from almost 3,000 miles away!!!

God was answering my prayer by putting a message upon the heart of a dear sister in Christ
all the way across the country from me!
And she was faithful!
She minded God, and in that obedience, she helped God answer my prayer!

Both of us were astonished.
It reminded me of Peter and Cornelius (read Acts chapter 10)
and how God always works on both ends of a problem and/or situation.
If only we are faithful to Him, we never know how He might use us
or what wonderful door we may open for Him to work through!

Since that email correspondence, a beautiful, precious friendship has ensued,
and this dear lady has blessed me more times than I can even express.
Her love for Jesus is evident in every, single post she writes.
Her heart for children deeply challenges me and is an amazing thing to witness.
God is using her to change the little life at a time.

Some of you already enjoy her blog and her weekly link-up,
so you already know how special she is!
For those of you who don't, allow me to introduce to you,
Adoption, Foster Care, and Orphan Advocate, 
Christian Blogger, and Inspirational Speaker,
Jen Avellaneda.

Jen and her adopted daughter, Nicole
(See video of Nicole's adoption story later in this post.)

Jen Avellaneda.

Cheryl:  Could you please give us an introduction as to who you are?

Jen:  I'm Jen Avellaneda, a Northwest native who blogs at Rich Faith Rising and is a contributing author at Missional Women.  I've been married for twenty-three years.  My husband and I have been foster parents for the past decade.  We are also adoptive parents.  We are parents to four children; two biological kids, a nine-year-old adopted daughter, and an almost three-year-old we have as a foster daughter and hope to adopt.  I also speak, occasionally, and will be in Denver this April to speak at the Missional Women Conference.

Cheryl:  What are your passions and the causes closest to your heart?

Jen:  My heart beats for family and also for adoption.  Coincidentally just before this, I was doing a personal study on the word “blessing”, and I was astonished to discover that the very first mention of “blessing” is in correlation with “being fruitful” and “multiplying” (Gen 1:22 & 28).  I love God's model of family, and I love the beauty found in His picture of adoption.  In my experience, adoption is not something to bow our heads low about or be ashamed of...but something we can raise and open our hands to, rejoice over, and celebrate.  I am not sure what I would have done if He hadn't taken me in...broken, neglected, abandoned, and disconnected...and called me into His family.  It excites me that God is no respecters of persons. His club is not exclusive.  Biblical unity is also something that stirs in me deeply.  With so much division in our nation lately, I find it comforting that one thing God's Spirit does for us (if we let Him) is unites us together.  Our family, (I wish you could meet them in person), just so happens to be this beautiful palette of Latin, Caucasian, Bi-racial, African-American, and Samoan.  It's so much fun to get to represent our multi-faceted, people-loving, good, and unifying God every time we simply walk into a store together, and I very openly and voluntarily love discussing adoption and foster care, every, single chance I get.  I love how, although it's easy to try and make a mold for God, He won't fit into some box.  Lastly, I am passionate about missions and discipleship.  Often, it's easier to convert someone, than to choose to walk in the trenches with other people.  Still, I love how God says He walks with us through the valley.  Oh how thankful I am that He does that!

Cheryl:  Can you share with us about your foster-parenting journey? How many children have you fostered? What has been the most difficult part? What about it has fulfilled you the most?

Jen:  Thanks for asking about fostering, Cheryl.  Like I mentioned, our family has been fostering for ten years.  It is something that has been on my heart since I was a little girl.  As a child, I grew up in a big house with just one sibling.  I remember begging my mom, "It's just not fair, there are so many kids out there who need families, and we have this big house. We HAVE to do something."  As a little girl I used to line up my dolls in cribs all around my room and pretend that I had an orphanage.  All I can say is, I think fostering is something God deposited in me, even before I was born.  In the past decade we have fostered over a dozen kids. We usually only take one child at a time because in raising our older two, our goal was to really keep balance between family and our calling to foster.  The most difficult part?  Well, you could probably guess...saying "goodbye".  (I only wish I was made of steel!)  The truth is, often it takes less than five minutes for me to fall in love with these children.  But we realize, it's ultimately His multiplying love that transforms when we love big, getting hurt can, sadly, just be part of the journey.  God also often gives me a much-needed reminder that this calling is about serving Him, dispersing His heart, and living for His will.  It's not about our feelings.  What has fulfilled me the most?  Seeing the transforming power of His love in the lives of these children.  Love is always worth the risk.  And honestly, I couldn't imagine more fulfilling work!  There is nothing like seeing a child who reportedly hits, bites, and throws things, come into our home and, by His grace, leave gentle, kind, and patient.  Or others come traumatized and paralyzed with fear and in just a few months they are walking, talking, smiling, and laughing.  God still heals wounds and is so gracious.  It is such humbling work.  We feel honored to be doing it.  It is like having a front row seat to His miracles and goodness every, single day.

Cheryl:  I so admire your heart for orphans. When did you first feel led to become an advocate for them, and what life event triggered this calling?

Jen:  Thank you, Cheryl.  As mentioned earlier, foster care and adoption has always been like a seed placed deep within my heart since as long as I can remember.  Yet, there was a time, over ten years ago, where God radically turned our world upside-down (in a good way).  I was reading Oswald Chambers', "My Utmost For His Highest".  There's too much to share in this interview, but basically God revealed His Sovereignty, how we are called to serve Him, and when we do, life isn't always going to be neat, tidy, perfect, or easy.  Prior to that season, I had been deceived into thinking that Christianity meant maintaining this perfect image versus abandoning ourselves in love and following Him as His servants.  That year we began homeschooling, started fostering kittens, and then within a year we applied to be foster parents. It was just his perfect timing, I guess.  And honestly, getting a right view of Christianity created a huge shift in literally every aspect of our lives.  I used to think suffering meant being cursed, but instead found that “letting go” and abandoning ourselves to His will is where power and miracles happen, and where He shows up unfailingly, time and time again.  Romans 8:18-31 comes to mind as I write this, “Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed...”

Cheryl:  How did your time in China and Guatemala affect and influence your mission to help orphans?

Jen:  It's funny that you mentioned both of these trips, as these were the two that significantly changed me the most.  Words can't even summarize what I saw in China; heartbreaking situations, countless children abandoned.  It was everything you might see or think about when you hear about a government orphanage in China.  I will never forget those faces, the ones left in those cribs, so many almond eyes staring deep into your soul, as if begging for hope, and for someone, anyone to reach them.  Our family's Guatemala trip was monumental in our fostering decision.  We had already started our paperwork when we left, but the trip really cemented our calling in every sense.  On this trip, my husband and I took our older two children, stayed at an orphanage, and really "caught" the calling to where we were willing to walk out orphan ministry in full faith and dependence on Him.  We had the gift of traveling around the country with The Kaitlin's Mobility Foundation and helped to disperse wheel chairs to special needs kids. My husband and I also led a team of five children from America to do Children's Ministry in schools and villages throughout the country.  One government orphanage we ministered at was heart-breaking.  I lost my late Grandmother Jade's cross necklace there.  At the time, I was upset, but looking back, God reminded me, that's where Jesus would have likely been if He had gone to Guatemala.  He reminded me that the cross represents His gospel, and that He wants all people to know Him, even the most unlikely children trapped behind barbed wire in remote orphanages in Guatemala.

Cheryl:  Can you share with us about the adoption of your daughter, Nicole?

Jen:  Nicole came to us as a foster daughter at three and a half months old.  She was this beautiful bundle that we all instantly fell in love with.  Her beginning was hard, but the road to adopting her was fairly simple and pain-free.  Originally, when applying to be foster parents, we had not signed up to adopt, only foster, but when we knew this baby wouldn't be returning to her biological family, it was an easy decision and pretty much a no-brainer that we were meant to adopt her.  Nicole faces some unique circumstances in that she is part deaf.  Nicole is now nine and loves life and people.  God's hand has always seemed to be with this child. Adopting her and realizing that you CAN love an adopted child as much as any biological child, has also ignited our hearts for adoption even more.  Too often, we only hear about the hard things in foster care and adoption.  But the truth is, beauty is all around caring for needy children, and I wish people knew just how much His grace simply saturates this type of ministry.

Nicole's Adoption Story
If video doesn't load, click here.

Cheryl:  How long have you been blogging, and how has it enriched your life?

Jen:  I started blogging in 2011.  It's crazy because I actually grew up dyslexic.  I "slipped through the cracks" some might say and barely graduated.  Before I was married, I had never read an entire book in my life.  Then, I met my husband.  He grew up in an elite British school and has an I.Q. that I have heard reported to be in the one-sixties. (Slightly intimidating, right?) When we got married, I was determined to push myself to read.  I ended up reading progressively well, and even ended up going to college and getting a degree.  But something was missing.  It was like I had this voice inside me desperately trying to get out.  When I first started blogging, I was completely anonymous.  I was scared of my voice, my own words...and even more frightened that those who might read them would somehow reject me.  Eventually, I found my voice and years later now I try to use my words to express His heart, less as a way to understand myself and more as a tool I can use to glorify Him and reach others with His truth and love.  Thank you Cheryl, for giving me this opportunity to share a little bit of my story. You’re a blessing and such a gift.  Thanks for your patience and encouragement in my writing journey."

Oh, my, Jen!
Truly I am the one who is blessed...believe me, dear friend.

A big THANK YOU to Jen for taking the time to do this segment of
with us!!!!
Dear readers, 
I do hope you will take the time to click here to be directed to Jen's blog, Rich Faith Rising.
You will definitely be blessed and leave there encouraged!
And I hope God has used Jen's testimony and story to inspire and challenge you 
to reach out in your corner of the world, doing all you can for Him through your service to 
"the least of these".

"And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, 
Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me."
Matthew 25:40