Tag Archives: encouragement

Providential Relationships and Mr. Owl’s Journey in the Around the Worldpress Amazing Race

A few weeks back my pastor did a sermon on Providential Relationships. I’ve been thinking about this ever since, and how often it seems that God places just the right people or circumstances into my life at just the right time. Mr. Owl’s first destination on his journey in the Around the Worldpress Amazing Race began because of this very kind of relationship.

As I said in my first post ever, “How do you do it?”, often at the start of a journey we can’t see where it will end. As we look back though, we can see the path emerge. We can begin to understand the why and the how of being led in certain circumstances.

Some people may call this fate. Some may call it coincidence. I prefer to think of it in terms of God’s providence. One of my favorite life verses is:

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.— Romans 8:28 NASB

Personally, it is such a hope-filled verse.

God is working behind the scenes, directing all things towards His purpose. He takes our free will into account, yet He is the one in the driver’s seat. He is working it ALL, the good, the bad, the ugly, towards His divine purposes even when I don’t believe it, or I don’t see it, or I don’t understand it at the time or this side of Heaven.

And so it is with my own story. And so it is with my adoption story. Before I even came back to God, He was working in my life preparing me for my calling to adopt my children. I didn’t know what was to come, but He knew. Now as I look back, I can connect the dots. I can say, “Ohhhhhhhh, now I understand. Now I see. Thank you, Lord”. To connect all of the dots leading up to our adoption would take several posts, so I am going to focus on the dot that led to Mr. Owl’s first destination on his Around the Worldpress Amazing Race.

My family had moved from California to Michigan and I opened a home-based preschool for a few years when my first son was very young. As a new baby Christian, only coming back to the Church after many years as an atheist (THANK YOU church janitor, with your sweet and simple consistent invitation to your church. Your short, providential relationship, one where I don’t even know your name, changed the course of events for my entire family!), I felt a strong call to make it a Christian-based preschool. This was the first big stepping out in my faith for me. The first child that God placed into my care was without a doubt in my mind, a powerful providential relationship for both of us. Caring for her absolutely prepared me for adopting my children who did not know English, and it also proved to be a much-needed, powerful care placement for my first student as well.

This lovely girl, we shall call her Jewel (for she is a gem!), came from China to America at the tender age of four and spoke no English. Her Chinese parents spoke Chinese to her at home, but they desperately wanted her to learn English and to connect with the English-speaking children of her new city.  Wanting the very best for their daughter, they enrolled her in one of the most expensive, top reviewed childcare centers in the city. Jewel spent three months there and learned ZERO English words. She seemed to withdraw from the children and the teachers there, and her parents were concerned. They began their search for a new care setting for their daughter.

Through a series of what I prefer to call God’s providence, Jewel’s mom “happened” to catch a post that my Christian realtor had lovingly offered to post on her blog about my moving into the area and beginning a Christian preschool from home. What are the chances? This is the ONLY contact I got from that post, but of course, I am convinced that was THE contact I was supposed to make. Jewel’s parents enrolled her as my very first student. We were all a little concerned. She was older by a year than my son. At the beginning, it was just the two of them (until other students enrolled) and obviously they were opposite sex, would they make a friendship? There was also the concern that she did not speak English, and although my background was in teaching, I had little training in ESL methods.  But what I DID have, was FAITH, HOPE, LOVE,  and DETERMINATION.

This proved to be enough. And of course, God’s will never fails.

Early on, Jewel’s mother shared with me that Jewel told her my son was the nicest child she had ever met in China or in America. That is what she needed the most. She needed unconditional love in her childcare environment. She needed trust. She needed those caring for her to be reaching out to her in intentional, loving ways, despite language barriers.

Caring for Jewel taught my family the lesson that it doesn’t matter if we speak the same language as the person we are with. Everyone understands the language of love. Everyone understands a smile. Everyone understands a hug. Everyone understands a hand held out to help up a fallen person. We don’t need to speak the same language to feel these things, to understand these things, to trust these things.

Jewel quickly learned English, and our family was amazed at how fast children’s brains can learn new languages. She has grown into a lovely young lady, already taller then her mom. She excels in school, plays the violin and piano beautifully, and swims competitively.

Jewel’s family were the very first people to offer to help in our Around the Worldpress Amazing Race. We sent Mr. Owl to Jewel’s grandfather in China, who enlisted the help of a local second grade girl. She is the daughter of Jewel’s mother’s childhood friend who was touched to hear about our adoption story and wanted to help with the project. Following are the two letters the little girl wrote back to us. The English translations are below.

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To Mr. Owl: Wish you a very pleasant journey and happiness forever.

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To my family and future hosts: Dear friends, I am very happy to have a chance to introduce you to my hometown: Xitang, China. I hope you’ll like it.

Below are the wonderful photos of the little girl in Xitang, China holding our signed letter and Mr. Owl. If you are wondering how to pronounce “Xitang”, you can click hear and listen to three different audio recordings of people pronouncing “Xitang”.

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My children were in awe to see her holding THEIR letter with Mr. Owl, in this new, distant land. They peered over the photos to see what they could spy in each.

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They quickly realized that it must be somewhat cold there right now, due to the warm jackets, yet their trees have green leaves. They also noticed that there seemed to be a lot of water there, with boats and homes and/or businesses that were right on the waterways. Once we looked up Xitang, China we learned that it is an ancient, scenic water way town with nine rivers that criss-cross throughout it. Due to the beauty of the town, it has been a popular tourist destination as well as famous for landscape paintings.

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Looking at the photo below, my children all jumped and yelled “those look like pelmeni she is eating, but in soup!” Pelmeni are somewhat like a ravioli almost, filled with meat, and are commonly eaten in Latvia and Russia with sour cream, ketchup or vinegar.

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It is amazing to me that even though our world is so large, at the same time it is so small,  especially in this day and age where technology and the internet can connect people across the globe in seconds. We should never underestimate the power we have to connect with others. We each have a story within us, and our stories can inspire, help, encourage, teach and lift others up. We should be willing to allow God to use us in other people’s lives, as well as to allow God to use other people in our own lives.

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The Around the Worldpress Amazing Race was born from a genius idea over at Cyranny’s Cove. My connections with her in the blogosphere also led to my new favorite pair of travel socks, because you know, God’s providence can even lead you to discovering some really awesome travel socks, if you let it. So starting with Cyranny’s Cove over in Montreal, Mr. Owl traveled to our family in Michigan. From Michigan, he travelled across the world to Xitang, China. So far the total distance is 7,726.42 miles or 12,434.47km. He continues his journey, now currently en route to an old, dear friend of mine in Switzerland. From there, he will travel to Tokyo, Germany, Nepal, Latvia, and finally back to us in Michigan. This is of course UNLESS more of our DEAR READERS, which blog stats show us come from more than 80 countries across the world, agree to join in on our fabulous project. Just drop me a comment or email me using my contact form and YOU could have Mr. Owl come for a visit and share your country with us!

Finally, THANK YOU LORD, for bringing people into my life at just the right moments. May I always be brave enough to listen to Your urgings and promptings. I would also like to say THANK YOU to Jewel and her lovely family. Thank you for sharing your gem of a daughter with me for the short time I was able to care for her. She taught me life-long lessons that impacted an entire family and helped bring four orphans home forever. THANK YOU to Jewel’s loving grandparents, I know how involved they are in their grandchildren’s lives, and I am thankful that they have offered to help in our little project. THANK YOU to the little second grade girl in Xitang, China for sharing her stunningly beautiful hometown with us. Thank you and your mother for taking the time to bring Mr. Owl around Xitang and share your photos and letters with us. We loved your photos and your letters and we wish you peace, love, happiness and many blessings forever!

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image reprinted with permission from hearlight.org, see here

YOU ARE YOU!!! (by my 10 year old)

You are you and so what if you are not “normal”.  What is normal anyway? If everyone was normal everyone would be the same.So it’s ok if you are not normal. You are you and God made you unique. He gave you good things and bad things. It does not matter if you are short or tall, smart or dumb, strong or weak. God made you special. Don’t try to change that. And everyone, yes EVERYONE, has a purpose. If something bad happens to you, later you might find out that it helped you. So yes, everything good and bad has a purpose in God’s plan for you.

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Photo Credit: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/462463455455179789/

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Your ways are not my ways…

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Of course, Dear Lord, Your ways are not my ways. Your thoughts are not my thoughts. Some things are left a mystery until the end. 

Sometimes I cannot see, or even begin to understand, the why of a certain situation. I could drive myself crazy trying to figure it all out.

Luckily, I don’t have to. Because I have YOU to trust in. You to hold me. You to comfort me. You to guide me.

If I would only always remember to turn to You first. So quickly I forget. Every decision first to You. How fast I am to grumble, complain and cry out!

Forgive me Lord, when I close my fists instead of opening them in thanksgiving for all you have done for me. All for good. No matter if I see it that way or not right now.

Always You are faithful. Always You work for the good of those who love You, who have been called according to Your purpose. Thank you, Father.

And when I forget, forgive me. When I forget the power of the Holy Spirit, Mighty Counselor, lives in me.

In ME?!

How can I forget? How can I not listen? He is right here, always guiding, probing, directing.

It is ME who does not listen. It is me who denies. Me who questions. Me who ignores. Forgive me.

Help me to always trust.

Always depend on.

Always follow.

Always ask.

Always listen.

Always do.

Thank you, Father, for everything. The good and the bad that are molding me into who You want me to be. Help me to turn to You at the mountaintops and in the valleys. You are always there working it all for my good.

Trust in Him

Today, I am holding tightly to Your promises, Lord. I am clinging to Your truths. Not what the world tells me. Not what my friends tell me. Not what I tell myself. But Your truths, Lord.

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When I have had a rough day. When my kids are throwing tantrums. When I have to drag seven children to the grocery store. When my teen is ignoring me. When my husband is working long hours and I am so, so exhausted, it is easy to forget how much I am loved by my Father. My father who understands, who cares, who wants to comfort me like no-one else can. My good Father, who encourages me to crawl up in His lap for awhile and find my peace in Him.

I remind myself that I am not exempt from pain just because I am a Christian. Quite the opposite, actually. (John 16:33) Jesus himself warned us that in this world we will have troubles. Not maybe. Not if you’re not following the rules. Not if you’re not a good enough person. No- everyone. You WILL have troubles. It’s pretty clear.

The catch is that we are called to respond in ways other than the world would. We are called to put our faith before our fear. We are called to bear all things. We are called to allow God control in our lives.

When we allow this, we can accept His promises. We can accept His grace, love and mercy. We can allow Him to heal, comfort and restore. He takes the broken things and lets His light shine through the cracks, so brightly, that it’s undeniably Him at work.

So as I’m going through my day and I don’t understand what God’s plan is, I trust. When I feel like my heart is being ripped from my chest, I trust. I hold tightly to His promises. I trust in Him to make all things beautiful in the end. Where it matters. Where He can see and I can’t.

Thy will be done.

 

 

Interview Questions with Tiny Green Elephants (from our first two hostings)

As I prepare to leave tomorrow to Latvia to finalize the immigration process for my kiddos,  I thought it would be fun to take a look back at our experience after the first two (of four) hostings. I know many people wonder what that looks like. Well–wonder no more, here you go!!!

Tiny Green Elephants did a “Look into Orphan Hosting” post highlighting our family’s hosting experience.

  1. What made you want to host an orphan and how did your family feel?

I have always had a soft spot in my heart for those who don’t have a home. Growing up my parents were an excellent example of unconditional love. As a child, we always had someone living with us, usually one of my older brother’s friends who had been kicked out of their house for whatever reason. My mom’s heart had no boundaries and she would take in whoever needed a loving home.

My husband and I would often talk about our desire to adopt. Over the past few years we began opening our own home to others. It began when a dear friend of mine needed respite care for a boy from Burkina Faso they were hosting on a medical mission. After this, we took in my daughter’s friend who had been kicked out of his parent’s and grandparent’s house, and was six months shy of graduating from high school. He stayed until he successfully graduated high school and got a job. From there we took in my 20 year old niece who stayed with us a year and gained her driver’s license for the first time, got her first job and first apartment. Most recently, we opened our home two different times to adult friends who were struggling. We said goodbye to the second friend just days before our host boys arrived. We truly feel that GOD led each and every one of these people into our lives, just as we believe that GOD has led us to this specific group of children.

I remember the day I saw a post about the P143 hosting program, and the more I read, the more I felt led that this was what we were supposed to do.

I sat with my oldest boy, looking though the photo listings of children. We came upon a group of five siblings. The oldest was in the back with his arms stretched around the large group. The listing said that the director called it a milestone that the oldest agreed to talk to the interview team about hosting, and that he was a good boy, in need of healing, who had been in the caretaker position for too long. That was evident to me from this photo. That young boy had the weight of the world on his shoulders trying to keep his siblings together and safe. That struck a chord deep in my heart, and I kept thinking to myself, “here’s this boy, finally brave enough to try hosting, and he’s unlikely to get chosen because he’s in a group of five.” I also noticed a sweet, playful, slightly mischievous looking littlest boy in the picture who reminded me of my own “joyful” child. I prayed, and I was convicted that these children were the ones.

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My children were immediately on board, but I knew it was going to be a stretch for my husband. I was honestly surprised that my husband, after thoughtful consideration and prayer, agreed. In a way I thought there was no way he would agree to this. So to me, the fact that he did, was a sign from God that this was the right thing to do.

As for the rest of our extended family and friends, it was a slower process. We fielded a lot of questions about why we would spend so much money on children we didn’t know, wouldn’t it be mean to bring these children into our homes and then send them back to an orphanage, how would we communicate with them since they didn’t speak English, what about the safety of our own children, etc. We always brought these concerns to God and He continued to calm our hearts and our fears, and comforted us that we were on the right path.

  1. What were your feelings and preparations before you Hosted?

Before we hosted I had a lot of excitement and anticipation of their arrival. I couldn’t wait! Yet at the same time, I had moments of “WHAT AM I DOING?!” Those were usually the times when my own three boys were driving me bonkers and I would let fear take over and convince me that I couldn’t possibly handle three more boys. (however, through this process, I have learned that fear is a liar!)

There were a lot of preparations. We had to set up our guest room with three twin beds and come up with clothing for three more boys, of which I wasn’t sure exactly what size they would be. Friends were awesome and the hand-me-downs poured in. The only things we really ended up buying were beds, socks, underwear, and shoes! I also began studying the culture and learning some of the language of the country.

  1. Share with us some of your hosting experiences, what was it like day-to-day. What stands out to you as really special.

I remembered the advice to live your life normally (as possible) during your hosting period. The point was to immerse these children into a loving, home environment, not fill their every waking moment with extravagant vacations and trips to the toy store. Perhaps also because we were adoption minded, we truly tried to allow them to join our family as it is, in all its imperfections, and all its day-to-day delights.

It. Was. Awesome!

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Our day-to-day experiences were pretty normal, just amplified times three boys. What does that mean?

Well, it was louder, and dirtier, and, um, stinkier. But we also had more smiles, more shouts of glee, and more joy. Ohhh and bandaids, we went through a lot of band-aids.

The bedtime routines stand out to me as the most special. The boys clearly loved this special time of gathering together as a family at the end of the night, praying together, bedtime hugs and snuggles, and being tucked in at night. They quickly began to pray with us, and the prayers they would pray touched my heart deeply. Things like, “thank you God for mom and dad who loves ALL boys”.

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I asked one of the boys during the second hosting trip what their favorite part of coming to the US was, and I was pleasantly surprised with his answer. It wasn’t what one might expect from a child (playing with new toys, getting Christmas presents, etc.) It was this–

“Prayers. We don’t pray at orphanage. Here we pray with food and bedtime. I like. And hugs and kisses goodnight. No hugs and kisses goodnight at orphanage. Never. Here-always.”

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Breaks. My. Heart. That’s what these children wanted and needed and appreciated.

God. Love.

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4. What were some of the highlights of hosting? Why? What were some of the hard parts?

Beyond what I described above, another highlight for me was when the oldest, 12 years old, began calling me mom. The younger two started that right away (even though we didn’t introduce ourselves with that) they seemed to follow suit with our own children, but it took the older one a bit to let his guard down.

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The language barrier was difficult, especially at first. We craved to have long, deep conversations with them; that was just impossible to do in the beginning. However, I must point out how truly fast children pick up another language.

Between trips their English skills exploded. By trip two, we didn’t need google translate and we felt that we were able to carry on conversations using simple English. The hardest part of the language barrier remained that we had three siblings who all spoke this other language better than us, so when they would argue it was too much, too fast, for us to be able to understand what was being said.

Then, of course, the very hardest part is saying good-bye to these children that we had fallen in love with, worrying about them while they are away, and trying to parent them from a distance.

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5. How has hosting changed your life? Or the life of your hosted child?

Hosting has absolutely changed my life. I quickly found that WE were the ones changing for the better, that WE were being blessed beyond measure from knowing and loving these boys. We became LESS SELFISH. We became MORE PATIENT. We became MORE LOVING. We were more conscious that the words coming out of our mouths reflected light.

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Was it easy? NO. Was it loud? YES. Was it worth it?

ABSOLUTELY!

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For all the work that it takes to raise six boys every day, we also enjoyed some of the most PEACEFUL, JOYOUS, and LOVING moments of our lives!

We have decided to adopt the three boys…and their two sisters who were too young to be hosted, to keep them all together and bring them into a forever home filled with love for them, kisses, prayers and the ability to be kids. The two sisters who we have yet to meet (and have been separated from their brothers since they were moved to foster care shortly before the boys came to the US the first time), we hope to reunite together with their brothers in a forever family of love.

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I can’t wait for that day!

And I honestly believe that even if we weren’t adoption minded, that we would have changed the lives of those three boys for better by showing them the love of Jesus and by immersing them in a loving household during their hosting trips.

No special talents or abilities

That was what it said. Right there in black in white. The words were unmistakable.

No special talents or abilities.

None.

Not one good quality could be brainstormed to write for her on this Referral Letter for adoption.

But I knew differently. I knew that was a lie. I knew that she had love, motivation, and independence unknown to most little seven year old girls, especially ones who had seen and endured all that she had in her short time on earth.

I knew she could clean up and rediaper a soiled baby, for she had told me how often she cared for one.  I knew she was eager to help with any and all household chores and she worked diligently. I knew she was the first person who would run to help clean up a mess that she didn’t even make. I knew that her strong compassion for others meant that if someone was crying, she would be there to hug them. I knew she had a knack for languages and was quickly picking up a new one. I knew she could outrun some of her brothers and had determination and grit in learning new skills such as ice skating, that rivaled the boys.

Those are only a brief listing of the talents and abilities I learned from a mere four weeks with this young child. How could this adoption referral not recognize her talents?  How could this adoption referral not recognize her abilities?  How could it be that in her seven years not one positive thing could be shared about this lovely girl?

The other night I watched the movie “Noah” for the first time.  There is a part towards the end of the movie where Noah is talking to Ila, a girl they had found alive amidst her burning, pillaged village where everyone else laid dead. They took Ila in and raised her as their daughter.

Noah says to Ila, “When we took you in I thought you would be burden. But I was wrong. You are a gift. Never forget that.”

And I burst into tears. Yes.

Yes, my sweetheart, you ARE a gift.

You ARE valuable.

I see your talents and abilities and I celebrate them with you.

Thank you, Lord, for the beautiful gifts you have given me in these sweet children of Yours. AMEN!

 

 

Hope

When no one else cares, You always do.

When no one else will comfort, You are there.

When no one else strengthens, You are there to lift up.

When no one else listens, Your ears are always yearning to hear.

When no one else is offering help, You are there carrying me along.

When everything else fades away, Your love and promises remain eternally.

 

If at first you don’t succeed…

As we start the New Year, I reflect back on where I was a year ago.

Worried.

Confused.

Scared.

Exhausted.

We had just finished our fourth hosting through P143 (Project 143 Orphan Hosting Program) and this hosting period was the first time we met our two little girls.  It was also the first time they were reunited with their three, big, biological brothers. The boys remained in the orphanage when a foster family was finally found for the girls, and they hadn’t seen each other in years. Needless to say, tensions ran high and expectations ran even higher.

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This picture about sums up how I felt. I was trying desperately to hang on, to be happy and to find the joy and blessings. However, in reality I felt pushed to the ground. Overwhelmed by children. Overwhelmed from the newness of having little girls in the house, after having only little boys for so long. Those high-pitched screams and the WHINING! Ohhh I was NOT prepared for the onslaught of whining that commenced with their arrival. And those were just the surface things. Then there was the overwhelming fact that they knew zero English and were accustomed to fighting it out with their foster siblings. We had a lot of hitting and scratching and temper tantrums.

But the hardest part, and this is difficult for me to admit because I feel so much guilt over it, was their desperate desire to be loved by me. To be cuddled by me. To be held by me. To be adored by me. For me to give them my undivided attention. It was quickly overwhelming to be giving that much attention and physical contact to two children while maintaining a household and tending to six other children. And I wasn’t expecting that. I wasn’t expecting to feel “over loved”– is there such a word? I felt over touched. I felt over talked to. I felt over climbed on. My senses were on overload. Everything was louder, took longer, required more effort and organization than previously, and I was just downright EXHAUSTED.

It was hard.

I felt like a failure.

I felt guilty that I was struggling with these things.

Was I a terrible mom because I saw that same child coming for the 100th hug in the last hour, despite the fact that I am arm deep in toilet bowl cleaner. He doesn’t care in the least, but I am deeply annoyed.

As we began to draw near to their departure date I began to look forward to it a little bit. Bedtime would be so much easier. No more high-pitched whines. No more fighting. My husband and I were leaning towards believing that this was not going to work for our family.

We felt defeated.

We were ready to give up.

It is SO much easier to give up then to persevere. It is SO much easier to give up then to endure. It is SO much easier to give up then to bear another’s burdens.

But we aren’t called to live an easy life. We were warned there would be trials. We were asked to pick up our cross and follow Him. We were told that we would only make it by abiding in Him. Apart from Him we can do nothing. With Him, nothing is impossible.

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And what does “perseverance” mean? Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines perseverance as “continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition”.

Did you catch that?

DESPITE difficulties, failure or opposition. As in to persevere you must first be faced with difficulties, failure or opposition.

So if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

Don’t give up.

Abide in Him.

Run the race.

Persevere.

Because you know what? It DOES get easier. He does help me when I turn to Him. He does strengthen me when I pray to Him. Time allows for so many things to work themselves out. The girls are absolutely fluent in English. It took them less than five months time to go from zero English to fluent. Amazing! And those tantrums? Yes, we still have some every now and then, but they are radically different from what they were a year ago. They are now identifiable. They are understandable. They are manageable. They are almost gone completely. Amazing!

And I sit here typing this embarrassed at myself that we almost did give up. That’s the truth right there. We almost let all the fears and worries of the world get the better of us, then trusting what God was telling us all along.

Trust me.

Obey me.

Abide in me.

I will provide all you need.

I don’t know what your mountain is today, my friend. I don’t know what you are staring down this year and wondering how you will ever make it to the next. But know that I understand that feeling. I felt hopeless this time last year, and I really couldn’t see past it without a huge amount of God’s help. So I am here to encourage you to reach out to Him. Stay close to Him. Abide in Him. And He will take you through this year to the next. I am living proof of it.

 

 

 

 

How do you do it…?

(Sharing my top-read post in two years, my very first post!)

 

“How do you do it?”

This is probably the question that is asked the most.

“How do you decide to adopt five siblings all at once?”

My only true answer is, “by the grace of God.” God is orchestrating this story, not us. We are only trying to obey in this crazy journey of love. Selfless love. Love as a verb. Agape.

How? How did I end up writing this story? When did buying bananas three bunches at a time become normal? I almost forget that just a short time ago this would have seemed absurd had someone told me that I would be doing these things today.

But as I reflect, if someone had told me 10 years ago that an unknown janitor would lead me, a die-hard atheist, back to church, and that I would come to believe with all my heart that the Lord Almighty is the creator of Heaven and Earth, and that I myself, by the grace of God, would be given the gift of the Holy Spirit driving my heart for His Kingdom, I would have thought they were crazy! When did it become possible that I would be thought worthy enough to be called a Child of God, much less a mother to nine children? How did this happen? But isn’t that how journeys are? Hindsight is always 20/20. At the start of a new journey you can’t see where the road will end. You don’t even realize the lessons you are learning until you look back.

As I look back, I see the lessons that I am learning that surround this Greek word, “agape”. Agape is defined as “selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love, the highest of the four types of love in the Bible.” As John tells us in 1 John 4:8b: God is love. It’s as simple and as hard as that. God is love. We are called to love. We are called to agape. And agape has nothing to do with emotion. It’s not the warm, fuzzy feeling you have for your loved one (although that can accompany it). It is a deliberate action. It is a choice. It is a principle we try to live our lives around. Selfless love in action.

Whatever gift you have been given, use it. Whatever talents you have, employ them. Whatever you have been blessed with, use it to bless others. Do your part. Live with purpose. Love deliberately. Take a leap of faith! Stretch yourself! TRUST GOD! Know that God is with you. He will never leave you nor forsake you.

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. -2 Timothy 1:7

BE BOLD!

Stretch yourself and give thanks in all things, ALL things, the good and the bad. It is often through suffering that we are shaped and molded into who God is calling us to be. This process is not always easy. It asks us to move beyond our comfort zone.

Is this achieved by living in our own little bubble, predictable and perfectly planned, safe, isolated and surrounded by others who think and act exactly as we do? Or are we more like Christ when we are asked to stretch ourselves and we are called to reach out to someone who is different? Someone who may have dirty hands, or torn clothes, or smells of booze? Are we more like Christ when we are asked to tuck in our own child at bed tonight, or when we are pushed beyond our comfort level to tuck in a child at night that is not ours and may not even appreciate our hug goodnight?

And when? When do we make this leap of faith? When do we accept the calling that God has for us? When we have it all together? Right after we finish having children? After the house is sold? When we graduate? As soon as we pay off our debt? Let me say – there will never be the perfect time! God’s time is the perfect time. Listen to what He is telling you. Ask Him to clue you in. He promises that if we sincerely ask, we will receive, if we seek, we shall find, if we knock, the door will be opened (Luke 11:9).

And then we have to trust and obey. We have to remember that if He brings you to it, He will bring you through it. God does not fail. I am reminded of the story of the apostles being persecuted for performing miracles and preaching about Jesus. They are brought before the Sanhedrin to explain why they continue to preach about Jesus when they have been forbidden to do so. As the Pharisees are discussing the situation amongst themselves, one Pharisee very astutely reminds them all that if the apostles actions are of men, they will eventually fail, but if they are truly from God, then they will never fail.

But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God. — Acts 5:39

I never want to fight against God. I have opened myself up to God’s perfect plans, instead of my own. I have asked God to use me in whatever way He has planned. I want to be His hands and feet in this world. I want to love as He loves. He has faithfully shown me the path to these five children. I would never have put myself here, but as I look back over all the years I see the pattern emerging. I can begin to connect the dots.

Does this mean that it’s easy? NO! Does it mean that I am always at peace with His plans for my family? Absolutely not! Does it mean we have it all figured out, nice and neat, with a ten-year plan? I wish! But I am comforted with the fact that Jesus himself pleaded with His Father at Gethsemane before His terrible suffering on the cross, “Father – if there is any other way!” (Matthew 26:39) God is big enough to handle my doubts, my questions, my fears. He tells me to cast my anxieties on Him (1 Peter 5:7). And that is what I am learning to do.

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I often find myself repeating, sometimes several times a day, “God, I am trusting You when I remember Your promise that You work all things for the good of those who love you.” So as I break up yet another fight over who gets control of the mega nerf gun I again pray this prayer, “God, make this work for the good of all these boys here. Turn this fighting into something that will benefit them all in the end. May these grumblings work to bring about an eternal knowledge of selflessness, sharing, unconditional love of others – agape.”

I remind myself that, IF WE LET HIM, He can take all things and work them for good. He doesn’t need us to be perfect. He doesn’t want us when we have it all together. He wants us now. He wants us to ask, to be willing, to participate. He wants us to start moving so that he can push us along a little more, a little further. He wants us to love as an action. As James tells us in the Bible, faith without deeds is dead. Love as a verb. Agape.

I went into this adoption with the mindset that I was rescuing these little ones for God’s kingdom, but the truth is, they are rescuing me. Rescuing me from my own selfishness, my own desires, my own pursuit of happiness and turning my heart towards His Kingdom, His desires, His righteousness.

And so to answer, “How do you do it?”

The answer would be,

“I don’t. God does.”

It is truly only through His love that has been poured into my heart, through the power of the Holy Spirit, that I am able to pour that love back into the lives of His children. (Romans 5:5).

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and he will make your paths straight. — Proverbs 3:5

Not me, but Him…

Outsiders

Originally posted on Susan Irene Fox —  Outsiders

“The Gospel demands a great deal of us. It calls us to a perennially unpopular and unselfish path. Little wonder Jesus said, ‘The world’s going to hate you’ (John 15:18-19). When you can no longer play the game of judging, labeling, and punishing others, you will quickly become the outsider.” Fr. Richard Rohr

Jesus was an outsider. If we choose to follow Him into the next year and for the rest of our lives here on Earth, we also choose to be an outsider. It means we forever give up, as Rohr says, “judging, labeling, and punishing others.”

There is no such thing as blessed intimidation, sacred condemnation, honorable hate, justified segregation or redemptive violence.

When we speak or act in unloving ways, we step away from God, separating ourselves from the love and grace He has given us – and continues to give – from our birth. We must remember He gives, not because we have done or refrained from doing anything to earn His love; God gives because He is Love.

Dear friends, I am not writing a new commandment for you; rather it is an old one you have had from the very beginning. This old commandment—to love one another—is the same message you heard before. We must love each other because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born from God and knows God. (1 John 2:7, 4:7)

In four days, a brand new year will be upon us. We all have a choice to make. Will we continue to travel the same, well-plod, self-centered road that is parallel to our walk with Jesus, or will we surrender control of our own egos? Will we let go of unforgiveness, anger and condemnation and allow the Spirit of God to lead our lives into a transformational rebirth?

Click here to Finish reading the post, “Outsiders”, at Susan Irene Fox’s blog…

From childless by choice, to father of eight

Stunning truth is, my husband didn’t want kids when we first met. I was a single mother when we started dating, and when the subject would come up about wanting children, he always said he didn’t have a huge urge to have children.  He enjoyed spending time with my daughter and as our relationship grew, so did his relationship with her, but he remained convinced that having solely my daughter as our only child would be perfectly fine with him.

I kept trying to explain to him the wonders of being a parent. The wonders of watching a child grow from a tiny newborn into a toddler, into a child, and so on. He was not convinced. He was fine with the status quo.

He had no desire for children.

Yet, I did. After marrying my husband, I desired to fill our home with as many children as the good Lord would bless us with. Thankfully, my husband decided to venture out with me and considered the possibility of one more child. I was ecstatic to learn that I was pregnant with a baby boy.

Once pregnant, I told my oldest daughter that we were thinking about having a baby. To my surprise, she was less than thrilled. She was 11 at the time and perfectly happy being the only child. I tried to convince her with questions such as, “wouldn’t it be exciting to have a sibling around to hang out with?” – NO. “Your mom and stepdad won’t be young forever, don’t you want a sibling closer to your age to visit when you are older?” –NO. I finally had to tell her that it wasn’t her choice and we were just preparing her for the fact that a baby was indeed coming, whether she liked it or not. But I was worried.

Will the baby be accepted?

Will the baby be loved?

Isn’t it amazing how God seems to use the most unlikely people to get the job done? There’s countless examples of this in the Bible. There are lots of lists like the one below floating around the internet:

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These are powerful reminders of the truth.  That God loves EACH of us. He has a plan for each one of us. No matter who you are, you have a part to play in this world. Which is why we should never look down on anyone. This is why God tells us to love our enemies. Because you know who else loves our enemies?  God.

So as I ponder the meaning of Christmas, it makes perfect sense to me that God would send His son wrapped as a vulnerable baby in the lowliest place imaginable to be born. Because even those looked down on in the world as the lowest, are still valuable in His eyes.

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Our God sent His son to save everyone. He loves each of us. He heals the sick and wounded. He resurrects the dead and breathes life into them. He is the God of impossible. He is the God of restoration. He is the God of redemption.

He turns men who desire no children, and little girls who desire no siblings, into the father of eight and the sister to seven.

Merry Christmas

from my family to yours!

Traditions can be tricky…

Growing up in a Catholic home, I was steeped in religious tradition. Going to mass every week meant you followed many, many traditions. Stand up. Sit down. Make the sign of the cross. Bless yourself with Holy water as you leave, etc. etc. For the longest time, I equated these traditions with God.

But God is SO MUCH MORE than these traditions!

I am not knocking the Catholic church, please don’t think that.  However, for me personally these traditions became a stumbling block to me in a way.  It was so repetitious. Repeating the same words every week and the same prayers every week made my mind numb. My mouth could speak the words of the prayer, but my mind was a million miles away.

There is nothing wrong with traditions, necessarily, so long as they don’t become a stumbling block. So long as they don’t replace the relationship piece. So long as we don’t hold them over people’s heads and believe that our tradition is the only right tradition.

Moving around a lot over the years has meant that my family has had to change churches several times. It is always a journey to find the right church in a new city. For me, it has really brought to light the immense differences that can be seen throughout churches in our country, despite all believing in the core basics of doctrine. Each church does things a little differently. Each denomination does things a little differently.

It’s funny, we went from attending a denominational church that believed in the gift of tongues to a different denominational church that forbid the use of this gift in its church. HA!  I can’t stop thinking about this irony.  I honestly have never been given this gift myself, and it was almost a stumbling block for us in that first church that believed in this. However, we did a lot of reading about it in the Bible (it’s certainly there!) and we continued to feel the presence of God moving in a powerful way in this church, and so we made it our church home.   Yet, we knew that speaking in tongues, or not speaking in tongues, really was not what the point was. JESUS was the point, and so when we found our new church that forbid this, we laughed a little at the irony and then continued to ask ourselves, “do we feel the presence of God in this church?”

Because in the end, it’s not about traditions. It is not about the man-made rules. It is all about Jesus and what He has done for us. It is all about our personal, growing relationship with the Creator of the world. It is all about LOVE.

Jesus was actually confronted and asked what was the greatest commandment to follow.  His answer was not, “say this prayer three times every day and make sure you speak in tongues (or don’t speak in tongues).”

No, his answer was SIMPLE.

Love God.

Love others.

It’s as easy and as hard as that.

And when we complicate the message, when we lay down rules for people to follow, when we look down on others for doing things differently then us, then we are doing a huge disservice to the world. I can hear Paul exhorting us, “People – this is NOT how it should be. One says I am a Catholic. One says I am a Lutheran. One says I am a Methodist. NO, NO, NO!  We are all ONE in Christ. We are all to follow Jesus. That’s it.”

One of my favorite books, “Accidental Pharisees” by my old Pastor Larry Osborne has some wonderful truths throughout. One particular great passage says:

“Those of us who have a bent toward a rigid and rule-based expression of our faith tend to judge and condemn those who don’t follow our rules or match up to our standards. At times we can wonder if they are genuinely saved. Meanwhile those of us who consider these rules and standards unnecessary tend to look with disgust and contempt upon those who insist on keeping them. We chalk them up as uptight and narrow-minded. According to Paul’s exhortation, both responses are dead wrong.” (Romans 14-15)

I will be the first to admit that I have stood on both sides of that fence, as the accuser on each side, as well as the condemned on each side. And none of it feels good. None of it is what Jesus desired. No, my friends. What Jesus desired is for us NOT to place stumbling blocks in our brother’s way. Jesus desired for us to keep it focused.

Love God.

Love others.

Keep it simple.

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Gifts

He is your good father. He wants to give you good gifts. He wants the best for you. He loves you always and forever and that will never change.

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I was thinking of these verses as I was wrapping presents for my children last night. A local store was going out of business and I was excited to buy some toys at a nice discount, especially those Legos that never seem to go on sale! However, as I was sorting the presents to wrap I realized that there were too many. In my excitement I had gone overboard.

I have scaled back on gift giving to our children over the last 21 years of parenting. Honestly, as I began my parenting journey I wasn’t even a believer and so Christmas, in a weird way, was all about the gifts. Slowly over time as my heart has been softened, I’ve felt a desire to reign in the true reason for the season with my family. So this brings me back to the point of too many gifts. Santa does come to our home and he brings each child three gifts, just as Jesus was given three gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh when he was visited by the Wise Men.

I know that when it comes to receiving gifts my children would think, “the more the better”. I am sure their prayer to me would be, “please give me all the toys my heart desires.” And I want to! I want to shower them lavishly with everything they could ever want. It was hard for me to look at that pile of toys on the table and know that I would need to save some of those for a later date. Yet, I will. Because even though they may ask me for every toy in the store, as their loving parent I know that’s not what they need. I know that would not be beneficial or helpful for them. So I will not give them this desire, even if I could. Even though they asked for many presents,  they are just children and they don’t always understand what they need.

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And so it is with our Father in Heaven. He knows better than I what I need. His ways are higher than my ways. His thoughts are higher than my thoughts. I can’t even explain to you how the wind blows or how a child is formed in a mother’s womb, but He does all of these things and more. So I trust that He is a good father. I trust that if I ask sincerely, I will receive. At the same time though, I keep in the back of my mind that what I ask for isn’t necessarily what I might need at that time.

Because honestly, sometimes my prayers aren’t answered the way I want them to be. Sometimes I am left to wonder, “Why?”

But I still trust Him and His promises.

He promises that He loves us eternally. He promises that He has prepared a place for us in Heaven for those who hope in Him. He promises that we are adopted into His family with all the rights and honor that come with being called a Child of God. He promises to work all things for the good of those who love Him. He promises the gifts of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience,  kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. He is the ultimate gift!

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I am going to cling tight to His promises this Christmas season. I am going to look forward to the promises of his gifts. He is a good father. He loves me more than anyone and He desires to give me the best gifts ever, even if I don’t understand that at the time of the gifting. He is the ultimate gift and His gifts are always for my good.

Make sure it’s not last night’s pizza talking

About ten years ago, shortly after finding my way back to church after many years as a stubborn atheist, I remember hearing a sermon from my Pastor Larry Osborne of North Coast Church . He was talking about finding God’s will for your life. He said something that struck me as both funny and confusing at the same time.  He warned about evaluating when you are feeling the calling of God. He said something like, “make sure that what you are feeling isn’t actually just rumblings in your belly from the pizza you had last night.”

Everyone laughed, including me, but I remember thinking about that for a long time and here I am today still thinking about that 10 years later.

Back then I remember feeling like I didn’t quite understand what he was saying. Now that I look back I realize that’s because I didn’t relate to having this urging of God telling me to do something and needing to evaluate that. I honestly had never felt those urgings in my life up to that point. And to be honest, part of the reason why I never felt those urgings from God was because I believe I never sincerely asked for that.

I never sincerely asked God wholeheartedly to point me to where He wanted me to be.

It wasn’t until 10 years later when my faith had grown a whole ton that I truly began to pray those types of prayers earnestly. God use me to reach the brokenhearted. God mold me to be more like You. God I want to be your hands and feet in this world, show me where I am needed.

It can be really scary to pray those types of prayers sincerely. Where will He need me? What would He have me do? Will I be up to the task? What if I don’t want to do it?

Once I was led to the path of adopting my children I began to understand what my pastor had been teaching that day 10 years ago. He was explaining the deep discernment that takes place when you are about to make life changing decisions.

Is this truly God’s will, or is this just last night’s pizza talking to me?

Honestly for our adoption journey, it took a lot of sincere prayer, thought, and time to discern God’s will. It was not something we immediately felt we knew the answer to for sure.

As I described in my post the battle, it was honestly a heart wrenching decision for me in the end. This was so confusing to me because I felt so strongly convicted in the beginning. But journeys weave us through many mountains and valleys. I went from a high mountain into a deep valley and it was only through serious prayer that I was finally 100% sure that God wanted me to continue on this adoption path. He did not want me to fear. He wanted me to be brave.

So what is that 10 step plan to ensure that it is God’s will and not the pizza talking? I wish it were that easy! The only thing I can say is that He wants us to ask Him. He desires our communication with Him. He loves when we pour our heart out to Him like a child to a Father.  He tells us if we sincerely ask, He will answer. If we knock, the door will open. (Matthew 7:7-8, Luke 11:9-10).

He is just a prayer away, my friend!

 

Whatever you do, just don’t lose heart!

“One million reasons why, you shouldn’t even try.
After all you’re just one heart, a single candle in the dark.
And there are shadows here, feeding on your fears,
That you don’t have what it takes – who are you to make a change?”

“Whatever you do, just don’t look back.
Oh somebody needs the light you have.
Whatever you do, just don’t lose heart.
Keep on pushing back the dark,
Keep on pushing back the dark.”

Our adoption journey began June 2014 with our first hosting trip.  Two years, four hosting trips to the US, and two international trips to Eastern Europe later, and we can FINALLY say THEY HAVE A FOREVER FAMILY! None of it was easy, none of it came without heart wrenching decisions and tears, but every single second was WORTH IT! I can’t imagine life without these kiddos in it.

I have said that I came into this adoption journey with the mindset that I was saving them. The truth is though, that they have saved ME. They have saved me from my selfishness.  They have saved me from my greed.  They have saved me from myself.  They have turned my heart outwards instead of inwards.  They have focused my heart on those things that are eternal, instead of the things of this world that will pass away.  THANK YOU GOD!

I want to encourage you to pursue your dreams.  Live without regrets!  Take that leap of faith!  JUST DO IT!  Whatever you have been given, use it.  Whatever your talents are, employ them.  Whatever you are dreaming about, GO FOR IT!  It is never too late.  Never give up.  Have no regrets! Don’t let fear stop you, fear is a liar!

BE BOLD!

And just when you are ready to give up the battle, just when you feel you are at your breaking point and you can’t do it anymore, just keep on keeping on, my friend! Remember these four points I learned from a sermon about where faith takes us…

—to the point where we need to make decisions that involve BIG RISK
—to the starting point of long journeys
— to the point of waiting for the impossible
— to the point of giving everything you have

Never give up.  Have no regrets.

(song and lyrics are from “Pushing Back the Dark” by Josh Wilson)