My baby turns 18

18 years ago, Hubby and I were completely in awe over the new life that God entrusted into our care. I joke that Soccer Dude was perfect from the beginning – making his appearance on a Thursday night after I watched “Friends” and before the new episode of “ER” aired. His tiny perfection all of a sudden made me realize all that I lacked.

As we prepared to leave the hospital, I dug through my carefully packed suitcase looking for the long-sleeved undershirt I was sure had been on the list. I couldn’t find it. 18 years later and I can still feel my panic, thinking that I had failed to bring the layers he might need to keep him warm on the journey home.

Have I bundled him up warm enough? Should I hold his hand or let go? Have I taught him right from wrong? Should I push him harder or be more compassionate? I have asked myself endless questions on this journey of parenting over the years wondering if I am enough. Honestly, knowing that I am not enough.

I forgot to pack that onesie to bring him home from the hospital. I found out he could now roll over when he rolled off the bed and landed on his head on a concrete floor. I lost him at church once, and I almost let him drown when I wasn’t holding his hand next to the pool’s edge. I was sure he was going to die when he ate a huge, Peruvian bug. I think that was the same week that I left him on the floor with a stack of board books to rush the trash to the curb only to have the door slam and lock behind me. I was locked out. He was inside. I can laugh about that one now, but there have been so many more mistakes over the years that make me cry rather than laugh. Many I am too embarrassed to confess to you.

But grace and God.

If I could tell myself one thing 18 years ago as I bundled up my newborn for the car ride home, I would tell myself….”you aren’t God.” Break the news to my young self at the beginning. Maybe then, I would have done my best, and then put my efforts into trusting God with the outcomes.

I am not saying that I didn’t trust God at all. From an early age I put my trust in Jesus – but there are some areas of my life that are harder to leave in His capable hands. I like to give a good shot at being in control myself. I instinctively want to protect, teach, shape and guide my babies – as all parents should. My problems come when I feel the weight of each of those tasks solely on my shoulders. I forget to do what I am called to do, then let go, and trust God with the outcomes.

How? How, for the love of God, did Abraham climb Mount Moriah and offer his son, Isaac, on the altar? How did he saddle the donkey in preparation for the trip? How did he trust that God would provide the sacrifice just as he told Isaac that God would do? Abraham knelt his will and heart to God. That is a good parent. That is who I am striving to be. Daily I have to remind myself that Jesus is the one who has the final say and will provide everything that my son needs.

The absolute beauty of my baby turning 18 – I see how he is turning out. Now, I confess to being a very devoted and biased mother, but I think even others would testify to the fact that God has done a work in Soccer Dude’s heart. He is delightful, smart, compassionate, and doing his best to learn wisdom. He has a heart for the world and the desire to make it better. None of this is solely because of me. Dropping him on his head as an infant didn’t make him mean. Homeschooling him didn’t leave gaps in his knowledge, and carting him all over the globe hasn’t made him an awkward third culture kid. The missing long-sleeved onesie on that first car ride home did not scar him for life.

I don’t know if Soccer Dude will be with us for his next birthday. He is making plans to head off to university and live on campus. We are so proud of him as he dreams of his future, but sad to see him go. So this birthday, I bought his icecream cake with tears wondering how he will get cake next year, yet knowing that it really is time to let go.

It is a new season of parenting. I am sure I will struggle with worry. I’ll wonder if he is ok, if he is bundled up enough, and if he has all that he needs. But during this season I am going to try to remember that I am not God. He doesn’t need me. Ultimately, Jesus is the one that he needs.

Hopefully, I can remember the same with our youngest. It is a bit crazy to have a new kindergartner at the same time our oldest is headed to college. For me that is one of God’s gifts of grace. Poor soccer dude has had to teach me all the hard lessons on parenting. Maybe with Moe I can put them into practice and not be so hard on myself.

I lack the ability to shape my children into the awesome adults I hope they will become, but God can. He won’t drop them on their heads, won’t let them drown, or leave them out in the cold. Good stuff, right?! So I am letting go. Giving it over to the one who lacks nothing. I will worry less and pray more. I will try to slow down and enjoy the moments. I will lean into Jesus and learn the lessons that he has for my heart and trust that my relationship with Him will spill over as blessings onto my children.

I will let you know how I did with that task when Moe turns 18.

Chasing a dirty sock during Advent

This season we are blessed to live in this amazing parsonage that has a full basement with a laundry room. There is this thing that I do. I never want to make more than one trip downstairs to the laundry room. I try to gather ALL of the dirty laundry from eight people out of both hampers and carry it down. In theory this saves myself another trip down the stairs. I am sure you can picture what happens. It is a mound, and as I try to wrestle the overloaded basket through the house I drop a sock here, undies there, and maybe even a shirt or two. Our sweet dog, Ace, also knows that this happens. He loves him a dirty sock.

Today, as I was chasing him around and behind the couch to save the dirty sock before a hole was chewed through its center, I had to laugh. Why? Why do I try to overload myself thinking that this is the best way to get more done and save myself time and energy. It never does!

Thinking about how my life often resembles that overloaded basket of dirty laundry. I really try to stuff too much in, do too much, and then get frustrated when the inevitable happens. I drop the ball (or should I say sock?) and my efforts come to a lot less then my intentions.

It has been about 7 years since we have been in the States for Christmas. I have loved seeing all of the decorations, hearing the Christmas music in the stores as I shop, shopping for my kids, and having fun ingredients readily available to whip up some holiday treats. It has been so much fun – but as I get close to the 25th, I see how I am trying to load that laundry basket full of stuff and a few important things are getting dropped along the way. In Asia, I was so intentional about creating an atmosphere in our home to feel, contemplate, and experience advent. I am afraid it has been harder to do here in my beautiful comfortable parsonage.

I am hoping it is not too late. I want to do less. Simplify. Make these last important days of Advent stand on their own and do a work in our hearts. My prayers is that our family will remember the Advent readings, the candles, the space to be together and reflect on the true gift of Christmas. Surely, they won’t remember that I missed getting the perfect gift or that the meal wasn’t elaborate. I might disappoint some people around me, but I think my soul may be better for it. For a self-aware perfectionist and people pleaser this is hard work.

I want to take this one step further….I think that slowing down and making this season one of peace and contemplation is a gift I can give not just family but my neighbors as well. I imagine the hussle and bustle of the season is leaving many feeling empty – searching for more meaning. Let’s be the peaceful light to the culture around us that demands for more. Is it possible that by not keeping up with the Joneses I might be offering a different picture of Christmas?

I am still trying to decide how to do this. For now, every time I am considering making three types of cookies rather than one I am going to take a deep breath and whisper the name of Jesus. As I call on the name of Jesus for myself and for you, dear friends, I am praying….may our Christmas season be one of peace, hope, and quiet moments to reflect on the goodness of our Savior so that we make Him known.

What God has done.

Six weeks ago I slept next to my son’s bed in the hospital listening to the machines that were helping him breathe. B has Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) – a cousin disease to Muscular Dystrophy – that causes his muscles to slowly weaken. Scoliosis is an inevitable companion to SMA as the muscles in his back weaken and no longer can support the body. The surgeons placed a rod in B’s back to be the reinforcement and protection that his organs need. We are so thankful for this life-giving surgery (thankful for every minute of the six or so hours of surgery) that was able to enhance B’s quality of life.

It feels funny to say that I am thankful for something so gruesome. The surgery caused B immeasurable amounts of pain. His body was opened up and stretched out. That was just the beginning. Then he started the fight of recovery. He had to work at breathing on his own, emptying his body from the liquid that accumulated where it shouldn’t. He had to push hard to sit, to eat and regain daily functions. As two weeks in the hospital came to a close and we were putting things in place to bring him home, I was so frustrated to feel that we were in a worse position than before the surgery. Frustrated but thankful for the fight.

There are things that are worth fighting for, but that doesn’t make the fight easy. Somehow In my growing up years I missed that lesson in Sunday School. I had the misconception that if I was in the middle of God’s will then life should go….well, easy or smooth. I am not sure which word to use, but I am sure that this idea was in my heart. God has been slowly stripping me of that falsehood. I wish I were a fast learner. Might have saved me some pain or at least saved me from some painful wrestling with God over the years. Anyone know what I am talking about?

God calls us to a hard fight and equips us for the task – if we are willing.

When I meet a new nurse or group of physicians there is a comment that I often hear. “He is so lucky to have you.” Want to see me get angry fast – tell me that I am a saint for walking this journey of SMA. I did not choose this. In all honesty, if we had known B’s diagnosis before we felt led to adopt this amazing kid, I am sure I would not have had the guts to do what God was asking us to do.

I often remind myself that God was in all of this. How I fell in love with this child slowly over the years. How we got the phone call asking us to consider adding this child to our family, the one I said I would not leave behind if God made a way. How we had the paperwork for adoption all in place because we had just completed an adoption the year before. How God provided all of the money needed to complete the adoption. How mistakes in paperwork were fixed during a Chinese National Holiday. How the adoption was completed just days before the deadline that would have made our son unadoptable. Then, this teen entered our family and embraced us, our family ways and love. He has become a perfect part of us whom we love deeply. It truly all is a miracle of huge preportions. This story is a marker in my heart. I remember and it gives me courage for my fight today.

This month since surgery we are working at learning a new normal. I have learned how to set up the machine that helps B breathe through the night. We have learned how to use a lift to transfer our boy without hurting his back and we are seeking ways to help him gain weight and strength. We are hoping to find ways to help him get around more easily, are adjusting our expectations for the near future, and trusting in God’s provision. None of these steps have been easy for me. But is easy what I really want?

Don’t get me wrong, I would do the dance of hallelujah if B was healed today. I would love for him to have a “normal” life. To move freely and live without SMA. But through the hard I am learning things that I can not learn any other way – I am learning to lean.

I have never had to lean into Jesus like I am in this season. Feels funny to say that I am thankful for something that is so hard. I am. Let’s embrace difficult seasons, hard stuff and grief in a way that makes us more like Jesus. Don’t listen to the lies of despair, hopelessness, and doubt. Fight and remember what God has done.

Extraordinary looks like a styrofoam cup

I just had a birthday. I am smack dab in the middle. I really think that 44 is about as middle as you can get which is causing me to reflect on all that has come before, where I am now, and wonder. This contemplative mood (doesn’t that sound better than a mid-life crisis?) is being aided by my first-born touring universities. His search for what comes next took him to my old stomping grounds. Asbury University is where I learned so much about serving Jesus, where I gained the skills to live out my calling, and found my life-long partner in crime.

In those days I really believed that God would use me to change the world. Even now I can still hear the creak of my chapel seat and recall the challenge to follow our calling – to live out “extraordinary” for the sake of the world. I learned at Asbury that God could use ordinary people (maybe even someone like me). In my 20’s that was my goal. In my 30’s I might have mocked my naive 20 something self, but my dreams were similar – do great things for the Kingdom. I just started to wonder when the world changing might really happen.

Yesterday, I sat beside the hospital bed of one of my 6 children. Another spinal tap was needed to give him medicine that might make him stronger. At that moment, it simply was making him miserable. He asked me to walk with him to the procedure room, so I pulled on the sterile jumpsuit and walked the hall beside his bed. I didn’t have much to offer him. I got a styrofoam cup of ice water from the nurse’s station. Held his hand. Carried a book in my purse in case he felt up for reading.

This is not where I thought I would be at 40 something. When I talked about changing the world, I meant spreading the Good News to whole people groups. I thought about changing broken systems and advocating for families until no child was left behind.

But, I wonder if extraordinary looks like a styrofoam cup of water, an offered hand, a book, or a white jumpsuit. For all my dreams of following a calling, changing the world, and making a difference – maybe it all boils down to the ordinary daily things that I do for this one child. For that matter, maybe it is every ordinary thing that I choose to do with love on any regular old day.

God can use people like me to do extraordinary things that actually are quite ordinary.

On this birthday, I ate stollen bread and pondered the course of my life. I clearly see the ordinary way my life is turning out. The homeschool lessons, dishes washed, meals cooked, art projects I clean up after, errands run….the hands I hold, smiles I give out, music I turn on, tears I shed, and boundaries I hold in place. If i do these things with love, then they become the extraordinary moments that God can use to shape my heart and dare I say change my world.

I can not find a family for every orphan in Asia, but I am a mom to these 6. Some might mock this ordinary venture to love these dear ones well. I would imagine I would have done the same years ago. But somehow at this middle place, I can see more clearly that greatness comes out of ordinary small things.

Lord, help me embrace all of the small ordinary things that when lived from the context of your love can make an extraordinary difference.

On how God answers my prayers

I lost my keys. The only set of van keys that we have. They are in this house somewhere and for a week I have been tearing things apart knowing that they SHOULD turn up somewhere. But, they haven’t. So do you know what that means? I have to pay to have our van towed from my own garage to the dealer. Then, I will have the pleasure of paying another (painful to me amount) to have a new key made. ARGH!

I have really been hoping to not add to my blonde story folder – “The time I lost my own keys in my own house.” I try hard not to play the role of absent minded mother of many children. But let’s face it, I have times when I am busy with six children, a puppy and getting in the door to make lunch. So, the fact is one minute my keys are in my hand — and the next minute I have laid them down somewhere.

One child, to remain nameless (our youngest), told me he found the keys in a hidden treasure spot and reburried them for me at the top of a ladder. I haven’t found that treasure yet, but I have been praying I would find it.

Lord, help me find my keys.

You can’t imagine how many times I have prayed that prayer this week. So many times it can feel like God isn’t listening. Why can’t he help a frazzled mother out? I just need him to point me in the direction of the keys.

All joking aside, I have at times wondered if my prayers go unanswered, not just about keys, but about larger things too – results of medical tests, guidance for how to parent, a glimpse into the future so that we know what decision to make, and last but not least a mended relationship.

Yesterday, we got an envelope that included a very encouraging letter and three checks. We were blown away by the care and generosity of a tiny church that gives big and calls us theirs. As I marveled at the gift I had in my hand, I realized that it covered a couple of expenses we were facing — including a new van key.

So many times it can feel like God isn’t listening, but really He is just answering my prayers in a way that I never expected — and even in a way that I don’t want.

I don’t want to have the humbling experience of towing my van and getting a new key made. I want the easy way out. But I can tell you one thing, God has provided again. He has made sure that we have what we need.

Today, I am thanking God for answering my prayers — for hearing me and providing. I also am digging deep in my soul with the reminder that God doesn’t always do what I want him to do. He is sovereign; I am not. He knows what I need. He gives good gifts, even if at first I feel disappointed because my desires (and dare I say my expectations) are not in line with HIS heart. I so want my heart to line up with his. Sigh.

Lord, help my unbelief. Remind me that you are always faithful and you answer prayer…..even prayers about lost keys. Thank you that you are good, and help me to see your good answers even when it is hard.

End of the school year post & a new addition

It was about this time last year that I began to order our homeschool curriculum for the 2018-2019 school year. We were looking forward to being a part of a co-op with two other expat families that was being led by two amazing teachers. We thought the plan for the year was set. Ha! This school year we have schooled in three different countries on two continents, lived in five different apartments/houses, and said good-bye to our co-op friends and teachers. Basically, we stopped and started homeschooling three times. It has been nuts. We survived and I am so very proud of our kids for hanging in there.

We have finally come to the end of this long crazy homeschool year so I am marking it with my traditional “end of the school year update on the kiddos” post – where I ask them about their favorites and what they feel has been their biggest accomplishment for the school year. Long post warning. We have a lot of kids and somehow these posts seem to get longer every year….including this year. We have had a new addition to our homeschool family!

Ace: Our newest addition – 14 week old super puppy.

Favorite food: Puppy Chow
Favorite book: Lassie Comes Home (just kidding!)
Favorite subject: digging
Biggest accomplishment: being house trained in the last month of our homeschool year.

Just becuase we are not crazy enough, we thought we would add a puppy to the mix. All joking aside, it has been a great decision. He is a super sweet sheltie who has quickly become the kids’ best friend. Nothing will help a big transition better than a puppy friend.

Moe: Pre-school player

Favorite food: pepperoni
Favorite book: Anything Dr. Seuss
Favorite pass time: Playing games, especially Candy Land and Dinosaur Escape
Biggest accomplishment: Cutting up a dead frog.

This little guy is sure that he is ready to “do school” too. He is often pulling out paper and markers drawing and “writing” his name and wanting to jump in to what the other kids are doing. Recently he pulled on gloves to help Roo dissect a frog for her Apology Biology class. Maybe there is something to be said about being the youngest of six. He might just learn all of this stuff by osmosis and I won’t need to homeschool him at all! Mom would be content to let him just hang out in the space of being the youngest and not needing to do school work. It is pretty delightful to snuggle up on the couch and read The Cat in the Hat and play Zingo with this kiddo. I hope these days last longer.

Little Dude: 3rd grade graduate who always has a knock-knock joke ready for the telling.

Favorite food: noodles
Favorite book: Jackie Chan Kung Fu Aventures
Favorite subject: Math (Thank you Teaching Textbooks!)
Favorite pastime  watching Curiostiy Stream. (This child will watch documentaries on dinosaurs and ocean life — on loop!)
Biggest accomplishment: Reading 10 hours in one week and learning to ride a two wheel bike.

This year while in Thailand he mastered riding a two wheel bike. This skill is even more significant if you know his story. When he was three, his physcial therapist said he would never be able to ride a bike due to the nature and shape of his residual limb. She had no idea of the spirit that is in this kid! I am so proud of him for pushing hard against what seem to be physical limitations. He throws his legs out to the side of the bike when he looses balance using his core to center himself. It is amazing to watch. He is facing some new medical/physical challenges. When we talked to him about his upcoming surgery and figuring out some new issues with his residual limb, he simply answered, “We’ve got this.” He is so strong and optimistic.

Little Monkey: 6th Grade graduate

Favorite food: Fruit with Chinese rice and dishes as a close second.
Favorite book this school year: Mara the Daughter of the Nile by Eloise McGraw
Favorite subject: Literature. This girl loves to read.
Biggest Accomplishment: Writing two research papers and making new friends at each step of our journey this year.

Little Monkey is one of the most responsible, steady and careful children I have ever met. What a gift to have her in our lives and to see her grow through all of our transitions. She is proud to be old enough to volunteer at Vacation Bible School and to to be a helper in the church nursery.

Roo: 9th Grade graduate

Favorite food: “real” Chinese food
Favorite book: Anne of Green Gables series
Favorite subject: Art
Biggest Accomplishment: She feels that it is harsh to call anything her biggest accomplishment.

Mom would say her goal of reading and painting her way through the Old Testament was a lofty goal that she achieved. (My Father’s World – Old Testament Challenge. She added the painting part.) Her paintings are amazing. Moving back to the States may have been the hardest on this girl. She loves Asia and hopes to make it her permanent home in the future. Her passion and desire to live life following hard after Jesus is an inspiration to this momma.

 

B:  Working hard to catch up to Roo

Favorite food: Anything Chinese
Favorite book: The Harry Potter Series – He read them all in Chinese this school year.
Favorite subject: Math

Biggest accomplishment: traveling to Thailand and having a first “real” Christmas. (Those were his words which I think translate to mean his biggest accomplishment was adjusting to our crazy family and American ways of doing things!)

This guy has been working so hard over the course of the year. For someone who had no formal education until he joined our family, I think it is simply AMAZING that he reads Chinese at a high school level, is reading in English on a second grade level (thanks to the ABeka phonics program), is in 7th grade Math (using ALL English), and is hanging with the rest of our crew with History and Science. I often shake my head in wonder over how he is pressing into academics and succeeding so brilliantly.

As you can gather, B, does not struggle academically – but he is facing several physical struggles due to Spinal Muscular Atrophy. Pending insurance approval, he will be starting medication to help him gain strength – but the medication can only be given via spinal tap. Once he has gained some strength, he will be having a major surgery on his back (hopefully this fall.) So this guy is doing Math and keeping at his English/Grammar lessons through the summer. He doesn’t want to let his medical appointments and hopsital stays get him further behind. Dedication.

Soccer Dude: finished 11th grade and entering the final stretch

Favorite food: grilled brats
Favorite book: Trials of Apollo: The Burning Maze by Rick Riordan
Favorite subject: Psychology
Newest favorite pastime: attending Great Lakes Loons games. Noting better than single A baseball to help you acclimate back into life in the States.
Biggest accomplishment: Surviving the transition from Asia to the States after living there for almost 11 years.

This Dude has been nailing his dual enrollment courses through Spring Arbor University. That is where he is hoping to attend University next fall and major in….you guessed it…Psychology. This mama is having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that we are only a year away from graduating our first kiddo. If you do the math – you quickly realize that we will be starting Moe in Kindergarten at the same time Soccer Dude will be starting university! Our first kiddo almost done, but we still have 13 years to go!

If you have read this whole update – you get a gold star from this teacher. I am impressed, thankful, and blessed to have so many of you who care for our family and enjoy hearing about our comings and goings. Thank you for praying, encouraging, and supporting us along the way. Seriously, we would not have made it through this year without so many people praying for us. Hubby and I jokingly said that we should make t-shirts as a celebration that we survived schooling this year! Here is hoping that the next year is a bit calmer, and trusting it will be equally fruitful.

 

Worth it?

The Great Wall. If you have never been there, I am not sure you can imagine the steep terrain and the amount of steps. So many steps. Oddly spaced crumbling rock steps. Each step is worth the effort when you take in the view of the wall winding through the hills as far as you can see.

Visiting the Great Wall was the way our family decided to say goodbye to this season in Asia. After saying good-bye to the city that we had called home for more than 10 years, it seemed fitting that we would say goodbye to China at the Great Wall, one of our favorite spots.

B had never been there before. He was so very excited by our plans. It was a bit intimidating to envision the steep wall and yet to make a plan for our son, B, who is in a wheelchair. We called a travel agent for help, booked tickets to the most accessible part of the wall, and had two sweet friends helping. But still. Wowzers. It took a lot of effort to get our 100 pound teenager who isn’t able to walk on top of that wall.

Oh, the spectacle we created – huffing and puffing as we pushed a wheelchair up the cobblestone street that winds up and around towards the wall. We took turns carrying B on our back. We threw the wheelchair into a cable car while panicking at the thought of throwing our son into a cable car. He bumped up steps. We hung on for dear life as we rolled his chair down one steep incline to face an upward slant moments later. It was exhausting and hard.

I do this thing with our family when I am trying to convince myself that something is going well or is fun – I clench my jaw and smile and say stupid things in a sing song voice like – “peace, joy, and happiness.” The kids love it! (Which really means they think I am crazy as I talk to myself!) If I am being brutally honest, this game I play is really about the cost benefit in my mind.

Our trip to the Great Wall – totally worth all of the effort. You should have seen B’s face as he sat on that wall taking in the history of his heritage. Priceless. It is the kind of moment you look at and think – I would have paid anything for this. I would have put in even more effort to see the look on his face again. When my back was killing me for three days after the trip, I smiled. Worth it. When we handed over the fee to the tour guide, we shrugged and probably would have paid three times the amount. When the benefit is big, hard things seem so much….well, easier.

But there are moments in life when my cost benefit analysis falls short. I am sure you have had those seasons of life too. So much hard for little benefit. And we might add, from a human perspective some hard seasons seem to have no benefit. What do you do when you are climbing up all of those stairs hoping to see the Great Wall, but you never get to the top? You know what I am talking about? You invest in the relationship never to see it renewed. You pray for the wayward child – for years – and they haven’t come home. You fight the disease never to hear the word remission. A loved one dies. A job is lost. It all feels too hard. You are struggling to keep moving forward and your heart is sick with hope.

We personally are in a season that feels really hard. We hit the pause button on our lives in Asia to return to the states so that we could seek better medical treatment for B. We miss our work and home in Asia, we are fighting insurance and not getting clear answers from doctors….I feel like I am pushing a wheelchair up a steep mountain. There are days that I am tempted to give up and say that this isn’t worth it….and if I do my cost analysis half way through the journey, I probably would be right. All of this hard isn’t worth going half way.

When I saw B at the top of the Great Wall – that is when I was willing to have paid more, pushed harder. That short day trip helps me gain perspective. There will be a day when everything is made right. When everything is made whole and all of my tears will be dry. That will be the top of the mountain with a view of God’s throne that I can’t even imagine. I am positive when I reach glory I will think that it was all worth it and I will have a grin on my face that will say it all.

Until that day? Friend, we all have our own seasons of hard. Let’s encouarge each other to persevere keeping our eyes towards heaven.