With God all things are possible

There have been some seasons of God’s blessing in our lives that have felt so overwhelming that it is like drinking water out of a firehose. I have never done it, but I am sure the force of the water as you try to gulp it down would be something. It might even knock you over. I feel knocked over and drenched by the volume of God’s blessing on our family.

We needed a wheelchair van. We knew that some time in the future it would be inevitable. I can’t lift a growing teenager forever – but we were still managing. Even though we were prepared for the reality some day, we were startled to have the surgeon tell us that B now could no longer ride in a regular vehicle. Even before they would release him home from the hospital after his surgery, we would need to make arrangements. The need was no longer in the future, but now and we weren’t prepared. We began looking for a new van – a bit overwhelming since we are experts at driving old vehicles and blessed to have been given our last needed vehicle.

We didn’t expect to be given a wheelchair van as well.

Some crazy generous people (we aren’t even sure who all contributed) gave us the funds needed to buy a wheelchair van. All the funds. Wheelchair vans are not cheap. We paid with cash that wasn’t ours. If that doesn’t knock you over and drench you in a little bit of holy awe I don’t know what will.

As I reflect on our years of ministry – one theme rises above all others. God has provided. Little Man reminded me that we have “had many miracles in our lifetime.” I loved listening to him list a few of them with his siblings joining in. There was the time a group of loving musicians gave us a heavy duty stroller that we needed for Little Man after one of his surgeries. We were given an 8 passenger vehicle when our family grew from 7 to 8. Just when we had the opportunity to spend time in Thailand, Hubby was hired to teach extra classes that covered the costs involved.

The kids also included provisions that were not monetary. The friends that have crossed our paths. Visas that were granted in the last hour as an entire camp meeting paused to pray for God’s favor in that matter. The child who lived with us for a season — he taught us that we did have the capacity to love and parent 5 and ultimately 6 children. Favor granted by government officials. Jobs. Adoptions. Housing. Travel. I giggled as my nine year old mentioned all the miracles in his lifetime, but was sobered as I realized how true his sweet and sincere statement had been. He ended the conversation by stating — “imagine all the miracles we would have on the list if we counted all of them from your lifetime!”

Thank you to everyone who gave so that we could buy the van we needed for Benjamin. Thanks be to God that he led us to step out in faith to adopt this awesome kid — and through the journey of parenting this crew, God continues to provide for all our needs. Living cross-culturally, adopting kids, having a large family…when people ask us how we do it I am tempted to say, “I don’t know.” But, what I mean….I’m not the one “doing” it. No way. God provides for us and has given us an awesome support network in all of you. People who are praying for us, believing in us, supporting us, giving to us. We need a village and God has placed us in one.

Could I add a small asterisk to this testimony? There are some seasons of God’s blessing on our lives that might not be described as water from a firehose. Can you picture a tap turned on when the water main is broken? Just a tiny trickle comes out as the pipe groans. Have you had a season in your life when you see the gushing blessing pouring out on others and you wonder if all dried up before it reached you and your need?

I have labored over this post, wording and rewording — wanting to give God glory for this amazing gift that He has given us. But I think the full glory He is due can only come by me honestly sharing. God answered our prayers for a van, but not all of our prayers are answered in an awesome way that automatically leads to a rejoicing party. Our prayers that B would gain strength by taking medication have not been answered in the way we had hoped. With a few tears I can say that God provides even in this. He is good even in this. I can trust him even with this.

When his blessings seems like a gushing firehose or when his blessings seems like a dry trickle — actually, we need to realize that His blessing is still there. I am learning that blessing can be defined by God’s presence and that doesn’t waiver based on my circumstances or how I feel. My heart learning to give God glory in the unexpected great and in the disappointing hard can be added to our list of miracles in my lifetime.

With God all things are possible.

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.

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.

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.

 

Can I love them the same?

8 years ago I was sitting in a hotel room in a Chinese province far away from where we live. I thought the knock on our door would never come. We were waiting to meet our new daughter. It was our first adoption. Looking back, I now know how clueless I was.

One of my biggest fears as I waited to meet the three year who would become our daughter – could I love her the same?

I get asked this question a lot – by people who are considering adoption, by my neighbors who can’t quite believe that I could love my kids who came to me through paperwork equally as I do my biological kiddos. I am able to answer that question with confidence now, but as I waited in that hotel room….to be honest, I wasn’t sure.

The knock on the door came mid-morning just like they told us it would. A man and several women entered….maybe orphanage workers. A lot of the moment is a blur. I am not really sure who all the adults were that accompanied a scared, tiny three year old. I only had eyes for her.

I would have recognized her anywhere, probably because I had been staring at her photo for months and months as we slogged our way through mounds of adoption documents. I had so many expectations that I didn’t even realize for this first adoption. Expectations for that moment and for her – they all flew out the window.

She was scared. Hardly moved as she was set down on the floor. It wasn’t love at first sight. We weren’t happily and loviningly embracing as she called me momma. But I knew – a new love. I knew that I would do anything to protect the tiny wisp of a child that stood before me shaking. Protectiveness, compassion, anger at all she had been through leading up to that moment, urgency to help her – love. It wasn’t the precious bonding moment at birth when they placed my newborn son on my chest. This was so very different but the same.

It has been 8 years since that first meeting. It is almost impossible to see the tiny, scared child in the quiet, strong 11 year old who sits at my dinner table tonight. She chose take-out and a movie night as a way for our family to spend time together remembering the day she entered our lives.

It is hard for me to see the mother I was then – my journey has been significant. I have transformed from a mom who wasn’t sure if I could love a child of a different mother equally as my biological children to a woman who see my own adoption in Christ more fully. I now understand love, grace, new beginnings, and healing like I never would have without my adopted children. They are examples to me. I am bound to their stories and lives in a way that I can only describe as miraculous.

One of our favorite Christmas movies is “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.” You know the part of the movie when the Grinch realizes that the Whos of Whoville still celebrate Christmas even without the gifts, food, bows, whistles and horns? His heart grows 3 times larger.

That is my heart. Before adoption my heart was small. After adoption – my heart has grown so much that it pops out of it’s box.

The answer to the question I asked myself 8 year ago – could I love an adopted child the same as my bio kids? Yes! The question I didn’t know to ask – would I love the same after my life had been turned upside down by these little people? No. I will never love the same because adoption has grown my heart not just my family.

To not belong

We have arrived at our Asian home and recovered from jetlag enough for a celebration to suit our boy who turned 8.

He is all about dinosaurs- so a trip to the small science museum was just the ticket. We are so thankful and blessed to have good friends, who are really like family, to celebrate with. I watched our sons running from one station to the next enjoying each one, and it made me sigh with such deep contentment. As hard as it is to say goodbye to family and the home of my birth – it is also hard to explain fully how good it feels to return to our other home and to embrace our friends and loved ones here. Sometimes, it can make me feel like I have dual banjos playing in my heart. To call two places home. To have so many loved ones I call family. To cry when I leave and cry when I stay.

My kids really amaze me. They seem to embrace both sides of their lives with ease and grace. Moe and Little Man both totally believe they can not speak Chinese – and if they are around Americans or Europeans they don’t. But the Chinese lady that comes to our home every week to hang out with our kids while I teach – well, they have full conversations with her too. She doesn’t speak English. They say thank you in Chinese to the vendor on our street corner and answer the questions from our neighbors. Flipping between the two languages comes so naturally that they are not even aware that they are doing it.

These two worlds that they flip between – they belong and they don’t. I have white kids who have lived most of their formative years in Asia and Asian kids who think white because of their parents and family culture. I could write a whole book about that in itself. But today what I am pondering…how my third culture kids teach me to embrace life and call no where home.

Want to watch my kids squirm….ask them where they are from. They know you would expect them to claim a city in America, maybe one of the rural communities their parents identify with, but I can assure you what flashes into their minds are beds in a small apartment in a city of more than a million people. But is that home? Can we call it home when we have to get a visa to stay and our passport is from a different country? Not really. We are keenly aware that this also is not home.

The more I strive to live life well, to be righteous and to lean into who God has made me, I am learning that “homelessness” should be my goal. I belong no where. It is hard to type those words and even harder to wrap my heart and mind around the truth that God sets out for all believers. We are not of this world. Heaven is home. A place I have never seen and a place I can not comprehend.

I want to let go of the things that tie me down and pull me away from having a heavenly mentality. Desires. Comforts. Culture. Thoughts. Expectations.

I heard a sermon in college by Dr. Kinlaw that still bounces around in my soul. He said, “Your eternity can start now.”

I have been letting that sink in for the past 20 years and yet I still uncover ways that I should lean into it more. I want to embrace my God given gift of eternity…now. I don’t want to belong to this world. I want to live fully in righteousness my heart turned towards heaven. Lord Jesus make it so.

6 years

6 years. That is how long we have had Little Man in our lives. I can honestly say that my life would be less blessed and would lack laughter, adventure, and flare if I had not been gifted this child to parent.

Recently and totally out of the blue he told me, “Good thing you named me Isaac (meaning laughter. I didn’t know he knew that.) because I am hilarious.”

I really could write a book with just his quotes, antics, and jokes. But, then again I really might not be able to capture in words how he makes me laugh so hard my sides hurt. He is funny in a way that catches you off guard. Like today when we were praying for his older brother who is getting a tooth pulled. Ouch. Little Man with all seriousness says, “Well at least he will get money for the pain.” Nudging me in the ribs, he then said, “If the tooth fairy remembers to give him a little something for it.” A knowing look shot my way with a “get it done, mom” thrown in for good measure. Hilarious!

I think back to the days before this funny kid. We were in seminary and didn’t have two pennies to rub together. For sure not the time to jump into an adoption. I had a vivid dream two years earlier that God would give us an Isaac – when I saw his photo on a waiting list the hair on the back of my neck stood on end and I knew I had seen our Isaac for the first time.  Timing was irrelevant.  Our son was waiting.

Today as I hugged him a bit tighter remembering the moment they placed him in our arms for the first time – I wanted to weep over what I could have missed. What if we hadn’t stepped out in faith to bring him home? What if we had said we don’t have the money.  This isn’t the right time.  I would probably eat fewer noodles, there wouldn’t be as many messes around my house, and things for sure would be quieter.

But this boy – this boy who flings his arms wide open as he runs – this boy who laughs with his mouth wide open – this boy who buries his face in the food he loves – he has taught me to love and laugh in ways I never would have learned without him. I am forever thankful. I would have missed so much.

81.5 million Americans have considered adoption. If just 1 in 500 of these adults adopted, every waiting child would have a permanent family. (From the Dave Thomas Foundation)

I could have been part of that statistic. For each of our adoptions – it really never felt like the right time. We never felt prepared enough to have another soul join our family. We always thought we needed more resources or finances. I am not sure what propelled us forward. God’s grace really is the only answer that makes any kind of scene.

In his grace he has gifted us with Little Man. On this anniversary of us becoming mom and son – I want to share how thankful I am that I didn’t miss out.