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.

 

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.

Looking backwards

I hope you don’t mind indulging me as I back post. The last couple of months have been crazy with so many decisions, travel, and transitions that I sometimes forget what time zone we are in. That being said, it was hard to keep the blog updated. But, we have had a couple of significant moments in our family that I would love to share with you – albeit late.

Part of our transition from China included several weeks in Thailand for training, debriefing, rest and medical care. It was a much needed time that helped all of us. The reality of a season in the States began to sink in, we grieved leaving our Asian home, we rested and sought soul renewal after making so many large decisions and most importantly had some fun as a family.

A few of our highlights from our time in Thailand included fun, healing and faith.

As an early birthday gift Little Monkey and I spent a day, just the two of us, learning how to cook Thai food. When you have 6 kids, finding fun special things to do with them individually can be a challenge. I was so thankful to have the chance to make memories with my girl.

B learned to swim on his own!! We ditched his normal daily physical therapy for time in the pool everyday. I was amazed to see how the excerise in the water relieved his joint stiffness and increased his mobility, but the most fun part….once he was in the water, he was like all the other kids. He could move where he wanted to go and play the way he wanted to play. ON HIS OWN. Pretty huge deal for a kiddo who always needs to be pushed around in a wheelchair.

Above all, the day I will treasure most from our time in Thailand, was the afternoon Soccer Dude and Roo were baptized. After a season of studying the Old Testament in our homeschooling curriculum they were challenged to publicly declare their faith. (Homeschool win!) They chose to do that with the community of expats that meet up with us yearly in Thailand – their Asian family.

I was overwhelmed as Hubby read the age old litergy for our teenagers. I thought my heart would burst with joy as I thanked God for all that he has done for us in our salvation. What a treasure to share that gift with our children. Our friends gathered around them and prayed blessings over them and called them onward in their faith. It was so very special.

We have had the opportunity to visit Thailand many times during our ministry in Asia. I love, love the ocean. There is something about standing on the edge of the crashing mass of water that speaks to my soul. I am treasureing the memories from Thailand, holding on tight to them during this season of transition.

I ain’t gonna lie. This transition has been a hard one. We hated to leave our home in Asia. I hated to face the medical stuff that I knew was in our future. I hate finding my footing in a new place and season. It is hard work. One way I anchor myself through seasons like this (and we have faced them several times) is to dig deep in areas of faith, health and fun. I think it is so simple that I actually have fought it during past transitions.

So, this morning I am walking down memory lane. Remembering how space to encounter God in new ways, remembering faith decisions like baptism, exercise in a pool, and intentional fun with my kiddos ground me. What can that look like (practically) here and now in Michigan? I have been thinking about that a lot as I unpack suitcases and settle in. Our time in Thailand to unplug and seek God was such a gift that renewed my soul – I need that on a regular basis. There is something about extended time away with family and Jesus – you know? I need more than 30 minutes with my Bible in the mornings. But how? How can I get more when normal busy life is happening and chaos is the word that describes my life?

Thinking and praying a lot about silence, solitude, prayer, retreat, a healthy lifestyle, and good fun. I can let life take me along – or I can be intentional. I am learning that the simple choices make a big difference for our hearts. I wish I had a punch list of my goals toward soul health and how to achieve them. It just isn’t that simple for me.

I am taking it one thing at a time as God brings something to mind. Texted a college friend, who I love and admire deeply, to ask her to join me in a retreat weekend sometime in the near future. I have a couple of books picked out that I am planning on reading. I have carved out a “hiding place” in our new home where I can take time to pray. I am back into my exercise routine and we have re-established our Friday pizza, game and movie nights. Nothing super impressive. I am not going to set the world on fire as a result of these small moves – but I won’t get stuck. That is enough of a goal for now.

What choices do you make to keep your soul healthy?

We packed up our lives….again.

It really takes time for me to sit and count how many times I have packed up for a move over the past 20 years. God has taken us to Ohio, Peru, Michigan, China, Kentucky, Florida, back to Asia – and now we pack again.

Some of these moves were planned and hoped for. Some unexpected. Each of them have grown us in ways that amaze me as I look back on this journey God has taken us on as we seek to serve Him. That gives me faith as we step out again.

One of the things I have packed and unpacked, moving it across oceans and through all of these States – sage green towels. Towels that were given to Bryan and I as wedding gifts by Linda Mullins, a friend at Brice UMC. Funny what you remember. I actually laughed out loud as I looked in the hall closet of our apartment in Asia. I was trying to decide what would go in the suitcases that we would take with us to the States. Those towels have been trusted friends. I must admit they are a bit frayed on the edges now. They didn’t make the cut. It is time for new towels and time to embrace a new season.

B and Little Man both need some medical care that we were unable to get in our city in Asia, so we knew that God was steering us toward an extended time in the States to seek healing.

Bryan has accepted a position as a campus pastor in Michigan. The church is a little over an hour from my family and is a mile from a university. He is excited by this new opportunity and for the chance to love and lead folks in our new community. He also is excited to continue our connection in Asia through our sending organization. He has been asked to travel a couple times a year to help with leadership training and curriculum developement. Equipping the next generation of church leaders in regions of the world that don’t have the resources we do in the west is a constant passion. We are excited to see where both of these ministry opportunities will take us throught this next season.

For me – I kinda feel like that frayed towel. It has been a crazy few years (or maybe it is jetlag talking!) I am looking forward to some time to help our kids get healthy, homeschooling with some extra resources, launching our eldest to university (craziness!) and seeing where God leads from there. Keep posted. I am sure God has some fun things up his sleeve for all of us. We will have stories to share and we would love for you to continue to join us in the journey.

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.