Monday, August 29, 2016

I don't want to be a Foster Parent!

Ever feel like you and God keep having a conversation that doesn't end?  Like when you try to come up with as many really good reasons as you can to not do something you know in your heart He wants you to do?

Lately this is the internal conversation I've been having with the Lord:

1.If you wanted us to be foster parents, you would have done it by now.  If a worker is too busy to certify us for 7 months, that means you are closing a door.
God: My timing is perfect.  Just wait.

2. We hurt every time a host child is taken from us.  The grief is overwhelming for our entire family and it takes us a month or more to recover every time they have to say goodbye.  We aren't tough and resilient enough to do this job.
God: That is why I want YOU.  You love them like I love them, and that's why it hurts. I will heal you.

3. I am exhausted with my own four children.  They drain me almost every day with homeschool, activities, and discipline issues.
God: I will give you the strength.  My power is made perfect in your weakness.

4. What if we get a child we can't handle?  What if they have issues we don't know how to deal with?
God: I am sovereign, and nothing takes me by surprise.  Trust me.  I have a plan.

5. Why can't we just drop everything and write a big check to get a baby through an agency?  We are guaranteed to have a newborn, forever daughter in three months or less- wouldn't that just be easier?
God: This is my plan for you.  If you take another way, it is not of me right now.  Wait.

6. We are the pioneers in fostering among our friends.  Why do we always have to be the first ones in ventures like this?   Many of them think we're crazy!
God: Take the lead, and others will follow.

7. Do I really want to be under the scrutiny of the social welfare system?  We like to live our own private lives, not live in a home with constant visits of workers who will criticize us for breaking their rules and regulations.
God: Live your life before all men, and they will see Me in you.  I am creating opportunities for you to shine your light in your home.

8.  Why do we face opposition from those we love?  If we don't have support, we can't do this well.
God:  If I am for you, who can be against you?  If you are facing opposition because of your obedience to me, then you are blessed.

9.  What if we never get placements?  All of this will have been for nothing.
God: Trust me.

10.  We could have a child who has to be returned to an abuser who we don't see as safe.  How could be possibly allow that to happen?  It would break our hearts and make us so bitter!
God: Trust me.

11.  Fostering will be one of the hardest things we've ever done.  Everyone who has been touched by the system is telling us this.  We are already stressed, worn out, and scarred from loving and losing.  How can we survive doing this over and over again?
God: Trust me.

I don't want to be a Foster Parent.  I am already angry and frustrated with the foster system and we haven't even signed our contract yet (but it's probably been sitting on someone's desk for quite a while now).  I want to fix a broken system, or at least give a piece of my mind to some people about how they are hurting children by not doing their jobs well, and then wash  my hands of it.  Yet God continues to remind me that it's not about me and what my flesh wants or doesn't want.  It's not about good or bad workers.  It's not about a government-run entity that is in desperate need of an overhaul.  It's about glorifying Him through our obedience and service.  It's about caring for the precious children He's created: the least of these.  The neglected, abused, abandoned, tossed-aside children in our midst who need love and nurture, a home that is safe and full of Jesus.

So even though I don't want to be a foster parent, I will continue to stand in this open door.  The door that has been open since February which we are still waiting with weary hearts to walk through.  One day, maybe soon, but maybe on the other side of heaven, we'll find out why we were called to this, and what God's plan was.  But until then....
 We obey.
 We trust.
 We persevere.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Why I don't mind glitter anymore

Glitter.  It's a plague to most moms of littles.  Pull the stuff out and kids go nuts.  They dump it all over their craft, their clothing, the floor, track it all over the house. And then that gorgeous craft they proudly created sheds it all over the house until Mom can't stand it anymore and dumps it in the trash when they're not looking.  Then when Mom thinks it's gone, it shows up in nooks and crannies of the house for weeks and months to come.
This is how I've seen glitter in the past.  Not anymore.
Today my Chinese-American daughter (a title she proudly holds) had her first birthday party with friends.  She turned 5 this week, and wanted nothing else for her birthday other than to have a princess party with her friends.  She loves having little girls over.  It is something she treasures and brings more joy than a car load of new Barbies.
Maybe it's because she's had sisters she's gained and lost and craves the company of other "sisters", even if it be for just a couple hours.
Mommy understands that void.  That is why I don't mind glitter.

Glitter represents the fact that I have a daughter.  This daughter was a daughter we chose, we were called to, we were gifted with through the sovereign hand of God.  5 years ago this week this same daughter was abandoned at the entrance to an orphanage, given a chance at life and love by a birth mother who knew she'd never see her again.  This daughter is a treasure to me, and she didn't come to us easily or with little sacrifice or expense.  So I don't mind the glitter.

Glitter also reminds me of our two host daughters we've had live with us in the past year.  The fun they had with glitter was enough to make them giddy.  They loved pulling out projects and making messes in our classroom.  Both of them would have loved to have been here to celebrate with us today. Most recently I look at our last host daughter, E's, glittery handiwork she left us on the walls and a tear still comes to my eyes.  Just today, after the party, she connected with us, chatting about how she misses us, our Bear dog, loves us very much and wants to talk to us.  We still couldn't get a conversation to work on our computers but we tried so hard.  We exchanged photos and heart emojis. Two weeks of separation across the world still feels like two days.  I miss her and her brother dearly.
So I don't mind glitter.

I look in my daughter's bedroom and see the empty space, space reserved for a crib.  The tubs of baby clothes and items we're keeping close by in case the call comes and we need to run to the hospital to bring our new daughter home.  It's been 1 1/2 years of waiting, for a match, but every time the phone rings my heart still leaps and I run to see the caller ID.  If this new little one makes double the messes with glitter, I won't mind.  She can make 4X the mess, and I'll still sigh and smile.  Because that means she'll be here, and we'll have her in our arms.
So I don't mind glitter.

I don't have big news to share about our adoption journey.  We do know we are still moving forward with being foster parents, for now.  After a 7 month wait to be approved (thanks to a very "busy" worker) we still haven't received any placements of children, but we've been assured it will be very soon.  Where this fits in God's plan for our family in the long run, we don't know.  We're just being obedient to His call to care for the least of these.  As for our hosting journey, it is ending for now.  We desperately want to see E and E find a forever family.  They would thrive in an adoptive home where they can be given the time, nurture, and unconditional love they need and respond so well to.  We will be heavily advocating for them to be hosted and adopted in the months to come.  If our family situation were different, we'd be pursuing them in a heart beat.  If you or someone you know is interested in pursuing these precious children, please let me know.  We want nothing more than God's best for them and want to be their biggest cheerleaders. 

While this seems like a perpetual wait for us, as we walk in and out of doors of opportunity, we can sit in discouragement or walk in joy.  Some days there are honestly mixes of both.  It has been emotionally, spiritually, and relationally exhausting.   God is teaching us that this journey is not about us or our gaining another forever child or children.  Instead, it's about glorifying Him in our care for the fatherless, whether it be transient, from a distance, or for forever.

So glitter doesn't bother me anymore.  

Friday, July 1, 2016

They Call Me Mommy

We're on day five of thirty-eight days of hosting "Big Bro" E and "Little Sis" E.  While I want to share all the wonderful things about these children God has so sovereignly ordained to be in our home for the summer, I can't help but think about the road that brought them to me as their "Mommy" for the summer.

God weaves our story in such an intricate way.  It is so complex we never can fully see all the details of the journey until we reach heaven.  While watching these six beautiful children entrusted to me, ages 4 1/2 to just turned 11, play in the pool yesterday, I started thinking back to how we got to where we are right now.
Kris and I had three biological sons in just 3 1/2 years.  It was a high-energy, keep you on your toes kind of life back then.  Why God brought my children to me in that time frame is hard to understand, but right now I'm seeing a piece of the answer.  If they weren't that close together, I would have never been conditioned to handle the demands of children at such an intense level.  If they weren't all boys, I would never have felt a piece of our family was missing.  I wouldn't have sat dreaming of adopting a girl one day and wouldn't have purchased the book Orphanology.  If Kris hadn't read that book, God wouldn't have an avenue to convict his heart about adoption.  If we hadn't chosen China, and God hadn't led my eyes on that Waiting Children page to see Anna Faith's photo that discouraging night after we didn't get a match with a child that month, we would have never been able to choose her.  If we hadn't chosen her, we'd have never had a child with congenital nevi, and joined an online support group filled with families of children with nevi.  If I hadn't have been on that support group, I would have never seen the opportunity to host orphans through a host mom who friended me and whose hosting story I read about last spring.  If we had been chosen by a birth mom last year we would have never decided to host orphans.  If we hadn't  hosted "L" last summer, we would have never thought we could love a child and let her go, and would have never pursued fostering children. If we hadn't been delayed three months by a busy social worker to be certified as foster parents, we would have never had the opportunity to host again.  On that last night of matching when we inquired about hosting, knowing the child or children's last chance of being hosted likely rested with us, the interviewer encouraged us to choose E and E over any other child we could logistically have in our home.  And here they are.  And they are thriving.  And they are lighting up our home with more love, more laughter, more hugs and more "I love you's".  And we are blessed more than they ever could be.
The financial sacrifice, the immense amount of energy required, the trading of a relaxing summer out of school for a summer filled with investing love, cooking and serving food every hour to ravishing little bodies, and answering countless questions and requests in a different language are all worth it.
And putting another piece of our hearts on the plane in less than five weeks, well, we know what that feels like now.  And it will be worth it too.

Little Sis is a communicator.  She mixes her own language with English quite often, because she gets excited about something and can't get her words straight.  So we use a translator app on my phone quite regularly.   She can be a tough girl and get right in with the boys to play, but enjoys playing with Anna Faith with dolls and crafts as well.  Big Bro is more stoic, with a tough exterior but a gentle heart.  He has a soft spot for hugs and being a gentleman, and loves getting pumped up with compliments about his character and sports skills.  While he seems to understand quite a bit of English, he is more reserved about talking and leaves it to his sister unless she isn't around.  Both of them are very bright and are building on their English very quickly!
I don't want to compare with our previous hosting experience.  Each orphan has their own story, their own trauma, their own makeup and personalities, and every experience with orphans is going to be different.  However, I can already see that these two kids are forming a bond with us like I haven't experienced before.  Just this morning I was given this:
Last night we were told "I love you" before we could say it first.  Every morning I am greeted with a bear hug from each child as I walked out of my bedroom door.  This first week is called "The honeymoon week" where most children are on their best behavior and aim to please their host families.  On week two behaviors are usually at their worst, as the children test their boundaries and see just how much their host parents love them.  We experienced this in the past and are ready for it, but in the meantime it is wonderful to see good manners, appreciation, courteousness, immediate obedience, and no whining or complaining!

These two are so brave.  They have come across the world to strangers who speak a different language, eat different foods and have different customs.  Why did they want to be hosted?  We will ask them that eventually.  I do know this.  It wasn't for stuff.  They would rather be with us playing in the yard and just hanging out together than shopping, looking over their gifts in the closet (though they are very appreciative!), or doing big outings.  They have never even asked about what we have planned.  They just want to be with their family!

I know what many of you are thinking.  Believe me, we've already been asked, by several people.  Please let Kris and my decision about our future with these children be kept private, without outside opinions, and please do not assume we will make a huge decision simply because we absolutely adore these children.  So many factors come into play when permanency is pursued, and while we know God called us to host them, that is all we know and have decided to do right now.  The "A" word can not be mentioned in their presence so please do not mention it!
What we do want to talk about with you is how we can pray for them, how we can encourage you and those you know to host orphans, care for orphans, and how we can love them best.
Here are some of my favorite pictures from this week:

As for the children's status spiritually, we have yet to find out what their understanding of the Gospel is.  They do know how to pray memorized prayers and Little Sis volunteers to pray before meals.  They also have an affiliation with some sort of Christian church in their country (I was told this by the interviewer who met them in their home).  We have been and will continue to pray for a clear understanding in their hearts of what Jesus has done for them and what it means to be a true follower of Christ.  And we pray we may be a part of their journey to come to know the Lord if they haven't already.

Specific prayer requests:
- Please pray for continued bonding with E and E
-Pray that our children will learn to show each other grace and will be able to model obedience and forgiveness to E and E.
-Pray for strength and energy for us, especially me (Tonya) as I am with all of the kids almost every hour of the day.  I have to devote almost every moment of their waking hours caring for the children, and it takes its toll on me physically and emotionally.
-Pray for improved communication between us and rapid English learning.  They have so much to say!
-Pray for good vision and dental visits!  We really don't want to have traumatic, potentially expensive dental experiences again this hosting.  It can cause so much fear when these children come from a country with very rustic dental treatment.
-Pray for their salvation!!

Thank you all for your encouraging words and prayers!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Difficult doors to open lead to open windows: courageous meets crazyonce again!

     God's really good at stories.  When reading His love letter to us in His Word, it's obvious He likes adventure, knick of time rescues, miracles, and evidence that only He could have done something marvelous  in someone's life.  He likes to show off!
      Well let me tell you what He's up to in our lives.  I wish I could share a book, but for now, we are just sharing what is happening in the present.  Good sequels always take a long time to be told.  God seems to be like that too as His plan unravels in our lives as the days, months, and years go on.  We can't rush it but thank Him and see Him working in every moment, every answered prayer, and even in every setback.

     If you know us and/or read my blog regularly, you know we have been trying to adopt again since March 2015.  We have felt led to adopt privately in our region through an adoption lawyer and word of mouth at local doctor's offices, crisis pregnancy centers, and our home study agency.  So far, God has kept this door closed.  Because He hadn't placed our next daughter in our arms yet, last summer we felt led to host an orphan from Eastern Europe.  Hosting led to trying to pursue adoption, which was stalled until the winter hosting period to try to help her make a sure decision.  It was obvious after the winter hosting she did not want to be adopted for various reasons.  Fortunately, though, she is now staying connected to us through Facebook.  Heartbroken, yet still trusting God, we prayed about what to do next.  Because of our hosting experience we realized that our family has grown through grief, loss, and having to say goodbye to someone who we consider a part of our family.  Though it was one of the most difficult things we had ever done, it made us more like Christ.  We pulled through it and realized we COULD do it, as difficult as it was.  After making inquiries and asking lots of questions of other families who had gone before us, we made the decision to become foster parents.

     Fostering has had a stigma of being something extremely difficult to do.  How can I love a child in my home for months, even years, and then send that child who I have loved as my own back to an abuser, a drug addict, a criminal?  But the real question should be how can I say I can't open my heart to a damaged and broken child who may never know love, family, and experience the Gospel lived out in front of them?  How could I be unwilling to take them in? It is a selfish, closed-hearted attitude.  We must love as Jesus loves and be willing to be broken as He was.
    There is a huge need for foster parents in our area.  Foster homes are so full of children that many are having to be placed several counties away from their birth families.  This means moving schools, long trips to court and visitation, and dealing with loss in a worse way than having to move to a foster home nearby.
     We have completed training for fostering and have all of our many documents ready for certification. It took three months to complete the requirements, including 10 weeks of night classes in a neighboring county.  We will be approved to foster one girl, aged 5 or under, at a time in our home.  The limit for children in our home is 5, so that is all that will be given to us.  Whether or not she will be adoptable will be determined with time.  It is a long, emotional process.  Each girl may stay with us weeks, months, even a year before she is placed back with her family, a family member, or is released to be adopted by us.  We don't know if God will give us a forever daughter through the foster system or not.  We simply want to walk through this door to be ministers of love, family, and the Gospel to children and their families who are terribly broken.

     As foster parents we will be given placements with only a couple hours' notice.  When this happens, we will likely get on social media and share as vaguely as we can (abiding by policy) what our situation is.  If it's a baby, we may have immediate material and feeding needs, need help around the house with children (automatic sleepless nights), we could really be blessed by meals, and will need lots of prayer and encouragement! Even a child as old as five arriving at our home with very little preparation will create a large amount of stress and need for support and help as we adjust and minister to her grief, shock, and individual issues from the trauma she has experienced.  While we won't be begging for help, please understand we will need it.  Fostering requires a big support system and we know we can't do it alone.

And Here Comes the Twist......

     We were under the impression that shortly after completing our paperwork and training we would be certified and soon afterward receive our first placement.  The time line looked like this would happen soon after school was over for our kids in June.  However, our social worker signing off on our paperwork is extremely busy, so busy she wasn't even returning my messages and initiating contact with us until May 9th, when I caught her in her office.  When we talked I asked when would be a reasonable time to expect our certification to be signed off so we could receive children.  She answered "The first of August".

     My first response was "Oh no...that's so long.  What a wasted summer of waiting".  Then I realized the orphan hosting period for this summer was scheduled to be over on the first week of August.  The eyes of my heart were wide open.

                                        God,  you are opening another door!!!!!!

     I called Kris, not knowing what he'd say.  Never had we seriously discussed hosting again, because we assumed we'd have a foster child this summer.  We couldn't do both.  It was logistically impossible to handle both.  But we had 24 hours to make a decision.  The hosting matching period, having started in February, was going to close the NEXT DAY.  I told Kris the situation, and he calmly replied "Call our New Horizons coordinator NOW."

     She answered the phone immediately.  On the last day or two of hosting matching, workers are scrambling, begging, pleading with all their followers on social media to pray, give, and make a last-minute commitment to host.  While over 100 children from Eastern Europe had been matched to be hosted, another 100 had not.  They were about to be told "no one picked you".  Their hopes of coming to America for the chance at love, hope, and family, whether it be simply a connection or as significant as adoption, were about to be shattered.  I told her our situation and she gave me story after story of the remaining children we potentially could have in our home.  It came down to a couple different teen girls and a brother and sister sibling group.  She told me "I will have the person who met and interviewed them call you and tell you more about each of them".  Wow.  Within a few hours, the phone rang again.  I got to hear all the details of each of those kids who never had been to America, had amazing potential, and may never have this chance again.  Then I got really serious with the interviewer and asked "Of these kids we have narrowed it down to, which one, in your opinion, needs hope the most desperately?  Which one could benefit the most from being in our family this summer?"  She paused and said "It's the brother and sister".  I was surprised she didn't tell me one of the teen girls.  They were about to age out and be put out on the streets.  Surely they need hope!  But after meeting them, she felt this sweet brother and sister needed it more.

                                                       Let me tell you about them.

     E and E are going to be 10 and 11 when they arrive.  They both have birthdays within a couple weeks of each other, just before they arrive, and are less than a year apart in age! They are from the same country as "L", so we will already know a little of their language, common foods, and culture when they arrive.  " Little Miss", as the interviewer called her, is a chatterbox.  She knows a good bit of English already and is so excited about coming to America for the summer.  She loves art, especially painting and origami, and really wants to see a zoo and ride a roller coaster in America.  She plays with dolls, but since she lives in a home with lots of boys, likes playing with trucks as well.  She'd love to learn to swim this summer too.  "Little Mr." (I'm giving him this alias) loves basketball and running.  He really is laid back and lets his sister dominate the conversation.  They get along really well and love each other dearly.  He wants to learn to swim, ride a roller coaster, and see a zoo this summer too!
When I learned about these kids, tears welled up.  They would absolutely love to hang out with our kids!  There couldn't be a better fit!

     E and E had a significant scholarship donated toward their hosting fees.  When evening came and Kris and I hadn't made a final commitment yet (we had until the next day to put them on hold) we got a message saying "The next family to put a child on hold has been offered an additional scholarship".  Kris said "Ok, let's do it!"  We got the scholarship, essentially allowing us to host two kids for the price of one.  What a blessing!

    We will have to move Anna Faith into her brothers' room in order to host these kiddos (no worries, she and the boys are thrilled about bunking together!).  There are rules in place about ages of kids they need to share the room with, so we had to put them in a room alone.  Because of their closeness, they should love to have each other close.

     I will be posting a list soon of items they will need this hosting.  We will need to collect stuff quickly since all of this happened literally in the last possible day!  We have been shuffling around in one week getting documents notorized, letters of agreement mailed, trainings and even a face time home visit completed, all before the deadlines established.  In the next two days the kids' tickets will be purchased and we'll be able to count down!

     Would you please be in prayer for E and E?  We know this is of the Lord.  He has opened this door at the last hour and we have been able to walk through it in faith.  Yes, we will have six kids this summer for about six weeks!  Having a 4,6,8,10,10, and 11 year old will be loud, energetic, chaotic at times and very stressful with language and cultural barriers, but we know God will give us the grace and strength to serve Him in this way.

     Would you also please consider being a blessing to these two precious children while they are here with us?  They are actually adoptable (yes, we know for sure this time!).  We said we'd never put our hearts out like this with host children again, but here we are.  Just a side note, never say never to God....  We are not considering adopting them (logistically we can not have more boys in our 3 bedroom house so it is impossible).  But giving them a summer of love and family is much better than passing them over and knowing their hopes will be dashed.  These kids are going to need love from our community and from people they may never even meet.  Receiving gifts, meals, hugs and special time together, basic necessities they must have to live here and take home with them, all of these are items you can bless them with.  Last year "L" was blessed and overwhelmed by the gifts people gave.  She enjoyed writing personal thank you's to each giver.  I have no doubt these kids will react the same way.  If you'd like to give them a gift of zoo tickets, water park passes, Discovery Park tickets, gift cards to a local restaurant (they may very well have never eaten in a restaurant before), new shoes, a backpack, etc. please let me know.  Bringing over a meal and/or volunteering to babysit our other kids so I can take them out for shopping and special time alone would be HUGE as well.  I'll be compiling a list soon of items we need to collect and wish list items that would make their day.  It blesses them, but also blesses us as we have been instantly bombarded with having to collect everything for TWO kids in a month's time!

     So once again we are seen by the world as crazy.  But while on the surface we may appear insane with six kids in tow for the summer, in our hearts we are acting out our faith in courage.  We can't wait to see what God will do with our imperfect family to make an eternal difference in two children's lives this summer.  Are you excited to see how this story will continue to unfold?  We sure are!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Those Stubborn 10 Pounds: What Difference Does it Make?

What difference does 10 pounds make?  I'm not writing to sell you on a method, a product, a program, or a special fad diet.  I'm not knocking any of you friends who are sales representatives for them, because according to your daily posts about your products that help you earn a significant second income, they have amazing impacts on your personal health.  However, I want to share my story and how it doesn't just affect my waist line, energy level, or confidence nearly as much as it has taught me much deeper truths.

After "L" left us and returned to her country (for her story, see my posts about orphan hosting) I entered a period of discouragement and despair.  I mourned for the girl who I prayed would be my forever daughter.  I ate more comfort foods, was less active, suffered more migraine headaches, and from the stress even got a misaligned neck needing adjustment from a local chiropractor.  I've discovered I have a lower than average metabolism, so even a week or two of reducing my activity level results in instant weight gain.  Several pounds that had creeped on over a couple years rapidly added on several more, and before I knew it, all my clothes were getting tight, my energy level was plummeting, and my ailments increased.  Many of you may think "What's 10 pounds?  I have to lose 50!"  The reason 10 pounds is significant to me is that it signified I was entering a path I didn't want to go down.  It revealed to me that I was relying on food to be my comfort, not the Lord.  I was more irritable and moved more slowly with my kids, and it was affecting my parenting in a godly way.  Something needed to change.
After running a 5K run down the road with my oldest

I tried exercise first.  I exercised three times a week to the point of exhaustion.  One hour workouts while the kids were running in and out of the house were stressing me out.  I never lost a pound, but actually started GAINING more weight!  So then I started calorie counting on my phone with a Fitbit Kris got me for Christmas.  It seemed to make sense, but after a month of reducing my diet by 800 calories a day (simply eating less) and intensely exercising 3-5 times a week for 30 minutes I had only lost a mere 1 pound.  I was getting really discouraged at this point.

It was around this time I joined a Bible Study at church.  It was about being a prayer warrior, based off the movie "War Room".  Studying what God's Word teaches us on prayer every day for eight weeks taught me how to pray more specifically, passionately, and intimately.  I had to pray before even getting out of bed because if the kids heard I was up, it was over (They are really good about beating me up every morning)!  This new discipline and deepened walk with God refreshed my day to day attitude and my cravings for comfort food to relieve stress throughout the day lessened.  I started replacing carbs (granola bars, yogurt, bread, sugary cereals, etc) with protein (plain granola, peanuts, greek yogurt, low fat cheese sticks, whole grain unsweetened cereals) and never felt hungry like I used to!  No special diet, no fancy expensive foods, no cutting out gluten, fats, etc, but just a big increase in whole foods without additives, substitutes, and lots of sugar.  Sure I eat chocolate sometimes (dark chocolate isn't so bad when you get used to it), and love to eat fruit instead of sugary snacks, but these general replacements throughout the day became my new favorite foods!  And FINALLY the pounds started rolling off!  I lost 1-2 pounds a week for the last 2 months and am finally at my goal- the weight I was before getting married 12 1/2 years ago.

I feel great.  My migraines are much less frequent.  My neck pain rarely returns.  My moodiness is much more level (no more big sugar fluctuations!) and I'm much more patient with my kids during the day.  I have found a new dietary lifestyle and have no intention to go back to my old favorite foods.  And some of my kids actually have learned to like these foods too (but still enjoy their sugar as well)! Calorie counting has been my biggest accountability, but I also know that if I eat junk one day, even if it is 800 calories less than what I've supposedly burned that day the scale will be up the next morning (it never fails).  My metabolism is just that bad!  Some of us are just designed that way, which gives me much more empathy for people who are constantly struggling to keep weight off that they worked so hard to lose.

I want to be the kind of mom who, when I have 5 and 6 kids in a grocery store with me, gets asked the standard "all they all yours?" and when I reply affirmatively, get a response like "You don't look like a mom of six kids!".  That is a testimony that I live by Philippians 4:13: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  It is true.  By gaining a deeper walk with Him in prayer, the loose ends of my life came together.  He gave me the strength to go for a 3 mile run when a year ago at this time I couldn't even run half a mile without back pain or a headache.  He gave me the strength to keep trying when I was discouraged.  He gave me the willpower to say no to what wasn't good for me so my health could reach its full potential.

Ten pounds are gone, but much more importantly, I feel empowered to be more for Christ now.  If He can get me through the valley of discouragement with mourning the loss of a child I thought would be ours and can get me through losing weight to restore my body and resolve, He can empower me to do even more.  There is more to this story that I want so badly to share, but you will have to wait a little longer!

This by no means indicates my life is all together.  I still struggle with impatience, showing grace to those who I don't think deserve it, and using consistent discipline with my kids to name a few.  I still have days when I don't want to get out of bed and face those hyper children and my disaster of a kitchen that needs cleaning from the night before.  I still am weak, but Christ is making me more like Him one lesson at a time.

We are all on a journey as we grow in our walk and understanding of God and His Word.  He is working in different areas on each of us.  Recently for me it has been simply learning to pray more and letting my daily lifestyle and activity line up with my growing walk with Him.

Got struggles?  Try prayer.  It works! (no pun with the It Works products intended!)

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Love Grew Between the Lines: How The Dixon Garden Was Established

When we have an anniversary of some sort, I share tidbits of what happened, and I have been asked multiple times to explain Kris and my love story.  Every time I reply "One day I will give you the full story".  Well, today's that day.  Many of our close friends have heard this story in it's entirety (maybe more entire than they wish to know!) and we have shared it with several youth groups and Sunday School classes of young people, encouraging them to be patient and wait for God's best.  So for those of you who like a good, clean romance novel with an uplifting ending, here you go!

Let's go back to 1993 in West Columbia, South Carolina.  This tall, blonde girl who has just begun the dating game at the age of 16 goes on her first missions trip.  She was encouraged by an older student she barely knew to take a leadership position in their Christian school's Student Missions Fellowship club her Junior year.  Excited for an opportunity to get more involved in another club (she couldn't get enough of extracurricular activities) she committed to the task, understanding that all officers go on the yearly missions trip the club promoted every Spring Break.  She took the plunge, raising money to go on her first trip away from her family for a full week. This was her first plane ride, and first time ever sharing her faith.  Oh, did I mention it was to Spain, and she spoke in Spanish to everyone she met?  Talk about going out of her comfort zone!  At the end of the week, the missionary in Spain who coordinated the trip asked of the dozen or so students in the room which of them was willing to commit to a life of missions.  This missionary felt in her heart that at least one of the students in the room was going to be called into a life of ministering cross-culturally.  This blonde girl let those words sink in deeply.  She pondered over that prayer for weeks, then months, praying like she never had prayed before.  "Lord, are you calling me to do this? I thought I was going to be a news broadcaster.  I want to get married one day, not be an old maid living in a hut in Africa!"  After what seemed like a year of struggling with God, she finally surrendered the call to ministry at youth camp that July.  With the full support of her parents, she decided to study nursing in order to use medicine as a platform to share the Gospel.
 After studying at Liberty University for four years, she continued to study two more years to get a masters in
 Intercultural Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.  But let's backtrack a little.  During her freshman year at college, this blonde girl was a social butterfly.  She exploded in her newly found freedom in college and after one semester of scoping the field with lots of guy friends, she decided to date a particular guy who made her laugh.  She specifically wanted to find the husband who would spend his life with her on the mission field, so she was skeptical when that guy was studying youth ministry.  He tried learning Spanish to impress her, looked into going on missions trips to give her hope, but 1 1/2 years into their relationship and a returned engagement ring later they realized their callings were taking them in opposite directions.  With a crushed heart, she vowed to never enter a relationship again until she knew he was the man she would marry. College friends tried setting her up, seminary friends (and even a professor) attempted to play match makers, but every time there was no peace.  So after graduating again in 2001 she headed to Paraguay for a two year term as a medical missionary church planter, excited about finally fulfilling the career calling God had placed on her heart to share with those who had never heard.  In the back of her heart she was anxious, picturing herself as the "old maid living in a hut in Africa" because she was leaving single.  But regardless of that fear, she knew she was going on the path God had set out for her and trusted Him with her heart.

Now let's go back to 1996 to a little rural corner of Western Kentucky.  A farmer's young son begins studying agriculture at Murray State, a nearby public university, heading to follow in his father's and grandfather's footsteps.  However, while settling in, he meets a new friend who is different from other guys he's met.  This student friend has a vibrant love for Christ and lives it out in a radical way.  Although this young man has always attended church and grew up in a Christian family, he never has seen such commitment and passion for a walk with God.  The influence of this friend affects him to the point he realizes he has never surrendered his life to Christ as His Lord and Savior.  This young man becomes a genuine Christian, and God leads Him on a path of evangelism with his fellow students. He eventually spent a summer in Brazil to share His faith.  By the time he completed college, he knew God was calling him to something beyond the realm of farming.  After working a year on the family farm, in 2001 he committed to serving two years in China to share Christ with students there who had never heard.

The dear friend God used to bring us together!
That is where providence takes hold.  This blonde girl and young man meet for the first time on a hot July day in 2001 as they both initiated a six week training at a missionary learning center near Richmond, Virginia.  He noticed her, but she was too busy to notice him.  Then he got a splinter in his finger.  A good friend from seminary who was staying in the same dorm as this blonde girl found out and said "My friend is a nurse and should have tweezers.  Would you like me to get her to pull it out for you?"  And that is when she first took care of him.  The splinter came out and he thanked her.  What he didn't realize though, was that she and her roommate had already made a pact.  While they were in training they would not allow young men training with them to become a distraction.  They would only be focussed on going overseas to serve, not find a husband in the process.  This blonde girl worked extra hard not to notice the young man.  He "followed" her (a nice word for stalking) and figured out all her interests, her schedule, and where she frequented the most.  And he was there, watching, waiting for his opportunity to say hello, make small talk, and hopefully win her attention.  He thought all was lost until the last day of the training, when all the trainees went by bus to a nearby church to be commissioned as missionaries.  While this blonde girl normally sat with her roommate everywhere they went (to intentionally avoid available men), her roommate was late to the bus.  The young man entered the bus, and seeing the empty seat asked if he could sit there.  She agreed, and the conversation they had will never be forgotten.  They talked like they had always known each other.  They shared about immediate family who they thought were not Christians and vowed to pray for their salvation.  Then they exchanged email addresses.  This blonde girl didn't think much of it, but wanted to stay connected with someone who genuinely cared about the salvation of her loved one.  He was something special.  The young man finally had his open door into her world.  He strategically waited, then he began to write when she arrived in Paraguay.  The emails started, and continued until they were writing every day about their struggles, their discoveries, their milestones in language acquisition. They rejoiced about the people they were able to share with. And between the lines, God began to grow something.

It was Christmas night, 2001, when that young man asked to have a chat time with this blonde girl.  She was in Asuncion, the capital city, staying with an American missionary family for Christmas so she wouldn't be alone for the holidays. Unlike her small town across the country, this home had a steady internet connection to make chatting possible.  She agreed to the conversation, and in 105 degree weather that unbearably humid Christmas night, she chatted with that young man, who was so freezing his feet were numb early in the morning twelve time zones away in his unheated apartment in southern China.  He asked her as they were abruptly finishing their chat ,"Would you be interested in more than a friendship with me?"  Coincidently at that very moment she was asked to get offline immediately by her host family, and couldn't answer the question.  He was baffled and thought she was letting him down.
A long week went by.  She wondered what happened to him, not knowing what to say or how to say it.  Yes, she wanted a relationship, but she realized the implications. If she was true to her commitment in her heart made years earlier, he was likely going to be her husband!  That's a huge yes!  Meanwhile, he thought she wasn't interested.  Until, that SAME friend (remember the one who got him to have her take out the splinter) saw him at an annual gathering that happened to be around New Year's. When she "happened" to run into him (we know nothing happens by mistake!) she asked "So what are your intentions with my (friend)?".  Then he knew....she was talking about him to her friend!  That must mean there was something there! He then got up the nerve to write her again.

He wrote her to see how she was doing,  and in her reply she answered "Yes" to his request!
Every day they emailed and got to know each other more.  Late every night, she would go to an internet room on the edge of the tiny town she lived in alone, and an email was waiting about his day.  Then she would reply and tell him about hers, so he could read it when he got in from ministering (with the time zone difference, it was hard to be online at the same time).  Conversations on the phone were very expensive since they had to do a three way call though the United States with his mom connecting the calls.  A one hour call cost $40.  So they only talked once a month.  Eventually, the young man asked "Can I come to visit you?"  This proposal was huge.  One can't just hop on a plane and drop by when traveling from China to Paraguay!  It was an almost two day journey that went literally around the world to a different hemisphere and spanned three continents and two oceans.  It would cost him all his savings just to make the trip.  They agreed to spend their vacation time together that year and finally meet as a couple in August, eight months into their relationship.

With Concepcion, the woman whose house I shared when first moving to Paraguay.
I looked at this photo after he returned and cried. A lot.
The day after he arrived, the young man knew he had to tell her what he came to say.  So he more or less blurted it out after breakfast: "I love you".  She was not prepared, so paused.  He about passed out with fear and anticipation while she digested the declaration.  Finally, she looked him in the eyes and replied "I love you too".  The color returned to his face and he said "Good, because I really didn't want to get back on that plane in the morning!".  While they didn't get engaged (yet) they spent those 10 days talking about a life together.  It was the closest thing to dating they got to do, even though most of the time they drove around they had a chaperone. This had to be done to protect her reputation in a country where rumors can fly and witness can be ruined quickly.  They agreed ahead of time to not kiss, but it was definitely difficult to refrain.   They wanted to grow strong in their relationship without complicating it with physical affection. Putting him on a plane heading back to China was the hardest thing she had ever done in her life.  Her heart tore into a million pieces that day, and to this day she has never cried longer or harder.  Only God's peace that passes all understanding gave them the strength to continue the work they knew God had given them to do in China and Paraguay.

On the top of the mountain overlooking my first home in Paraguay. But no kissing!

Receiving Valentine's Flowers, all the way from China (he had the help of a missionary kid ordering them from across Paraguay for him!)

Seven months later, this blonde girl's sister was getting married in the United States.  It was four months until the end of their 2 year terms, so the two love birds decided to use the remaining vacation time they had and spend two weeks together in the U.S. to meet each other's families and participate in the wedding.  This time, they agreed they would kiss when they saw each other.  When he went to pick her up at the Nashville airport (he arrived the day before) they shared their first kiss at the baggage claim. It may have lasted ten minutes.  The anticipation of that kiss was like nothing any bystander had ever seen.  People walked by, others made comments, but this reunited couple didn't notice.  They were finally together again after being so far apart.  He took her home to meet his family, and the next day, while both of them were still whirling from jet lag, he drove her to the most beautiful spot he could find in the area: Columbus Park in Columbus, Kentucky. At a little gazebo overlooking the Mississippi River, the young man read a poem he wrote, then got on one knee and asked this blonde girl to be his wife.  She said Yes!

This is our only engagement photo....

unless you count this- he bought me this ring from across the world! Thank goodness for internet!
In those two weeks they planned the majority of their wedding.  With the help of a newlywed friend, she picked out a dress in one hour, they set up a caterer and photographer, they picked their wedding party, and the venue and minister were booked.  All of this was done along with visiting seminary where they would live and he would attend before the wedding would take place in October.  They determined housing, met up with old friends she attended school with, and returned to Kentucky before saying goodbye for four more months. During those four months they picked out their registry online, picked out flowers and bridesmaids dresses (and several of the wedding party members were spread out across the world as well!), and made many plans by email.
Those four months in Paraguay and China were bittersweet.  While they missed each other desperately and wanted so badly to be married, they knew they couldn't leave their commitments on the field.  They had to complete what God sent them there to do.  Saying goodbye to the many friends they met, people they had led to Christ and discipled, and in her case, a group of indigenous people who would never again have a Christian witness for an indefinite amount of time was excruciating.  It tore her heart out to leave them behind, entrusting them to the One who cared about them more than she did.  Returning "home" to America was so difficult, but being reunited was a glimmer of joy.  They immediately moved to North Carolina for him to begin classes.  There was 10 weeks for this blonde girl to set up their home in another seminary housing apartment, for them to both find employment, and to complete wedding planning.  Most weekends were spent driving four hours to the wedding location in  South Carolina whenever they had the chance to tie up loose ends, attend showers, and see her family.
Finally, on October 4th, 2003 all the plans came together and this blonde girl and her young man exchanged vows.

And the kiss was timed.  It was a long one.  Five seconds to be exact. Their guests are still talking about it.

They scrapped up enough money to take a honeymoon in Kawaii, Hawaii, because that was her dream since childhood.  And they almost drowned there together, but that's another story.

The wait to see him again, to be with him intimately on our wedding night?  It was difficult.  It was more than difficult.  It seemed impossible.
But it was worth it.  It was worth it to those who got to hear.  It was worth it to build their character and trust in God's timing.  It was worth it to put their hearts in God's hands, knowing He would make all things beautiful in His time.  It was worth it to be able to share with their future children, with young people struggling to wait for God's best, with youth who think all is hopeless when a heart throb breaks their heart and shatters it.  It was worth it.
Wearing Chinese dress for our rehearsal dinner.  

Twelve and a half years later, we are at a place we could never have imagined.  I could not be here if He hadn't carried me then.  I could not be living with joy now if He had not taught me through that difficult time of waiting.  I couldn't wait for His plan to continue to unfold in my life if He hadn't strengthened me to see His faithfulness then.
He makes all things beautiful.  His plans are never fulfilled early or late.  And He is still reminding me of this lesson  Those days are my Jordan River.  When Joshua and the Israelites crossed the Jordan into the promised land, God told them to  build an alter right there in the river to remind them, their children, and their children's children of how He had been faithful.  40 years they waited in the wilderness, but He was faithful.

After our first year of marriage, Kris presented me with a small chest.  I excitedly opened it, and beheld a huge stack of printed out pages with the cover page titled "Love Grew Between the Lines".  It was our story, in emails.  Every single email we wrote each other for two years was in that box.  That is our pillar of stones in the Jordan.  When we doubt God's timing, His purposes, or His reasons, we can look back at that box and remember.  He's faithful.  He has a plan, and waiting is worth it.

I hope you've enjoyed this "little" story.  It isn't done.  It has only begun.  And God is weaving a story in your life too.  Is isn't the same as mine.  If it were, we'd all be dull and boring.  Everyone's is different.  And those differences reveal God's beautiful tapistry of journeys about His faithfulness that we can hear and marvel over.
Thanks for reading, and may this encourage you to strive to wait for His best in your life as well!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Struggle for Significance: When Being a Mom doesn't feel like enough in God's kingdom work

An epic week long camping trip with these four
With every passing year since having our first child, my roles outside of the home have narrowed.  Over a period of six years having one child transitioned to four children, changing diapers and laying down for naps changed to grading papers and administering tests, and my available time to serve has dwindled away.  Not too many years ago I sang in the choir, did an occasional solo, taught a Bible Study, taught a Sunday School class, served on the Preschool Committee, and attended services held with a Hispanic Church that meets in our church's facilities.  I used my nursing degree to get certified in limited ultrasound and used that training to serve as a medical volunteer at a local crisis pregnancy center.  I went on both short and long term mission trips to utilize my masters degree from seminary and ability to speak Spanish to share the Gospel and serve in training and ministering to various needs wherever we went. It was fulfilling, adventuresome, and such a joy to use my gifts and abilities for growing God's kingdom!

Today if I filled out a resume of what I do, what would I currently be able to write down?  I make food.  Lots of food.  Got a social: Tonya's bringing the dessert.  Got a breakfast:  Where's the cinnamon rolls?  Come over to our pad, there will be a big dinner waiting for you.  My other ministry?  I'm a wife, and a mom of 4 or more, depending on who God sends our way.  Yeah, I homeschool too.  How did I allow my ministry to be reduced to this? Maybe it's the fact that at the end of a homeschool day with four children, two of which have educational special needs, I'm so exhausted all I can do is show up at church with an expectant heart to suck in all the encouragement from the Word and worship I can.  I simply can't pour into others after pouring into my kids all week.  When opportunities come throughout the week, I rarely can make it unless it is little kid friendly.  Because of Kris' job, I have to be with my kids most evenings too.

If you feel motherhood has you in a "rut" where your ministry is reduced to being the cook, teacher, and caregiver, you are not alone.  Society has placed us at the bottom of the important type of people list.  They think we should be in the workforce.  They think we should come out of our houses and do something significant for a change.  We obviously took the easy, lazy way out of deciding to stay home when we are able bodied workers.  What a luxury!

When I was as sick as a dog these four took a snow day and built this along our driveway
I googled "Stay at Home Mom" and right under the top search engines was a subtitle "Stay at Home Mom Depression".   So why are stay at home moms depressed?  It might have something to do with the messages we get.
Here are two excerpts from's website concerning being a stay-at-home mom:

Making the decision to stay home with your kids or join the workforce can be a difficult process.  There is no right answer.  Dr. Phil encourages each woman to make the choice that brings her closest to fulfilling her hopes and dreams.
In support of mothers who choose to work, Dr. Phil says that many women hope to be a parent and pursue a career and they often become depressed when they are stuck solely in a parenting capacity.  "If the child is mothered by a parent who is feeling frustrated, and depressed and empty, that is not a good thing," he says.

THESE are the lies we are fed.  THESE are the messages we hear in our culture.  THESE are ways for the enemy to tear down our calling, little by little, until we decide we have no value at all for God's kingdom.  "Fulfilling her hopes and dreams..."?  Seriously?  So it's all about us?  And then Dr. Phil implies staying at home often leads to depression and feeling empty?  Oh yeah, it's because she's doing nothing important, right?  Hogwash.

Several months ago I posted about struggling with the decision to quit homeschooling.  This would have freed me up to "do more for God".  At the end of the post I concluded that by leaving the calling I had to teach my children in our home I was going to be missing out on a blessing.  That's because I was in fact doing exactly what God wanted me to do, even though it didn't come easily or naturally.

Home life: planting and growing
Mama, if you struggle with being a stay at home mom, I understand.  I'm there too.  This season isn't forever.  We aren't going to be doing this 20 years from now.  They will be grown up and gone.  The ministries you are giving up or passing up in order to focus more on your children will still be there when they are bigger and taking care of themselves.  When our oldest is 12 (in just 2 years!) we will start letting him care for his younger siblings for short periods of time.  I can't even comprehend what it will look like, when I'll be able to get out by myself again to serve in small ways outside the home again.  2 years!  It will be here before I know it.   But right now, they require all my time and energy.  They are the most difficult job I've ever and will ever have.  Raising them is the hardest thing I'll ever do, and the responsibility to raise them right is huge.  Half-doing the job, depleting myself of time and energy to focus on other ministries would be detrimental to my children.  However, ministering along-side them is something that will help grow them.  Those kind of ministries are selective when having a 4,6,8, and almost 10 year old in tow, but they do exist!  Orphan hosting, having college students to our home, preparing food to serve, going on certain types of visits to encourage others (the nursing home, for example) are wonderful opportunities for my kids to learn to serve.  There is another ministry we are venturing to begin as a family which I can't wait to share about in the future. We have even taken our children with us on missions trips!  So right now, that is the capacity in which I serve.

Don't see yourself as insignificant just because you don't draw a paycheck or teach in your church.  Don't beat yourself up every time you hear about new opportunities and realize it conflicts with nap time or class time.  Don't let the enemy whisper "You need to do more".   Satan and others lay guilt on us, but the Holy Spirit convicts.  Please remember if you are convicted you need to serve in a certain area and know it will not take you away from your primary calling, obey His leading and don't let anyone or anything sway you from the doors He is opening for you to walk into.  Many moms can wing teaching at church or serving in other areas and shouldn't make excuses if God is truly drawing them to serve.  I'm simply saying we shouldn't all feel pressured that we HAVE to.  There is a difference, and we don't need moms in our churches who serve simply because they feel it's their duty to do so.  It not only strains them of energy and time with their children at home, but it also prevents the person God wants from serving in that role the most effectively.

What if I had sent them to preschool and missed out on doing this with them?
I seriously doubt when we are old and grey, looking back at our child-rearing years, we will regret not taking on work outside our home or areas of service that depleted our ability to nurture and parent our children.  What we will regret is losing the precious time God gave us to invest in them like no one else could.  Our children are our mission, our gift from God, and we shouldn't let anyone or anything belittle that.   I am not judging you moms who work outside the home and have no choice but to provide for your family in order to pay the grocery and electric bill.  There may come a time in our lives when I'll have to go back to nursing to help out our family if Kris' income drops significantly.
 But if God has provided adequate income to care for your family's needs (note I didn't say wants)***, lift up your head and find joy in where you are.  No one else can replace what you are teaching and modeling to your children.  Enjoy the moments, the memories, the milestones, and don't let this world get you down.  You are doing ENOUGH.  And that is a pleasing sight to Your Heavenly Father.

***This article has a lot of truth in it when it comes to the cost of staying at home vs. joining the workforce for a second income:

Friday, January 29, 2016

Where Courageous and Crazy Meet

When fresh water from melting glaciers and saltier water of the ocean come together in the Gulf of Alaska, you get this: a thin wall formed in the ocean that does not allow the two densities of water to mix.  It is an amazing sight!  This can be a visual picture of how one's worldly tainted eyes see something versus what another's spiritual, Holy Spirit-filled eyes see. One perspective is watered down by the blandness of the world while the other is full of the saltiness of walking in faith with the Lord.  Where they meet is what can be called the reality of courageous living for Christ!  This is nothing short of a  place to be that truly gives God glory.

I've been called courageous, and I've been called crazy to my face several times in the last few weeks.  Courageous, for stepping out on faith to do something that wasn't easy, and crazy for attempting to do things that a "normal" family wouldn't.
So am I a demented woman needing therapy or a courageous, faith-filled inspiration to others?
This pondering has led me to consider many people's stories I've been introduced to in recent years.  Were they courageous, or were they crazy?  Did it all matter to the perspective of the onlooker?  Was their success dependent on their being a little nutty and irrational or was it based on a deep faith based in God's Word that He could do the impossible through their lives?  Let's take a look, because I'm just as curious as you are!

First, lets consider what the Bible has to say about those who were seen as crazy.  I think about Noah.  Definitely crazy to all who looked on his incredible act of faith to take 100 years to build an ark when no one at the time had ever seen a drop of rain.  But when we look back, we see a faith-filled man who had the courage to do what seemed impossible to accomplish God's plan.
Look at Abraham.  Did his family see him as crazy for leaving everything he knew behind to go to a land God would show him, when he had no idea where it was?  Yep, we'd see that as definitely crazy. Give that man some counseling, he's as lost as a goose.  But as we see his story unfold, what an amazing act of courage to fulfill God's plan for His chosen people, from whom the Savior of the world would come.  How about Moses, Joshua, David, Daniel, Isaiah, Hosea, John the Baptist, the Apostles, the first martyrs.....?  In every account they were seen to have wild ideas, insane actions, outrageous plans, yet after we see the big picture, we know they acted on faith and demonstrated great courage.

Now let's go to more recent history.  My oldest son is addicted to missionary biographies.  He is inspired and is regularly telling me about Lottie Moon, Hudson Taylor, Amy Carmichael, William Booth, Adoniram Judson, George Muller, Jim Elliot, amongst dozens of others who have one common thread in their lives given for the sake of the Gospel: incredible courage and faith.  Every one of them was called crazy by many onlookers who didn't understand why they did it and for whom.  Even those who understood would critique them, try to stop them, dissuade them from being so bold to go where they went, but they served and sacrificed anyway.  Despite opposition and opinion, they obeyed, and God was glorified.

We look at these figures who have gone before us and think "Wow, what an inspiration! I sure couldn't do that".  Or could you?  I believe the reason our generation rarely sees change in our miserable sin-saturated world is because we have lost our courage.  Why?  We don't want to be called crazy, that's why.  We want acceptance, to blend in, to live it easy. We figure we'll get by with good morals, sharing our faith every once a while if we are ever so bold, and serve in the local church as long as it's not too sacrificial. Maybe a short term missions trip (that is guaranteed to be safe and give us great photo ops) can be added in to make us look extra faithful. All of these acts of service and obedience are great, but are they the BEST we can do to glorify God?  Will this type of living change the world around us in a radical way or will it just give us a good reputation and ease our conscience as being a good Christian?

Is giving your all when you answer God's call sound like this?
"Yes, Lord, but I can't handle......"
"Yes, Lord, but I will never....."
"Yes, Lord, but I can only do THIS much..."
Is this really surrendering all?

What is true courage and undeniably a faith-filled answer sounds more like this:
"I deny my comfortable friendships and will go where I don't fit in"
"I deny my creature comforts: a big house, a nice car, and nice clothes, so that I can give my all"
"I deny having a toned, in shape body so that I can be more available to the Lord and spend more time serving Him"
"I deny my hobbies and indulgences so that I can pour my time and resources into serving the Lord in His mission field"
"I deny my comfort zone- I will intentionally become uncomfortable physically, emotionally, and spiritually for God's glory"
"I deny my plans and goals for my life and will drop all of them for God's plan"

Maybe we don't want to be courageous because we haven't seen it done before by someone we know. Just reading an article or a book doesn't connect those people with our reality like having someone in our life to go before us in the frontier of courageous living.  What if God wants YOU to be first?  What if the Christians around you are waiting for someone else to take that first step of faith and YOU need to be that person?

I still lack courage to do more for the Lord's glory.  Sometimes I feel like such a coward, because I look at our family's schedule and think "we can't squeeze in any more!".  Sometimes I look at the price and think "There isn't the money for that".  Sometimes I just say "We're not equipped to do it" or "That would hurt a relationship too much".  I have so far to go.  The Christian heroes before us slept very little, endured many ailments and diseases, underwent persecution, and even lost loved ones. Yet they never looked back.  They gave their all.  Why can't I?

Brothers and Sisters, are we going to see a significant change in this world to turn to Christ if we just pray God will send someone else to do it?  What if that someone is You?  What if it is Me?

What is holding you back?  No one wants to be called crazy.  But do you want to look back on your life years from now and see your decisions as cowardly?  Will you regret taking the easy, comfortable road?  Will it be too late if you don't step out now?  Will it be too late for those who would follow after your bold example?

Will you let courageous and crazy meet in your life?

He did.

Friday, January 15, 2016

When He Doesn't Part the Waters

Our generation lives in a culture of "Just name it and claim it".  Especially if it is a good thing, a God-honoring thing, it must be His will to give it to us, right?  If we are God's children we are entitled to His gifts and blessings! No, this is not my mentality at all as a believer.  I am sickened by feel good "pastors" who flood news feeds on Facebook with their quotes about God's blessing us if we trust Him.
If you want to figure out what God's purposes really are, don't go to Joel Olsteen or Joyce Meyers.  Go to God's Word.  Read how He is jealous for His glory, not our blessings.  He wants to accomplish His purposes, not our wants.  He does seek to care for His children, but He is all-wise and we should trust Him when He answers our prayers with a "No."

So many of you have been cheering us on our adoption journey, especially with our heart for hosting "L" from Eastern Europe.  You have been hoping with us for a great outcome with this second hosting, longing to see her experience the love of a forever family who wishes for her to have hope and a future as our daughter.  Many of you have texted me, asked about her in person, and written comments under photos. Thank you so much for your concern and burden for her salvation and future.  The church needs more compassion for orphans, and you have shown you truly care. 

I regret to tell you all that God didn't part the waters this time.  We came into hosting not trying to set our expectations high, but we still found ourselves looking hard for evidence that "L" wanted to be adopted.  Unfortunately, it's not going to work out.  We are crushed and heartbroken, but have tried to still love her as our honorary daughter and understand that many orphans who come to America don't sign up for adoption.  They agree to hosting: an experience of fun, travel, learning English, and being in an American home with a family that will love them.  She wasn't obligated to agree to adoption, so we shouldn't be angry at her or resent her mindset during hosting.  
Fortunately, "L" has been exposed to the Gospel.  We have given her a Bible in her language, have taught her how to read it, and have shared the Gospel as best we could communicate it to her. She is also going home to a foster sister who accepted Christ while she was being hosted with a different family in a different part of the country!  She is also connected now by Facebook and has made contact since arriving home on Thursday night.  We hope and pray for a continued relationship with her so we can encourage her, share with her, and know how to pray for her.  We also pray she can be hosted by another family in the United States this summer who can love her and encourage her as we have.

So where does that leave us now in our adoption journey?  In a month we will be approaching the one year mark since officially becoming paper pregnant again.  We have called our adoption lawyer to ask about birth moms, and have been told several looked at our profile book this past year.  We were not picked, but we were glad to know there are birth moms in our area who are choosing life for their unborn children and desire to place them in adoptive homes.  Our book will continue to be shown at his office and in other locations where possible birth mothers may inquire about finding an adoptive family. We have also looked into other options and will share in the future if directions change again.  Please be in prayer as we walk through these doors of opportunity.

I know many of you want to know how, since we never had a social worker officially ask her again, that "L" doesn't want adoption.  Please respect our request to not pry, but just understand that this door has shut.  When God doesn't move in the way we pray for Him to move, that means He is just displaying His wisdom and goodness to withhold something He knows is not His best for us.  He is a good Father, and as an earthly father sometimes doesn't give his son or daughter something they ask for because he knows they don't need it, our Heavenly Father needs to be trusted as well.
We are trusting, waiting, and hoping while resting in the arms of a comforting, good Father.  He dries tears, fills pain with peace, and strengthens our weary hearts.
If any of you want more information about orphan hosting, please let me know.  While we didn't get to fill our desire to adopt through hosting, we did get the opportunity of a lifetime to invest in a girl who needed to know Christ and the love of a family.  She will hopefully always have us there for her in the future as well, and that is a wonderful comfort.  There are always children available to host through several different organizations who never get picked.  My heart grieves that those opportunities are lost for them.  If God is touching your heart to do this type of ministry, don't put it off.  Inquire and commit!  I'll never have regrets and you won't either.