Palmer’s Change for Good

Perhaps it was a moment of insanity, or my intestinal fortitude had increased, or maybe I was running a fever, but I decided to take both kids grocery shopping with me at two different grocery stores last week. After hearing nightmarish stories of culture shock from other adoptive parents who took their kids shopping in the early days when they were home, we avoided taking Addie and Palmer to the store at all costs for the first year we were home. So because stores are still somewhat new to our kids, and because our kids have an insatiable curiosity, and because they both really like to ask questions, comments and questions are usually hurled in my direction in machine-gun fashion.

Addie: “Mommy, why are some peppers red and some peppers green?”

Palmer: “Mommy, why do you have to put a quarter in there to get a shopping cart?”

Addie” “Mommy, why are there people in the back of the refrigerator?”

Palmer: “Mommy, why does hamburger meat look like spaghetti?”

Addie: “Mommy, Palmer pushed the cart last week. Can I push it today?”

Palmer: “Mommy, why is some of the food cold and some of the food not? Why isn’t any of the food hot?”

Addie: “Mommy, why are there so many kinds of cereal?”

Palmer: “Mommy, why do we go shopping at two stores instead of one? Why doesn’t Aldi have sesame oil and cilantro?”

Bless them.

After 5 months of Addie and Palmer not talking to us when they first came to America, I swore to myself I would never regret when they spoke. But sometimes it’s just a wee bit easier to concentrate on figuring out what we need at the store without the 3rd degree. Just sayin’.

I managed to survive grocery shopping with the kids, but we decided to stop and get Wendy’s because the kids both wanted the new Superman kid’s meal, and I realized that with all the grocery shopping we had done, we were hungry and had nothing to eat.

As we were standing at the cash register, Palmer was pelting me with questions, which I was deflecting with the skill of a ninja Jedi.

“Mommy, do they have hamburgers and chicken here? Mommy what does that machine do? Mommy can I choose my toy in my kids meal?Mommy, why is there money in this box? Can we have it?”

I explained to Palmer that there was a box at the register collecting change for families who are adopting. “Adopting is expensive, I said, so if anybody wants to help another family who is adopting, they can put their money in there.”

Palmer reached into his pocket, and pulled out some change. “Can I put money in there?”

“Of course.”

In the midst of questions, Palmer had asked one that, for him, was life-changing. It was the first time he had ever asked if he could give money away. HIS money, not mine.

Since Addie and Palmer grew up in destitution, their obsession with money has been natural. They pick up every penny. They save and scrimp. They talk about money with great love and great passion. When they are given money to put in the offering, they ask if they can keep it instead. The lack of money in their African lives had disastrous consequences in their early childhood. Their earliest memories were about not having enough. To keep a tight handle on money is understandable. But he gave his money away to support adoption. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but maybe deep down inside he feels blessed for the results of the gut-wrenchingly difficult journey he has been on.

As we stood in Wendy’s, I recounted all the times when he had chosen to hold on to his money. Through all of the fundraisers at school, the offering plates that have passed them by, the chances to give to others, our kids just haven’t been ready to share. They wouldn’t be ready to share until they realized they had enough.  Until they knew that giving away a quarter wouldn’t mean going without food for the next two days. Until they felt secure. When Palmer dropped his money in that box, it was a momentous sign that he felt safe enough to give to others. I couldn’t have been more proud of him, and more pleased with his choice. My eyes brimmed with tears of joy in the line at Wendy’s.

I think the same is true with giving our resources, our best efforts, our lives to God. Until we know that He is enough, we will hoard, protect, guard what we hold most precious to us. And He is patient, waiting for us to come to understand that our security is in Him. I can also imagine how God’s eyes fill with tears of joy when we decide to trust Him enough to give back to Him what we value most.

I’m thankful every day for my giggly-goofy-happy-smart-strong-sensitive-inquisitive boy who teaches me to let go and love.

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Missing Mabel

Of all the people and I things I miss about Nashville, the one that I miss the most is my friend Mabel.

 

photo (12)

 

Actually, Mabel isn’t her real name. Her real name means “beautiful,” but I’ll call her Mabel. I met her around three years ago, and it took me a few months to get to know her. I eventually started helping her with some of the things she had to read for our workshops. She was fairly quiet, until the day she finally shared her story with me.

While I can’t share the details of her story, I’ll just suffice it to say that life had dealt her many unfortunate circumstances, none of which were her fault. She couldn’t finish school, she never learned to read well, and had struggled more than she deserved.

I had met Mabel in the transitional housing complex that I went to once a week, and it wasn’t long after Mabel shared her story that we became friends. She begged me for her picture, week after week. She said that she didn’t do much reading or writing, so she went to two different churches when she could, and she spend much of the rest of her time praying for all the people in the pictures on her wall.

While life had certainly surrounded her with more than her fair share of tragedy, her positive outlook on life was refreshing. After all, if she had joy in spite all she had been through, what could I possibly have to complain about?  Mabel was never shy about telling me how much she loved me, and that Jesus loved me. She prayed for me every day, and even though she didn’t know the details of my life, she didn’t need to. Jesus knew them, and that was enough for her. She said every day that she saw me was a good day, and that I was so pretty I made her smile.

And then one day, after months of seeing Mabel week after week, I began to see what Jesus sees: Mabel is one of the most beautiful people I’ve ever met. Beautiful, just like her name.

Here are some of the best lessons I’ve learned from Mabel came from the time that I spent with her, and some quotes that remind me of her:

  • Good or bad, beautiful or ugly, we tend to find whatever we are looking for in people, and in life.
  • “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” – Mother Teresa of Calcutta
  • Like a jelly donut, what is inside of us is best revealed when we are “squeezed.”
  • “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” – Mother Teresa of Calcutta
  • “It is wise to wonder whether those you consider to be naïve are perhaps just showing more Fruit of the Spirit than you are.” –David Drury

“But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely. Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified.  Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives.” Galatians 5: 22-26 The Message

 

I hope one day to be just as beautiful as Mabel.

Quirky Qualities of Boiling Springs

Last week, I posted about my favorite things about Boiling Springs. It is a really great place to live. But as with all new cultures and communities, there are some quirky things about living here too. Being quirky isn’t bad, it’s just interesting. Let’s face it, I live in a house of cultural diversity, and we celebrate what is different about each of us as much as what we have in common. So please understand, these quirks make me love Boiling Springs all the more. But there are some things that give me a giggle. Every. Time.

1. Livermush. It’s on every menu. Though I have lived in the South for the last 11 years, I apparently missed out on this delicacy of disgust. I had to ask our realtor what is was, and then I looked it up. Wikipedia defines it as “a Southern United States food product composed of pig liver, head parts, and cornmeal. It is commonly spiced with pepper and sage.” Oh the humanity, what!? As if liver wasn’t bad enough, “head parts?” I can’t think of anything in a pigs head that would make me think: Yummy! It is served on buns, deep fried, and even in sushi at local restaurants. Each serving contains approximately 30 grams of fat. Was this dish created on a dare? I consider myself a pretty adventurous eater. I love things like kimchi, barg, okonomiyaki, and falafel. I draw the line at livermush.

 

2. Our kids teachers are Mrs. Smith, and Mrs. Wesson. That’s right, Smith and Wesson. Addie and Palmer have been extraordinarily good at their new school. Do they really have a choice?

 

3. Everyone is related to just about everyone else. I have literally had this conversation with multiple people: “Since you are related to everyone in the area, which one of your relatives is an _______________? (auto mechanic, photographer, social worker, etc.). The answer usually goes something like, “I’m not related to everyone! Although my cousin _______________ is a _________________.” Never fails.

 

4. Now, since everyone is related to just about everyone else, there is little need for the internet when looking up local products and services. The most efficient way to get information is to ask someone. If that fails, should one look it up on the internet? No! One should pick up one of these nifty little things called a PHONE BOOK. I’m not kidding. I thought phone books were only used as booster seats for small children and to put in the bottom of your outdoor garbage can to keep it from tipping over on windy days. Here, they use these phone books to look up addresses and information because most local businesses don’t have a web site. And since the phone book covers several different towns, but does not always list which one, it can be slightly confusing to try and use the phone book too. This is why relatives are the primary means of finding out about products and services.

 

5. This entire confusion about how to source information in Boiling Springs has led to delayed discovery of this fact: We are living in a Baptist commune. Out of the 2 dozen or so churches in population-3800 town of Boiling Springs, all are Baptist, except for one United Methodist church. And if you have known us for any length of time, you know how we feel about the United Methodists after our experience working for them. (Our married senior pastor with a wife and four kids was having a homosexual affair with two men on staff at the church, and embezzling money from the church’s stewardship campaign to pay off one of his lover’s mother, who had hired a private investigator to find out about the affair. We were given 72 hours to get out of our house when we brought what we knew to light to the church board. When the senior pastor confessed, he was given several months sabbatical and then promoted to a larger United Methodist church in another area of the country.) Our chances of attending a United Methodist church are just slightly higher than converting to Mormonism. And while we love the Baptists, there are several theological implications that are difficult for our family, such as limited atonement. Our children already have the sense that they were cheated out of a lot by being born in the Congo. After all, the tooth fairy has had to do back pay, and Santa has had some serious explaining to do. While those are just childhood tales to explain away, being cheated out of being “chosen” until they came to America is not something I want them deal with. Women in ministry is another. I want my children to grow up seeing women in ministry as Christ intended, not being limited to only teaching children or other women. I tend to think that the Holy Spirit has used me to speak to males in many instances over the course of my life. I want that to be celebrated, not shamed. The Holy Spirit doesn’t make mistakes in who He chooses to communicate through or to.

 

6. The last peculiarity about Boiling Springs comes in regard to cuisine. There are 4 fast food restaurants, and 5 other casual dining restaurants in town. The variety is adequate, but we have missed the upscale street food of the Nashville food trucks. I had conferred with my food truck foodies before I left Nashville, and they had assured me that there were great food trucks in Asheville and Charlotte. When I saw that the Boiling Springs annual street festival was going to feature famous food trucks, I was elated! However, when we arrived at the festival, I found that their famous food trucks were concessionaires — with hot dogs and hamburgers and fried stuff with cheese, not farm fresh upscale fusion cuisine. It was like a knife through my foodie heart. Fixing my foodie craving for exotic foods will take some work. But in the words of Robert Browning, “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”

 

Boiling Springs is definitely growing on us — like another member of the family, quirks and all. We’ve found more sweetness and hospitality in this town than we ever expected, and we’re looking forward to staying a long time!

The Beauty of Boiling Springs

We’ve been in Boiling Springs almost 2 weeks now, and we are really enjoying it. Many of the things that caused us undue stress have melted away, and we are enjoying getting to know our new community. Most people are surprised that I love living in a small town again, but having grown up in a town of 1,520, the 3800 population of Boiling Springs is just right. Here are some of my favorite things about our new town.

1. We live in the “law enforcement” subdivision. We knew that our neighbor was a police officer, but our neighbor across the street is the magistrate. And when I went to get fingerprinted for my North Carolina medical license, I met 5 of the town police officers (of a total of 9) and they told me there are 5 law enforcement officers in our neighborhood of about 50 homes. Crime is virtually nonexistent in our town — and they even joke that because they are not responding to shots-fired calls or burglaries, they have plenty of time to spend with a radar gun.

Which leads me to my next point . . .

2. No one speeds in Boiling Springs. People use their turn signals. We have yet to be cut off, tailgated, flipped off, or experience road rage. Either we’ve suddenly become better drivers, or the drivers around us have much fewer anger issues.

3. The commute to anywhere in town is 5 minutes. To drop the kids off at school in the morning and then drive to work takes 7 minutes. Total. I have actually decided to go to a bigger grocery store when I need specialty items in the next town. It takes 8 minutes to get there.

4. Our house is 2 1/2 times the size of our previous home. We have TWO bathrooms with FOUR sinks. In our previous home, we had one bathroom with no vanity and just a pedestal sink. Now we each have our own vanity. More than one person can be in our kitchen comfortably. We can have conversations without everyone in the whole house hearing every single word. The kids have their own bedroom, and their own playroom. While I don’t regret being super close to our kids the first 18 months they were home, we were all ready for a little more space. The fact that we have a larger home doesn’t have much to do with living in Boiling Springs, except for this — our mortgage payment didn’t go up.

5. There is one stoplight in Boiling Springs. We previously had 27 stoplights between us and the church, which meant we had to tack on an hour to every church event for the commute, and what time we would actually arrive was completely unpredictable. We actually get to places –like Lowe’s, Chick Fil A, and Sonic — faster, even though they are in the next town.

6. No one seems to be in a hurry. Perhaps because no one is sitting in their car in rush hour traffic every day, the pace just seems slower. Everyone seems to have a joke or story to tell. And they want to know our story too.

I have still yet to get to really know our town, but what I’ve experienced so far has been delightful. I’m thankful for a good start to a new chapter.

Lessons Learned in Nashville

I moved to Nashville 11 years ago with Ken, ready for PA school and life with 200 boys in a dorm. Now I have just departed our first home, with our first two dogs, and two new-to-us kids. My time in Nashville has been a turning point in my life on many different areas. I’ve confronted death, heartbreak, accomplishment, defeat, and celebration. As I look back over my time in Nashville, these are a few of the most important lessons learned.

 

Integrity

 

If I am honest, do what is right, and trust the Holy Spirit to guide me, I will have no regrets. God defines success as obedience. The world defines success in many ways that don’t really matter. Most problems in life come when we forget the difference.

 

Appreciation for life

 

Before I moved to Nashville, I had very mild exercise-induced asthma. My first year here, I was hospitalized for asthma, and several times since. I once went to the doctor’s office and begged them to admit me so I would have the option of a ventilator because I was so exhausted from just trying to stay alive. Nashville was really hard on my lungs. But in the moments I laid in a hospital bed, or on my couch, unable to breathe well enough to even walk across the house by myself, I realized that life is not about me, or breathing. It’s about glorifying God in whatever He calls me to.

 

I never have been able to get rid of the cough that has now become known as my “funky Africa cough,” since it struck me just after I arrived back in the United States from our adoption adventure. I now understand what the Apostle Paul talked about in 2 Corinthians and how God used the thorn in the flesh to strengthen him.  “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Every breath is a blessing, and every cough a confirmation that He is my strength.

 

Poverty is always more than it seems

 

I must admit that a decade ago, I had a lot of misconceptions about poverty. I fell into the “just pull yourselves up by your bootstraps” category. And then I actually met some people trapped in poverty. And I fell in love with them. I heard their stories of broken relationships and broken systems that kept them frustrated and trapped in poverty. One of the most interesting things I learned is that for the most part, they really didn’t want my money, or my handouts, or my instruction. In fact, those things sort of made it seem like I thought I was superior. They wanted friendship, a hug, to be seen as equals, to be loved.

 

And really, I was a jerk. I was a jerk for thinking that our relationship was a one way street, and that I was the one who had more to offer. I am ashamed of my conceit. When I started to hear their stories, understand their needs, and find ways to work together toward solutions, it changed my life. I never would have expected that a group of people who feel like they have no power would radically change my life for the better. In fact, I feel a bit selfish now — that they gave me more than I ever gave them. If you haven’t surrounded yourself in a community of the poor before, I highly recommend it — especially if you’re of the “bootstraps” variety. Whether here or in third world countries, no one wants to be seen as a charity case. What they want is dignity.

 

No wonder Scripture calls us so many times to care for the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner among us — it’s primarily for our benefit, not theirs. When we can recognize the character of God in the “least of these,” we realize that the “least” is really us.

 

Sovereignty of God

 

Through our adoption journey, my bouts with illness, the stress of difficult work situation, God has been faithful. I may not understand where He is leading me or what will happen in the the days and years to come, but that is what makes Him God, and not me. The situations in which God places us are not by mistake, but so that He can accomplish His will. Sometimes that means that things will go well for me, and other times, not. When Scripture tells us that all things work to the good of those who love Him, I must remember that God defines what is good, not me.

 

Nashville was a great city to live in. We have many cherished memories and treasured friends, but most of all, life-changing lessons learned. I can’t wait to see what God has for us in Boiling Springs!

Changing Chapters

Last year at this time, 4 of my fellow coworkers had left or were in the process of leaving within 6 months of each other. I had recurrent bronchitis and pneumonia that was becoming less responsive to antibiotics. I had adopted two children from the Congo who were barely speaking in English, and only one of them in sentences. Both were woefully behind in school, and one needed additional services to accommodate for developmental delay in addition to culture shock. And my husband worked 4-5 nights a week and Saturdays and Sundays.

 

Then I was asked to take a promotion.

 

It seemed crazy to take the promotion to Program Director, in addition to continuing my old role. But there was a serious need for stabilization, and whether I took the promotion or not, I would be responsible for the transition. I knew that God was calling me to something greater than myself for that time.

 

So I agreed to do it. For one year. I made a series of negotiations that would make the position possible for me and my family.

 

And now that year has ended. Most of the things I had negotiated for never materialized. The University and I could not come to terms about what was needed to make the Program successful.

 

So our family is moving on. Over the last 6 months, I have been considering what my life would look like after my one year. Return to practice locally? Move to another PA Program? Take a Sabbath rest? Pursue another career?

 

After much prayer and consideration, I still felt God leading me to Christian physician assistant education. Unfortunately, Christian PA programs are extremely rare. A year ago, there were three that I could find in the entire country. Fortunately, more have developed over the last year, and several have been hiring.

 

On April 4th, I was offered and accepted a position in the new physician assistant program at Gardner Webb University, an NCAA Division I Christian school known for excellence and for serving in Boiling Springs, North Carolina. It is a town of approximately 3800, most of whom are associated with the University. I will be doing a combination of teaching and administration, similar to what I have done previously, but with half the students and more fellow faculty and staff to share the load. My role will be largely flexible as the program continues to take shape. Since Strengths Finder tells me that my gifts are futuristic, ideation, belief, intellection, and learning, I don’t think I could find a better fit than to help launch a new Christian PA Program. I start May 6th.

 

On April 6th, we put our house on the market. We had two showings in the first hour. The paint was literally still wet. Our first offer came in on April 7th, our next two on April 8th. We signed an offer on the evening of the 8th at significantly above asking. On April 10th, Ken and I left Addie and Palmer in the hands of my parents (thank you!) and drove to Boiling Springs, putting in an offer on a house on April 11th.

 

Boiling Springs has great schools for the kids with several options for them. It is a small and well-educated community where we have been assured that our family of many nations will find not just acceptance, but be embraced. We will live in a small tight-knit neighborhood and community where we will be known, our kids will ride their bikes freely, and we’ll have 5 minute commutes to anywhere in town. We have already had several churches offer to help us unload our moving van, even if we don’t attend their church.

 

The one area where we are still looking for God’s leading is Ken’s area of ministry. We know that God’s plan is not just for me, but for all of us. We’re just waiting for God’s leading in an opportunity where Ken will be happy too. I am so blessed to have a husband who celebrates my gifts and God’s leading in my life, and sees them as no threat to his own. From which jobs to pursue, to where to move, to choosing a Realtor, to finding a house, we have been in 100 percent agreement.

 

The best thing about this time of transition is that I have had a chance to have a Sabbath rest. Many people talk about having “balance” in life, but I don’t really believe that is possible. I think that life is more like a symphony. Sometimes the symphony is loud and raucous, sometimes it is soft and slow. There must be times for both. In a year where most of my life was filled with meetings, legislation, accreditation, negotiations, endless emails, frustrations, and interruptions, I needed a time for reading for pleasure, napping when needed, writing when I had something to say, playing with my children, and living with spontaneity. I also needed to come to terms with God’s definition of success: obedience. I did what I was called to do, and how I was called to do it: with integrity.

Knowing when to walk away

is wisdom.

Being willing to

is courage.

Walking away with your head held high

is dignity.

–Unknown

Lessons Learned in 2013

Oops. The end of 2013 has snuck up on me. Even today, driving in the van, Ken and I discussed when New Years Eve is. We both agreed it was tomorrow, until we subsequently agreed that there is no such thing as December 32nd.

Tough and tumultuous. Promise and progress. 2013 has been a chronicle of contradictions and a season of learning.

A year ago this week, we challenged the kids to speak no more Lingala. Addie and Palmer were content to have their own family, their own conversations, and exclusivity of their loyalties and affections. They were content to live in our house, play with our toys, eat our food, but only converse with each other. Sure, they knew some essential phrases to get along, “Pizza,” “Please,” “Bathroom,” but relational conversation was just between the two of them.

So Ken and I bribed them.

With incentives of bicycles and allowances, Addie and Palmer began to let us into their world.

I sometimes think this is how God must feel about us — we are happy to consume His provisions, enjoy His creation, bask in His blessings. We may even offer up phrases, “Thank you Jesus for this food. Amen.” or recite a laundry list of prayer requests. What He wants even more is relationship — He made us in His own image, breathed life into our nostrils, walked with us in the Garden.

Addie remained fairly silent for months. She started speaking in sentences a full 9 months after coming home from the Congo. That’s a really long time to wait for a child to speak. Fortunately, Palmer’s verbal skills were much more quick to develop. Intelligent  and analytical, he has an incredible memory. As he began to speak, we began to learn more and more about their lives in the Congo — and why they had been so hesitant to speak to us to begin with. They have experienced more tragedy and hardship in their lives than most of us adults have or even will. The guilt associated with their life experiences was unbearable. How do you parent a child who has more life experience, more survival skills, more responsibility shouldered then you can comprehend? He has a bent toward not disobedience and arrogance because he has been his own parent. Can we teach him to merely be a child again?  Can we teach him to trust and respect authority?

Countless times throughout scripture, we are encouraged to have faith of a child, consider ourselves children of God, and even challenges us that if we don’t become like children, we will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Why? After living with a 9-year-old adult for the last 18 months, I can see it: trust and respect for God’s authority in our lives. Willingness to release our guilt and experience joy. Less dependence on our survival skills and more dependence on God.

Addie has had different struggles. Because she is less verbal, her grief has been expressed in behavioral problems. After months of baffling and awful behavior at home, I talked to her about the dark places in our heart that hurt and make us want to do bad things. I also talked to her about Jesus being the Healer of those dark places, and if she wanted, Jesus would come and help heal the hurts in her heart. I felt so inadequate to try to explain theology of the sinful nature to a 7-year-old with poor verbal skills. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit translated for me and she accepted Jesus into her heart. The change in her behavior has been, well, miraculous.

I am reminded that Jesus not only wants to take away our sin, but heal us of our bent to sinning. Too often we want Jesus to forgive us for our actions, but what He really wants to deliver us from is the sinful nature itself. We want a band-aid. He wants to do surgery.

At the end of the year, I am shocked by the remarkable progress the kids have made. Physically they have grown approximately 7 inches and gained nearly 20 pounds each. They look very much like the 7 and 9 years old that they actually are . . . we think. Educationally, they are catching up to their peers, and getting good grades at school. Spiritually, they ask very deep questions about God, salvation, heaven, and sin on almost a daily basis. Emotionally they are beginning to relax and have a sense of belonging to our family.

My health has made less progress this year. After thousands of dollars of treatments, procedures, far too many steroids, and cultures we still know very little. The cultures from my bronchoscopy all came back negative, but I always improve almost immediately on antibiotics. Unfortunately, we have progressed to using strong antibiotics used at dosages that most medical providers wouldn’t feel comfortable prescribing. I’ve gone through 2 courses in the last six months, but the residual nagging cough seems like it’s here to stay. Again this year, I’ve come close to death several times, but I’ve realized that I’m not afraid. “Jesus likes to keep me close,” is my mantra. Illness just reminds me that I cannot do His work on my own, but must trust Him for my every breath.

The biggest challenge of the 2013 has been my job. With the loss of 4 employees (out of 11) and 2 more going part-time, I’ve felt like I’m trying to steer a ship in a hurricane. I’ve retained my old job as Didactic Education Coordinator, taken on the position of Program Director, and am also doing much of the work of the Clinical Education Coordinator. With no one to train me, it’s been a steep learning curve. I recently did a utilization review to try to establish bearings, and found that my to-do list per day is usually around 70 items, and additionally I get between 80-100 emails daily, and respond to most. Then there are meetings to attend, classes to teach, students to advise, interviews to conduct, and on and on, that aren’t really to-do items, but important nonetheless. We’ve had more critical issues in our Program in the last six months than we’ve had in the 5 years that I’ve been there combined. I come home exhausted every day. Fortunately, I’ve been blessed by an all-star team of new employees who love God and want to be a part of His work in our Program. And God is at work. Students are coming to know God in ways that are remarkable. They are learning to balance grace and truth. He is calling students to Himself,  to work among the poor, and now even in countries where Christians are persecuted, because this is where the future of missions is. We are still teaching excellent medicine, but God is clearly calling us to focus on serving the poor domestically and globally.

I went to a Christian Community Health Fellowship conference in Atlanta back in May, in the first few weeks of my Program Directorship. In the week afterward, I debriefed with the students who went with me, and we all came up with summarizing statements about what God was speaking to us about. It was at that time that I shared with my students that just like our hearts individually, our Program needed a Savior, and I am not it. Jesus is. The job of calling, cleansing, and redeeming is not mine. I am only a tool in His hands, and my job is to ensure that our Program lives and breathes the aroma of Christ in all that we do. There are many Programs that train Physician Assistants, but He has called us to educate not only excellent medical providers, but PAs who practice medicine as ministry. Yes, there have been obstacles this year, but Kingdom work has never been safe work, has it?

Ultimately, 2013 has been a year of diving into the dangerous waters of knowing God and doing His will. My students often tell me that they are impressed that I have the ability to make everything spiritual. Perhaps that is because I believe everything is spiritual. We were not meant to have divided lives. Whether it is parenting two traumatized children, coping with illness, or directing a medical Program, God has lessons to learn in all things.

 

 

“I always questioned if I was ready to adopt and then realized no child was ready to be an orphan.” — Unknown

When I was growing up, I always knew that God wanted me to save room in my home for children who did not otherwise have one. With so many children in the world without homes, options were plenty, and still are. Domestic adoption of minorities, international adoption, and foster care all have tremendous needs. I realize not everyone is directed by God to bring an orphan into their home, but I do believe we are all called to do something for the cause of the orphan.

“Satan hates adoption,” was one of the first phrases I became familiar with when we first began our adoption journey. It was difficult. It always has been, and continues to be. The adoption community is full of difficult stories — almost no one is immune. Fraud, scandal, kidnappings, corruption, apathy, bribery, and abuse are common topics discussed behind the curtains of the adoption community. Most of us fear sharing the reality of adoption because we do not want to scare others away, realizing that many of us likely would not have chosen such a difficult road had we knew what it would be like. So we hide in Facebook groups, online forums, and private messages to support one another through difficult times, and celebrate the victories along the way. But not a one of us regrets the journey, because these are our children. What cost is too great to save the life of a child? Would not any parent face any dangers necessary to save the life that God had chosen for them?

Caring for orphans is dangerous work. Satan does not meddle with initiatives that do not storm the gates of hell. But adoption certainly does.  Adoptive parents are some of the toughest, and most tender people you will ever meet. And they need prayers, support, and encouragement, even if they won’t allow you to know what’s really going on. Sometimes it’s just to hard to put into words.

Let me try.

To give you a glimpse of what is public, there has been a development in Congo adoptions: exit letters are suspended for up to 12 months. I have friends who have legally been parents of children in the Congo for nearly a year, who have yet to get permission to bring home their child. First, there was a new 6 month investigation phase initiated earlier in the year, and just when they thought they had cleared that hurdle, exit permits were suspended. That means that even if adoptive parents even have the permission of the United States to bring their children home, but the DRC will not let the children leave.  To make matters worse, dysentery has swept through one of the orphanages associated with American adoptions, killing 33 of 52 children, while the government works out new processes for adoption. The heartache is palpable. The needs are so urgent. Hope is hard these days.

And yet these families continue to pray, plead, and fight and raise money to bring their children home. Because that’s what is what they are called to do. They are not giving up on their children.

Because God never gave up on any of us.

Today is Orphan Sunday.

Not everyone is called to adopt. But we are all called to do something.

I’d ask you to consider being a tangible encouragement to a DRC adoptive family today.

I’ve collected links to those who are fundraising to bring their children home from the Congo.

1. Look through the links and make at least ONE purchase to make a difference in the life of a child this Orphan Sunday. There are some wonderful, creative, and beautiful things for sale, and would make terrific Christmas gifts. Would you consider making all of your Christmas purchases ones that will make Kingdom impact?

2. Comment on their blogs or pages with a word of encouragement.

3. Pray for their families. Their WHOLE families, including their precious children stuck on the other side of the world. Pray for stamina for the parents. Pray for health, nutrition, and emotional and spiritual protection for their children. And pray that they are united soon.

4. Post this blog on your Facebook wall. Encourage others to do the same.

This store has absolutely adorable merchandise. I am in love with this rosette necklace, and they have beautiful burlap and chevron items that will add style to your home and self. Handmade Necklace

If you haven’t had Just Love Coffee, you are just missing out! As a former barista, I know good coffee, and this is it! We used to fundraise through Just Love Coffee, and now we are subscribers in order to pass along blessings to current adoptive families. My favorite is African Skies. African Skies

Here is a fundraiser that includes a drawing for some great prizes that would make great gifts for yourself or someone else. Each ticket is only $10!

This fundraiser makes me wish I was closer to Oklahoma! If you are in the area, you are in luck! I’m hoping leftover items will be posted for sale!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Etsy shop features some very cute felt toys for kids, shirts, and custom-made “hair pretties.” I think Addie would love the Busy Book, and it would help her develop her fine motor skills! 

Oh my sweetness, this Etsy Shop has so much hand-sewn love in fabric form. If you’ve ever searched for the perfect black baby doll, look no further. Even if you have Caucasian kids, I know they would love to have a chocolate brown baby doll like this one. And a vanilla one to match!

Little Girl Fabric Doll

This shop features adorable hair accessories for girls, including clips, headbands, and barrettes, and even cutesy legwarmers. Don’t you think Addie and I need matching hair clips? Jenni Price Photography

I love these customized items! Celebrate fall, Christmas, sports, kids, in these many different items that would add a personal touch for someone special. Check out the page for more options!

How did one website manage to feature so many items that I LOVE at such great prices? I want one of . . . everything! This one is the epitome of my weaknesses. Necklaces, bracelets, earrings, scarves and more for as little as $3. For such a good cause, I refuse to feel guilty about making a serious investment here.  Here are a couple of my favorites:

This store features beautiful fabric crafted items. If you are a local, check out these neat towels! IPhoto: OWL HATS are here!!!  $16 each + shipping.  (They fit babies and toddlers best.  Can be stretched to fit a 4 year old + but will be tight.)Get them while they last!  I sold out very quickly last year!LIME GREEN/BLUE (4 AVAILABLE)LIGHT BLUE/BLACK (4 AVAILABLE)HOT PINK/LIME GREEN (4 AVAILABLE)BROWN (4 AVAILABLE)LIGHT PINK/DARK PINK (4 AVAILABLE)

If you’re not within a tornado siren of Franklin, you’d still love their other items, including chevron scarves, owl hats, and custom-made shirts for Christmas.

Looking for a perfect baby gift that was made with love rather than by a robot? Check out this sweet Etsy Shop that features baby bibs and bows to suit all tastes. This one is my favorite! Sweet little owls reversible bib

I hope you all remember this painting from Worth the Wait Creations. The artist took time to get to know our family before putting together this perfect representation of who we are as a new family. Ken said it is his favorite gift ever, and it hangs in our living room. Why would you buy someone a sweater or tie, when you could give something this significant, while making a difference in the life of a Congolese child? The paintings make great wedding and baby gifts as well. 

If you want to sport your support of Congolese adoptions, check out this great shirt, featured on Etsy. Lots of sizes are available! Adopt Africa Shirt - ADULT MEDIUM

Another awesome t-shirt design is featured here! I’m totally digging the pink shirt!  Image of HYDE ADOPTION! / Love Is Thicker Than Water

If you’ve ever been to Africa, chances are that it will always be a part of your heart. These canvases feature variety of bold and subtle prints that help keep Africa in your heart.  There are many more designs to choose from!

These are incredible original stained wood art pieces. Aren’t they beautiful? I look forward to seeing more offerings from them, as they are all stunning!  Check out their site for up-close views.

This Etsy Shop features many different Congolese ornaments and Ugandan bead bracelets. I especially love this!!

DR Congo FLAG ornament/magnet Adoption Africa fundraiser

This family is having a super fun giveaway! There are four different packages to enter for, but this one is my favorite. It has ME written all over it! Entries are only $5, plus there are many more ways to enter! Yikes this is awesome!

Here is another unique adoption t-shirt, as well as another opportunity to purchase Just Love Coffee!

This shop just opened and items are selling like lightening! Featuring African-themed items, there’s a little bit of something for everyone with a heart for Congo. I love these! 

Every child needs to be taught about families who are built through adoption. This is a book that does just that! 

This Etsy Shop specializes in linens and totes that are trendy and even African-themed. I adore this bag and this blanket! Owls Tote Bag Halloween Purple Navy Blue Groceries Candy Congo Adoption Fundraiser Superman African Baby Blanket Wax Print Fabric Toddler Congo Adoption Fundraiser

This family is selling high-quality sheets (among other things) to support their adoption. Who wouldn’t love a new set of comfy sheets?

This Etsy shop features beautiful embellished t-shirts. I love this one for Christmas! Green holiday pull over crew neck  50/50 poly- cotton blend sweatshirt.  Small thru 4x sizes available.

I would LOVE to get a locket like this for Christmas. Hint, hint, Ken, ahem. They are so personalized and fun, it would be a great gift for any mom! Create one of your own for yourself or someone special in your life!

Origami Owl Fall Collection

This family is featuring an auction that starts this week, and features items that would make great Christmas gifts! They’ve already announced that there will be a diamond necklace, noonday earrings, and doTERRA items. I’ll definitely be checking back on this one!

As you start building your Christmas list, why not buy items that will mean so much to the recipient and to the seller? Each purchase from the above list will encourage, strengthen, and support those in the DRC adoption process. And the recipient will love the hand-touched meaning behind each gift. It’s a win-win.

Not all of us are called to adopt, but we are all called to do something for the sake of the orphans in the world. Here’s my challenge.

Ready?

1. Buy at least one item.

2. Comment on at least one page.

3. Pray for at least one family.

4. Repost on your blog or Facebook page

And I’d love to hear what you bought! Come back and share how you are making a difference in the life of an adoptive family!

Go make a difference!

Vertigo

When I was a little girl, my friend Lynette and I loved the merry-go-round. We would push it as fast as we could, hop on, and spin to our hearts’ content. If we were really fortunate, we would find a high school boy wandering by, and pester him into pushing us faster and faster. We’d lean back and watch the wondrous pattern of the trees spinning in a circle above us with the summer sun glimmering through the leaves as the breeze wisped through our hair. My favorite was jumping off the merry-go-round and trying to walk, or even stand. It was gloriously fun trying to find firm footing on the ground as the world spun around, until slowly, the spinning would come to a stop. Or, if I was feeling particularly adventurous, and a plentiful supply of compliant teens were around, I would hop back on before my equilibrium was reset.

 ver·ti·go ˈvərtəgō/
noun
a sensation of whirling and loss of balance, associated particularly with looking down from a great height
     
     
I think a sensation of vertigo sums up how I feel right now. There’s not much that has remained steady in the last year. A year ago, I had a 4 and 5 year old who didn’t speak English. Now I have a 7 and nearly 9 year old who have each grown more than 6 inches in the last year. I was on part-time maternity leave last year. Now I’m back to not only my previous full-time job as Didactic Education Coordinator, but Program Director, and the Clinical Education Coordinator. My work was previously all in-house, but now I find myself in regular meetings with the mayor’s office, talking with legislative offices, hospital Vice Presidents, and national leaders in education, in addition to all of those in-house responsibilities. In the last three weeks, I’ve attended two different week-long conferences in Gatlinburg and Memphis, interviewed our first round of prospective students for next year’s class, planned a conference with the mayor’s office, developed a marketing plan with my boss, finished publication of a video (which you should watch), reviewed accreditation standards with administrators, prepared a new orientation session, attended an all-day grant-writing workshop, hired an adjunct instructor, and attempted to stay ahead of the 100+ emails I receive a day.
         
 Things have dramatically changed for Ken too. Last year, he had church responsibilities 5 nights a week, and all day Saturday and Sunday. With two kids from very traumatic backgrounds, trying to catch the kids up in school, and trying just to manage life, it was wearing on all of us. Ken was almost never home to put the kids to bed, and the “Daddy at church, again?” made me realize that there was a great chance that our kids would grow up resenting the church for what it was doing to our family, unless something changed. We decided it was better to take the reduction in pay for the sake of our family’s emotional and spiritual health. So Ken dropped Upward Sports and went back to working with just college students, which is where he started at our church. It was hard to adjust expectations from full-time to genuinely being part-time in order to meet the needs of our family. By the end of the summer, Ken was asked to move to doing assimiliations. For the first time since 1993, I was no longer working with college students in the local church setting. We’ve been with this college group since 2007. I love these college students. LOVE. I made (and sometimes bought) breakfast for them every Sunday for over 6 years. We had weekly dinners with them in the cafeteria or in someone’s home, listening, laughing, and sharing life. We prayed them overseas and back. Most of them are choosing careers in ministry or serving the poor in some way. As with most of our college ministries that we’ve had over the past 20 years, substance was the goal, more so than size, which means deep love, beyond the confines of a job. Now I find myself suddenly disconnected at a church I’ve been attending for almost 7 years.
          
 My health has been another vertiginous situation. I’ve tried to be especially careful about getting enough rest to make up for my IgG titer deficiency, which gives me a decreased ability to fight infections. I have to pay attention to feelings of exhaustion, knowing that stress further weakens my immune system. Fortunately, the kids’ adaptation to American germs has helped significantly. Because they are not sick every week, neither am I. My cough has not improved. I had a bronchoscopy 2 weeks ago under general anesthesia (in between 2 weeks of traveling for work). I was congratulated to have the thickest lung secretions that they had ever seen. So thick that they could not suction out my lungs, and asked me how in the world I was breathing. Not easily. While they didn’t find any sign of infection anymore, there’s not a whole lot that can be done to fix my lungs either. The pulmonologist recommended that I try a flutter valve to help me clear my lungs on my own, but it looks like the cough is here to stay. Sigh. Coughcoughcoughcough. Sigh. I’ll have to decide whether or not to continue Xolair when my deductible resets and I have to start paying $3500/shot again.
    
     
In the last year, whenever I’ve felt like life had stopped spinning, something else would push me back on the merry-go-round. When I was a child, it was fun. Now, I just want the merry-go-round to stop. There was one special trick that I eventually learned about the merry-go-round. The closer I stayed to the center of the merry-go-round, the less dizzy I got. In fact, if I could fix my eyes on one of the trees next to the playground as I was spinning around, I could avoid the sense of vertigo altogether.
     
And that is much like the relationship into which God draws us. When life is running at a dizzying pace, He longs to draw us closer to Himself, to center us. Our health doesn’t really matter, nor our jobs, our churches, nor even our families. Those are all forces pulling us to the edge of the merry-go-round, in comparison to the centrality of His greatness and love. If we can anchor ourselves on Him and fix our eyes on our heavenward goal, the dizziness and disorientation of life disappears.
     
     
“The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know your name trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.” Psalm 9:9-10
     
     
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” II Corinthians 4:16-18

Normal

The one-year-home anniversary was met with, as is typical in international adoption, a mild freak-out by the kids. Lost focus, disruptive behavior at school, resistance to authority.  You know, the usual.

And then, it stopped.

The kids are now getting high grades at school, coming home with good behavior reports (except for one who is chatty, ahem), cleaning their plates and their rooms, learning their memory verses, reading books without being told.

They are bickering over opinions (in English!), playing “I Spy With My Little Eye,”  and love playing board games because they can now count and know their colors. They love swimming, snuggling with the dogs, hate bedtime, and can’t get enough of Leave It to Beaver.

Our lives are becoming surprisingly, well, normal.

No one has tried to jump out of the car at 45 miles an hour, refused to ask to get down from the table for 90 minutes, spit food at me, or purposely peed on furniture in a pretty long time.

It’s almost like we’re, well, normal.

The only time I feel not-so-normal is when talking with other parents of biological children. While others worry about play date partners, getting a pet, or screen time, we are working through issues of death, abandonment, starvation, child labor, and violence from our children’s past. As our kids master increasing amounts of the English language, they can now communicate that their past is anything other than what would be considered normal in first world countries. Their previous life is almost surreal. I don’t know what it is like to parent a “normal” child.

And yet they giggle at squirrels, are engrossed by the symphony, and play like they have not a care in the world. As if all that had happened to them was, well, normal.

Will our children ever escape the chains of their past? How can we facilitate healing of wounds that are so deep?

I don’t know why God chose Ken and I to be the parents of children with so many wounds. I feel so inadequate in many ways. But the truth is, I don’t have to be adequate, because He is. As much as I love Addie and Palmer, I am not their Redeemer. Jesus is. And I get the joy of walking down the road toward the Ultimate Healer with them.  I don’t pretend to comprehend the mysteries of God’s grace and healing. I’m glad I don’t have to. Somehow, our prayers intertwined with the Holy Spirit’s intercession combined with the unmerited favor God has granted is healing the wounds of our children’s past. We listen to the kids, we give permission to grieve, and sometimes we just cry for them because they have no more tears left to cry.

I suspect if things were ever really “normal,” we would never know the deep dependence on God we’ve experienced in the last year.

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