A Tale of Two Tails

A guest post by Ken

It’s interesting how Buddy & Holly’s personalities affect their perspectives.

Holly is the lead dog and she has to be in charge. She likes to stay busy. Whatever Buddy is playing with, she needs to have it – right now.

Buddy is the affectionate and laid-back one. He’s the snuggler. He follows his sister’s lead and is quite content with whatever comes his way. Except for squirrels – they still drive him nuts.

But both our dogs like to chew anything and everything: toys, sticks, shoes, towels, and furniture. So it only made sense when we had t-bone steaks to give the bones to Buddy & Holly. They each were given a bone to enjoy. Their responses were interesting to me.

First, I approached Holly, but as I drew near she tensed. Pulling the bone away and turning her back to me, her body language clearly said, “Please don’t take this away. I’m really enjoying this and I don’t want you to ruin it.” I was tempted to chastise Holly, “I don’t want your bone. I gave you that bone. I just want to be with you and make you happy.” 

I was cautious as I moved toward Buddy. I didn’t want to spoil his treat. But I didn’t need to worry for long. As soon as he saw me he crawled forward with the bone still in his mouth. His tale started wagging furiously. He proudly held up the bone in his mouth as if to say, “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! This is so great! Would you like to have some? You gotta try this!”

Don’t get me wrong: both our dogs are great – even when they are running around the house with muddy paws. Yet the puppies reminded me of the importance of my outlook on life. I wish I were always like Buddy when God draws near: “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! God you are so great! Thank you for all you’ve done for me!” But in my honest but “less spiritual” moments I find myself afraid and agreeing more with Holly: “Lord, please don’t take the good things in my life away.” or “I’m really enjoying this moment God and I don’t want you to ruin it.”

Lord, forgive me for doubting your goodness. May I welcome you in and invite you to enjoy both the good and the bad in my life. Help me to trust you more. I realize that every good and perfect gift comes from you so… when I am chewing on a bone, may my tail always be wagging!

Hunting for Contentment

I must admit, I love HGTV. I’m pretty sure what Ken is to hockey, I am to House Hunters. There are no car chases, risque scenes, profanity. Just household decor, real estate, and and down-home reality. Clean, guilt-free, family-oriented entertainment.

Right?

The only problem with HGTV is that it perpetuates a system of false beliefs.

You want more. You need more.You deserve more.

After watching families choose between homes with granite countertops, gigantic decks, and park-like landscaping, my house seems to feel, well, a bit small. A bit simple. And compared to the homes House Hunters International? Don’t even get me started.  I feel like we’re a candidate to be rescued by one of those TV shows where they arrive at your door, send you to Disney or a spa while they totally redo the inside of your house. I wonder how you apply for those things anyway . . .

And there goes my contentment. Lost in a sea of desires for what HGTV tells me I need to have.

I Timothy 6:6-10 NIV says, “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”

And I see those temptations waiting to trap me. Trapped into a larger mortgage, so that we have no opportunity to be generous, even if we wanted to. Trapped in the desire for more things — nicer furniture, newer appliances, better floors, a finished basement. Trapped into needing to work more than we want to afford the stuff that fills our house to the point that we need a bigger house just for our stuff. More. More! MORE!

But the truth is more is never enough. There will always be one more thing to buy. There will always be another something that is nicer than the something that we already own.

More is never enough, until we declare God to be all that we need.

And maybe that means selling our possessions and moving into a ghetto in India. Or maybe it means living in a house that is less than what we could afford, so that we can work where we feel called to, not where we need to in order to pay our mortgage. Or maybe it could even mean someday living in a home featured in a magazine for its glory and grandeur.

But God gets to decide, not us, and I’m content with that.

This Just In . . .

We received notification today in the mail today for our appointment for fingerprinting! Immigration orders us to appear at a certain time, and our answer must be, “Why yes, we’d love to!” Fortunately, we don’t have any schedule conflicts!

What does this mean? From our understanding, our process goes something like this:

Our fingerprints, which we will have taken on September 22nd, are required before our file is complete to receive pre-approval from the US government to adopt internationally. Once we receive this approval, we’ll be able to send off our paperwork to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

After our paperwork is received by the Congo, our case goes to court, which takes 1-3 months. Then there is a 30 appeal period. Once the appeal period is up, the case should be approved by the Congo.

Then we go back to get final approval from the United States, which takes 3-8 weeks.

After that, we apply for visas for emmigration, which take 1-2 weeks.

Then we travel for our Embassy appointment, and to get our kids and bring them home!

We were told a last month that the our expected timeline was that we would travel by the end of this year, or the beginning of next, but given where we are and all that has to happen, I don’t see how it will be possible for us to travel by the end of the year. While disappointing, since I hoped to combine my Christmas break with travels, and get an extra year of tax benefits, the process is still going remarkably fast by international adoption standards.  Most importantly, every minute that a child — our children– spend in an orphange is a minute too long.

But we celebrate every small step, and each day that passes, because we’re one day closer to bringing our family together!

Wrong Thinking

A guest post by Ken

I have a bone to pick with David Platt, the author of Radical Together. Our church is going through his book during our Sunday school hour. Today we did chapter four, The Genius of Wrong. BUILDING THE RIGHT CHURCH DEPENDS ON USING ALL THE WRONG PEOPLE.

“Too often churches in America focus on performances, places, programs, and professionals. In Jesus’ simple command to “make disciples,” he has invited every one of his followers to share his life with others in a sacrificial, intentional, global effort to multiply the gospel through others. This includes not just the “right” people (our most effective communicators, most brilliant organizers, and most talented leaders and artists) but also the “wrong” people (those who are the least effective, brilliant, or talented in the church).” (Radical Together, Platt)

I guess my issue with David Platt is this: Who ever said that the pastors (professionals) are the “right” people?

If anyone thinks I’m the “right” kind of person, I would say to them, “wait until you get to know me.” I certainly don’t want to be on some pedestal. I know I don’t have it all together and I definitely don’t want to act like I do.

When David, a scrawny shepherd boy killed Goliath, a giant and professional soldier, no one thought that it was all David’s doing. They knew God had worked a miracle. And that’s the point. Basically the Bible is all about “wrong” people being used by God. Abraham, Moses, Gideon, and Jonah. Wrong, wrong, wrong, and very wrong!

And if God only uses “wrong”, then I don’t want to be “right”.

I know why God has called me to Hermitage Church. It’s to make a point. No one would ever look at my ministry and think, “those people are there because of that charismatic leader.” It’s silly to even think that.

One of the things that I love about our church is that those of us on staff are all the “wrong kind of people.” I love the pastors I work with and have nothing but the utmost respect for them, but we’re still “wrong” people and we all know it. Numerous times Pastor Howard has shared his story from the pulpit and has talked about his struggles and the challenges he has had to over come. I respect that and I love a pastor who can identify with those who are hurting or struggling. On more than one occasion, I have thought during one of his messages, “Wow, if God can use Pastor Howard, then I might just have a chance.” I appreciate that.

I get Platt’s point: it’s got to be more than a church staff doing all the work. But I just take issue with the assumption that he, or any one else thinks pastors are “right”. The first step in becoming a Christian is realizing “I’m not alright, and I can’t fix that on my own.” Heaven help us if somewhere along the way we think we don’t need Jesus anymore.  
 
If God only uses “wrong”, then I don’t want to be “right.”
 

Such a Strange Way to Celebrate a Birthday

Ken turned 40 years old yesterday, and when I considered having a birthday party, I realized that almost everyone that I would invite would be at Chick Fil A on Wednesday for our Gettin’ Chikin’ for Adoptin’. After getting permission, we decided to celebrate at Chick Fil A with mini-cupcakes!

Thanks to my stockpile from couponing, I was able to make approximately 230 mini cupcakes for less than $6. I arranged the cupcakes to form the shape of Africa (a few are missing from the picture, and you’ll have to use your imagination), but it was a fun way to celebrate both Ken’s birthday, and our adoption. There were yellow cake with lemon icing, devil’s food with cream cheese icing, yellow cake with chocolate icing, and white cake with lemon icing. Considering that we only had a couple dozen left out of more than 200, I think I estimated pretty well!

Friday morning, we started another process toward our adoption travels: vaccinations. Of course, our insurance doesn’t cover the vaccinations, which cost almost $1200 plus the cost of medications that we need to take with us! Ouch! (In more ways than one!) We took half of the vaccinations yesterday, and will take most of the rest next month, with one last dose in six months to confer lifetime immunity (so we won’t have to get the vaccinations again).

I realize that getting shots wasn’t such a fun way to spend a birthday, but in the end, it was great to take another step closer to the Democratic Republic of Congo to bring our kids home. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad way to celebrate a birthday after all!

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What I Learned from Stan, the Ocoee, and a ‘Hole’ Lot of Water

A guest post by Ken
 
The Ocoee River is not a place for beginners. It has a powerful and unforgiving current with large obstacles purposefully placed to instill fear and excitement. Recently I experienced both.
 
It doesn’t help that we put in and immediately experience a class four rapid called “grumpy”. I think I would have preferred it to be called something a little tamer like “Sneezy” or “Doc”.
 
I have done this annual trip four or five times before and every time I do it, I promise myself that this will be the last. 
 
As I stare at the first set of rapids thoughts and questions raced. “What have I got myself in to?” “I’m too old for this.” “How much river will I drink this year?” These doubts rattled around inside my rafting helmet and only served to make me a little more anxious.
 
It’s not that I am new to paddling. I grew up canoing and more recently have taken to kayaking (thanks Tom & Jake). But this is the Ocoee. It is to be respected. It was the site for the 1996 Atlanta Summer Games (whitewater slalom event).
 
The students with me grinned ear to ear. They seem genuinely excited to be doing this. I forced a smile and tighten my life jacket. 
What was it that they knew that I didn’t? Did they not know how big the rocks were, how powerful the current was or how much water can be drank in mere seconds? I am quite certain they were aware of all of these facts.
 
Then it dawned on me. I was only thinking about myself. I thought my life was in my hands. I knew I did not have nearly enough experience or skill to successfully navigate this aquatic ordeal. 
 
If I were in charge of the boat we were all doomed. 
 
Thankfully I was not the one in charge. There was another who would be interpreting the flow of the river and barking orders to help us safely navigate the hazards. Stan “the man” was his name. He had twenty-two years experience leading groups down the Ocoee River. Stan was not only our guide but the Trip Leader as well. He commanded all the boats that day. 
 
Once I was able to transfer my reliance off myself and onto Stan, I was free to enjoy the day. Suddenly, rapids that had looked menacing now were inviting. There was still a healthy sense of fear, but I knew as long as I listened to my guide and did my part, our boat would be fine. 
 
There were spills along the way, but Stan kept a cool head and we safely made it down the river.
 
Later as I reflected on how happy I was to be alive, I also thought about how the rafting experience was much like my life. When I think everything rests on my shoulders, fear and anxiety start to take over. But when I realize that there is someone greater than me who is in control and who has been through far worst, I can relax and trust in Him.
 
God is in control. He knows what the future holds and He has promised to be with me. There are still scary times or things that seem unfair or out of control, but none of those things catch God off guard. 
 
It might have been coincidental, but the final set of rapids we did that day was nick-named “hell hole”. Even after experiencing the mighty Ocoee for over an hour, they took my breath away. But interestingly enough, immediately following “hell hole”, the river widened and it grew calm. There on the other side of the river we would safely pull out boats out onto shore.
 
Perhaps that’s how life is meant to be. God prepares us for some of our greatest challenges so that we will learn to trust Him. And after going through all that this world has to throw at us, we experience the calm. We land on the far shore and have great stories to share. 
 
One of the things that I look forward to after this life is sitting down and hearing the stories. I am certain of this: the greatest stories will come from those who risked it all and trusted in a loving God. On that day, I want to have a story or two to tell about how God used me in spite of my fears. 

Cool Cucumber Pasta Salad

My favorite Physical Therapist, Sarah Jo, asked me for this recipe last night, so I thought I’d pass it along publicly. This is a ridiculously good pasta salad for those of you who had a bumper crop of cucumbers this year. For those of you whose cucumbers dried up in a spectacular display of withering, as ours did, you may have to beg, borrow, or buy some, because this recipe is DELICIOUS! You probably have all of the ingredients in your pantry or fridge right now. It’s a great cool side, perfect for picnicking or potlucks!

So for you, Sarah Jo, and the rest of the world, here is the recipe for a crowd. Cut in half if you’re feeding a family.

Cool Cucumber Pasta Salad

  • 16 oz penne pasta, preferably tri-color
  • 2 Tbs vegetable oil
  • 4 medium cucumbers, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced into rings
  • 2 Cups sugar
  • 2 Cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups white vinegar
  • 2 Tbs yellow mustard
  • 1 tsp garlic salt
  • Salt and pepper to taste (1-2 tsp each)

Cook pasta according to package direction. Drain. Rinse under cold water.

Place pasta in large bowl. Add cucumbers and onion.

Whisk remaining ingredients together in a separate bowl. Pour over salad and gently mix.

Cover and chill in refrigerator 2-4 hours, stirring occasionally.

Enjoy!

The Unexpected Benefit of Friendship

Tonight we had another great night at Chick Fil A. We celebrated Ken’s birthday with cupcakes and chicken — what more could one ask for? It has been great to be surrounded by so many friends, and many of our students. We are humbled by how many people have shown up to Get Chikin’ for Adoptin’!

As the night was winding down, I found myself at a table with a former PA student and a current PA student with her husband. We each had previous careers prior to embarking on physician assistant studies, and had considered other career paths. In particular, I had been accepted to a PhD program in Physiology, but had chosen to go to Physician Assistant school instead. After practicing for several years as a PA, I then returned to the classroom to teach, while still practicing as much as I can.

Of course over time, there have been days when I’ve wondered if I made the right decision. I took a fairly enormous paycut to teach, and I work nearly double the hours many weeks. But at the same time, I feel called to where I’m at. I know that I’m making a difference in the lives of students, and I enjoy what I do — most days.

But as I’ve sat at Chick Fil A for the last few weeks, I’ve enjoyed the company of former students and as I’ve had the chance to catch up with them, I can’t help but be thankful for an unexpected benefit of friendship.

To be friends with my students while they are in school would be inappropriate. After all, I am the professor, and they are the student. And as much as I like them, it is not a peer relationship, and I’m careful to guard against that.  All the while, however, I come to know their personalities, their hearts and their callings. We laugh together — and cry together. We agonize over difficult decisions, and celebrate milestones. I love the day that they graduate, and I am allowed to call them friends, because they are some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. They are intelligent, compassionate, and godly. They are hard-working, yet have a sense of humor. And they are each incredibly unique.

I think the biggest unexpected benefit of being a professor of PAs, rather than being a PA only, is the relationships that are forged during, and especially the friendships that are formed after PA school is over. Our relationships now are not mandatory, but optional. And I’m so blessed that many of my former students are now my friends.

I think this PA professor job may be a pretty great thing after all.

Gettin’ Chikin’ for Adoptin’ and Birthday Celebratin’

Tomorrow we’re going to be celebrating our adoption AND Ken’s birthday at the Hermitage Chick Fil A from 5:00 to 8:30ish p.m.!

You can support our adoption by dining in or getting an order to go, and placing your receipt in the basket at the front counter.

 

Ken celebrating his 38th birthday in 2009 at a restaurant that was not Chick Fil A. 🙂

You can celebrate Ken’s birthday by stopping by our table and getting a mini-cupcake for dessert! I’m in the process of making approximately 250 mini cupcakes, so there should be plenty!

Ken and his sister, Marilyn, enjoying a Canadian summer day in 1974. 🙂

We’ve been so thankful to Hermitage Chick Fil A for hosting our fundraisers, and for all those who have eaten chicken. The more people who eat Chikin’, the higher the percentage of sales we get! So far, we’ve raised $545 from Chick Fil A sales, and $340 in direct donations during the events. We’re so excited that we’re $885 dollars closer to bringing our children home! Thank you so much for your support!

The Cape Escape

The year was 2000, and we were poor. We were in the midst of a period of time in which Ken was not allowed to work, due to an Immigration error. (And yes, they admitted it was their fault, but he still couldn’t work anyway. He was allowed to be in the United States, but he couldn’t leave or work.)  We had managed to scrape together enough money to take a vacation, but it had to be cheap.

But we really wanted to go to the beach.

Not an easy task.

I searched areas of the beach that were within driveable distance from Indiana, and I came across a review for Old Saltworks Cabins in an area called Cape San Blas, Florida. The cabins were a bit rustic, as in no television or internet, but cheap (at least they were back then). And they had a full kitchen, so we could bring food with us to save money on eating out. The cabins were near the beach, and we would have beach access. The reviews reflected on the charm of the property, the little museum, the relaxed pace of the area. All of these were very good things.

We spent a week in early May in Florida in a cramped cabin for less than $500 total back then, I believe. And even though we didn’t have what are now considered staples of entertainment, we had quiet. We had relaxation. We had a great time. We came to realize that Cape San Blas was not like what one typically thinks about in a Florida vacation.The beaches were empty. On a busy day, we might see one other family a half mile away or a horse galloping in the distance. Occasionally, there would be a person jogging with a dog off-leash. In fact, Cape San Blas has miles of pet-friendly beaches. There were no hotels. No high-rise condos. No amusement parks. Restaurants were few and far between. The only grocery store was a small-town Piggly Wiggly. The highlight of the whole Cape was a beautiful state park with miles and miles of empty sandy beaches.

It was the Florida that time forgot. And to us, it was paradise.

Before we had even left, we knew we had to come back. We planned a spring break trip for our college students to go camping there the next three years in a row. It was a perfect place for a sizeable group because there was almost no one else there! We could build sandcastles, play ultimate frisbee, or just relax with a good book without others around. We played silly games, planted sea oats, and played movies in the campground pavilion after dark.  The water was always still cold in early March, but we didn’t care. The rhythmic swells of the ocean would soothe a semester’s-worth of stress away with each crash on the shore.

We even managed to go to Cape San Blas a couple of times during PA school, but after I graduated, vacations became more difficult to take. We were away from the Cape for almost 5 years.

Finally in 2009, we decided that taking vacations needed to be a priority to us, since we rarely get days off together, and never get to sneak away for a weekend. We returned again to Cape San Blas just after Christmas.  It was like returning home. Now with dogs in tow, we try to make it to Cape San Blas once a year for some relaxation and renewal. We pay a little more to have cable and internet, and stay in a space a bit bigger than the studio-sized cabin we first stayed in.  We’ve been there for three years in a row now at Christmastime, and natives to the area now recognize us, and especially Buddy and Holly.

This year will be different. Rather than vacation, we hope to spend part of our winter in the Democratic Republic of Congo. But my heart can’t help but look forward to the time when we can return to “our” vacation spot, with two kids and two dogs. We hope that it will be a place for new traditions and memories to be made.

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