Monday, February 28, 2011

Love Strand 28/28 The Final Entry...

It was quiet.


And this is where I found her...

This child--how dearly I love her--tests my patience hourly. She is the busiest little person I have ever known. Her antics often make me stress out (call the pediatrician!) or just pull out my hair (get down from there!). Sometimes I'm just grossed out, like the time she found a discarded straw and proceeded to use it in the toilet water (pleeeeeease tell me the last person flushed!!) Oh me oh my!

This time I burst out laughing!

Her older sister had not finished drinking her chocolate Shakeology. DQ climbed up onto the table and dumped it. She made a lovely rainbow shape with the palm of her hand and proceeded to delight in ingesting the wholesome goodness. She wasn't sure if she was in hot water or if Mommy was okay with this, but after my camera got clicking she realized it must be okay. 

Not just's GOOD for you!!

If you aren't familiar with Shakeology, it's an amazing meal replacement shake made with whole foods that contain no synthetic ingredients or chemicals. Brian and I drink it daily and love it. Our kids beg us for it, so when we give it them it's a real treat! DQ is a smart cookie and made good on the little leftover in Anneli's cup! So cute, isn't she? :)

Here's the Shakeology button if you want to learn more:

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Love Strand 27/28 (Jensi's Earring Project)

Jensi had the idea MONTHS ago.  Make earrings to sell and take the money and buy a flock of chickens to give to an impoverished family in Africa. She was inspired by the Samaritan's Purse gift catalog that came out at Christmas time. I encouraged her idea.

She met with her principal, planned, made several failed attempts to make an earring that would be an adequate representation of the Pettisville Blackbird. We went to visit a scrapbooking friend, tried many many different prototypes that just didn't cut the mustard. Finally, thanks to a dear friend Ms. Becky, we have a final product.


So today's Love Strand picture celebrates Jensi's hard work. It was LOVE that motivated her to come up with a desirable product to raise money for what she could see would help these families. It was  LOVE that cares for her OWN chickens out back--feeding, watering, gathering eggs--that caused her to see the value that a flock of chickens could be to a down and out family trapped in the cycle of poverty.

It was LOVE that didn't give up when she was totally discouraged after yet ANOTHER idea didn't pan out. It was LOVE that focused on the end goal and kept on trying. It was LOVE that motivated her to get up and speak in front of 4 classes of 5th and 6th graders to share with them her project. And it will be with great LOVE that she will send that money to people she has never met, providing the means for them to earn a perpetual living.

I am so proud of her. 

Life after Losing a Child

Everyone has pain.

Not everyone heals and shines afterwards. So, what is the difference? How can some come through life-altering tragedies with a song in their heart and a spring in their step while others are broken, bitter and angry for life?

The depth of the pain, the reality of the experience, and the joy of the healing--it's all REAL. And I want to tell you about it.

After our first child died (Anneli's twin, Timothy, at 22 weeks gestation) I recognized the need to walk through grief. I had been given the name and telephone number of a woman who had also lost a twin child while still pregnant and proceeded to give live birth to the second twin. I dialed the number and listened as this woman recounted her story. Our losses were similar. But something was different...she was the most bitter person I had ever come into contact with.

"How can I not be bitter?" I asked myself and God. The biggest thing I learned from this woman was that I didn't want to be like her.

Shortly before I became pregnant with the twins I had read and prayed a verse from I Corinthians chapter 3. It talks about building up on your foundation of Jesus. It says,
"If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person's work." verses 12-13
I noted how gold, silver and costly stones were not readily available. But that wood, hay and straw were. Anyone could just go for a walk and pick up those latter three for free along the way. It is much harder to acquire gold, silver and costly stones. They aren't just lying around for the taking! This makes them precious.

So I prayed that I would have a faith full of



and costly stones.

And then my dream of twins came crashing to a tragic end. He was gone. There was nothing we could do but watch his body get smaller and smaller on every subsequent ultrasound. It was painful, of course, but for a girl who'd prayed to have twins since childhood, it was pure torture.

This bitter woman showing me what I could potentially look like two years down the road. I didn't want to be like her. Enter the verse from Isaiah...

I will give you the treasures of darkness
riches stored in secret places,
so that you may know that I am the Lord,
the God of Israel, who summons you by name.
                                             Isaiah 45:3

I realized that those costly stones were the very same "treasures of darkness" and that they were as good as "riches stored in secret places." If I wanted to have faith that was marked of such things as gold, silver and costly stones, then I needed to go digging. Digging/mining into the tragedy God allowed into my life.

I truly believe that God has gifts for us in our tragedies. No one will escape pain in life. It's true. Jesus said so!  I went after those gifts hidden in the darkness of tragedy as if my life depended upon it. For me, this meant reading books about others' losses, crying extensively, journaling, writing poetry and talking with trusted friends.

Each time we lost a child, I learned more. By the time of Oskar's homegoing, I was a well experienced griever. I already had hammered through the question, "Why is this happening to me if God is good?" and I knew He was with me. Because of my prior experience in grief, I got to skip through some of the initial stages.

Grief is a cyclical process. You can study the different stages of it, but you will realize that they do not come to you in any particular order. And once they've gone, this doesn't mean they won't be back. But here's what I found encouraging: each time the same stage revisited me, I was different. Greater amounts of gold had been added to my foundation. I was newly equipped with what it took to rise to the next level in the cycle. Like a winding staircase that keeps passing "north," my grief had been here before, but felt a little different. I was a little different. I saw change. I saw growth in myself and this was encouraging.

If you are going through something painful in your life, what are you doing with your grief? Are you choosing to chew on it like a cow chews its cud? Are you letting bitterness fester in your heart? Are you slamming the door on your faith because you cannot fathom how God could let this happen to you?

I cry out to you: come in your pain to Jesus.

He is bigger than you, and therefore He does not need to explain His choices to you. This is so hard for us, because we rest on our logic. We have this thing for needing to understand. But sometimes, in the economy of God, we simply cannot. Give that "right" over.

He is more loving than you can possibly imagine, whether or not you believe this. His love is so deep and long and wide and high that no angel or demon or sin or tragedy can divide, pull, remove or dissolve God's love for us. (see Romans 8:38-39)

As crazy as it may seem against the backdrop of your tragedy, God has a plan for your life.

Listen to these sweet words from Isaiah chapter 35:

Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool
the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay,
grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.

I love that!! In the very place where your pain now resides, God will redeem it with good things. Has He given my babies back to me from the dead? No. Has He given me another set of twins? Not yet. But He has done something beautiful--

"To all who mourn in Israel, He will give a crown of BEAUTY for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair." Isaiah 61:3
Delight in the hope and promise from this Scripture from Psalm 126:5-6 as well:

Those who plant in tears will harvest with SHOUTS OF JOY. Those who went off with HEAVY HEARTS will come home LAUGHING, with ARMLOADS OF BLESSING.

Come view your tragedy as an opportunity. An invitation for you to come and mine in the secret places. This is off the beaten path. It's a place that not all will dare to go. But you will. You will not allow this tragedy to crush you. You will NOT allow this wound to mar you so that you permanently limp.

Not everyone will emerge with deepened faith. 

But some do. Will you?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Why that's "Mom's Hearty Bread!"

Today I tried a new recipe. From my fun new book I got for Christmas called
  Kneadlessly Simple by Nancy Baggett
(I often wonder if she went into bread because of her name, or if this just not THE perfect pen name for a baker?) The title of the bread is "Brown and Wild Rice Crunch Bread" from page 150. That's not what it was called at the table tonight--when asked Daddy answered in his best cowpoke drawl, 

"Why, that's called Mom's Hearty Bread!!"

We all just loved it! I think you'll like it too, if you are into healthy eating.

This book is not written for the already-amazing baker or the run-through-the-drive-thru-eater because these recipes are probably too simple for the expert and way too time consuming for the person who wants the immediate loaf. But for me, it's been just about right.

I thought I'd share this recipe tonight because we all chowed down on it. I served it with a green salad and some beans/canned tomatoes/ham/onion in my crockpot meal that I made early today. (That needs a name!) If you are mildly patient and enjoy the thrill of presenting your own version of food-love at the table, then give this loaf a try. (And tell me about it later. :))

brown and wild rice crunch bread
[My experience is written like this!]

"Note that because brown rice is used uncooked, it must be ground into a flour for this recipe. Either a blender or clean coffee or spice grinder will work; [I used my Magic Bullet] a food processor blade isn't thin enough for the job. The mixture should end up mostly powdery, but for a little crunch, leave some particles the size of corn grits. (Larger bits will be too hard on the teeth.) Due to its popcorn-like aroma and flavor, brown basmati rice is especially appealing in this bread, but any variety of long-grain brown rice will do."

1 1/4 c whole wheat flour, plus more as needed

1 1/4 c unbleached white bread flour

1/2 c uncooked, unseasoned long-grain brown rice and
wild rice blend (or just brown rice), ground fairly fine after measuring

1 Tbs granulated sugar

1 generous tsp table salt

3/4 tsp instant, fast-rising or bread machine yeast

1 Tbs oil (flavorless like corn, canola or vegetable)
and more for brushing the top

1 1/3 c ice water, more if needed

FIRST RISE: In a large bowl, throroughly stir together the whole wheat and bread flour, ground rice, sugar, salt and yeast. In another bowl, whisk the oil into the water. Vigorously stir the mixture into the bowl with the flours, scraping down the sides and mixing until well blended and smooth. If the ingredients are too dry to mix together, gradually add in just enough more ice water to facilitate mixing; don't over-moisten as the dough should be stiff. If necessary, add in more whole wheat flour to stiffen it. Brush or spray top with oil. Tightly cover bowl with plastic wrap. If desired, for best flavor or convenience, refrigerate 3-10 hours. Then let rise at cool room temperature 18-24 hours.

SECOND RISE: Vigorously stir the dough, adding more whole wheat flour if needed to stiffen it, then carefully scrape down the sides. Using a well-oiled spatula, fold the dough in towards the center, working all the way around the bowl. Invert the dough into a generously oiled 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 inch loaf pan. Brush or spray the dough top with oil. Smooth and press out the dough with well-oiled fingertips so it evenly fills the pan and is smooth on top. [Oops, didn't do this!] Using a well-oiled serrated knife, make 5 or 6 evenly spaced 1/4" deep crosswise slashes along the top of the loaf. Cover the pan with non-stick coated plastic wrap.

Let rise using any of these methods: For a 2-3 hour regular rise, let stand at warm room temperature [hard to do in Ohio February!]; for a 1 1/2 - 2 1/2 hour accelerated rise [this is me!] let stand in a turned off microwave along with 1 cup of boiling water; or for an extended rise, refrigerate 4-24 hours, then set out at room temperature. Continue the rise until the dough nears the plastic, then remove it and let the dough rise until 1 inch above the pan rim. [I couldn't wait any longer! Hence my shorter loaf!]

Baking Preliminaries: 15 minutes before baking time, put a rack in lower third of the oven; preheat to 400 degrees F.

Baking: Bake on the lower rack for 35-45 minutes, or until the top is well browned. Continue baking for 15-20 munutes more, covering to prevent over-browning, until a skewer inserted in the thickets part comes out with just a few particles clinging to the bottom portion (or the center registers 206-208 degrees F on instant read thermometer.) Then bake 5-10 minutes more to be sure the center is done. [Yeah, I didn't do that. Bell rang, I forgot, came running and pulled it out later. It was great!] Cool the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Then turn out the loaf onto the rack and cool for at least 15 minutes before serving. [You already know I didn't do that either. We sat down and ate it up!!]

Serving and Storing: The loaf slices best when cool, but the bread is good served warm [Yes it is!!] or at room temperature. Cool completely before storing airtight in plastic or foil. Keeps at room temperature for 3 days, and may be frozen, airtight, for up to 2 months.

Love Strand 26/28

You may not need my commentary for this one...but I'll offer it anyway.

Jensi had it in her head to have bangs cut. I gave her all the reasons not to do it (enter Mommish voice, "It'll take YEARS for those to ever grow back out!"), but she really really wanted we looked at some pictures, talked about bang care (insert laugh here) and we got busy.

She is thrilled!!

 I think she looks grown up.

I guess that's what this age is all about--her exploration, learning to navigate, me learning to merely guide. Someday she's going to take the reigns and completely drive away...and I'll be okay with that...I think.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Love Strand 25/28

True story:  DQ was running up to the fish and kissing the side of the tank. SO CUTE! Could I catch this with the camera?

Of course not.

But I did get some of these instead! Enjoy!

Hoodie Giveaway!!!

Everybody likes free things...but everybody loves AWESOME free things!!! My friends over at Wild Olive are giving away five free hoodies with a fun original design that illustrates a FAVORITE verse of mine:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

                                                                         Romans 12:2

Wild Olive Tees

Go here and read the rules to get IN on something so cool as this!!!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Love Strand 24/28

Due to the weather, the kids had a THREE hour delay today! What did they do? They made a pretend horse and had fun for hours with their make believe riding...each had their own horse and had a variety of locations for their stables--the bathtub, the closet, etc. 

So now we don't have to buy them a horse, right? They can just keep using the kitchen bench, blankets, pillows as saddles and belts for the reigns? Oh good. The bench doesn't cost a penny to board. (No pun intended!!)

Love Strand 23/28

Today I was just looking around for symbols of love--the heart. I mentioned it to Jensi and she immediately made a hand-heart and said, "like this?" I love that kid!!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

a prayer

Oh God, my God. 
You search and You know me. 

My future is laid out before you, there are no secrets. 

                             You see all, 

                                              You know all, 

                                                                               You hold all.

Nothing that takes me by surprise takes you by surprise. 
You hold my future in your hands.

I see your HANDPRINTS all over my life 

                                                                                                          ...and I glory in them.

You ask me to step out into the unknown
to walk where I've never gone before

and it's scary, God.
(so so scary!!)

But You make PROMISES to me,

Promises that I BELIEVE and will cling to.

May fear fall away as I step forward into the unknown



                                                                     ...but made STRONG
                                                                          by You living in me.

Project Hopeful logo used with permission.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Love Strand 22/28

Zora. Wonderdog. Truly.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Love Strand 21/28

If it seems to YOU that my kids have been sick ALL WEEKEND then you are right! This is the 2nd day of just holding DQ. See those red fever cheeks? Oh, melt my heart.

I do my best to keep on my workout spite of what may happen. (Up all last night medicating and later bathing DQ, dealing with Oliver's snotty issues...and Brian even had to go take care of electrical issues at work from 11 pm till 5 am and then turn around and go back at 7 am!) When I don't get up first thing and tackle my hangs over my head all day. Today, I at least got the ab part of my workout in! And with an added 25 pound weight, you can bet it WORKED!!

Oliver just woke up from a 3 1/2 hour nap. (WOW.) Anneli claims he was hibernating. DQ ran to hug him when he reappeared. (Meds had kicked in nicely by then!) Oliver said in his just-woke-up-voice, "I think I know why she's hugging me! She missed me during my nap!" :)

I sure love these kids.

I can't help adding a bonus pic from today. Before I got down on the floor to begin my workout, DQ was content being snuggled by Jensi. The three sisters just were TOO CUTE to not show you!

Love Strand 20/28

The snow melted, briefly. It was glorious! I wanted so desperately to nap that afternoon after two nights of being up with his little sister...but he begged me to play outside.

"Will you play baseball with me, Mommy?"

I mean, how do you say no to that? This is probably why this sweet child came down with the fever virus a day later!! But fun was had!! :) What's the price of a memory, anyway?

Love Strand 19/28

This weekend has been tough. Different kids getting sick with the same virus at different times. It feels like hanging around and watching movies is ALL WE DID. But there IS joy in those snuggles!

God uses movies to MOVE ME!

Sometimes you watch a clip and it will merely tug at your heart, but sometimes it will change your life. God has a history with me of using movies to direct His path for me. See here for the first time God did such a thing. I must say that when I saw this video just now, I had just warmed up my coffee and settled in on my couch, opening up my laptop to give the 9 1/2 minutes to see this clip.

Shortly thereafter I glanced away from the screen and my surroundings filled my eyes: the flat screen TV in its cabinet, framed pictures of our children on the walls, the stained glass window in our stairwell.

I spit out my coffee, broken by wracks of sobbing.

Something is not right with this unbalanced world. I sit here warm on an icy cold day, sipping coffee in the luxury of my secure home and these children...well, just watch the film.

These verses just seem right to add after watching this:

"He [Jesus] replied, Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and obey it." Luke 11:28

"For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous." Romans 2:13 

Perhaps another translation will speak more clearly to your heart:

"Merely hearing God's law is a waste of your time if you don't do what He commands. Doing, not hearing, is what makes the difference with God." Romans 2:13 from The Message

Again, I pray that we will not merely be hearers of the Word, but doers.

And if you're like me, you are hoping that there's more to Sam and Esther and big sister Jane's story. There is! I found it for you: watch the follow up.

So I conclude with a question and I ask it of me but also of YOU:
Now, what will I DO now that I've heard?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Don't be puzzled, just show up!

If you think you are too small to make a difference,
try spending the night in a closed room with a mosquito.

One of my favorite books is The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns. I not only got to enjoy reading it, but I got to study it with a fabulous group of women. (I love you, Water Girls!!) One of his final analogies in one of the last chapters really resonated with me. He titles the chapter, "How Many Loaves Do You Have?"

You see the point is not the immensity of the world's problems, although he spends a good half of the near 300 page book exploring the depth of the world's hunger, lack of clean water, disease and poverty issues. The point is that we, as individuals changed by the power of Christ, can make a difference. Just like the little boy who donated his lunch to feed the 5,000 on that hillside when the Great Galilean Teacher told his disciples, "you give them something to eat." Certainly there had to be other little boys whose mothers had the foresight to pack them a sack lunch, but Jesus worked through just one little boy's lunch.

I want to be that little boy giving my lunch.

It's not that the little boy was a hero, no, all eyes in the story are on Jesus. Jesus got the glory. But it had to be a great thrill for that sweet little boy who gave his 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish and watched it get multiplied, passed out to so many and then gathered up in 12 LEFTOVER BASKETS when it was all over. Did he thrill, "Wow! That was my lunch! God used my stuff!" I bet so.

You see, the thought here is not that you must create a great master plan of how to solve world hunger, or become a millionaire to fund a huge well project by yourself, but you simply show up.

I love this:
 We might imagine that God's vision for our world is like a great jigsaw puzzle. You and I are the pieces in His hand, and He places them in just the spots where our particular shapes, sizes, and patterns best fit with the other pieces. The full picture only takes shape as all of the pieces come together in their proper places. In this view, no single piece is insignificant. Have you ever completed a puzzle only to find that one or two piece were missing? I have, and the missing pieces compelled me to pull the cushions out of the couch, lift the tables and chairs, and scour the room to find them. Those mislaid pieces made a huge difference to the outcome. They were obviously not insignificant. (p. 250-251)
Stearn continues...
God has created each of us with a unique contribution to make to our world and our times. No other person has our same abilities, motivations, network of friends and relationships, perspectives, ideas, or experiences. When we, like misplaced puzzle pieces, fail to show up, the overall picture is diminished. (p.251)

So, what if everyone else but YOU decided to show up for their part in the cosmic plan? Perhaps you feel that you are untalented, too uneducated, your past is too dark or your heart is just simply too selfish? You'd remain sitting there while others volunteered themselves to the plan of God.

What would the overall picture look like then, if you stubbornly sat out...holding onto your fear, your self hatred, or maybe your own ideas that you knew better? The picture would suffer. It's just not the same without you. 

Where is that missing piece?!?!

Stearn finishes his puzzle analogy:

One of the most common mistakes we can make is to beleive that we have nothing of significance to offer--that we're not rich enough, smart enough, skilled enough, or spiritual enough to make much difference at all, especially  in the face of huge global problems...Deluded, we sit on the bench watching the game from a distance, content to let others play. But the very good news for those of us who want to follow Christ and be part of God's plan for our world is that he uses what we have to offer, no matter how unimportant we think it might be. (p. 251)

Recently my parents bought a 1,000 piece puzzle. My dad said it was one of the hardest puzzles they had ever attempted. What made them absolutely crazy at the end was that after 999 pieces were successfully put into place, the 1,000th piece was incorrect. It didn't match the puzzle. It had the wrong colors, wrong shape and was a huge disappointment! My dad took the puzzle back to the store saying incredulously, "This puzzle is wrong! Something must have gone wrong at the manufacturer!" The clerk probably was a bit skeptical of my dad's story, even inquiring if the puzzle was sealed when he bought it.

What is so comforting is that God's plan for the world will not get messed up at the manufacturer. You are precisely the perfect piece He wants to use. You need not worry that you are not enough, that you only have 5 little loaves and 2 measely fish---this is about God's plan here, and He wants to bless your socks off by letting you participate. Don't miss it--just show up!
That's better!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Love Strand 18/28

Cannot express to you how MUCH I love them!!!!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Love Strand 16/28

Tonight was the Awana Grand Prix. A fun night for all of us as we root for our favorite cars and friends...and enjoy the company of one another. Love is many things--a great winning attitude whether you win or lose, kindness to a sister, cheering for everyone. But there was one adoring look from father to daughter that stole my heart tonight.

The Blessing of Fundraising

So, we've now been at this fundraising for about 6 weeks. I've learned a few things and I wanted to share them with you.

Fundraising, although a bit intimidating, is a blessing. Why? Because it gives me the opportunity to teach others about adoption. If we could just pull $40K out of our back pockets and pay for it, we might not be as verbal as we are about our process. As it is though, we need help. We need the people of God to come alongside us and partake in the story. We need your prayers and your encouragement. Our adoption becomes a gift to not just our family and our future kids, but also to those who choose to involve themselves in it. They have great joy as they see our thermometer rise. Can you imagine the joy they will share when they see us in the same photograph with our newly ransomed children? Oh! It makes my heart race with excitement!

Adoption is expensive. Okay, we ALL knew that before I ever wrote it. To many, it might be viewed as a road block...but to others, it's simply a sign that God is in it. If YOU are considering adoption but are intimidated by the cost...don't be. Not because the cost isn't great, but because it's God's heart to place the lonely in families. (Psalm 68:5&6) His heart is FOR the orphans. They are His beloved children. He will see to it that the money is provided. Many times, He wants you to take the step of faith first. Will you trust Him?

The money that is needed to pay for the agency, fingerprints, documents, home study, training, visas and passports, flights over and back,  court and lawyer fees is WORTH IT. You know it's true: if your child was kidnapped, you'd pay anything to get them back. This is ransom. In adoption, we are ransoming our children from poverty and disease and a life as an orphan. We imitate God Himself in this act because Jesus gave His life as a ransom--bringing us back not from the arms of a kidnapper or from the grip of poverty but from sin itself!

A few people have asked me if our adoption agency was encouraging us to fundraise. The answer is yes. They made some recommendations of other groups to partner with (one being Just Love Coffee--click the coffee beans in the side bar to check it out.) Our agency is one of the lower priced agencies...trying to make adoption the most affordable possible. They are incredibly helpful and insightful to us in this process. They understand the state that families are in when they apply to adopt.

Maybe the coolest thing about all of this is that as I obey, I end up encouraging other people. Others watch us do this and realize that if we can do it, so can they. Wow! What a joy it has been to receive letters from people who say, "You may not realize it, but you are influencing us. Because you have taken this step of faith, we have seen your obedience and realized that we can too." Amazing. Fundraising forces us to be in the open with this...and who knows how many other orphans will be given homes because of it!

So at this writing, we have raised less than $4,000 of our needed $40,000. I have no doubt that God will show up in big ways and provide it. I know that I will need to sacrifice, cut back and do my part...but that in that process He will continue to draw me to Himself and help me learn to rely on Him for EVERYTHING. That's really what it's about anyway.

"Stay joined to Me, and I will stay joined to you. Just as a branch cannot produce fruit unless it stays joined to the vine, you cannot produce fruit unless you stay joined to Me."                      
                                                                                                                                  John 15:4

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Love Strand 15/28

She's really quite good! :)

Love Strand 14/28

I admit it, I didn't take a picture on Valentine's day! Plan A was to take our camera on our date and get a shot of us dining out--ALONE!  (I totally forgot the camera!) So, enter plan B. I liked how this turned out anyway! :)

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Day of Love!...but why love on ORPHANS?

This clip says it better than I ever could.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Love Strand 13/28

A family Valentine celebration! Today we had a special meal complete with Valentine's day cupcakes! A special thank you to my mother in law who for 3 years running has provided us with a Valentine's party in a bag about 4 weeks ahead of the game. She's incredible. We have been blessed by love. And we celebrate the love we share!

Tomorrow the girls have class parties (see the Valentine's being prepared above) and Brian and I have a date planned! Yahooooooooooo!! 

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Love Strand 12/28

For Christmas, Anneli gave us this wonderful Amaryllis bulb. This is the first time I've ever cultivated an indoor bulb and what a delight it is as winter just won't let go! I love the promise of hope the bulb holds! Hope for beauty! Hope for spring! 

Love Strand 11/28

So here's a fun one...Valentine candy hearts in my pair of Bailey mugs! These mugs were sought after for years in a wide variety of antique stores. I bought the first in New Mexico and searched and searched for probably 5 years until I finally found the mate for Mr. Bailey.

So he really means it when he gives Mrs. Bailey the "soul mate" talk heart. As you can see from the bottom picture, she was "hiding" in that store just waiting for him!

Friday, February 11, 2011

How could you do that to your kids?

This is a question I've heard from people over the years. "How can you take those precious children to China for two years?" "How can you think about moving to India with those children?" "What about your REAL children...(when you adopt)? What will it do to them?" [This causes me to shudder as I realize that others place a separation between our biological children and our someday-to-be adopted children!]

These are real questions I have fielded. From people I love.

How can we do these "mean" things to our children? How can we cart them halfway around the world in the name of Christ? How can we upheave their world by adopting orphans who have an unknown past and might bring in unknown diseases? How can we return their Christmas presents and give to the poor instead?

We are called to do these things, not as individuals, but as a family. We do things together. That means serving God too.

It wasn't my idea...we tried tirelessly to go overseas before we had children. God stopped our plans each time. It wasn't until Jensi was 3 and Anneli was 1 that God opened the door and rolled out the red carpet for us to go. And we did. And it was amazing. We saw Him work miracles, both in us and around us. We went through great hardship, but He was enough for us and carried us through.

Certainly, you must know, as human beings we want to shelter our children from pain, hardship and turmoil. We want nothing to touch them that hurts. But don't we all know that our character grows best under the pain of these very things? Consider how a diamond is made--PRESSURE! Might we be praying a more effective prayer if we prayed for God to do whatever He needed to so that we might grow closer to Him rather than 'keep us safe,' or' keep us healthy' or 'bless us' with stuff?

I honestly think I thought I was saving my baby (Oskar) as I allowed Jensi, Anneli and Oliver's hands to be on my belly as they would boldly pray in their childlike faith, "Please God, let this baby live!" I couldn't fathom that God would ever allow a third child of ours to die. I truly thought that by involving my kids, God would protect their hearts from such pain and allow the baby inside me to live. (This is all months before we had any clue that he would in fact die at 39 weeks.)

But guess what? Our sweet Oskar did die. My children, the very same ones who prayed and did not receive what they asked for, walked through the grief with us as a family. They attended their baby brother's funeral, kissed his casket and squeezed my hand when the anniversaries roll around and the tears roll down my cheeks. We have experienced this as a family. And as a family, we have met God in the depths of our despair. Ask any of my children and they will tell you that GOD IS ENOUGH. No matter what they face, they know that He is real and He will help them to learn, grow and glorify Him through it.

So I don't see the fear that others do in our adoption. Questions like "how could we do this to our biological kids" doesn't even compute. How could we not? If God is asking us to take this journey, one that will cause our very family structure to change forever, how could we not include our children in such an opportunity? Even if it goes atrociously bad (which it could), would it still not be worth it? What is the value of living out our faith with our children? Teaching them what forgiveness looks like on a daily basis; learning what it means to love sacrificially; learning how to have faith in God when circumstances say that you should give up. In the end, is that not worth it? And would the fear of such pain seriously cause us to turn around and disobey God's command in our lives? I think you know the answer.

"Truly, truly, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." John 12:24.

We are in the process of dying to ourselves, that we might bear much fruit. It is our prayer that God is glorified through ALL we do. 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Q&A about our adoption

Yesterday we were featured in a friend's blog and she asked me some good questions about our adoption. It occurred to me that perhaps I should replay them here! 

Q: Tell us about your family.
A: Our family is: Brian (a dairy farm manager, loves photography, missions, Indian movies and P90X), Amy (SAHM, Star Diamond Beachbody Coach, runs our photography business Silver Sand Images, loves people, blogging, missions, reading and exercise), Jensi (5th grader who loves horses, is a constant entrepreneur, plays basketball and loves to write), Anneli (3rd grader who loves to read, play imaginatively and is an excellent gymnast), Oliver (a homeschooled preschooler who loves dinosaurs, tractors and making spaceships out of couch cushions) and Darrah Kate (a 20 month old who loves to dance, explore her siblings possessions, pretend with Oliver and has a best friend: her elephant Fluffernutter). We have three children who await us in heaven as well: Timothy, Hope and Oskar.

Q: What led you to decide to adopt? What role did your faith play in that, if any? Did the orphan crisis influence you at all?

A: God led us to adopt. This was a decision that was not made by emotion but rather out of obedience. We knew that orphans were living without families all over the world. The command in Scripture to care for the orphan as well as the psalm that declares God is a Father to the fatherless and that he sets the lonely in families spoke deeply to our hearts. I have also had a life-long desire to have twins. One of my pregnancies was a set of twins but about halfway through, sweet Timothy went ahead to Jesus. I have accepted that perhaps I will join those in Hebrews 11 who did not see the answer to their promise in this life, but will receive it in full in Heaven. However, after our son Oskar died, I felt the Lord encouraging me to not give up in praying for another set of twins. Of course I assumed my next pregnancy would be a set of twins, but it was not (it was Darrah Kate...who is arguably as busy as a set of twins!) After feeling “settled” with our 4 children, God reminded me of praying for another set of twins. I stayed silent regarding this and told God that if He were referring to adoption, then He needed to speak to Brian about this. Less than 2 months later, Brian called me broken over the orphan crisis and the above mentioned Scriptures were burning in his heart. He asked me if I had ever considered adoption. I smiled and answered, “well, yes I have.” That week we decided to follow God in obedience to adopt and have never looked back.

Q: How did you decide on Uganda?

A: We began with the countries closest to our hearts: China (we served there for 2 years) and India. China’s adoption timeline is running 4-5 years and we wanted to adopt while our oldest girls are still children. India has a policy that 4 children in the home is too many...and we’d need to adopt older than our oldest, something we came to understand was not in our other children’s best interest. We then considered the neediest areas in the world: Africa. We pursued adoption from Zambia and applied to an agency, but just as we did, they closed their Zambia program due to the corruption in the Zambian government. They recommended us to our current agency, Generations Adoptions, and after much research, we took this recommendation. They work in Mexico, Uganda and Ghana. We chose Uganda because our hearts drew us there.

Q: What step in this long process are you in?
A: We are nearing the end of the first 1/3 of the process. We have completed our home study...almost. We await a document that takes up to 4 months in Ohio. (It’s been 2 1/2 months so far.) Once that is finished, then we will apply to USCIS (Immigration). Then we will be able to send our dossier to Uganda and await our referral.

Q: Can you tell us a little about the treasures you are adopting?

A: We do not yet know anything about the specific children we will adopt. Our agency works with a babies home that is a ministry arm of a local Ugandan church. All of the children in the home have been abandoned and most are double orphans (have lost both parents). Most children are under the age of 2, although age is sometimes difficult to assess given malnutrition and lack of history. We have requested at least one boy and have mentioned a preference of twins, although we are okay if they are not.

Q: What has been the best piece of advice you have heard so far about the long road of adoption, if any? Do you have any advice for someone just starting this path or just contemplating it still?
A: Advice...I don’t know that I’m far enough along to give advice! I would repeat some advice given to us: “If you know this is what God is asking, do not delay in getting going. The process is so lengthy, just get started!” I would also encourage interested adoptive families to do good research into agencies and ask lots of questions about where the children will come from. There is sadly a lot of corruption in the adoption “market” and one must be vigilant to find an agency that comes highly recommended with no record of shady dealings. I would also recommend that they get involved in the blogging community, whether or not they choose to blog themselves. I have met the most amazing people this way and they have taught me much and encouraged me along this sometimes difficult path.

Q: Is there anything else you would like us to know?
A: Other things about our family...we have a passion to serve God overseas and feel we are constantly trying to go. However, we have been placed in this NW corner of Ohio for a reason and we are embracing that as His place for us for now. We would love to one day go overseas and serve in some capacity as an entire family of 8...but we will wait for God to reveal that plan in His time!

Love Strand 10/28

Is it really real? Did I stage this? Ha! No way could I get this happy look out of a child if it weren't there on its own! My son has begged me all day to vacuum and I find myself telling him, "Okay now, that's enough vacuuming!"

Have I died and gone to heaven? Did my cleaning fairy finally arrive? Perhaps the answer is yes...but if this is heaven, I want new carpet!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Love Strand 9/28

I love having pictures around my house. I love my husband and I love having history with him. Today, I've taken pictures of a few old pictures I still keep around. (In low light--sorry for graininess!) In the main picture, we were just dating...oh that wonderful summer of 1995! In the wedding picture, it was our first spontaneous kiss as Mr. and Mrs. (that one in the ceremony was a bit artificial!) Our photographer captured us kissing just as we came out of the church.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

I will not live a safe life

That's right. I don't want a safe life. Where did people get this idea that doing God's will puts them in the safest possible place? I think the quip is something like, "Being in the center of God's will is the safest place to be." I don't get it. I see little evidence of that in Scripture. Ask Stephen, the first martyr. Was he safe? I think not. He died at the hands of those who hated and mocked him. (Reminiscent of Someone!) Yet he had joy and peace in the moment of his death. Hmmm, interesting.

I want to live a life that follows Jesus. And He never said following Him would be safe. He never said it would be easy. People will oppose you, call you crazy and turn their backs on you. He never assured you of comfort, ease or popularity. In fact, He said quite the opposite, "Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, whoever loses his life will find it."

So who in their right mind wants to live like this? To follow Jesus means sure death? Death to self, yes. Death to the American dream, yes. Death to what is "normal," yes. I want to live like this because He said, "If you love me you will obey me." I love Him, therefore I obey. This flows out of my genuine gratitude for His love for me. There is a very real joy in joining the work of God. Deep abiding joy that one cannot know if one remains in the realm of safe. Safe is not where it's at.

So we move forward in our pursuit of adoption. Are we going to blow apart the status quo? Absolutely. Will our family look the same? No way. Will we be rejected by our community? Maybe. Will we be doing the right thing? Well, according to Scripture yes, "Religion that God accepts as pure and faultless is this, to look after orphans and widows in their distress..." And Psalm 68:5-6, "Father to the fatherless, defender of widows--this is God, whose dwelling is holy. God places the lonely in families..." Those families have to be willing to do a radical thing by inviting in the lonely.

I am astonished at how different the Bible looks after reading the book The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns (President of World Vision). Verses that I practically never really even saw now stand out on the page to me. My heart beats faster when I read passages like Isaiah 58, "Is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter--when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?" [This passage is in response to the people who were doing all the "right" religious things and were wondering why God wasn't hearing them. It's because they were not carrying out justice among those God cared about.]

Which leads me to another passage that has sprung to life for me in recent months: the well loved Micah 6:8. "He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God." That doing justice part seems awfully important if it's at the front of the list!

I am not trying to expound on any one Scripture or wax eloquently about any one topic, but merely to declare outloud that I WILL NOT CHOOSE A SAFE LIFE. I will take risks as deemed necessary in order to follow what course God has asked me to take. I will live on the edge of rational and I do honestly hope that if you are not a Christ follower, that my life will look awfully odd to you. I do not seek to make "sense" to the average person. I want to live a life completely sold out to the Lord...and that will not look normal, common or average. 

The Love Strand 8/28

All the training, reading, praying and preparation are far more than having a child in the "normal" way...but then again, these children are going to require extra understanding for the loss of their birth family(ies) that they will one day grieve, and we need to be prepared.

In case the verse looks a bit skewed in this photograph, this is James 1:27 that says, "Pure and geniune religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress..."

Monday, February 7, 2011

Love Strand 7/28

After dinner it's a common thing...someone goes to the ipod and makes a selection and then ...


Everyone seems to be cuttin' the rug. Tonight, there are pictures. Enjoy! :)

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Darrah Kate Sings!

Here you can see and hear my favorite little one year old singing her favorite song! (I hope she continues to sing in season...this won't be as cute in July!)

The Love Strand 6/28

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Love Strand Challenge 5/28

Today it snowed. A lot. As in major flakes falling at warp speed ALL DAY.

Brian went outside to shovel snow. Oliver joined him. Anneli followed. Jensi started pulling on her boots and I ran out with my camera. I turned around and saw sweet DQ (Darrah Kate as she is affectionately known) practically jumping up and down begging to be able to come out and play too!

And she got to come out! She didn't do much but stand in one place and sing "Jingle Bells," but she was happy. Hear her sing here. My heart swelled. It was her longing fulfilled.

What a delight when our longings are fulfilled! I believe God places His desires within our hearts and then He prompts us to want them and then He delights to give them to us. The whole exchange all in accordance with His plan before the foundations of the world.

I have a longing that remains unfulfilled. I have wanted to have twins. I have longed and ached to have twins. God gave me a set of them once, but one ran ahead to Jesus. That might be all for me...but I believe He has asked me to keep praying for twins. I don't understand it, but there it is: my longing remains unfulfilled. We'll see if this adoption is how He chooses to work.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Darrah Kate stole my heart!

18 months of happiness,  November 2010

The Love Strand 4/28

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Love Strand 3/28

There are few things I would trade for time one on one with my children. (A beach this time of year might win! But only "might!") One of the best decisions for our family has been choosing to homeschool during the preschool year.  I was really on the fence about whether or not to enroll Oliver this past year in our church's preschool program. When it all was said and done, I didn't do it.

I am so glad.

Now please don't pound me with comments about how anti-school I am. I'm not. I taught 3rd grade myself overseas. My older girls were also homeschooled for K, 1st and 2nd grades but are now happily learning in a local public school that we love. I think school is a really fabulous thing that our American children are blessed with and I don't take it lightly. [Enter a comment here about how unjust is it that children in poorer countries don't get to attend school because they are busy hauling dirty water. Or you could just go here.]

But, oh the times I have delighted in with my son this past year! It makes my heart overflow with gratefulness. I am so grateful that I chose to keep him home. His quest for knowledge is unquenchable! Today he has put himself on a self-led experiment with a large computer magnet. Some of the things he comes and shows me are crazy! Did you know that he can pick up a pack of 26 mini books with a magnet? We have played more Missing Match Ups then I can shake a stick at and he's learned to read and sound out words. His math skills blow me away and I think we can bank on him to take over the family finances.

Today we repeated a science experiment from last week. It was so fun then that he wanted to do it again. Why not? He wanted green food coloring rather than red. I see no problem. So please enjoy the expression of love we shared today:

I forgot, because there was no need to rush off to the school bus this morning (thank you 2-hour delay!), I started my day snuggling with him for about 20 minutes. Can you say heaven??? (I didn't get any pictures of that!)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Why do you want to adopt?!?!

The Love Strand 2/28

I've been snapping pictures all day. Which would I choose for day two of this challenge? Which one of these really spoke "love" the most to me? Turns out, the moment hadn't happened yet. I sure recognized it when it did.

I had one child in particular who was struggling with obedience. Not the outright defiant kind, just the oh-I-didn't-get-around-to-that kind. The kind of disobedience that drives a mom with a sore throat crazy. Repeating myself for the 4th time, I finally went and did the job myself.

I was not happy.

I called this child over to me and explained, "You are not obeying Mommy! I have asked you to do this [fill in my request] four times. You halfway obeyed. I had to finish the job. I am tired of this, [child's name!]"


"I want you to know that you are not acting in a way that honors Momma. You are disobedient. Acting sinfully. Do you know that this is exactly the way we act towards God? But His love is never dependent upon how we act. God's love is dependent on who He is."

Another breath.

"You have asked me to make you French toast today. I am going to do that for you still. Not because you deserve it, for you have not done what is right. I am going to do it for you because I love you. I want to love you the way God loves me. "

"At some point, [child's name], you will discover how grateful you are for what God does for us. What He DID for us on the cross. You figure out that it is absolutely incredible, and you will decide to show your love to God by obeying Him. Jesus tells us in the Bible that when we obey Him, we show Him we love Him. Maybe you'll decide the same is true between me and you!"

Exit child. Sour face. Droopy head. No apology.

I then got busy. I made the best possible French toast I knew how. I then got out the fancy birthday-or-straight-A-grade-card plate. I served up heart shaped french toast to the very child who had made me crazy that morning. And I couldn't wait! I snapped some pictures of it first and then prepared the table. (It is this child's week to set it!) I called this child over, who expected another lecture apparently.

"[Child's name,] I want you to have this heart shaped French toast and enjoy it! You have the special plate not because of anything you did, but because of my love for you. I love you NO MATTER HOW YOU ACT. "

I had more to say, but this child burst into tears and hung around my neck. Sobbing, this child apologized and changed into the sweetest little one possible. This child then was delightful and helpful the rest of the day.

That's what love does to us, doesn't it?
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