Sunday, May 30, 2010

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Congrats Yaw!


May He give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed. We will shout for joy when you are victorious and will lift up our banners in the name of our God. May the Lord grant all your requests.
Psalm 20:4-5

Friday, May 28, 2010

How's It Going?

How’s it going having Sam with you? That is the question coming up a lot these days.

Well, in simple words, it’s been an adjustment. For all of us. In speaking for myself, I feel like there is A LOT being demanded of me right now. A LOT. I have a goal. It is that I will learn how to thrive in a demanding environment. Right now I feel like I am surviving a demanding environment. Have I mentioned that I am a planner? And, Sam coming to us was so very unplanned and I think that’s why I feel like I am running and running and running, but not getting anywhere. I actually have dreams like that. That I am running extremely hard and not moving anywhere. It is being brought to light that my personality doesn’t function well without planning. We ‘planned’ both of JJ and Jayla’s pregnancies. I read books and books and books and had plenty of time with both pregnancies to emotionally enter in, do some nesting, get advice from veteran friends, and ‘get ready’ for what was to come. Of course things didn’t always go quite how I thought they would when I actually had a live infant staring me in the face, but I had a plan. And, when things went differently than I expected, I adjusted. But I felt very prepared. With our adoption I have had over 1 ½ years of God preparing me emotionally, countless hours of immersing myself in adoption literature, and many days on my knees praying earnestly that God would prepare our family for our new son to come.

However, with Sam he was literally not here one day, and then here the next. I did not plan or prepare for a 5th grader to come into our family. And so, I am learning as I go. This has been one of the hardest things for me. When I say ‘learning as I go’ it means that I have also had to let go of my tight grip on my need for control. When you are a ‘planner’ sometimes that means you are also a ‘control freak’. Ahem. At least with this planner anyways. Sam coming into our family has been like someone putting a mirror in front of me. And I’m talking about those mirrors in the movie theater bathroom with that bright, harsh light that reveals every single imperfection that you have. Yeah, that kind of mirror. And, it really has nothing to do with Sam. But everything to do with the daily demands of emotionally, physically, and practically caring for 4 others with every ounce of strength, every ounce of wisdom, and every ounce of energy molecule I have in my body. And, I am coming up short. And I know why. Because this is the only way that God could possibly teach me to rely on HIM. Fully. All in. Letting Him work through me. Letting Him be my source of strength, my source of wisdom, my source of joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, . You see, I am not competent to carry out what God has called me to do in my own strength. It is clear to me what He has called our family to. And, I have heard the call, and tried to do it on my own. And it is not working. Most days I fail by 9am. Sometimes I even make it to 9:30am without yelling at my kids, feeling completely disheveled, feeling guilty that another day went by without me sitting down to do preschool curriculum with JJ, wondering how I am going to make a birthday special for a 2 year old and a graduation special for a 19 year old, wondering how I am going to get an upcoming trip to Africa planned and prepared for, do the laundry, clean the house, talk to a 10 year old about God, keep my eyes awake for nighttime devotionals, keep faithful instruction on my tongue when my red-heads are constantly fighting each other, help a 10-year old know how to handle a situation at school, have meaningful interaction time with my children, get my bible study done for the week, be a shuttle bus, read the Bible to my kids, read the Bible myself, pray, teach my children how to be responsible and respectful without nagging them, plan meals, be a friend to my friends, and a wife to my husband. And that’s just what I thought of off the top of my head. I could think of many more responsibilities and ways I am coming up short on them if you give me another 30 seconds. But now, when the demands outweigh my abilities, this is when I learn how to rely on God. My mind says, This is too much. 4 kids? You are 27 years old! You are too young and inexperienced. You don’t know what you are doing. You are not equipped. Your personality does not mesh with this. How can you do all of this? And Jesus tells me: You are right. You can’t do this. But I can. Let me work through you in the work that I have called you to. Stop trying to do this on your own. Rely on me and this will all go much better. That would be the JCS (JanelChristineSullivan) translation of this verse:

Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5)

And that’s how it’s going.

Lord, help me to be a good mom. I fully realize that I don’t have what it takes to be one without Your help. Take my selfishness, impatience, and irritability and turn them into kindness, long-suffering, and the willingness to bear all things. Take my old emotional habits, mindsets, automatic reactions, rude assumptions, and self-protective stance, and make me patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled. Take the hardness of my heart and break down the walls with your battering ram of revelation. Give me a new heart and work in me Your love, peace and joy (Galatians 5:22,23). I am not able to rise above who I am at this moment. Only You can transform me. Amen.
(prayer from Power of a Praying Wife by Stormie Omartian)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Identity

We have some identity experiments going on over here at our house that are of interest to me. First up, I saw this the other day as I was picking up the house…..

This would be Sam’s basketball. Any serious basketball player has his/her name written on his basketball, so that when he is shooting around at the gym, his/her basketball doesn’t get mixed up with someone else’s. But did you notice what Sam wrote as his last name….Sullivan. He had done this all by himself, and I am pretty sure it was within the last week or so. Very interesting. And, it made me smile. I know some people have gotten a lil confused about our 2 Samuels…and in fact many think that we have already ‘picked up’ Samuel from Africa, and that Sam is Samuel. Now I am confusing myself. Anyways, in case you are just joining us on the blog, Sam is 10 and he is from Des Moines. We are helping out his mom, and he has been living with us since the end of February as a sort of mentoring situation. Most interestingly, the little boy we are adopting from Ghana is also named Samuel. So, we will have 2 Samuels very shortly. To avoid confusion I have been referring to 10 year old Sam from Des Moines as ‘Sam’. And, 5 year old Samuel from Ghana we are calling ‘Samuel’. I might have to change this….I know it is confusing - but since we aren’t changing Ghana Samuel’s name I don’t really know how else to keep each of them straight for you. Anyways, if you are praying for us and our adoption, you can add Sam to the list. Please pray that his heart would be prepared as well for Samuel to come. He’s already been through a lot of adjusting as he has joined our family, and I am sure you can imagine what more will be ‘worked through’ when a little boy who has his name (and our last name) will join our family. It’s just a lot of complex emotions to work through right now…for all of us…..so pray as we adjust and work through it.

Now, this next identity experiment will hopefully make you laugh….this would be a picture of the mii on the wii that JJ has designed for himself. You will notice something very obvious that does not quite match up to JJ’s looks (other than the glasses)….





Oh I just LOVE how JJ’s little mind works! When we first got the wii, we designed our mii’s to look exactly like each of us. (Jayla’s is especially perfect). Then one night Jake and I went on a date and Grandma came and watched the kiddos. When we got home Grandma told us that JJ had wanted her to change some things around on his mii. And the next time we went to play it, we saw JJ’s new image with his new skin color! He is so funny. He is definitely 3 years old and he is definitely part of a colorful family. :)

I am not reading too much into either of these identity experiments, they more so just grabbed my attention and got me thinking a little more deeply about how we go about figuring out ‘who we are’. In the book Power of a Praying Parent there is a chapter devoted to praying for your child that they would understand who God created them to be. I’ve realized that the best identity that we can find is our identity in Christ. And, this is what I will pray for all of my children, whether they have my last name or not. Here is the author’s prayer….

Lord,

I pray that You would pour out Your Spirit upon (name of child) this day and anoint him (her) for all that You’ve called him (her) to be and do. Lord, You have said, “Let each one remain with God in that state in which he was called” (1 Corinthians 7:24). May it be for this child according to Your Word, that he never stray from what You have called him to be and do, or try to be something he is not.

Deliver him from any evil plan of the devil to rob him of life, to steal away his uniqueness and giftedness, to compromise the path you’ve called him to walk, or to destroy the person You created him to be. May he not be a follower of anyone but You, but may he be a leader of people into Your kingdom. Help him to grow into a complete understanding of his authority in Jesus, while retaining a submissive and humble spirit. May the fruit of the Spirit, which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control grow in him daily (Galatians 5:22). May he find his identity in You, view himself as Your instrument, and know that he is complete in You. Give him a vision for his life when setting goals for the future and a sense of purpose about what You’ve called him to do. Help him to see himself as You do – from his future not from his past. May he be convinced that Your thoughts toward him are thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give him a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11). Teach him to look to You as his hope for the future. May he understand it is You “who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began” (2 Timothy 1:9). May his commitment to being who You created him to be enable him to grow daily in confidence and Holy Spirit boldness.

Amen.

(prayer from The Power of a Praying Parent by Stormie O’Martian)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Adoption Update

We are getting CLOSER! On Monday we received the following update forwarded from our case worker…this was the response we had been waiting for from the U.S. Embassy in Accra, Ghana regarding our request to have Kofi work on our behalf for the exit interview process:

Thank you for your email dated May 20, 2010. We wish to inform you that we have received your approved I-600 petition. Per your request, please have your designated representative/power of attorney (Kofi Oppong) come to the embassy to pick up a package that has the necessary instructions to proceed with your case. Your designated representative should bring a copy of this email on any Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. to be admitted to the Consular Section. He should also bring a picture identification and a power of attorney letter.

And then, this note was from our case worker:

Yippeeeeee! Praise the Lord on this wonderful sunshine-filled day! You are so close now. I think we might be on your same hopeful time line of the first week of June or shortly thereafter. All we need is Kofi to get the packet then make the appointment, if they won't allow him to make the appointment, we will do it from this end & he will attend in your behalf. I'll let you know as soon as Kofi has the packet in hand; the medical is complete-we only need the exit interview appointment now.

Did you catch that? Our travel could potentially be the first or second week of June! WOOT WOOT! If I have this right, I believe that once the exit interview is complete the visa is issued within 7 to 9 business days….so once we have the interview appointment scheduled we will then be able to book our travel dates. Glad things are rolling now! I started making my packing list for the trip, and I am finishing up a few last minute ‘nesting’ things around the house before Samuel’s arrival. A few weekends ago on our Minnesota tournament trip we picked up some outfits for Samuel at the Mall of America. You know how expectant mothers and grandmothers like to go shopping for clothes for the ‘new baby’? Well, a 5 year old is kind of not a new baby, but that doesn’t stop me from getting warm-fuzzies over these….


Every Sullivan has to have a pair of Jordan’s right? :)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Jake's Thought for the Week

Every Sunday evening or first thing Monday morning I take an hour or two to step away from the non-stop emails, the ringing of the phone, and all the craziness that often surrounds the daily responsibilities of the Kingdom Hoops program. I attempt to step back and admire what people all over the world are doing for the purpose of glorifying Christ. Many weeks I will steal the materials I read to use as the thought for the week. Usually the items I share from others have motivated or challenged me in some way.

As we drove home from another great weekend of basketball I was over-joyed with the improvement many of the players are making on the basketball court. While I was filled with elation from the success of the weekend I was left scratching my head as gripes and complaints began to come in as they do after every weekend. We have certain parents bargaining with other programs about the potential of their kids playing with them while they are playing with us. We had another weekend of players bailing out at the last minute based on what roster they were on. I have a girls program complaining that I do not care about the girls just the boys. Now this was no surprise to me as these are the regular standards of a Sunday evening or early Monday morning. When I become my most frustrated I always rely on the fact that God is using me for the kids and families that want to fully utilize the gifts they have been given to ultimately glorify Christ. This simple truth keeps me motivated and burning with enthusiasm each day.

As I drove home Sunday night I asked God for wisdom in trying to relay to all of the parents & players what we are trying to do at Kingdom Hoops. As I began my readings Monday morning I came across a recent post on the blog ‘Kisses from Katie’. Please Read…………………………………………………………

Post from Kisses from Katie Blog: www.kissesfromkatie.blogspot.com

I have recently been humbled by the privilege to get to know twenty of this community's women on a very personal level. Juliette was a prostitute, sneaking quietly away from her home after her children had fallen asleep and selling her body to be able to put some food on the table for them in the morning. Veronica was brewing alcohol as a quick way to make money to support her children, one of whom was literally dying of starvation. On days when alcohol didn't sell, she would bring the mash that it is made from home to her family and they would swallow it until they fell asleep. She was making her children drunk so that they were unable to feel the pains of hunger. Todi, widowed after her third child was born, had recently taken in her sister's five children after her sudden death. "What was my choice?" she asked when explaining the situation to me. "God says I look after the orphans, I look after the orphans." Ten of them sleep together on the floor in a home about half the size of my giant kitchen table. Jja Jja Maria looks after her three grandchildren though she can barely walk due to severe back pain. Kasifa only has use of one arm as a result of polio when she was younger but uses her one good arm to pick through the trash for some food for her 6 children. They each have a story that would blow your mind.

As I read this all I could think about was how blessed we are. I get to coach basketball, we have a huge facility, and we get to use our gifts and talents to maximize the platform given to us by God. I read the excerpt above and could not fathom how we so often miss the joys in our life because we are upset about a loss, a coach, playing time, or a perception. When I drive home after practice each night I get to lay my daughter down to sleep after she gives me a kiss followed by 10 giggles. Each night I get to walk into a room where JJ and Sam sleep that would be twice the size of most houses in Africa. I get to do devotionals with them and talk about how they saw God work in their lives that day. I get to hold my wife’s hand and share some of the stories from the day. I get to wake up to “Hiii Daddy!” from my little girl while JJ grills me about the number of meetings I have on that particular day. I get to challenge young men and women to strive for more. I get to have a young boy put his arm around me this weekend and say thanks for getting him a meal that evening. We get to share in the high’s and low’s with young people as they strive to reach their goals on the basketball court while helping them as they search for their place in this fallen world. I get to receive an email from a young man in our high school program last week who tells me he is ready to commit more of himself to become successful. He says he is ready to fully utilize the gifts he has been given because he wants to be the first member of his family to graduate college.

I am certainly not mad or upset about the weekly complaints that are excusing many of our world’s young people from ever accomplishing all that God has designed for them. Rather, I am simply challenged to begin to see the small joys God has blessed all of us with each day. I am challenged to ask God if there is more that I can do? Am I fully maximizing all that he has given me? Yes, Kingdom Hoops is an elite basketball program in the United States garnering great success on the court but winning a basketball game or a big trophy is not what God ultimately wants from us. Instead he wants us to use those successes to open the doors where God’s work can really begin. Who knows what God has planned for all of us but I know it is more than emotionally living based on personal success on a basketball court.

The Kingdom Hoops program is definitely not designed for everyone. I simply pray daily that through basketball God will allow us to accomplish all that he has intended for his purposes! When we get frustrated over what happens in a basketball game, in the classroom, or in any other arena where frustrations seem to shine so brightly, just imagine if you were that parent whose children were starving – whose family members were dying. What if you were the one having to sell your body so your children could eat the next morning? God has a plan for all of us even though some days we will not understand it, but after I did my readings today I know he has blessed all of us ten-fold and now it is our responsibility to do great things with it!

Have a great week!

Jake

Monday, May 24, 2010

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A Promise for Samuel

I’m reading through the Psalms this summer as my women’s bible study takes a break until September. This morning I was at Psalm 10, and as often happens, God met me and my heart in His word, with the exact encouragement that I needed today regarding our adoption. I love how God does that. I love how He will speak right into our very souls, if we take the time to meet with Him. These verses are the cry of my heart this morning:

Psalm 10

12 Arise, Lord! Lift up your hand, O God.
Do not forget the helpless.

14 But you, O God, do see trouble and grief;
you consider it to take it in hand.
The victim commits himself to you;
you are the helper of the fatherless.

17 You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted;
you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,
18 defending the fatherless and the oppressed…

Dear Samuel ~ These are God’s promises to you today. He has not forgotten you. He listens to your cries. He is your helper. He is your defender. He has carved a spot for you in our hearts. We are coming. He will send us to you at the exact and perfect time that we are supposed to be there. God is never a day late. He is never an hour late. He is never a minute late. His timing is perfect.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Adoption Update

I am sure you have been waiting and wondering where my adoption update is! Well, we still do not have our travel dates set, but we have gotten a few more updates since I last posted about our approval. I will update you by way of our case worker’s emails….this one was from last Wednesday, May 12th:

I wanted to let you know that Kofi has agreed to complete the visa exit interview in your behalf. This could shorten your required time in Ghana significantly. Now, the visa will be issued to Kofi so it will be in hand prior to you even arriving so essentially you can arrive to Ghana, pick up Samuel and come home as soon as you wish. The processing time for a visa is anywhere from 7-9 business days, they are always issued on a Friday. Kofi will be going to the US Embassy tomorrow again in your behalf. I will keep you posted as things progress from here.

So, this was WONDERFUL news! Having Kofi work to complete the exit interview on our behalf is certainly the most cost effective/time effective way to move forward. I had not been fully comfortable with setting a travel date to do the exit interview ourselves knowing that the Embassy often changes appointment times without much notice. I had nightmares of us booking our tickets to travel, getting there, and then having them change the exit interview appointment to the next week or something. It is much more reassuring to know that all of this will be completed before we travel, and that Samuel will have his visa in hand and be ready to come home once we arrive. Since this email, we had to fill out a few more forms highlighting Kofi as our power of attorney, and requesting the Embassy to schedule the interview appointment with Kofi on our behalf. However, as has been true to our adoption process, there has been a delay in getting the Embassy to respond to our requests….and there have been numerous requests. This was the update from our case worker yesterday:

Kofi has successfully completed Samuel's required visa medical, however he is having trouble getting the US Embassy to issue him 'the packet' which will allow him to schedule the needed interview. I have once again, sent the request for Kofi to pick up this packet, etc. If we do not hear back from them within 48 hours, we will need to make some phone calls.

As you can see from these updates, once the visa exit interview is scheduled things will progress very quickly, but we are having significant trouble getting the Embassy to respond back to us just to set up the interview with Kofi! Arrghhhh!!!!!!!!! I know that we will eventually get it scheduled, but right now we have no choice but to await the Ghanaian Embassy and their timeline. So, please pray that the Ghana Embassy would schedule the visa exit interview with Kofi as soon as possible.

Also, the visa interviews for Big Sam & Prince were pushed back to May 25th which is next Tuesday. Please pray that they will be approved for their student visas.

I will keep you updated as things progress!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Happy Birthday Jayla Joy!!!!!!!!!!

Little Miss Jayla is 2 today!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! HAPPY BIRTHDAY SWEETIE GIRL!!!!!!!!!!!!
Last night we had a big ‘ol party with a bunch of cute little munchkins! You know, one of my favorite things is watching little kids interact with each other! You just never know when one of them might whap another one on the head with an ear of corn from the little tikes grill, or when one might flip the ball pit castle over on another kid and then keep them trapped inside while jumping on the top, or when someone might get pushed off the swing or the big wheel or the trampoline because they weren’t sharing, or when one kid might decide to punch another kid just to see what happens. But, somehow, little kids have a way of working things out, even when the language is pushing, shoving, hitting and yelling. Don’t you wish you could solve problems that way sometimes? :)

Well, Jayla’s birthday party was filled with all the above scenarios plus many more, and it was a BLAST! Party munchkins in attendance were...

Max, age 2

Halle, age 1 & Kayley, age 3

Tessa, age 2

Caeden, age 4

Ashton, age 2

Lil JJ, age 1 1/2

Baby Malia, age 10 months

And of course, brother JJ, age 3 1/2
Nyla, age 5 partied with us too, but she was the only one I didn’t get a picture of. Now that you see that rowdy bunch I am sure you can imagine the fun that we had! And now, for the birthday girl recap. Jayla had so much fun playing with her balloons that I could hardly catch a picture of her because she was running all over the house chasing them!

She also had her favorite….nacho cheese Doritos…..and even sweet-talked Grandma into giving her a little stash in her own ziplock! She climbed into the ball pit and created her own little Dorito haven for about 10 minutes!

Other than that, she had fun chasing around all of her friends outside, playing with wand bubbles, and going through all the usual birthday party festivities.

She put on her shy face when we sang Happy Birthday…..

But thoroughly enjoyed the end product….a lil cake and ice cream all to herself!

Happy Birthday Jayla Joy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Love you SOOOOOOOO MUCH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Yaw's Graduation Party

On Sunday we had Yaw’s graduation party at our house!!!! The fun started on Saturday when we had to go around and pick up everything I had rented and ordered for the party. My help showed up bright and early Saturday morning looking like this:
That’s my mom, grandpa and grandma all crammed into Grandpa Tim’s pick up truck. They are always ready to help with anything and everything, and I am thankful they only live 1 hour away! So, we were off to the rental place to pick up tables and chairs, and then we were off to Hy-vee to pick up the buns and meat for the sandwiches. As we entered Hy-Vee my grandma hopped on the motorized cart like she always does, only JJ had never been shopping with her before so this was all new to him. I wish I could have gotten a picture of his face when he saw great-grandma get on the cart and start tootling around. It was sort of a mix of shock and laughter as he watched her. I think he thought she was on a toy car for grown-ups or something….he definitely didn’t understand that she needed it b/c her body is getting a little rusty and she can’t take the walking…..he just thought she wanted to have some fun. :)

Back at the house our main job of the day was to make all the sandwiches.

Lucky for us some friends stopped by and we put them to work! Well, the mommies and grandmas worked and JJ and Nyla went to the ‘hotel’!!!!!!

And of course we had to try out the party food!

Then Sunday rolled around and I had the party host anxieties on my mind like - What if nobody comes? What if we have too much food? What if we run out of food? What if it rains? And what am I forgetting? And then, the party went off without a hitch! Lots of Yaw’s classmates came, as well as teachers and coaches and parents of his friends. Somehow between helping me keep the serving dishes full and serving punch my mom was able to snap some pictures of our fun:

My mom and grandma baked 5 sheet pans of dessert bars!

Some of Yaw's classmates watching his picture video.

Yaw had to show off his ladder golf skills.

JJ and Grandpa Tim played some baseball.

The girls kept track of the little ones.

And Grandma Lori brought out the bubbles.
So, my first shot at hosting a graduation party is in the books. Whew! :)

On Monday night we went to Yaw’s senior recognition night and I will end with his bio that was printed in the program:

What is your favorite high school memory?
Winning regionals

What is your favorite teacher quote?
“Sit down! You’re making me nervous!” – Mr. Caves

What are your future plans?
Become an architect and start my own business.

What advice would you give to the underclassmen?
Anything you do, do it with all seriousness and it will pay off.

Over the past 4 years, God has taught me…..
To trust in Him.

What verse means the most to you at this time?
Philippians 4:13 - I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Jake's Thought for the Week

PURPOSE
(An excerpt from the book Uncommon by Tony Dungy)

What kind of world do you want?
Think anything
Let’s start at the start
Build a masterpiece
History starts now
Be careful what you wish for
Start now.

~Five for Fighting, “World”~

SO WHY ARE YOU HERE, anyway? Why are you wherever you happen to be at the moment you read these words?

I believe that God knew that you would be in the spot you are in right now, with the passions and gifts that you have and the platform that only you enjoy. I believe that the imprint you are meant to leave on this world is not accidental or coincidental. Your life has been intentionally designed by God to have a uniquely significant and eternal impact on the world around you.

Think about that for a moment – your life has been intentionally designed by God to have a unique and significant impact on everyone you meet, and many you may never meet. What if we all lived our lives embracing that idea as true – what would our lives begin to look like? What would we attempt to do that we never would have attempted otherwise? What difference would we begin to make in the lives of those around us? What would our communities begin to look like? What would our schools begin to look like? How many of our children and youth who find themselves with no hope for tomorrow would suddenly begin to see the possibilities in their lives? What problems in the world that seem too big to resolve would begin to be addressed?

Though I do think there are things that each of us can do to improve ourselves and our lot in life, I believe first and foremost that I operate from God’s grace. That grace is not a license to do whatever I choose but rather an understanding that despite my best efforts, I will fall short in my striving for God, and that’s okay. Falling short is not the goal, but it’s still okay. When it happens, I get up, dust myself off, and press on toward the mark.

And as I press on, I think that I am called to ask, “What kind of world do I want?” Anyone can complain, but I need to be prepared to offer thoughts on how I can improve – myself, my home, the United States, and the world.

I read last summer that Indianapolis’s public schools had the nation’s lowest graduation rate for males – 19 percent. That’s fewer than one in five. My goal shouldn’t be to cast blame but rather to determine what I can do to make an impact on that statistic, even if it’s “only” for one kid. One kid, or one small group – and then another and another. And, who knows? As the word gets out about one-man crusade, maybe someone else will join the effort. How many kids could we reach then?

We have all seen people less fortunate than ourselves, others who seem to have little hope for anything to change in their lives without some external intervention. We have all been saddened as we watched people in less developed countries die from starvation or disease for want of food, medicine, or other things that we take for granted. We may not have the full solution or the wherewithal to solve these problems ourselves – but we do have our passions and abilities, and we can begin to make a difference today.

I believe my purpose is this: to serve the Lord and use all that He has given me to help others to the best of my ability. When I’m staying focused on that, it allows me to find the joy and abundant life that Christ promised, even if we don’t win the Super Bowl or I don’t meet every goal that I have for my life.

We’re not always going to reach those things we really desire; in fact, failure may happen more often than not. But we can find peace and happiness in the knowledge that we’re striving within our real purpose that honors God. If we’re striving only for ourselves, then we’ll be dissatisfied, always yearning for more, while the world waits.

Strive instead within a purpose – your purpose – that honors God.

Have a great week!

-Jake-

Friday, May 14, 2010

Big Sam, Prince & Ezekiel

Do you remember me telling you about these two kids that we met in Ghana?

Big Sam.....


And, Prince.....

Well, I haven’t done a very good job on keeping you updated about them. And, in fact there hasn’t been too much to share, until now that is. If you remember back a few months ago, I had mentioned that Big Sam was going to be the next student from Ghana to take part in Jake’s hosting program. In fact, I had noted that he was supposed to be getting his student visa shortly after we returned home from our Ghana trip, and that he would be arriving to Iowa by the end of January. The coach that Jake has been working with in Ghana, Mark, was to be the one helping Big Sam get his passport and visa and get through the Embassy appointments. Well, it turns out that Mark is a great coach and a great help with coordinating all of the things we need help with regarding Project:Ghana, but his skills in working with the Ghana Embassy were a little rusty. So, after a few months went by, we decided to see if Kofi, our adoption rep would be able to help with the hosting program on the Ghana side….helping the students obtain their student visas, and getting through all of the steps required by the Embassy. It’s a lot of work, a lot of trips to the Embassy for various appointments, and it takes a lot of knowledge and expertise to know how to do it all. Kofi was the perfect man for the job, and he jumped on board and is now helping us with the hosting program!

For the past month or so, Kofi has been picking up Big Sam and Prince and taking them to their various appointments at the Embassy to complete the steps leading up to getting their student visa. A few weeks ago they received their passports, and now, they have their last appointment next Wednesday, May 19th, which is the approval for their student visas, God-willing.

Now, meanwhile, you also know that Kofi has been working with our adoption agency to coordinate the adoption of our Samuel (so many Samuels!). Well, it just so happened that Kofi had an Embassy appointment coordinated for all 3 of these boys last week on the same day! Kofi sent us a picture of these 3 together. Even though this picture is not clear at all, it’s more just the idea of having these 3 together that is so cool! I cannot stop smiling when I think about it! To me this picture says GOD IS WORKING!!!!!

The most exciting part of all of this is that we are trying very hard to coordinate it so that when we travel to bring our Samuel home, that Big Sam and Prince will also be visa ready, and can travel to the United States with us. I mean seriously, if that happens, we are going to be rockin’ down the house at the Des Moines Airport when we get in!

I previously had shared that we found a host family for Big Sam – he will stay with the Gerlach Family in Des Moines and attend Des Moines Christian High School as a junior. When we got back from Ghana, Jake already had a family in mind to host Prince, and when he shared Prince’s story with this family, they said yes without hesitation. Prince will be staying with the Vander Weide’s who also live in Des Moines and Prince will attend Des Moines Christian and will be in 7th grade.

Now, there is also one more youth basketball player that we met while we were in Ghana that will be taking part in Jake’s exchange program, but he will not stay with a host family as he is ready to head straight into college. This player’s name is Ezekiel….a funny story is that he was actually on the team playing against the Kingdom Hoops Ghana team on the game that was scheduled while we were there! Jake immediately noticed his talent and gave him his contact info. Ezekiel and his family were able to start working on his student visa shortly after our Ghana trip. They sent film of him playing in some games, and Jake was able to send it off to colleges that would be a good fit for Ezekiel. In early February Indian Hills Community College (a junior college in Ottumwa) offered Ezekiel a full ride scholarship and that is where he will be attending school! Ezekiel’s student visa was approved on Monday of this week and he is supposed to be picking it up at his last appointment with the Embassy today. So, he will be all set to book his flight to the U.S., and right now we are also waiting to see if we can coordinate his travel to Iowa with us on our trip back.

When I think of these kids I can’t help but be so excited for each of them individually, and how much their lives are going to change. Although the world may view situations in Africa as hopeless or helpless or ‘too far gone’, I know that God doesn’t see it that way at all. He sees individuals when the world sees too many. He sees personal situations when the world just throws them all into one. HE gives hope to the hopeless. HE defends the oppressed. HE is near to all who call on Him in truth. HE hears the cry of those who fear Him and saves them. HE determines the steps of every man from every nation. And HE will put a new song in the hearts of these kids. HE has a plan for them.

Psalm 40:1-3
I waited patiently for the LORD;
he turned to me and heard my cry.

He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.

He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear
and put their trust in the LORD.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Rescued

On Sunday night Jake and I were getting ready to go to bed when CNN began airing the documentary ‘Rescued’. Within the first minute of the preview, we were no longer going to bed, but instead glued to the TV. This was a story of an orphanage in Haiti called the Lighthouse. Within the documentary the reporter followed the specific stories of two orphans at the Lighthouse….sharing how they got to the orphanage, life at the orphanage, and how their lives were changed after the earthquake. The documentary also told the story of the wife and husband who started the orphanage. They had so many wisdom-filled ‘quotes’ that they said throughout their ‘interviews’ which was really them just sharing their heart as the reporter tagged along each day. I wish I would have been able to commit to memory all of the awesome points that they had. Specifically they talked about how devastating the situation in Haiti was….and they were talking pre-earthquake. When they started the orphanage they realized that they had to stay focused on what they were called to do there, because if they looked at the circumstances surrounding their situation (such as 300,000 children living legally as child slaves, sex trafficking, street begging, orphan crisis, poverty crisis, etc.) they felt at times that the situation was too overwhelming. I also noticed them saying exact lines that I’ve heard Jake say before about the youth of Ghana….like how the goal is to educate them and raise them up so that one day they will be able to help their own country. A few times I noticed both the wife and husband referring to the logic of a ‘starfish story’ each on separate occasions. I googled the starfish story and found it of course. This starfish story has SO MUCH MORE of an impact if you’ve seen this documentary, but I think you can also relate it into the context of adoption….and making a difference for one. What follows is the starfish story…I am also including links to CNN if you want to catch a glimpse of the Rescued documentary….although these short excerpts do not do the full documentary justice at all. Hopefully they will be airing it again.

The Starfish Story
(adapted from The Star Thrower)
by Loren Eiseley (1907 - 1977)

Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.

One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.

He came closer still and called out "Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?"

The young man paused, looked up, and replied "Throwing starfish into the ocean."

"I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?" asked the somewhat startled wise man.

To this, the young man replied, "The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don't throw them in, they'll die."

Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, "But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can't possibly make a difference!"

At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, "It made a difference for that one."

* * *

And, here are the links:

Rescued Trailer Preview Video (it starts with a 25 second ad for Google):
http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/world/2010/04/16/haiti.rescued.trailer.cnn

Excerpt of the story:
http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/americas/05/06/rescued.orphans.haiti/

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Jake's Thought for the Week

Over the past few weeks some of Jake’s Class of 2010 players made their final decision of where they will be playing college basketball. Below is a list of recent commitments. You should recognize at least one of the names. :)

Zach McCabe: University of Iowa
Dau Jok: University of Penn
Trayvonn Wright: North Dakota State
Branden Stubbs: Cedarville University
Trevor Hook: Upper Iowa University
Donivine Stuart: Bradley University
Nana Yaw Sapon-Amoah: North Dakota State
Riley Stuve: Indian Hills JC
Drew Bentley: University of Wisconsin-Platteville
Austin Hennings: Mid-America Nazarene University
Chad Malloy: Grandview College

So, Yaw has officially decided on North Dakota State! We better start shopping for a winter coat NOW! :)

And, here is Jake’s Thought for the Week – an excerpt taken from Tony Dungy’s book Uncommon: Chapter 17

Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.
-Robert F. Kennedy-

I REALLY WISH I HAD learned more about failure when I was young. I didn’t realize just how often it would rear its ugly head. I saw successful people – either in their jobs, in sports, or with their families – and didn’t have much of an appreciation for the hard work and the setbacks that go along with that success. I’m often introduced today as one of only three people to win a Super Bowl as a player and as a head coach. What they don’t always say is that there were twenty-seven straight seasons that ended in disappointment between those two Super Bowl wins.

The beauty of what I’ve learned through a life in sports, however, is that failure happens – regularly. And failure, as it turns out, is a constant in the human experience. I’ve also learned that if you’re afraid of failure, you won’t try to do very much. But if you’re going to chase meaningful dreams and do significant things, you have to be willing to come up short sometimes. I hope that you will fail less than I have, but even so, we all fail. Count on it. The more I learned about those people I admired for their successes, the more that I also began to admire them for the way they handled failures. Success is really a journey of persistence and perseverance in spite of failure.

In some way, failure feels like a dirty little secret because people rarely want to discuss their own failures. But in reality, we’re all wearing masks to cover our shortcomings, all thinking that the feelings of self-doubt and misgiving are ours alone. Nothing could be further from the truth; failure is part of being human.

The topic of failure belongs in the general category of facing adversity. The difference, I suppose, is that failure is viewed as a result, while adversity is seen as something you work your way through. To truly accomplish your goals, however, I think failure has to be viewed as part of the process. Thomas Edison said that he didn’t fail repeatedly; he merely found ten thousand ways not to make a lightbulb.

The journey through adversity is inevitable if we’re striving for improvement. If things are progressing smoothly, where’s the need for self-examination and growth? Why would we stop and evaluate how we could have done something better if we were always successful, always reaching the outcomes we have set our sights on? Our players lift weights constantly and have refined their bodies in the process. They have learned through adversity and failure of being beaten by someone stronger on the other side of the line that they need to improve to succeed. My Dad, the physiologist, explained to me that in weight lifting, the muscle fibers are broken down when they are stressed, which then leads to muscle growth. The same is true for other kinds of growth.

Through pressure, stress, and adversity, we are strengthened – in our character, in our faith, and in our ability to get out of bed again and give it one more try.

I was recently talking about hardships with James Brown, the studio host of the The NFL on CBS. He said that he has been called an “overnight success,” and then he shook his head and laughed. “Yeah. After the first twenty years of toiling, sure… then it was overnight.”

To me, this shows toughness. Our players so often talk about being “tough,” but I’m not sure they grasp what that truly means. Toughness is shown in how you respond to adversity. Can you respond without losing your footing and your direction? If so, that shows me that you’re tough. Life is messy. We don’t always get a happy ending, and sometimes the middle isn’t so happy either. You never really know how tough people are until they encounter the rough spots. We’re all tough when things are going our way. We’re all tough when we’re getting the breaks. That’s easy.

But the truly tough ones are the ones who stay grounded in their values and focused on their goals when things are challenging. When things in life don’t go according to plan, the tough man will exhibit a determination to reach their goals no matter the obstacles.

I try to give our players some latitude and allow them to fail so they learn to respond to problems and then grow. Toughness, even on the football field, is more appropriately thought of as mental, not physical, endurance.

People often ask the question, “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?” Obviously, there are no easy answers to that question. But I do know this: God is constantly working in us through it all, molding and shaping us into what He created us to be, and it’s in the valleys of our failures where He is working hardest, making us into something uncommon.

Have a Great Week!!
Jake

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Adoption Update - THE BEST NEWS EVER! :)

Tuesdays are supposed to be Jake’s Thought for the Week days, but you are going to have to wait to read it until tomorrow because I COULD NOT POSSIBLY WAIT ONE MORE DAY TO TELL YOU THAT….

OUR ADOPTION HAS BEEN APPROVED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

FINAL APPROVAL THAT IS. ON BOTH THE I-600 AND I-604 FORM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

You may not know what this means. IT MEANS THAT WE ARE CURRENTLY SCHEDULING OUR VISA EXIT INTERVIEW WITH THE EMBASSY IN GHANA TO BRING HOME OUR SON!!!!!!!!!!!!! WAAHHHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Please excuse all of my shouting but I have so much excitement inside of me right now that I can hardly stand it!!!!

We have requested the week of May 24th through the 30th or the first week in June for our exit interview. No, that is not a typo. Kofi our adoption rep in Ghana is working on getting Samuel’s visa medical completed with the Embassy now, and he is also scheduling our appointment with the Embassy for the exit process. I feel like I need to say that again to make sure I am not dreaming. HE IS SCHEDULING OUR APPOINTMENT WITH THE EMBASSY FOR THE EXIT PROCESS!!!!!!!!!!!!! YIPPPEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!! We are hoping to know our dates of travel within the next week!!!! :)

Good night. I don’t even know what to do with myself right now. Two Fridays ago we had gotten word from our case worker that she had talked with the officer working on our I-600 and I-604 approvals. She said that the officer just needed one more document from us to give us approval (a document which wasn’t listed to send but that we already had). Our case worker faxed the officer the document that day and the officer said she was going to approve our case and would be mailing it out. But, I kept waiting and waiting and waiting until I got the official approval in the mail because I have learned that it’s not official until it’s written down and given the stamp of approval. And yesterday on a cold, rainy, windy, dreary Monday, a ray of sunshine was sitting there in our mailbox, just waiting for us.

God is so faithful. God is SO faithful. God is SO FAITHFUL! GOD YOU ARE SO FAITHFUL!!!!!! To read in my Bible that God is faithful is one completely wonderful thing. BUT, to experience His faithfulness first-hand the way we have in this adoption journey is an immeasurable feeling. What can I say? I don’t know. I have lots to say today but I can’t quite yet formulate anything other than shouts of joy. There is no better way to ‘find words’ that adequately describe even a glimpse of God’s character than in the Psalms. This one jumped out at me today.

Psalm 146

Praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord, O my soul.
I will praise the Lord all my life;
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.

Do not put your trust in princes,
in mortal men, who cannot save.
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
on that very day their plans come to nothing.

Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord his God,
the Maker of heaven and earth,
the sea, and everything in them—
the Lord, who remains faithful forever.

He upholds the cause of the oppressed
and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free,
the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the alien
and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

The Lord reigns forever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord.

Those words describe what I am feeling perfectly today. And, as if that weren’t enough, I have to share this picture with you too…
I had snapped this one in my picture-taking spot on the night before we heard from our case worker that we were going to be approved. When I showed my photographer friend this picture the next day she said, “I almost called you last night to tell you to look out your window. I saw the silver lining in the clouds and I wondered if you could see it.”

Oh, I see it alright. :) Thank you Jesus!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Minnesota Trip Picture Overload

This past weekend we went up to the frozen tundra (Minnesota) for a tournament. It. Was. Freezing. Seriously….kind of like going through winter all over again! :) We went up a day early so we could squeeze in some time with Grandpa & Grandma Sullivan before the games started for the weekend. Here’s a picture of ‘all of us’ minus Grandpa Sullivan and me of course:

That’s Uncle Nick (Jake’s bro) dusting off his basketball skills in the driveway with Yaw and Sam. Did you notice Daddy up in the tree?

Check out Uncle Nick’s ups…


He can still shoot it too!


Jayla & cousin Dakota


Brothers


Grandma Jane & Jayla


Grandma Jane & JJ


On Friday morning Jayla decided it was time to potty train her baby. My mom told me this was coming and I guess Friday was the big day for baby. She did good. :)

Then we were off to the Mall of America! I think we hit up every single sports store on every single floor. The boys’ favorite store was Champs! And of course we had to take our annual trip into the amusement park at the mall. They have the best rides for little kids.

Checking out the rides...


Diego's bus


Jayla’s favorite was the carousel. She was so excited to ride the horse!



The boys did the log ride and JJ got absolutely soaked!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Saturday and Sunday was all fun and games at the gym.


Here is the tournament gang. From the left it is Jayla, Nyla, lil JJ, big JJ, and Keayla.

They played this roll the ball game over and over all weekend. Jayla would get rolling with laughter whenever the baseball would bounce. It was one of those things that she thought was so funny and we don’t know why!


This is Coach Clark with Jayla. He has a golden retriever and Jayla loves to go through the pictures of his ‘puppy’ on his phone. The minute she sees Clark the first thing she says is ‘puppy’ and then Clark brings up the pictures and she browses through them. Someday we will have a puppy Jayla! Someday!


Colorin.

And that was our trip! So far this year we have been to tournaments in Wisconsin, Arkansas, Kansas, Minnesota, and the boys have also gone to Texas for a tournament. Coming up this weekend Jake is hosting a tournament at the facility in Ankeny so we get a little break from traveling. JJ is absolutely LOVING all this traveling. Last week when we had gotten home from Kansas I literally had just finished putting away the laundry on Monday and he asked me when we were going to pack up again! At least he adds a little enthusiasm into the packing routine for me.
:)