Monday, February 28, 2011

Where You Go, I'll Go

Adoption starts off as completely heartbreaking. Either a birthmother is going to experience grieving the loss of her child, or a child has already experienced the loss of one or both parents. Or the child may have been living in horrific circumstances, experienced horrific events, or been abused and neglected. Or a young teenage girl has been abandoned by her boyfriend who she thought loved her, and now she finds herself all alone, shunned by her family, with no one to help her. I wish none of these scenarios were even possible. I wish everyone could parent their children. I wish everyone had the resources to provide for their families…resources in which we have an abundance of here in the United States. I wish there were no teenage pregnancies or mothers who are mentally unstable and neglect their children. I wish there were no alcoholics or abusive dads or couples whose parenting rights are terminated because they are not capable of taking care of their children. I wish there was no AIDS or malaria or starvation. I wish everyone on the face of this earth had access to medicine and medical care and clean water.

But here is a reality check. We don’t live in a world where everything is fine and dandy. The Bible reminds us that we live in a deeply fallen world. In his book Adopted for Life Russell Moore says this:

Adoption isn’t natural. We have adoptions because we live in a world groaning under the curse of sin and death. Parents are killed. Diseases ravage villages. Fathers abandon mothers. Mothers get pregnant without marriage. It was not so from the beginning. The hard questions about adoption – and the easy ones too – are only with us because something’s gone wrong with the world (page 165).

I’ve heard the comment that other people’s screw ups shouldn’t be our problem. And when this comment comes from someone who doesn’t believe in Jesus, then I leave it as pure ignorance and move on. But for those of us who have put our faith in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we are held to a different expectation. We ourselves know what it is like to have been SAVED from a deadly peril. From a life of sin that only leads to death. WE KNOW what that feels like. Now, doesn’t it make absolute sense to live our lives in a way that offers this same grace and mercy to others? We must not forget about the wrath we have been saved from. We must not forget about when we ourselves were destitute and enslaved.

Jesus warns us that we cannot pretend to be blind and turn away from this world we live in that is in DESPERATE need:

Mathew 25: 34-45
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

As followers of Jesus, we are urged by our King and Savior himself to not neglect the deep needs of the people around us. For anyone who claims to be a Christ follower, this is a command. It’s not just a calling for some and not for others. Jake and I weren’t called to the devastation overseas. We weren’t called to adopt. No. In fact, I’ve even used that silly phrase on previous posts and I don’t like it anymore….here’s why: I do not remember ever reading in my Bible that God was only going to call some people and not others to encourage the oppressed, defend the fatherless, or plead the case for the orphan and the widow. I don’t recall the verse that says only some are called to look after orphans and widows in their distress. I don’t recall the verse that says only some are called to provide for the needy. I think this is an excuse that Christians have come with. “Well, I don’t feel ‘called’ to do this or that.” What exactly does that mean? WE WERE CALLED to take up our cross and follow our Savior, wherever He goes. And that ‘calling’ is for all of us who claim to know Him.

Look at the life Jesus lived during his time on earth. Jesus always showed up for those who were undeserving, outcasts, those who had bad reputations, the lonely, the diseased, the orphaned, the widowed, and those enslaved to a life of sin. These are the people Jesus came for. He didn’t shield himself from unbelievers, he didn’t shield himself from those who were in a lower social class than him, and he didn’t avoid people who everyone else left for lost. Instead, he just headed into the direction of those in desperate need, and he offered mercy and grace. Now it’s our turn to do the same. Today, right here and now this means following Jesus into the homes of the broken, where a father has up and left his wife and 4 children and is not coming back. Following Him into the cafeteria at work to strike up a conversation with an atheist, not to start an argument, but because we should genuinely care about the person inside the exterior. Following Him into Birthright to urge downtrodden, impoverished women to choose life. Following Him onto an airplane to fly to an earthquake shattered land where scabies and horrible diseases have taken a hold of almost every child, where people are still living in tents, and where Satan prowls around looking to stamp out all hope. Following Him into unsafe, unknown places because that is where the need is, and you can’t get there by living in a little bubble. Following Him outside your comfort zone to come into contact with all different races, all different people groups, all different backgrounds, all different lifestyles, all different languages, simply to create relationships in the hopes that it will open up the door to share the gospel. Following Him into mentoring a child who has been deserted, abused, and neglected by his own parents. Following Him by opening up your front door because someone is in need, and they came to YOU. Following Him by loving the unlovable. Following Him by letting go of your picture-perfect life that you envisioned of a two story house, neighborhood block parties, two vacations a year, and a high end car, because your money could be better used by investing in LIVES of people that share no genes with you. Following him by letting go of your picture-perfect family where all your children look like you because He has given you the means to share your life with an orphan. Following Him by exposing yourself to rough environments because people need to hear about the hope of salvation that you hold inside. Following Him by surrendering and sacrificing your wants and your needs and your comfort and your safety for others. Because that is what He did for us. Even while we were still sinning. He came for us. Now, who in turn will we show up for? WE ARE JESUS’ HANDS AND FEET here in this fallen world. We’re up.

I DON’T WANT TO THINK ABOUT THE SADNESS AND DEVASTATION OF ANY OF THESE SITUATIONS EITHER. But I cannot turn away and pretend not to see. I cannot harden my heart, shut my ears and sing ‘la-la-la’ and claim that I didn’t know. I toss and turn at night thinking about the orphan somewhere in Africa, living without a family, without ever knowing what it’s like to be tucked in at night by a loving mommy. My heart strings pull for the adolescent girl floating around foster care homes because she is too old for anyone to consider adopting her and is probably by now convinced that no one will ever care about her. I know somewhere out there a birthmother has just left her child on the doorstep of social welfare because she cannot provide food for her any longer. Thoughts of the underpriviledged who will receive no opportunities to escape the bondage of their family’s poverty are in my head as I drive through Des Moines. As I sit at high school basketball games my mind turns to the hundreds of youth in our cities and towns who have never been told that they were created for a PURPOSE and that their life has meaning. We pass a pregnancy center in the city and I watch as a young girl wanders in alone and I wonder if any of her family is there to support her. When I sit in church I think of the college students on campus not giving a care to their life, living for the pleasures of the world, and I wonder Will someone invite them to a bible study the way someone cared enough and was bold enough to invite me? As I ready myself for our upcoming Ghana trip I wonder if my heart can take anymore hopeless sights, horrific conditions, corruption, tragedy, and encounters with people who have been left for loss.

But I know I can take it.

I know, because I know the calling. The calling isn’t whether or not to adopt, whether or not to move here or there, whether or not to help 20 miles down the interstate or millions of miles across the ocean. No, the calling is simply this: to take up my cross daily and follow my Savior, wherever He goes. I can’t shut my eyes and claim not to see the desperate needs of the world I live in. I can’t put my fingers in my ears and pretend not to hear what my Savior says. I can’t harden my heart and plead ignorance of the example He has set. No, I cannot. I will not. And this I know will be true: Jesus assures me, that when I follow Him, He is there. I hear him loud and clear. I tell you the truth whatever you have done for the least of these, you have done to me. He’s there, and so I want to be too.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Justice Taekwondo Board Break

This is a really quick video, but I wanted you to be able to watch Justice breaking a board at taekwondo! They are taught to line themselves up first with a trial run to get positioning, but when they are going to break they are to yell beforehand so that the person who is holding the board has a warning that force is going to be coming.

He makes it look pretty easy doesn't he?! It seems to me that breaking boards is more of a mental game than anything. Of course you have to have good technique, but it is really mind over matter. This is definitely my FAVORITE part about watching taekwondo practice. The girl breaking next to Justice in the video was breaking two boards at once, so double thickness. She and her younger brother are great role models to be looked up to in the class. They are very serious, focused and execute every move perfectly....most say her younger brother is going to be an Olympian. When any of the brown or black belts break boards, the onlookers are in awe. It's pretty neat. Justice is starving to be able to try and break two boards at once, but they won't let him yet. I think he has to learn how to break with his hand first before they add in another board. The technique that Justice used to break is called a reverse side kick. As a white belt he broke boards with a regular side kick. So, the progression will keep going up!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Jayla Update

You know my spunky little girl is holding her own among her two brothers right? Oh yes, little Miss Jayla knows right how to make her way in this household. First off, she is starting to sport a ‘motherly attitude’ towards her brothers….i.e. she’s getting a little bossy with them and may actually sometimes convince them that she is the boss! And if she doesn’t get her way? Well, just turn on the tears (it works with Daddy every time). Jayla is still copying everything I say and is sort of a little mini-me. I often have to remind her that she is not the mommy, and that I will take care of doing the ‘bossing’ around here. :) Here are some examples: The second I get dinner set on the table she will holler, “Bo-oyzz…dinner’s READY!!!!!!!” and if JJ does something that she knows he’s going to get in trouble for she will say “JJ, go to your room!” or if she sees me go and start the car and get my purse packed up she will say, “Bo-oyzzz, it’s time to go! Let’s get your shoes on!”. You can imagine how hilarious this is to me as the mom, but I am sure you’ve guessed that JJ and Justice get a little annoyed! Jayla has also started to take an interest into everything that I do in the kitchen. She likes to pull up the little desk chair and stand on it and watch as I prepare meals or do the dishes. She always says, “Mommy, can I help you?”

Jayla’s favorite thing to do is still to take care of her baby dolls. The other day Jake was working at the dining room table and he had observed Jayla most of the day and he said, “Does she ever stop talking to her dolls?” This is the one thing that I LOVE about Jayla, because she can occupy herself for long amounts of time with her dolls, and I know that she is having fun! Everything that she says or does with her dollies is usually something that I say or do with her. For instance, one day her favorite baby fell off the couch and I heard her say, “Oh no, are you ok? I know, I know, that hurts doesn’t it? It will be alright.” and then she hugged her baby and rubbed her back! She also loves taking her dolls around in the strollers, and now that we can be outside a little more she takes trips up and down the sidewalk over and over pushing the stroller. The other day she was playing in her room and when I went to check on her she was reading to her baby in bed just like I do with her before nap time!
Let’s see, right now Jayla will also tell you that she doesn’t like frogs, alligators, sharks, wearing socks or shoes, or wearing coats/sweatshirts. Usually she is barefoot, and running around in her little tank tops that she wears under her zip-ups. Jayla also is in love with the book ‘Go Dog Go’ right now and we read it every day before nap time. She also has taken a liking to stuffed animals lately, especially puppies, which has been fun for Jake because he also loves stuffed animals and especially loves giving them as gifts. Here was our Valentines Day present…flowers for me and a puppy for Jayla.

When I told her the puppy was for her she said, “For me?!?!?! From my Daddy?” and then she got a big smile, took the puppy and squeezed it and said, “I love him.” :)

And here is a little comparison of me and Jayla around the same age. I love doing these! If you ignore the hair color and hair dos, we have similar smiles/faces. That is Jayla on the left and a picture of me on the right....I think I was around 3 years in my picture.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

JJ Update

What a fun age that 4 is!!! Over the past year or so we’ve really seen JJ come out of his shyness and it has been so fun to watch. People who see him regularly at the gym, some family, friends, and his teacher at church have all made the comment over the past few months of how much JJ is starting to come out of his shell. This was the boy who even a year ago would not answer people when they would ask him a question, who would leave people hanging when they tried to give him a high five, and would practically crawl behind Jake or I if we were around anyone that he didn’t know. He also used to use his blankey as a way to sort of hide out….if someone would talk to him he would bite on his blankey or throw it in the air to try and divert the attention away from himself. :) But nowadays, JJ is even leaving his blankey at home whenever we go somewhere….and this was all initiated completely by him. Of course Jake and I have encouraged it, but we never forced him to it behind. One day he just did and then it was sort of his new routine. He still likes to have his blankey for sleeping and when he is in snuggle mode, but that is about it. He’s also having full conversations with people who talk to him, giving high fives all the time, and making lots of friends at the gym. We really think that much of this has to do with Justice coming into our family…JJ has really benefited positively from having an older brother. In many ways his friendship with Justice has overflowed into giving him confidence in interacting with other people outside our family.

JJ is also asking SO MANY questions all day long about everything under the sun. For instance, the other day we drove by an apartment complex in Des Moines that had really visible fire damage. He asked what happened and as Jake explained that there had been a fire JJ started asking a million questions. How did it start? How did the people who lived there get out? Who came to get the people? Were they hurt? Did they go to the hospital? Where do the people live now? We of course don’t even know the people who lived there but JJ was not letting up until he had some good answers! By the time we got home JJ was so worried about house fires that Jake had to show him the smoke detectors in our house and assure him that if there was a fire the alarm would go off and that’s how we would know to get out. JJ is very intuitive, and so is Justice. If something sparks their interest they want to know as many details as possible, which means Jake and I are answering a lot of questions these days!

JJ’s favorite conversations involve basketball, and sometime I need to get a video of he and Justice as they talk to each other about Kingdom Hoops teams, their favorite NBA players, and college games. If you get to see JJ sometime, I hope you are up to date on basketball because he will want to know what players and teams you like. The other day he said “Mommy, do you like Lebron or Chris Bosh better? What about Derek Rose or Rajon Rondo? How about Kobe or Blake Griffin?” Half the time I don’t even know who he is talking about! I do know via Grandma Jane that Daddy was the same way when he was a little guy. In fact, Grandma Jane saved all of Daddy’s old basketball stuff from when he was growing up….everything from a Michael Jordan jersey to posters to a HUGE collection of basketball cards. Jake brought up his old basketball card collection from the basement the other day and JJ had fun going through all the cards.

Lately JJ has been talking about how he wants to be able to see a game where Michael Jordan was playing. He’s heard so much about Michael Jordan, but hasn’t ever gotten to see him play. Last weekend we were on a mission to find the movie Space Jam which stars Michael Jordan and after searching Best Buy, Walmart, K-Mart and the Huxley video rental store we gave up. I will have to order it online so he can see Michael Jordan! So pretty much JJ is still basketball crazy, and I don’t think with our lifestyle that his love for the game will dwindle any time soon. Yesterday while we were in the car JJ said to me, “Mommy, when I grow up I want to be a doctor and a basketball player.” That would be a pretty good combo I think! :)

Here’s another thing JJ likes to do right now….he likes to try to jump up and touch things that are up really high…

He does this at my mom’s house with the ceiling fan cord and at the gym with the bottom of the net on the hoop.

JJ’s last basketball game is tonight and then he will be done for awhile. I put these videos on facebook a few days ago, but I might as well put them on here too for all to see!

This one is funny…during warm-ups I caught him practicing a step-back shot!!!!!

And here is one from during the game. He misses his first shot but makes a nice little step-in jumper towards the end of the clip. :)

I am really going to miss having these games to look forward to every Tuesday!!!!!!!!!!!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Justice Update

I am going to do some updates on the kids this week! First up is Justice…this is going to be a long one since I haven’t updated in awhile! Some of this is really detailed, but I want to be a resource for others who are adopting older children. There are unique struggles that we are dealing with as Justice adapts here, and I want to share them in case we can encourage others along the way!

Last week we had parent teacher conferences, and I was so excited to get Justice’s teacher’s perspective on how he is doing. For kindergarten they assess the children mid-year using a scoring system called DIEBLS. According to this scoring system, Justice has academically surpassed each benchmark for the kindergarten level!!! This was great to hear, and was a reminder to me of how quickly he catches on to things. For one this is likely a testament to the great memory that he has. Justice’s reading level is right where it should be for kindergarten, so that was also encouraging. In Justice’s class they are working a lot on phonetics in writing, knowing the difference between capital and small letters, and writing in a straight line. I have loved seeing some of his school work. There is great progression from the beginning of the year to now…here is a sample:

The one area that Justice continues to play ‘catch-up’ in is his social/emotional development and behavior. His teacher mentioned that socially he does fine in the area of making friends and developing friendships. However, he is definitely struggling with showing appropriate maturity and behavior for a 6 year old. Jake and I are working on this with him extensively at home as well. Much of this is hard to teach so to say because the social rules we have here in the United States are for the most part learned in a natural progression as you grow-up. Justice’s behavior struggles right now are with manners, knowing appropriate behavior for situations, sharing, and most of all showing respect to those who are older than him or who are in a place of authority over him. There are days when I literally feel like I could correct Justice in these areas ALL DAY LONG. But I am trying hard to keep my own patience and self-control and just work on a few things at a time. Otherwise, we both get discouraged and I feel like we are not getting anywhere! The other trick as I am sure every parent knows is to catch him doing good and reinforce/praise him in those instances as much as possible. This is something I have really been trying to be conscious of doing. As much as all of this is a learning experience for Justice, it really is a learning experience for us as well.

Another area related to his social/emotional development is that over the past two months Justice has started to show a defiant/rebellious/stubborn attitude when we ask him to do something that he doesn’t feel like doing. This has also shown up in school as his teacher noted that over the past 3 weeks she has seen a change in him as far as starting to ‘test’ her and the school rules. We know that he has gotten comfortable here, and now it seems that he is going to see how far he can push the limits. This again is something to be expected as a phase of post-adoption, and as his teacher says, ‘we are working on it’. As we’ve been working on this at home, one resource that has really helped me is using the Proverbs as a tool to help along discussions. I draw out two paths on a piece of paper and we contrast the wise man and the foolish man. I’ll pick out a few verses that pertain to his offense or misbehavior and use the scriptures to point out how his actions are foolish according to the Bible because of his heart attitude. I don’t literally have to say that what he did was foolish, rather as we break down the verses, he sees it for himself. As with anyone, he really doesn’t like seeing himself as a fool. He wants to be wise, it’s just that he doesn’t always behave how he wants because his heart isn't in check (aren’t we all this way?)! I feel this is an area that will get better over time as long as we continue to be proactive at teaching him ‘why’ he needs to do this or that, and showcasing that it is all a matter of his heart attitude. If he doesn’t understand the reason behind why we are asking him to do something then he doesn’t think it is necessary and will just act how he wants. All this being said, Justice can also be very sweet and very helpful if he wants to be. I just need to figure out how to cultivate this more and encourage him each time I notice it.

It’s been an interesting reaction that we’ve been getting from Justice when the subject of Ghana comes up. If we bring it up, he shuts down and will not talk about it, and oftentimes we will see tears and we know his mind is turning, we just don’t know details. For awhile I wasn’t sure if the tears were because he missed Ghana or if the memories were too painful. One day as we drove to school I decided to gradually ask him. I started by telling him why Daddy and I were going to Ghana in March and what we were going to do there. He got very quiet. I said, “Do you wish you could go with us?” He shook his head and said, “No.” I said “Do you want to go back there someday?” Again, he said no. I then asked him if there was anything he missed about Ghana and he again said no. Whenever we bring up Ghana this is always how the conversations go. He gets very quiet and shuts down which is not like him at all. One night we were at TJMaxx and ended up running into some friends that live in Ankeny that are from Ghana. This was the first time they had met Justice and after we introduced them the wife said a greeting to Justice in twi (Justice’s language from Ghana). Immediately his eyes got big and then he turned away. The wife asked us if he was fluent in twi and we said yes. So she tried speaking it with him again and he refused to speak it. It was very interesting. However, oftentimes Justice will bring up Ghana on his own terms when he does feel like talking about it. When something spurs his memory of Ghana he will give us a few sentences of details about his former life. One day we were in the car with Sam after eating at King Buffet. Sam was talking about how yummy the crab legs were and Justice started talking about the claw breakers they had used at the restaurant to break them open. Justice said, “In Ghana we didn’t have the time to take the meat out like that, we just ate the bone too.” :) This got us into a conversation about food in Ghana and Justice began talking about some bird that they would eat there. He said, “You have to kill the bird with a stone. There was this one guy who was a really good stone thrower and he could get the bird every time. But you can only eat the blue birds, not the brown ones.”

Let’s see, a big thing that Justice is still catching onto in America is what is real and what is not. For instance he initially wasn’t able to discern whether mascots at the games were real or not. As he began watching movies we started to realize that he actually thought the movie was going on somewhere in the world at that moment. When he would observe acting/skits at church he would always ask if they were real. And it’s hard for him to discern the realness of things that he sees in magazines or in the mall – like he saw a giant cardboard IPOD hanging from a store one day and he asked me if you could actually buy one that big! :) Justice has lots of questions about how things work too…like he doesn’t understand how the traffic lights know when to tell people to go and stop. :) And the windmills out in the fields have really thrown him for a loop! It’s fun to explain things to him and watch him learn. Right now we’ve been talking a lot about the seasons and how everything changes.

And here is a little video interview I did with him so you can see how well his English is progressing. I didn’t tell him what questions I was going to ask beforehand so he had to think of his answers on the spot.

I really consider him only having English training since he was put with Esi & family last June….that makes it only 8 months that he has been hearing English and learning to speak it! Amazing!!!!!!

Friday, February 18, 2011

First Arrivals!

WOW…the donations are already pouring in!!! Thank you to everyone who is spreading the word about this need and dropping off donations at the gym. We are getting so much great stuff! Just wanted to do one more post on this so that you could see this organization in action! On Wednesday, the first family of refugees arrived at the Des Moines airport. Valerie shared some pictures with us and said I could share them here on the blog.

Here is the little family from Burma. Their total travel time was 22 hours! Their little girl is 10 months old.

And here they are being shown the ropes at their new apartment in Des Moines.

And here is a collage of items that were donated and set up in their apartment (table & chairs, baby clothes, bed frame, mattress, sheets, comforter, pack n’ play, and toys). Just wanted you to see that your donations are going to be used!!!!!!!!!!!

For this family USCRI had to purchase the couch, lighting, toiletries, a few of the kitchen items, and food with their government allotted money (most purchases were made at the Salvation Army). Now that the word is out, I think there will be no problem in getting every single item donated that is needed for the refugees apartments.

Thanks again for contributing to this need and for spreading the word!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Dau's Story

In light of my post on refugees yesterday I wanted to share the following story today as a way to bring this subject into focus in a more personal way. A few days ago Jake came home with an article written on one of his former players, Dau Jok. Dau played with Jake’s program during the spring/summer of 2009 right before his senior year of high school. During those months our family got to know Dau well, and this young man comes with quite an unbelievable story. Dau ended up receiving a full basketball scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania in the Ivy League, which sits in the heart of Philadelphia. An amazing article was recently written on him and his family’s dramatic escape from his home country of Sudan during the beginning of its civil war. This is a story of bloodshed, family ties, and risky escapes, and yet it is also a story of new beginnings and beautiful opportunities that life in America can bring. I can assure you that the less than 10 minutes it will take you to read this article will be worth it. You can access the article by using this link:

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Refugee Resettlement in Des Moines

Jake was contacted a little over a month ago as someone who may be able to contribute help to this organization’s branch in Des Moines: U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (UCRI). The director of the Des Moines branch happened to be in church the day that Jake gave the sermon during a service in Knoxville last August. Valerie, the director, has faced challenge after challenge in finding someone to partner with her organization to assist refugees as they begin their new lives in Des Moines. Recently she decided to get in touch with Jake and see if he would be interested in helping her organization. I believe the tangible needs of this organization can EASILY be met by all of you blog readers out there! I will get to that in a minute. First let me give you a little background on this organization….

What is a Refugee?
A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Refugees differ from other immigrants in that they do not have the choice to remain in their home country. Refugees flee their countries to save their lives. They run from war and persecution, often losing beloved family members along the way. Many refugees then spend years and sometimes decades in substandard refugee camps. Less than one percent of all refugees get the chance to leave a camp and resettle in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, or other countries that resettle refugees. (Source:

LESS THAN 1%. It’s literally like winning the lottery. Refugees living in camps in various countries can go to their Embassy and fill out a series of refugee service paperwork in which they can apply for a visa to the United States. Then it becomes a lottery process as to who is granted visas. Literally the luck of the draw so to say.

What is Refugee Resettlement?
Each year, Americans welcome refugees to the United States. The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement partner with agencies like USCRI Des Moines to assist refugees through the resettlement process. When a refugee arrives in America, he or she usually comes with little more than the clothes on his or her back. Organizations like USCRI Des Moines meet refugees at the airport and help them to begin building new lives. (Source:

USCRI receives only an extremely small allotment of money from the government (Office of Refugee Resettlement – ORR) to help these refugees get on their feet and become self-sufficient. Because of this USCRI has to be extremely wise in how this money is spent. AND HERE IS WHERE YOU COME IN! The less money USCRI spends on household items, the more they can spend on finding the families vehicles, housing, ESL programs, etc. Currently USCRI is in desperate need of household donations and also for volunteers from the community as refugees have already started arriving just this week. Between now and September USCRI is going to be helping approximately 110 refugees resettle in Des Moines (from Zimbabwe, Burma, & Iraq). Below is a list of the items needed that must be in the homes once the refugees arrive. As you do your spring cleaning this year, PLEASE consider USCRI as a possible donation site for old furniture, clothing, and other household items. Donations can be dropped off at Jake’s gym in Ankeny starting today (3305 SE Deleware). Drop-off times are Monday through Thursday 4pm-9:30pm, or if you need to drop off at a different time get in touch with Jake to arrange this ( There will be large signs directing you to the storage/drop off area once you enter the main door. USCRI will also pick up any donations that you cannot bring in! Here is the list of items needed, and volunteer information is outlined below:

-Mattresses (twin, double)
-Box springs
-Bed frames
-Dressers, set of drawers, shelves, or other unit appropriate for storage of clothing
-Kitchen tables
-Kitchen chairs
-Couches or equivalent seating

Kitchen Items
-Tableware (forks, knifes, spoons)
-Dishes (plates, bowls, cups)
-Pots & pans (sauce pans, frying pans, baking dishes)
-Mixing/serving bowls
-Kitchen utensils (spatulas, wooden spoons, knifes, serving utensils, etc.)
-Can opener
-Baby items

Linens & Other Household Items
-Bath towels
-Bed sheets and blankets
-Pillows and pillowcases
-Alarm clocks
-Paper, pens and pencils
-Light bulbs

Cleaning Supplies
-Dish soap
-Bathroom/kitchen cleanser
-Sponges, cleaning rags, and/or paper towels
-Laundry detergent
-Waste baskets
-Mops, brooms
-Trash bags

-Toilet paper

-Ready to eat food
-Baby food

Come on, let’s start knocking out these items so that Valerie and USCRI Des Moines can use their government money allotment for things greater than household items!!!!!!!! Let’s get Jake’s gym packed to the brim!!!

USCRI Des Moines is also in desperate need of manpower - people willing to serve their TIME and volunteer! Valerie has had a very difficult time finding people who are willing to help refugees. As families pour in USCRI needs volunteers to help set up apartments, aid in transportation, and mentoring these families as they acclimate to their new environment and life. An interest in volunteering does not require a commitment ahead of time. Rather, your name will be placed on an email list and notification emails will be sent out for the needs as they arise. As a volunteer you will also receive a newsletter with updates and an opportunity to attend an orientation for this specific volunteer work. If you are interested in volunteering email Valerie at and you will be added to the volunteer email list.

Eventually Jake and I hope to coordinate with Valerie to start an Adopt-A-Refugee program of sorts. In this way refugee families could be ‘adopted’ by those in our community in hopes of creating a support system for them as they try to begin their new lives. Families could help by giving the refugees rides to events, having them over for dinner, getting them plugged into Des Moines, and basically just being there for these families and individuals as needed. For now we just really want to help Valerie by collecting these household items and getting the word out that volunteers are needed! Thanks everyone!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Sam Update

We have been so fortunate to have Sam get to stay with us the past two weekends!!!!!

Things have changed, but when Sam is with us it feels just like old times. The adjustment for Sam hasn’t been an easy one. He has struggled to maintain a positive attitude in the midst of everything, and I can’t say that I would have a great reaction either if I was his age. But the good thing for Sam and I is that Jake’s expectations do not give into this sort of ‘poor me’ mindset. One thing that Jake always preaches to the kids in his program is being able to handle adversity. How will you react when you are faced with hard things? Things you did not expect or foresee to happen? What will you do when life doesn’t go your way? Even if your circumstances were not your choice, your reaction and attitude are. For these reasons Jake is constantly riding Sam’s case now, but in a good way. Sam has been giving a little extra attitude back to Jake lately….I think because he knows we aren’t ‘in charge’ anymore. But even so, I still see that Jake’s advice to Sam is taken to heart because I’ll see Sam react to things differently after Jake has talked with him. It’s funny how much I learn from listening to Jake ‘reason’ with Sam or any of the other kids in his program for that matter. He always knows what the heart issue is and how to address it. I love that!

A big change for Sam has also been in the area of school. We had some kids over at our house this last weekend along with Sam. At dinner they started talking about this one kid who has been suspended from Jake’s program because he had a 1.8 GPA last semester. Some of the other guys started making fun of this kid and Sam stopped them and said, “Hey, that used to be how I did in school. Before I went to Ballard my school was so easy. I didn’t have to do anything and nobody cared. Then when I came to Ballard everything was really hard and I had homework all the time. I was still trying to put in the same amount of work as before, but at Ballard it didn’t work. And I got bad grades at first. But one thing I learned about living with the Sullivan’s is that you don’t mess around in school!” I had to laugh at that comment as I thought back to how many times I would get so frustrated with Sam and his poor work ethic in school! :) Guess all that frustration paid off now! Sam also mentioned a funny story about how he was the one who broke up a fist fight in the lunch line at his new school the other day. He was pretty proud that he was the one who stepped in and saved the day. Way to go!!!!

I am so thankful to still get to see Sam a lot. At first I wasn’t sure how this was all going to work out, but it has been really good. I also get to see him two nights during the week as he has practice at Jake’s gym. And hopefully he will get to keep spending lots of weekends with us as it works out. Sam is such a special kid, and Jake and I have said it many times that he is the only 11 year old we know who could handle all this change. He really could be put into any situation and figure out how to adjust and make his way. The process is just hard sometimes. But if anyone can do it, I know he can! I saw it with my own eyes all of last year!!!!!

We love you Sam ! :)

Monday, February 14, 2011

My Valentine.....

Is the hardest worker I know

Answers to the name of Daddy

Has a passion that takes him all the way across the world

Answers to the name of Coach

Has a gigantic heart for creating opportunites for those in need

My Valentine is…competitive, brilliant, and outspoken. He is passionate about what he does and ignites people into action wherever he goes. He has a strong and courageous heart and is not afraid to head into unknown situations or places. He is a leader and achiever in every aspect of his life. He can be put into any context or situation and come out on top. He stands up for the poor, oppressed, and needy and refuses to sit around and wait for someone else to do it. He is confident in his beliefs, ideas, and plans. He does not shut down in uncomfortable or adverse situations, in fact, he thrives in the face of adversity. He does not operate his business, visions, dreams, or life on the moral philosophies of the world. Rather in his every decision, action, and purpose he aims for the standards of Christ. He hates going through the motions and loves to let God move him from the inside out. His focus, seriousness, and drive is often misunderstood and translated into a hardened exterior. However, those who know him best know that on the inside he is full of kindness, compassion, and genuine love. He is a man that strives to pursue the Lord in every way that he can. Today I am thankful that my Valentine lives and breathes in fear of our Almighty God and follows Him wherever He leads our family.

Love ya Valentine!

Friday, February 11, 2011

JJ Hoopin'

Watching my kids take part in sports activities is SO FUN! JJ has 3 basketball games under his belt now. It’s been so fun to see how much he has learned in just a few weeks! I think the biggest thing his mind has figured out is when it is time for offense, and when it is time for defense. The whole idea of shooting, then going after the rebound, then heading back on defense if your team doesn’t get the ball was sort of a monumental skill for him to grasp! It’s one thing to watch basketball on tv and get a feel for the game. It’s an entirely different thing to actually be out there on the court with 9 other people and figure out what you are supposed to be doing and when! :)

Perfect form, just like Daddy…..only JJ is a lefty!

LOVE this smile!


Whatever you say coach!

Waiting patiently for the next quarter.

We're gonna have to work on this defensive stance! :)

Video: A few assists

Video: Rebounds and an almost lay-up! (make sure you hang on til the end of this one so you can see his smile)

So far, JJ’s game high is 6 points…..and that was on the night that he was sick with a fever and Daddy made him ‘suck it up’ and play (Mommy’s opinion didn’t get to count that night). You can tell from his smile on that last video that he is really loving it!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Yellow Belt

On Saturday Justice tested for his yellow belt in tae kwon do! To be eligible to test for this belt level he needed to have had 10 classes and have good white belt technique. I have learned SO MUCH about tae kwon do as I have sat and watched Justice during his practices each week. I really love it. Each belt color has different techniques to master, and of course as the belt color increases so does the difficulty of the moves. Much of it is memorization, and it takes so much focus. It has taken me some time to get used to commands such as 'knife hands' and 'spear fingers' and moves that have enough force to break ribs, poke eyeballs, damage Adam's apples, and break noses. :) But, the instructor does a great job of always reminding his students that tae kwon do is only to be used outside of the classroom in situations where self-defense is needed....such as if they have been physically attacked and their life is in danger. For this yellow belt test Justice needed to know the 5 tenets of tae kwon do, how to count to 5 in Korean, basic white belt techniques, an understanding of tae kwon do etiquette, and the biggest thing - he needed to be able to do Chon-Ji form which is a sequence of 19 movements. Going into his test, Justice was nervous, but very focused! Here he is lining up before the judges.

Another thing I love about tae kwon do is that the students are classified by belt color, not age. There are people of all ages and from all walks of life that are at Justice's belt level. At the beginning of the testing one of the judges asked a few of the students why they started taking tae kwon do. Answers ranged from self-discipline, to weight control, to gaining self-confidence, to fulfilling a self-defense course for work, to wanting to measure up to a parent who was a black belt. One sweet girl said she was being bullied at school (not physically, but emotionally) and so this was her outlet. At this particular studio they encourage family members to sign up together. A lot of families do this and it seems like such a cool way to work towards goals together!

This is the ready stance - Chunbee. Jayla likes this move!

Middle punch - supposed to be aiming for the solar plexus of opponent.

On Justice's first night of practice the teacher said that this is a place where you are expected to be LOUD!

Front kick

Roundhouse kick

High punch - aiming for opponent's nose. :)

Rising block

More punch sequences

Knife hands

After they rehearsed these techniques and performed their Chon-Ji form they each got to break boards which is one of Justice's favorite things! For the white belt level they break 1 board using the side kick technique. The trick is to hit the board with your heel right in the direct center of the board. I don't know why I didn't think to take a video of Justice breaking the board. Instead I had tried to take a picture and of course it turned out really blurry and you can't even tell what is going on. I'll have to try and get a video of him breaking at practice. Before Justice's test the black belts did a demonstation in which they did a sequential board break. They can break boards with their hands, feet, two boards at a name it, they can do it. It's just like the movies! So cool to watch!

So, I am sure you can tell by now that I am really loving this tae kwon do thing! It is so fun watching Justice progress. This sport is really rewarding...maybe someday I can sign up! And yes, Justice passed his test and he is now an official YELLOW belt!

Monday, February 7, 2011


Something’s bugging me. I want this blog to be a place of encouragement for other people, but I need to ensure that you see the whole picture here…..otherwise you are going to be missing a huge part of our lives. This is my blog so I can choose to blog about whatever I want. Most of the time I choose to blog about uplifting, positive things happening in our lives. But for every ‘good’ thing going on, there are usually a handful of ‘junky’ things going on, and most of the time it isn’t appropriate to blog about those things because they involve other people’s lives. I guess what I am saying is that it sickens me to think that someone may see some of the things we are doing in Ghana, or with the adoption, or with selling our house, or whatever, and think that we are doing them out of the goodness of our heart. It sickens me because I know my heart. And my heart, more often than not, produces bad things not good. And so, it is only because of the goodness of God that any of these things are being done through us. When you look at Team Sullivan I hope you see a bunch of wretched sinners that God has taken hold of, convicted them of their sinful lives, and somehow broken down their callous, selfish hearts, and taught them about their debt that was stacking up against them…but that was paid for by a sweet Savior. And I hope when you see it, that it doesn’t make you want to praise us, but that it makes you give praise to our Almighty God for how he has taken a bunch of junk, and done something with it. God has rocked our lives. And I hope that this blog shows the magnificent work that HE is doing as HE opens our eyes, as HE convicts us, as HE changes our hearts and gives us opportunities to take part in HIS work.

God says that all of our righteous acts are like filthy rags. (Isaiah 64:6) And there is not one who does good. Not even one. All have turned away. (Psalm 14:3) That’s me that those verses are talking about.

Jesus says, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31) That’s me Jesus came for….a sinner who needed to be brought to repentance.

This post wasn’t spurred because I need to come out of hiding about something. There wasn’t any big huge thing that happened that caused me to write this. But there are a lot of little things going on that have caused me to want to have absolute, positive assurance that you see the real us. Every day I need to be honest with myself about my sinful condition. Every day I need to stand humbly at the foot of the cross and witness its message. Sure, we are helping a village in Africa. Sure we have adopted. Sure we’ve opened up our home to outsiders. But these seemingly ‘good’ things could easily fool people into thinking that we are some real ‘good’ people. And that is what is bugging me because that is just not the case. When you click on Team Sullivan, I don’t want you to think that we are some holier than thou family who has it all together. I never want to forget the junk that God has changed and continues to change in my life.

I’ve felt the morning-after guilt of the drunkard.

I’ve felt the brokenness of friendships (yes that’s plural) because of my prideful heart.

I’ve screamed in anger at my kids.

I’ve gossiped.

I’ve been unloving to people that annoy me.

I’ve judged others in a condemning way.

I’ve seen someone in need and turned away.

I’ve disrespected my husband so loudly and blindly that I had to be rebuked for it by trusted friends.

I’ve turned away from God because of unpleasant circumstances.

I’ve felt the regret of not remaining pure before marriage.

I’ve said every 4 letter word you can imagine.

I’ve been a hypocrite.

And there’s more where this came from. And in verse after verse in my Bible this junk is labeled as just that….SIN. I’m not telling you these things because I am proud of them. But I am letting you see them so that you can have confidence that I am a credible witness of how God can transform people through his forgiveness, mercy, and grace. I am not making this stuff up. We’ve messed up. We’ve failed. And we are sinners. We aren’t perfect. We are part of sinful humanity. We are tainted, plagued, disobedient people who have found forgiveness and life to the full in following after a Perfect, Holy, Patient, and Forgiving God. He’s the only reason that I am even sitting here typing about adventures in Africa. He’s the only reason there is a boy in my house that I call my son who I never carried in my womb. He’s the only reason Jake and I have a marriage that is growing stronger instead of weaker. He’s the only reason why I will spend eternity with Him in heaven…because He sent a Savior for me, the sick sinner. There is nothing I can do to gain or win over his merit. There’s no good works enough in this world that even if I stacked every single one on top of the other that it would somehow cancel out what my sin deserves….death. ONLY Jesus’ blood intersecting my repentant heart can bring me to God’s judgement seat with confidence that I will live with God forever in eternity. And only Jesus’ work on the cross could possibly take all the condemnation, and guilt, and shame from all that junk and nail it to the cross….offering me FREEDOM, NEW LIFE, and SALVATION.

If knowing all of this causes you to never want to read this blog again then so be it. But I hope this post showcases the reality that even Team Sullivan’s best efforts and attempts in this life are still tainted with sin. I certainly hope our blog encourages you in your walk with God or to know God if you don’t yet….but you MUST understand that we are NOT good people doing good things. In fact none of this is about what we’ve done but what God has and is doing. I pray that this blog is a place where you see and hear us echo the apostle Paul as he states in 1 Timothy 1:15-16 – Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.

"Although my memory's fading, I remember two things very clearly: I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior." ~ John Newton (author of the song Amazing Grace)~

Friday, February 4, 2011

They Keep Me Smiling!

Red head #1 STILL loves playing with her dollies, and her new friend, Murphy the puppy. :)

Red head #2 attended barber shop by Daddy and got all his red hair shaved off!

And, he is FINALLY holding his pen in the correct form !!!!!!!!!! WAHOOOOOO!!!!! No more writing/coloring with his pen in a fist! I don’t even have to correct him anymore, he just holds it right on the first try. Yeah!

Red head #3 has discovered create and build legos and these are RIGHT UP his alley!

On the no-school blizzard day earlier this week he attempted his biggest creation yet….a huge airplane set.

He really just sits there at the table, follows the picture directions and builds, builds, builds until it is finished. He realized early on that he can’t ask Daddy to help….Daddy’s brain is not the putting-together/fixer type and he’ll tell you that himself! So, he just works at it until it is done. This airplane set took him about 2 hours to complete.

♥ ♥ ♥

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Spring Break Change of Plans

Well, the last I had blogged about our spring break plans Jake and I were starting to plan our trip to Sierra Leone to serve at The Covering, an orphanage started by a non-profit foundation called The Raining Season ( The family who started The Raining Season did so after they successfully adopted their daughter from Sierra Leone back in 2004. Through their adoption process they began to see the devastating circumstances that the country has been left in post-war. From there the children’s center, The Covering, was born and it is run beautifully. Jake and I had gotten in contact with a couple from Pella who has ties with the orphanage, and we had planned on accompanying them on their next trip. We had begun formulating these plans before Jake’s recent trip to Ghana in January.

However, once Jake returned from Ghana in January, the project there had made so much progress that he began wrestling with whether or not we should still go to SL. Originally we had planned on our next trip to Ghana not being until August 2011, which would have afforded us the trip to SL over spring break to get our feet wet in an orphanage setting. But, as we talked and prayed over it, we realized that there was so much we needed to be doing now with the Ghana village project in order for the August 2011 trip to be a success. As we see it now, the August trip will be the main ‘building’ trip. This is when we hope to take over a team of workers to do the construction of the clinic and library, as well as the remodel of the foster care home units. In order for that trip to be completely successful, we felt that we still needed one more trip to Ghana beforehand to gather all the necessary information we need before we get to action. So, we are now taking a small team to Ghana over spring break instead of going to Sierra Leone. Our trip to Ghana will be an information gathering trip. We booked our flights two days ago, and I am so excited! Here are some of the things we hope to find out:

We know where we want to build, but we need to figure out the best way to get supplies. Will we be able to find all the tools/supplies we need there? Or will we need to ship them from the U.S.? Which option is better and more cost-wise? For this part, we will be taking along Chris Gardner, founder of Bella Homes. He will be the main builder on our project. You may remember he accompanied Jake on his very first ever trip to Ghana back in 2009. Chris and Doug Vander Weide will be responsible for negotiating supplies and drawing up the construction plans in the village.

The other huge part of anything we do in Ghana is the education side of things. This is the part that Jake wants to roll up his sleeves and dig into. It bugs him that there are educated people walking around this village, but that they aren’t teaching the younger ones. It bugs him that the people of Ghana have so many tools right before them, but that there is no organization or ideas to know how to use them. It bugs him that Justice can’t read. Justice grew up in a village extremely similar to Asikuma. The schools in these village areas do not have the necessary pieces that they need to adequately educate their youth. And most children can’t afford to go to school anyway. This is a huge deal. For this spring break trip we will spend 2-3 days directly in the village. As Jake says, we won’t be there as a sideshow this time. We need to live and breathe in their exact environment to understand their specific needs. We want to spend time in the village school to fully assess the supplies that they need. Do we need to teach the teachers? What all will this entail? For the August 2011 trip we hope to take a team of teachers with us for this exact purpose, so we need to find out what we are facing.

We also plan to be in the village on one of the days in which the doctor visits. We need to understand from him the supplies that he needs and also talk with him about the general construction plan for the clinic so that it fully meets his needs.

Our other time on this trip will be spent in Accra concentrating on education. We want to spend time in the school we’ve sponsored Prince to go to, as well as a few other schools we have identified. Our hope is to volunteer in the schools so we can study the educational system there.

We are also ready to implement a stricter/more organized method of identifying Kingdom Hoops Ghana team members as prospective host students. For this we need to take the time to interview them and prepare them for visa appointments. We recently had a prospective host student show up to his Embassy appointment without his birth certificate!!!! He just forgot it!!!!! That obviously can’t happen! His visa was denied and now we will be starting his process all over again. It’s these little kinks that we hope to get worked out beforehand as we begin to implement a more organized approach to identifying which players would be good candidates to study in the U.S.

I am also still pulling for us to all serve in an orphanage somewhere near Accra or Asikuma for at least one of the days on our trip. The problem has just been finding one that is well-run and accessible for volunteers. So this is still in the works.

This informational/preparatory trip must happen in order for our action trip in August to be fully successful. I still want to visit The Covering in Sierra Leone someday, but it’s just not the right timing yet. I would encourage you to visit their blog if you have time. There is a team there now, and they have had some very heart stirring posts.

I’ll leave you with an email we received from one of the spokesmen from the village of Asikuma:

Hello Mr. Jake,

Greetings to you in the name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus. How is the day in United States of America? Over here (Anum-Asikuma, Eastern region, Ghana) we are all doing well by His abundant grace and mercies.

In fact I want to apologize for my inability of not communicating with you often as I deemed it to be. This is a result of lack of internet facility in the area, and having to travel to a long distance for it.

Mr. Jake, to seek your assistance and help, I would like to enumerate certain things the community is lacking. Just to mention a few, the community lacks clinic, library, computer laboratory, etc. The worse of it all, is a community of over one thousand occupants uses only one public latrine (toilet), and this some time ago brought about an epidemic to the community when human waste was deposited around the surroundings.

In addition, the community is mostly made up of peasant farmers who rely solely on the natural weather for rain to water their crops for the season’s yield, and when the weather fails the community living becomes difficult.

Therefore, I will be very glad if you can aid the community, especially for the clinic and library among others.

We will very much appreciate it. Hope to hear from you soon.

From the assemblyman,
Mr. G, eastern region, Ghana.

Thank you.