Thursday, June 30, 2011

Counting the Cost

Will Kingdom Hoops get the funding it needs to stay afloat for another year?

Will we be able to make our house payment next month?

How will we afford all the travel expenses for the string of live period tournaments coming up in July?

When will be able to catch up on past due gym rent?

Will the IRS ever send us our adoption tax refund or will they keep on delaying it?

These are just a few of the financial realities our family has been facing over the past few months. I am not sharing these things so that you feel sorry for us. I am sharing because I don’t ever want to be anything less than completely transparent on this blog.

Here’s the thing. Today our family is taking off for a tournament in Orlando, Florida. If I didn’t write this post you would never know what a stretch this is going to be for us financially. I think people sometimes equate travel with glamorous lifestyles. For us, traveling together to Jake’s tournaments on the weekends is absolutely vital to the well-being of our family. Although we need to be cutting expenses, this is just not a category that we are willing to do that. Orlando will be a treat for our family….one that we have all been looking forward to for months. But our weekend tournament trips do not come without a price.

My husband works 16 hour days almost every day. He doesn’t get weekends off obviously because that is when the tournaments are. We don’t all get to sit around the table and have family dinners. We don’t get to go to church together. We don’t get to go to together to weddings, or going away parties, or birthday parties, or evening time get togethers with our friends. There’s tournaments, practices, and meetings to work around if an event comes up that I need to get on the calendar. Our quality time together each day usually starts at about 10pm at night, in bed while he sends back emails to parents who are upset about one thing or another. Or returns phone calls. Or sets up meetings for the next day. Or works on logistics of booking lodging for an upcoming tournament trip, figuring out what coach is driving which van, and compiling rooming lists for the kids who’s parents aren’t going. Or he’s organizing his speech that he will share in front of CEO’s the next day in the hopes that they will catch the vision and give donations. Not to mention the time he tries to squeeze in working on Ghana items. Then there’s the time he spends doing individual training sessions to help pay for extras like trips to Nike Outlet stores for the kids or Sea World passes for our Orlando trip.

At the beginning of our marriage, I had huge and I mean HUGE problems with the hours Jake’s job demanded. My idealistic expectations of what I envisioned our life would be were quickly crushed by the realities of his job. I was discontent with our lifestyle. And I let him know it. Our first 6 months of marriage were AWFUL. I did not support Jake and I did not respect him. I never went to the weekend tournaments because I wanted him to know that I didn’t like his job. I thought if I could ignore the whole thing that it would just go away. I pity the people who had to endure me during that part of my life. I know it wasn’t pretty.

But over the years something happened. Not only did God teach me a thing or two about being a wife, but He also grew me spiritually. I started going to the tournaments, not because I wanted to, but because I knew that Jake wanted me to be there alongside of him. And God showed me that Jake’s job could provide me with opportunities to minister to others. I got to have spiritual conversations with parents in the stands. I got to tell our reasons behind why we were adopting. I got to read letters and emails written to Jake by young kids or by parents who told stories of how Jake had impacted their child’s life. I got to watch the way my husband’s face would light up in the midst of competition, just the way it used to when he played in college. I got to listen to his advice for how to execute skills on the court, and how to overcome adversity off the court. I saw him making a difference, and he pulled me in and my heart softened towards his work. Sometime later Sam came to live with us. And for the first time I realized the weight and impact of the ministry we had in front of us…..just through the simple platform of basketball. This wasn’t just about my husband having a good set of coaching skills, or having a background in psychology to give some thoughtful advice, or even about being a good role model. It was so much more. Jake’s job gave us access to directly affect LIVES. Outside of becoming a mom, I had never had the opportunity to do that before. Earlier this year I started teaching a bible study at the gym. God took me out of my comfort zone, and put me up in front of some kids starving for truth. And I was addicted. Their culture and environments wage war against God. But for 30 minutes on Monday evenings I could tell them about Jesus, feed them truth, and pray that it would resonate in their souls.

So what does all this have to do with our finances? Well, for anyone in ministry work, you know that you never quite know how you are going to get your paycheck. You can’t see ahead of time how God is going to provide for you….emotionally to keep on going, or tangibly to be able to sustain your work. But yet your ministry sits there in front of you. And God says ‘Be my hands and feet.’ So you trust him with your life, and each day you pray that He will provide. Just to get you through one more day. For us this shows up in many different ways. We’ll be at a tournament and a player will come up and ask if we can buy him a hotdog at the concession stand because his parents didn’t send any money with him. What would you do? Look him in the eye and say, “Sorry, it’s not in the budget.” Absolutely not! You’re going to buy him the hot dog and pray that God replenishes you for his hot dog and the 10 other ones that you buy the next day for the other kids who have no money. Or I’ll get a text message from Jake that 3 junior high boys are coming home from practice with him to stay at our place for the weekend. Should I tell them, “Sorry, it’s only in the budget for me to make a 9x13 pan of lasagna which will feed me, Jake, Yaw, Ezekiel and our kids. You guys will just have to eat crackers for dinner.” Ummmm….no. I’ll make an extra pan of lasagna, fill up their tummies, and get the opportunity to dig into their lives for 2 days while they stay at my house. We get to sit in our living room and open up the scriptures and we get to tell them how Jesus has changed our lives, and we pray that He will change theirs too. I get to take them to church with me on Sunday and watch as they worship and sing to a God they barely know, but who is chasing after them with His truths.

The problem becomes that the hot dogs and the extra pans of lasagna add up. On average this summer I've spent an extra $150 per week on groceries because of the amount of extra kids staying in our house. When you are struggling to make your house payment each month, that’s a lot of money. But this I know: we are choosing to stay in this ministry. Jake and I both know that in as little as 5 minutes he could make a few phone calls, get a college coaching job, and start working his way up. In 5 years I could guarantee that he would be at the top of his game, getting a six-figure salary, and we would have no financial worries. I could adopt as many kids as I want and never have to blink an eye on the finances. Easily it could be done. And I am not saying this to be arrogant. Rather I know the skill set, mind, abilities, competiveness, and work ethic that God has given my husband. But God has not led us there yet, and He maybe never will. And so, this is where we stay. We don’t ever know how God will provide. But He does. In the last month alone we received 3 separate grocery gift cards….$300 each….sent to us in the mail by friends who know the pressure we are in financially. Through the generosity of others, God blessed us. It’s not easy to have to rely on God in this way. In fact, it is one of the most humbling things to accept money from others. But this is how the Kingdom of God works. This is how ministry works.

Sometimes, oftentimes, I am weary of this ministry. But God provides there too. He’ll send a friend by my house, a friend who is there to listen and to encourage me to keep on doing God’s work. “It’s supposed to be hard,” she says. “Jesus told us that following Him could cost us everything. This is a great place to be… full dependency on God….your faith is growing so much.” She’s right. But there’s bills to pay. Sacrifices to be make. And responsibilities, and expectations. And doubters and opinions and rumors and outsiders judging our life who don’t understand our priorities, our reasons, our faith. While people around us are acquiring cushiony savings accounts we watch as God asks us to take ours and spend it on an adoption. While others can take parts of their paychecks and start saving up in a retirement fund, we watch as our paycheck is sucked dry each month and then some by the extra expenses of extra people in our home. We didn’t anticipate this. There was no way for us to plan ahead of time that this was going to happen. The world calls us fools! No savings! No retirement! Janel, you’re setting yourself up to be too dependent on Jake. Get a job! Jake, quit being so generous! Jake you’re not putting your family first! Jake and Janel, you’re going to sink under all this pressure. But we smile because we know it doesn’t make sense. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” Lose your life for His sake, and you WILL find the true purpose of livng. Foolish? Not to us. For what good will it be for a man if he gains the WHOLE WORLD, yet forfeits his soul?

Rest with me awhile. You have journeyed up a steep, rugged path in recent days. The way ahead is shrouded in uncertainty. Look neither behind you nor before you. Instead, focus your attention on Me, your constant Companion. Trust that I will equip you fully for whatever awaits you on your journey. I designed time to be a protection for you. You couldn’t bear to see all your life at once. Though I am unlimited by time, it is in the present moment that I meet you. Refresh yourself in My company, breathing deep draughts of My Presence. The highest level of trust is to enjoy Me moment by moment. I am with you, watching over you wherever you go. ~Jesus Calling~

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

JJ "Gym Rat" Sullivan

Oh, our sweet JJ. He’s turning out to be just like his Daddy….gym rat blood to the core. He. Just. Loves. The. Gym. His basketball is in his hand almost every moment of the day…..and if he doesn’t happen to have it with him then you’ll catch him pretending to shoot in the air, or practicing his footwork (even through the mall), or working on his vertical. He watches channel 216 (NBA TV) instead of cartoons. Every night he looks through his basketball card collection. He can read almost any NBA player’s name when it comes on TV. He knows who plays for what team, what their jersey number is, and who is good and who isn’t. If you are in our family, you can’t help but learn about the game of basketball because that is what our family does. Basketball. But JJ doesn’t just know basketball. He LOVES everything about it. He would rather be at the stinky, humid gym doing drills with the big boys than going swimming in the oh-so-wonderful summer sun. He would rather me put him through a workout at the hoop in our driveway than play a game of hide and seek. He would rather play a make believe game in his bedroom with the hoop on his door wearing his throwback jerseys and NBA socks than get dressed up in superhero capes. He would rather be hanging out with Daddy in the 16 passenger van trekking across the Midwest with the high school boys’ teams than be anywhere else.
And, I think that is the best part. I LOVE watching JJ’s love for the game unfold…..just like his Daddy thought it would. We haven’t pushed basketball on him. Jake will tell you that his kids can do whatever they want to do……it doesn’t have to be basketball… long as they do it well and with passion and enthusiasm. Well, Jake and JJ decided that at the ripe old age of 4, JJ was ready to join in the Kingdom Hoops basketball camps this year. Jake told me, “I wouldn’t do it if he couldn’t focus. But his ability to concentrate and focus on the task at hand is so mature. I think he can be in camp without being a distraction to the other players.” He’s been doing camp with the 3rd graders for the past few weeks, but his camp time was during Justice’s swimming lessons so I hadn’t been able to capture any pictures or videos! Jake sent me this quick video of his first week in camp:

Jake said he was trying so hard and was so excited, practically smiling the whole time! Swimming lessons just got over last week for Justice, so I was able to get to the gym yesterday and get some camera time during camp:

Videos of drills:

There's that lefty follow-through!!!!!!!!!!!

Basketball. What's not to love??????????????????????????

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Foster Care Home in Ghana

Today I want to post about a project I’ve been working on since our last trip to Ghana in March. You know me, I like to be thorough and I like to REMEMBER all that God is doing and orchestrating to bring visions to fruition in our lives. This post is long, and detailed, but it will serve as a reminder to me of God’s hand over this………..

You all know that it has been in my heart to start a foster care home in Ghana. Ever since we found out Justice was abused and used as a servant in the foster home he stayed in, I have had all the motivation I need to find a way to create a safe home for vulnerable and orphaned children, as well as those in-process for adoptions. On the December trip to Asikuma we were able to identify the perfect area that we could set aside to do just that. Here is a mental reminder of the four buildings we would like to eventually turn into a group foster care home:
As we sorted through our projects for Asikuma last March, it was determined that more research still needed to be done before we could start on the foster home. We had learned so much at our time at the Beacon House as we picked the founder’s brain regarding the ins and outs of running a home for orphans. But, our time with the founder brought up more questions in my mind that I didn’t have the answers to. Mainly what I realized was that in Ghana, the only legal/proper way to do a child intake (bring an orphan into your foster home) is through social welfare. Social welfare must first investigate the child’s situation, identify them as orphaned, and only then can they be referred to a foster care home (or orphanage in the case of the Beacon House). This became a big issue standing in our way ~ our Isaiah 1:17 Foundation does not have any sort of connection or relationship with social welfare….for our previous work we just haven’t needed one. But, it was obvious that it was senseless to create a foster home without that connection. From there, I disappointedly shelved my foster home idea for a later date. I figured that God would clearly guide us into it once the timing was right.

Enter Christian’s situation. :) As I began my communications with the Ghana program coordinator (Anita) of Adoption Advocates International (AAI) about Christian, I got to see how a child’s situation is investigated first-hand. AAI partners with The Ripley Foundation (TRF) in Ghana. TRF does all the investigation and work with social welfare needed for situations like Christian’s. TRF places a high emphasis on orphan care, family preservation, and humanitarian work in Ghana. They are there to help and counsel vulnerable families and children and to come up with the best possible plan for their future, which is NOT always adoption. *I have more to say on that coming up in a later post.* TRF notified social welfare of Christian’s case, and then a social investigation report was conducted on his case. TRF also met with Christian, his caretakers, and his birthmother extensively before arriving at the decision of international adoption being in his best interest.

Meanwhile, at the same time that I am working on figuring out how God would use me to help Christian, I decided that this would be a good time to get to know Anita from AAI. I am always looking for new relationships and knowledge in the world of all things Ghana. Through a string of emails, I began to bombard her with all of the questions I have been waiting to ask until I found the right person with full expertise and experience. And as it turned out, Anita had also been keeping up to speed on our Asikuma projects through our blog and read about my heart to start the foster care home. What I didn’t know at the time was that our foster care home would actually fulfill a missing link within AAI’s Ghana program. They currently utilize private foster homes (up to 3 kids in each home) for the children in their program, but they are quickly running out of room! Oftentimes there are children that need to come into their adoption program, but they don’t have a foster home to refer them to. As we emailed, it became apparent that a partnership made great sense. Anita introduced me to The Ripley Foundation coordinators, who of course provide the missing link for us. TRF has the connection needed with social welfare in Ghana…..the connection that we don’t have.

It would work like this: As children are identified (either through Isaiah 1:17 or TRF), TRF would work with the families to help them come up with a long-term plan for their child, and work with social welfare for any children whose plan includes adoption. When social welfare agrees to the placement, the children could then come to live at the foster care home until their adoptive family is found and adoption complete. TRF would facilitate the adoptions. Since our adoption of Justice finished, I have searched far and wide for an organization that is doing ethical adoptions and steering clear of feeding the corruptive practices that are so prevalent in Ghana within the adoption world. The Ripley Foundation (who partners with Adoption Advocates International) is the organization I have been looking for.

So, all of these communications have been going on since the end of March. You can imagine all the emails back and forth between the numerous aspects of this project….remodel of existing buildings, furnishings for the home (beds, tables, chairs), electricity, water supply, monthly expenses for each child (food, medical, school, etc.), and identifying housemothers/caregivers. It’s truly going to be a partnership effort, but I feel that God has led us to this exact place and things are starting to come together. There is a sense of urgency now. Through our email conversations with TRF it was clear early on that our foster care home is really needed as soon as possible. In fact, I became certain that the foster care home was now a Phase I project, instead of something to be completed in a year or two. Of course, that’s all fine and dandy, but can I pound a nail? No. So, I prayed and prayed about how I was going to approach our construction guys to add in another project in August……would they be able to do it? I knew God was stirring me up, so I went for it. I compiled an email to them by copying and pasting all sorts of excerpts from my communications with Anita and TRF and basically said, “See? God is working!!! Can we make it happen??!!” And the answer is, YES IT’S POSSIBLE!

Here is the plan: on our August trip we are going to start in on the remodel of 1 of the 4 buildings. This will allow us to get our feet wet with just a few children. The Ripley Foundation and Anita met with Nana in Asikuma last week and compiled a list of items that need to be done to get one building in good condition. Our goal is for it to be livable, not fancy. To be honest, it doesn’t take much for it to be in way better condition than most of the other homes in Ghana. Notes from Anita on her first visit to the area for the foster care home (aka the children’s haven):

From there we headed out to the Children's Haven. Seriously Janel, what a perfect setting! Nana showed us the front-most house. That's the one he wants to outfit for the kids first. I have pics, but can't send them until I get home because it would eat all of my internet units to send them. The biggest thing that needs to be done is getting water supply to the home. There are two choices. Either they can pipe the water in, or dig a bore hole. To pipe it in, they would have to literally rip up the road in front of the land, and rebuild the road. I'm told that there would be several government entities to deal with because of the road issue. That option would be less expensive, but would likely take months because of red tape. The borehole would be much quicker, but also more expensive. They were talking 5000-6000 cedis for the borehole. The house is already wired for electricity so we're good to go there. Just need to get it turned on. [And really, lots of Ghana lives without electricity, so...] There were a few places in the ceiling where we could see water damage. The ceiling would need to be repaired, and also the roof where it is leaking. The screens on the home DEFINITELY need to be redone, to protect from mosquitoes, but that's a cheap fix. The porch of the home we could either screen in to make it a porch, or we could do what Nana has done with his--making it more of an enclosed area to use as a main hall. Joha, Nana, and Muna seemed to all think it would be a good idea to enclose it to make it a common room for the "family." The "summer hut" is a great place for hanging outside. However, there is probably a 4X3 food area that needs to be rethatched there. The bathroom in the first house is quite basic. Nana suggests that it be modernized as funds allow, but to start with there's nothing wrong with it being a regular "local" wash room and toilet. I would think a mom and 4 kids could fit easily into each room--each house having 8 children.

Joha and Muna are so excited about partnering with you guys. They were so happy to think of what a lovely place it will be for the children. Actually, they joked that maybe they should retire at the Children's Haven! =-) In all seriousness, all of us feel honored to have the opportunity to work with you on this. There is such a need for a home such as this. I can see the Lord's hand all over this!

Me too, Anita! :)

Beyond the actual remodel/construction part we will also need to purchase beds, table/chairs for dining, plus cooking/kitchen equipment. As funds allow we can furnish the home more nicely with couches and other items, but just the basics will be a great start.

By now I am sure you are wondering how in the heck we are going to fund another project? Especially since, if you’ve taken a look up at my sidebar lately, we aren’t close to covering the amount needed for the first 2 projects we’ve signed up for. Well, this is the part in which we trust that we serve a BIG God. He funds what He favors. By the world’s wisdom, we would not even venture into any of this in Ghana without having clear cut ideas of how we are going to fund it. But, all I can tell you on this blog is what we want to do, what we could do, what we will do, with the right funding. So far, with very little funding, we’ve started a student hosting program in Ghana, a basketball academy in Ghana, a scholarship program within Jake’s Kingdom Hoops program in the U.S., and an inner-city youth outreach program in the hub of Des Moines. Imagine what Kingdom Cares International could do, with the right funding, in a place like Asikuma? So how do we fund it? Simply, it just takes people with resources to come up behind us and believe that we WILL do what we say we are going to do. It takes people taking the time to see the RESULTS coming from changed lives. The Nana Yaw’s, the Ezekiel’s, the Samuel’s, the Justice’s, and hopefully the Christian’s. God has worked through us to give each of those kids opportunities. And there are a million more out there just like them. It’s not about building a library, or a medical clinic, or even a foster care home. It’s about the LIVES behind each of those projects. God can use us to impact more and more lives, and we are relying on Him to open up doors financially so that our good intentions are not left at just that. Don’t get me wrong, we aren’t just sitting around twiddling our thumbs and looking up at the sky to rain down money from the heavens. We are proactively telling the stories behind the faces, telling of our progress thus far, and telling of our visions for what could be. On average, Jake gets dressed up in his fancy suit at least 3 times a week and gets to stand in front of CEO’s, community foundations, and those of extreme influence and position to tell our story. To ask for support. To interview for grants. To be seen and heard, so that the lives behind our projects can be seen and heard. Right now, it feels that is what God is asking us to do. Tell! Speak! Stand up and be the voice for those who have none! And we will keep on, keepin' on, and pray that others catch our vision too!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

May God stir in the hearts of many, and use us however He may!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Monday, June 27, 2011

A Fantastic Gift!

With grandparents around, our kids will NEVER have a shortage on the toys of childhood, that is for SURE! :) For the kid’s summer birthdays (Jayla ~ May 20th, JJ ~ July 22nd, Justice ~ August 5th) it worked out perfectly for Grandma & Grandpa Sullivan to send one big gift for all three of them…..and boy is it a good one. Mommy even had to bring in some recruits to put it together…..

Uncle Eli & his girlfriend Zoe….........................................

Any guesses yet????????????????????????????????????????

What could it be??????????????????????????????????????????????

Yep, a trampoline!!!!!!!!!! Halfway done..........................

In about 2 hours it was all finished thanks to Uncle Eli’s mad skills (and a little help from Grandma Lori and Zoe)!!!!!!!!!

Now it's time to try it out!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Video of some jumping fun!

Of course Miss Jayla is the trampoline’s biggest fan! She jumped in it all afternoon and evening with little breaks in between.

During her first jumping break I realized what a great workout she is getting! Her little legs had to be so tired!

But Miss Jayla has ALWAYS enjoyed jumping!!!! In fact, while watching her I had a mommy flashback to this when she was 8 months old!

Thank you Grandpa & Grandma Sullivan for such a GREAT gift idea! And thank you Uncle Eli for spending your Sunday afternoon working away for your favorite red-heads!

And of course, as is the way things seem to be going for us lately, as soon as I wrote this post last night it started storming and blowing…..aka 70mph winds……and in a swoop and a swoosh the trampoline was gone. Or so we thought. We found it across the street in some trees. We had even anchored it down, but apparently not enough! Thankfully we have one tough Daddy and two strong Africans who were on the recovery crew this morning. :)

And, Grandpa Tim will be on his way over to fix the damage and construct a better anchoring system. We had kept the kids up last night until the storm passed in case we needed to go to the basement so they saw the WHOLE thing. :) Jayla was so upset! We’ll get it fixed sweetie!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Justice's Reading

That would be the load of phonics and reading materials given to us by Justice’s ESL (English as a second language) teacher for the summer. :) With Justice’s grade acceleration late last school year we have A LOT of catching up to do over the summer. It’s interesting to think that this week marks the 1 year anniversary of Justice’s full introduction to English! At this time last year you may recall we had traveled to Ghana thinking we were going to be bringing Justice home with us, only to find that the Embassy would not issue his visa. As reality set in that Justice would not be coming home to the U.S., we had to make temporary living arrangements for him in Ghana since we did not feel it was best to send him back to foster care. It was then that Nana and Esi (Yaw’s parents) graciously offered to take Justice into their home until his visa was granted. At the time we really thought it would only be a few weeks until we got his visa worked out, but it ended up being 3 months! However, as always, God used the situation for good, and Nana & Esi were able to prepare Justice for his upcoming transition to the U.S. by beginning to teach him English.

So, Justice has now been hearing and speaking full English for exactly 1 year! I took the following video yesterday as we ended our phonics time with him reading. This was the first time he had read this particular book....

Yes, we still have a lot of work to do. But we are really making headway. His ESL teacher and I have conjured up a tag team approach for the summer…..she gave us all the reading materials and instructions on how to use them. My job is to take him through activities every day if possible, and she checks in with us and his progress every so often. Mainly we are working on him being able to quickly see a word and then be able to say it. He can sound out most easy words phonetically, but on average it takes him about 8-10 seconds to do that if he doesn’t know the word at first sight. Since he is still learning English, we are trying to expose him to a lot of books and rich vocabulary….there are still a lot of words that he doesn’t know or understand yet. The English language is so intensive if you really think about it. For instance, sometimes a ‘gh’ put together is silent… in the word ‘sight’. But sometimes they make an ‘f’ sound like in the word ‘rough’. Once you start teaching someone to read, you realize how many crazy things like that make up the English language! I think it’s going to take him a good year of extra side-work to catch up to speed at his new grade level, but to see how far he has come in such a short amount of time is really remarkable. We are very thankful to have such great individual help and encouragement from his teachers and the school staff. I am also thankful that math has come easy to Justice… glad I don’t have to teach him that! :)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Fragment

There was an old man who lived in a tiny village. Although poor, he was envied by all for the beautiful white horse he owned. Even the king coveted his treasure. People offered fabulous prices for the steed, but the old man always refused. “This horse is not a horse to me,” he would tell them. “It is a person. How could you sell a person? He is a friend, not a possession. How could you sell a friend?” The man was poor and the temptation was great, but he never sold the horse.

One morning the horse was missing from the stable. All the village came to see the old man. “You old fool,” they scoffed. “We told you that someone would steal your horse. You are so poor, how could you ever hope to protect such a valuable animal? It would have been better to have sold him. You could have gotten whatever price you wanted. Now the horse is gone, and you’ve been cursed with misfortune.”

The old man responded, “Don’t speak too quickly. Say only that the horse is not in the stable. That is all we know, the rest is judgment. How can you know if I’ve been cursed or not? How can you judge?”

The people contested, “Don’t make us out to be fools! We may not be philosophers, but great philosophy is not needed to know what’s happened here. The fact that your horse is gone is a curse.”

The old man spoke again, “All I know is that the stable is empty and the horse is gone. The rest I don’t know. Whether it be a curse or a blessing, I can’t say. All we can see is a fragment. Who can say what will come next?

The people of the village laughed. They had always thought the man to be a fool; if he wasn’t he would have sold the horse and lived off the money. Instead, he was a poor woodcutter, living hand to mouth in the misery of poverty. Now he had proven that he was, indeed, a fool.

After fifteen days, the horse returned. He hadn’t been stolen, he had run away into the forest. Not only had he returned, he had brought a dozen wild horses with him. Once again the village people gathered around the woodcutter and spoke, “Old man, you were right and we were wrong. What we thought was a curse was a blessing. Please forgive us.”

The man responded, “Again, you go too far. Say only that the horse is back. State only that a dozen horses returned with him, but don’t judge. How do you know if this is a blessing or not? You see only a fragment. Unless you know the whole story, how can you judge? If you read only one page, how can you judge the whole book? All you have is fragment! Don’t say that this is a blessing. No one knows. I am content with what I know. I am not perturbed by what I don’t know.”

“Maybe the old man is right,” they said. But down deep they believed he was wrong. They knew it was a blessing. Twelve wild horses had returned with one horse. With a little bit of work, the animals could be broken and trained and sold for much money.

The old man had a son, an only son. The young man began to break the wild horses. After a few days, he fell from one of the horses and broke both legs. Once again the villagers gathered around the old man and cast their judgments.

“You were right,” they said. “The dozen horses were not a blessing. They were a curse. Your only son has broken his legs, and now in your old age you have no one to help you. Now you are poorer than ever.”

The old man spoke again, “Don’t go so far in your judgments. Say only that my son broke his legs. Who knows if it is a blessing or a curse? No one knows. We only have a fragment of the whole.”

A few weeks later the country engaged in war against a neighboring country. All the young men of the village were required to join the army. Only the son of the old man was excluded because he was injured. The enemy was strong and the people feared they would never see their sons again. Once again, they gathered around the old man, crying, and screaming because their sons had been taken. “You were right, old man,” they wept. “God knows you were right. This proves it. Your son’s accident was a blessing. His legs may be broken, but at least he is with you. Our sons are gone forever.”

The old man spoke again, “Why do you always draw conclusions? No one knows. Say only this: Your sons went to war, and mine did not. No one is wise enough to know if it is a blessing or a curse. Only God knows……”

(Excerpt from ‘In the Eye of the Storm’ by Max Lucado)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Everything Worth Having

Can we give up all for the love of God? When the surrender of ourselves seems too much to ask, it is first of all because our thoughts about God Himself are paltry. We have not really seen Him, we have hardly tested Him at all and learned how good He is. In our blindness we approach Him with suspicious reserve. We ask how much of our fun does He intend to spoil, how much He will demand from us, how high is the price we must pay before He is placated. If we had the least notion of His lovingkindness and tender mercy, His fatherly care for his poor children, His generosity, His beautiful plans for us; if we knew how patiently He waits for our turning to Him, how gently He means to lead us to green pastures and still waters, how carefully He is preparing a place for us, how ceaselessly He is ordering and ordaining and engineering His Master Plan for our good--if we had any inkling of all this, could we be reluctant to let go of our smashed dandelions or whatever we clutch so fiercely in our sweaty little hands?….If with courage and joy we pour ourselves out for Him and for others for His sake, it is not possible to lose, in any final sense, anything worth keeping. We will lose ourselves and our selfishness. We will gain everything worth having.

~Elizabeth Elliot~

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Jayla's First Dance Class

Jayla’s dance class started on Monday, and my-oh-my are the little girls adorable!!!!!! It took her the first night to get acclimated to watching the teacher and imitating what he did…..she was a lil spacey, very serious, and quite shy! But, by the second night she really let loose and I could tell she was much more relaxed and ready for fun! I took a load of pictures!!!!!!! First night……


Flexibility and stretching...........................................................................

The guy in the purple shirt is the dance center founder, Robert Thomas. Jayla was pretty wary of him at first, so she stuck close to the girl helper, Teagan.

Bar work.........................................................................

The second night Jayla seemed much more warmed up to the studio and her teachers, she paid attention better, and I saw a lot of smiles instead of such serious looks on her face!

Working on 'butterfly fingers'.................................................
Mr. Thomas is REALLY animated, and I think that is what helped Jayla warm up to having a guy teacher. I wish I would have taken a video of some of the imagery he uses when teaching them the skills. He talks a lot about rainbows, tickling the sky, balloons, being bunny rabbits and kitty cats, etc. Every skill incorporates a game or some fun way to use their imaginations.

Trying to teach them to get up on their toes........................

There we go....................................................................

They got to be grizzly bears for this flexibility skill..........
One of her favorites is doing the marching and dancing single file around the bar.

When I signed Jayla up for the class, it didn’t even cross my mind to pick up tap shoes (duh!)….so we didn’t bring any the first night!!!! I felt so bad! Jayla said, “It’s ok mommy. You forgot my shoes. We’ll bring them next time.” So, we picked up a pair by night #2 and I think the tap dancing is probably going to be her favorite!!!!!!!!! She LOVES making all that noise! Here’s a video of some fun!

Love it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Swimming Lessons for Justice

Justice has gotten very comfortable in the pool, and it’s been so fun to teach him how to swim! He gets a lot of practice in the hotel swimming pools on the weekends! About a week ago I got to take him to his first outdoor pool (other than the one at the hotel in Ghana). Of course, the first thing he wanted to try was to go down the big slide! I was a little leery, but I decided to let him since the slide only spits out into 3’6” deep water….so I knew he could stand when he landed.

Of course he LOVED it! His favorite part of the pool though, had to be the lily pad course. He probably spent at least an hour going on it over and over and over again!

The main thing we haven’t been able to teach Justice is how to swim in water that is deeper than his height….he is very fearful of even heading in the direction of the deep end. For that reason he started in swimming lessons this week. If you live in Iowa, you know that the past two days have been FREEZING! I have felt so bad for him having to jump in that water at 9:30am with it being 60 degrees outside, cloudy, and windy! Jayla and I are literally sitting there watching him in our sweatshirts! But, he has done so well. He had to start in the Level 1 class because they said he needed to be able to do a front float and a back float to start in Level 2. After 5 minutes of me trying to persuade them at sign ups that he could do everything except a back float, they still decided that he needed to be in Level 1. So, once again, there he was, bigger than everyone in his class, but thankfully he’s gotten used to that by now!

The pool. ............................................................................

Introductions with his teacher...........................................

Warming up.......................................................................

Meanwhile, little Miss Jayla was NOT happy. She wanted to get in the water but when I told her this was only a time for Justice to swim she gave me the silent treatment. :)

But, because little girls just have a way of, well, getting their way, I let her stick her little toesies in the water.

And then she was happy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

(By the way, if you’re wondering where JJ is in all of these pictures, he was at basketball camp! I will be posting on his life as a gym rat soon!)

Swimming lessons went on, and the kids were having so much fun learning all their skills.

And then, guess what? At the end of the day’s lesson Justice’s teacher had him try a back float and……..he executed it pretty well! Thankfully they moved him up to Level 2 right on the spot! So, at the next day's lesson he was with kids a little closer to his age….

And he got to work on some more challenging skills… perfecting his back float….

And learning the front crawl (this was the one thing he really wanted to learn how to do)!

Of course new experiences for Justice never come without questions. :) This is what he would like to know: “Mommy, a few weeks ago when we came to look at the pool it was empty. But now it is full of water. So how do they empty all that water out? And where does it go?”

Good question! He’s always thinkin!