Thursday, September 29, 2011

Broken & Beautiful

There she sat on our back patio. Vulnerable, emotionally exposed. Events from the past week had spurred this conversation. And now she was opening up about her life for the first time since she’s been here. Slowly, cautiously, and quietly. Careful to not make eye contact. Still and frozen she sat as she answered our questions. A few words at a time. And then her voice broke. And the tears came falling. And they couldn’t stop. There she sat. Broken in every way. Hurting in every way. Raw and ready to cling onto something – anything – that would take the pain away.

Her heart has been destroyed by the sin of this world. She’s been let down by the people who were supposed to love her the most. It hurts her. But it also angers her. She’s tried many things to make herself feel better. But the ‘feel-good’ things become fleeing fantasies, only filling the void for a short time. The pain stays, and she can’t get away. A deep hurt that nothing seems to cover, or fill, or take away.

This was the place that Jake and I had prayed that she would come to. A heart softened and ready for TRUTH to come busting in.

Jake begins to share his story. He knows about the internal prison. He knows what that feels like. Obsessions. Complusions. Racing thoughts. Acting on them so that they would go away. “But it never went away,” he said. “My obsessions just moved on to something else, and it became a vicious cycle. Until Jesus stepped into my life. And then I found freedom from my prison.” He shares parts of my story. Emptyness in the ‘missing piece’ of a relationship with my earthly father. The searching for fulfillment and identity. And finally, the realization that what I was thirsting for all along was actually a relationship with Jesus.

She looks up. For the first time these are no longer just words to her. Her eyes tell us she can relate. She waits for more.

“You can have a new life,” I say. “People will always let you down. But God never will. You can keep trying to chase after the things of this world to fill you up. But they only will for a time. You will just wind up empty again and again. That’s because simply covering up the pain will never get it to go away.”

“Yeah, I can’t wait to go to church on Sunday,” she says excitedly and with a smile.

“Why do you like church so much?” Jake asks.

Silence. And then, “I love the worship time. I love singing to God,” she says.

“You feel close to Him when you sing praises to Him, don’t you?” I say. “I used to feel the same way in college. Church was where I experienced God, where I was pulled in and felt close to Him. But when I left church that feeling would always go away. I only experienced that high at church. Eventually I learned that it doesn’t have to go away! If you put your faith in Jesus he makes an amazing promise to you – He’ll give you his Spirit! He’ll live inside of you! You can have those same feelings that you have in church - every single day of your life! But first you have to surrender your heart to Jesus. Until you do that, His Spirit won’t come to you. God can see right into your heart, and He will know when you’ve asked Him to make His home there.”

This is not the first time she’s heard it. But now it’s starting to make sense. She’s starting to understand that she is talking to two witnesses of God’s transforming power. The evidence sits in front of her. It’s in our words, in our stories, in our past, in our present. She didn't know us then, but she sees it now. She gets it. God has given Jake and I new life, and now our lives are filled with hope. Hope. It’s so attractive to her.

Sunday comes. We sit in church. It is a day for baptisms. She listens intently to a girl from China, who spills her heart open in the baptismal waters. She sits next to me and takes notes as the young girl says, “When I first heard scripture from the Bible, they were just stories to me. I didn’t believe them.” The young girl from China goes on and speaks of her broken life, God’s transforming power, of hope in a Savior who she has now put her faith in. Another witness proclaiming that Jesus is real. His Spirit is real. His offer of life is real. The young girl shares her favorite verse, “1 John 5:11-12 says: This is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. ” Her pleading words hang in the air as she goes under the water, and then comes back up to an explosion of applauding and cheers.

Sunday afternoon rolls around. I take a break from cleaning and decide to check Facebook where a sweet surprise awaited. Her status: *I Am Ready To Surrender To My Savior! I Am Ready. Jake Sullivan & Janel Sullivan Can You Help Me? Surrender To Our Savior. I Don't Care If People Make Fun Of Me At Rosebud Or Anywhere I Am PROUD To Get To Know Jesus At Least I Give It A Chance. (: I Want To Share & Help People Learn About Jesus Christ.
She’s ready. She’s ready to surrender her life to the One, the only One, who gave His very life for her. She’s ready to accept His free gift of new life. I go get her and tell her to come upstairs. Jake and I lay our hands on her and pray over her. God’s Spirit floods the room - we all feel it. I lead her through a prayer, but they aren’t just words to her. She gets it. Her heart is genuine. She cries as she repeats my words back to her Savior God for the first time. Broken. And Beautiful.

Our prayer ends and a smile widens across her face. We rejoice together in her day of salvation, not because the road ahead will be easy, but because hope has enveloped her in an embrace. An embrace that will never let go.

She feels the magnitude of her decision almost immediately. Many of her church friends celebrate her faith and encourage her. Many more old friends hear of her new faith and insult her, reject her, and say hurtful things. They de-friend her on facebook and write her off. They tell her they will beat her up if she ever comes back to the rez. Already it’s hard. She’s had to choose Jesus over friends. She’s confused. Why are people making fun of her? Why would ‘friends’ leave her so quickly?

My mind wanders to His words, knowing He too was rejected by the very ones He came to save. It doesn’t make sense. But His words bring light, ‘Count yourself blessed every time someone cuts you down or throws you out, every time someone smears or blackens your name to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and that that person is uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—skip like a lamb, if you like!—for even though they don't like it, I do . . . and all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company; my preachers and witnesses have always been treated like this (Luke 6:22-23).’

Another reminder that in the end, people will still fail her, and her expectations of them will too. But now she can see things differently. Now she’s committed to following the One and Only True God who will supernaturally meet her needs with His grace, time and again, in ways that I will never be able to explain to her in words. Her Savior has given her hope.

Hope. It's what she needed all along.

A hope that will never fail her or leave her empty the way people and relationships can. A hope that no one could ever take away. A hope that that will always float, no matter the circumstances, no matter the trials, no matter if she fails again and again. A hope for this life, and an eternal hope for the next. This hope will not disappoint her. Ever.

All heaven applauds. The old self - broken. The new self - looking beautiful in the precious and redeeming blood of Jesus Christ. Broken, beautiful, and hope-filled. Let new life begin…..

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


As we’ve begun preparing for our December trip to Ghana, the urgency of getting the children’s haven up and running has been brought back into focus this week. We know the need for having a safe, loving environment for orphans as well as children in-process for adoption in Ghana is high, but emails like this will keep you up at night….from the Ghana coordinator of Adoption Advocates International earlier this week:

This is one of those days that I so wish the Children's Haven was up and running. There is such a HUGE need Janel! We've got one kiddo in a government orphanage who desperately needs to be where she can receive love and attention. We have another kid who, without great intervention, will probably die (at the same orphanage). I'm just sick to my stomach. =-(

And in a later email:
I am counting down the days until the Children's Haven can take in children! I know your ministry will make a life-changing difference to many children. I'm already praying for the Lord to prepare a "spot" for each child that is in the most need to be there!

An email like that first one above will also send my husband into a tailspin of action. Literally. Within a matter of seconds he practically had himself a plane ticket booked to Ghana and was ready to go and save the day! :) However, it’s also not an easy thing to get these children ‘released’ from the orphanage either. You have to have a ‘working/favorable’ relationship with them, as they hold the authority over kids who are abandoned at their facility.

The NGO that we have partnered with in Ghana, The Ripley Foundation, mostly utilizes private foster care homes for children in their programs. Recently they started advocating for the special needs children residing in this government-run orphanage….if an adoptive family is found for the children they can be released into other care….like a private foster home or group foster home like our children’s haven will be. Right now, however, all the private foster homes are full and our partners are running out of options. Getting this email yesterday was like a swift kick into reality. What a reminder that we are literally dealing with the difference between LIFE and DEATH here.

Thankfully, Jake knows a lot of people who know a lot of people who are literally waiting to pounce on a situation just like this and help out. After a few quick emails, we had a family ready and willing to pay the costs for “Baby O” to be released from the orphanage and admitted into a hospital where she can receive the medical attention and evaluation that she so desperately needs. It is likely that “Baby O” has microcephaly and could have a hospital stay of several weeks. For a family to step up and cover these costs of a child they have never met, never even held in their arms is SO WOW to me! Talk about turning compassion into action….sheesh…..another great example of that! Not only that, but Jake got Ezekiel in on the mix, and Ezekiel found a great foster family for “Baby O” all set up for once she is out of the hospital. You can read more about sweet “Baby O” here, although some of the details of her story have since changed….namely, there is a good chance that a forever family has been found for her!

One of the staff members from The Ripley Foundation also decided to care for the other child in the orphanage (a 2-3 year old girl with cerebal palsy) in her own personal home until her adoption is complete. This child can be released from the orphanage because she has already been matched with a forever family who just passed Ghana court a few days ago.

There are many families who are able to meet the needs of a special needs child and commit to developing their full potential. Some families are not able, and that’s ok! I did want to advocate today for some sweeter than sweet little brothers in Ghana who are currently waiting for their forever family to be found. I can’t share their picture on here, but I can share their info:

Beautiful brothers around 2 and 4 years in Ghana are in need of a forever family! We have an opportunity for these precious ones to go to court very quickly if we have a family that is able to move forward at lightening speed with all of the paperwork and fees required. Fees will be reduced! These boys are special needs, with significant hypotonia (unknown cause). Please email for more information! Please spread the word!

To see pictures of these boys, as well as many other waiting children in all of AAI’s international adoption programs, visit: in which you will receive the contact info for obtaining the password.

By the way, I hope you have been keeping up with Miss Lucy’s progress over at our friend’s blog: Step Up Sister! Another great example of a sweet child with great needs that can develop and even thrive in a family filled with love, encouragement, and individualized help. Lucy’s story is one that will take your breath away!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Gotcha Day!

Gotcha Day (sometimes called Gotchya Day, Adoption Day, Family Day, Adoption Anniversary Day) is a day celebrated by American families of adopted children to recognize the day they received their child. The Gotcha Day is the day that the child was placed into the family's home for adoption, in other words, the day the family Gotcha. It is the most celebrated of adoption related events.

Yesterday, September 25, 2011 was our Gotcha Day! It was 1 year ago that we arrived home with Justice!!!!!!! Over the weekend we had fun celebrating as a family with dinner and a movie. :) As part of our celebration, I also made a video recounting our adoption journey. I am not a techno wiz, in fact I couldn’t even figure out how to get music on the video (moving the files from I-tunes to the video didn’t work!) so this video is quite simple with nothing flashy. But hopefully you will enjoy entering back into our story through pictures....and there are lots of them....3 years worth! Enjoy the memories!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Veritas Forum on Social Justice tonight at ISU

Veritas Forums are university events that engage the community in discussions about life's hardest questions and the relevance of Jesus Christ to all of life. Started at Harvard in 1992, Veritas Forums are now hosted at dozens of leading schools in the United States and Europe. This will be the 2nd Veritas Forum at Iowa State University:

Mary Poplin is a professor of education at Claremont Graduate University where she has been, at different times, Director of the Masters program in teacher education and Dean of the school of education.

She has taught in public schools and received her Ph.D from the University of Texas in 1978. After many years of what she calls “searching the spiritual net,” she began to follow Christ in 1993. Her compelling conversion is a testimony to the power, faithfulness, and love of God in Christ to forgive, clean and transform us.

In 1996, she spent two months volunteering with Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta to understand why Mother Teresa said her work was religious work and not social work. InterVarsity Press published her book ‘Finding Calcutta’ (2008) on what she learned from the experience with Mother Teresa, and her own struggle to find what Mother Teresa called “your Calcutta”.

Her recent education research was a five year study of 31 high performing teachers in nine low performing urban school in Los Angeles, the findings of which suggest that teachers who succeed most use traditional methods of instruction, are highly disciplined, strict, and believe their students can do much more. Over one half of these teachers said their Christian faith was central to their work in challenging schools and neighborhoods. She is the author of "Voices from the Inside: A Report on Schooling from Inside the Classroom" (1992).

More recently, Poplin has begun to work on the application of the intellectual, social, and psychological principles of the Judeo-Christian worldview as they apply to higher education, particularly among culturally and linguistically diverse peoples and the poor.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Guest Blogger: Tamara B with FOVC

A friend of mine is posting today about some exciting work that she and her husband have become a part of in Ethiopia. This all started with them stepping up to adopt a little boy from Ethiopia. Then, as God did with Jake and I in Ghana, He also led this couple into doing something more for their son's birth-country. In Tamara's words:

Thank you Janel for letting me guest blog today. For those who don't know me, I'm Tamara B. I met Janel through a common friend when we started the adoption process. Since that time I've kept up with the amazing work Jake and Janel are doing in Ghana. But more than that, I get encouragement and am challenged as a parent and a follower of Christ when I read her blog. Thanks Janel. I'm usually blogging one of two places. At Tamara B, I usually blog about normal life stuff - kid fun and dramas included. In 2009 while going through the process of an Ethiopian adoption, I began blogging at Journey 4 Hope. We adopted Judah and brought him home in May of 2010. What I didn't know at the time, was that our journey to Ethiopia would take us back again, and again. I'm guest blogging here today to share with you a little about the famine in the horn of Africa, how I'm directly involved with it and how you can help too.

My husband and I are average people who happened to open our eyes to the world we've encountered. You can read how we decided to partner with Friends of Orphans and Vulnerable Children on my blog here. If you don't want to click on the link, I'll just share real quick that FOVC is working in Southern Ethiopia - the region of our son's birth and first 24 months of life. FOVC focuses on several things relating to the orphans and widows in 3 small villages in Southern Ethiopia. It's a grassroots org started and run by a local Ethiopian. It has a holistic approach to how they do things, meaning they don't just give handouts or enable people. FOVC exists to help them help themselves. So, things like education, medical, and clean water for the orphans; training and micro-loans for sewing school, raising livestock, starting a business, etc. for the widows. I'm directly involved in developing the crops for widows program. Because they're a sustenance based society (meaning they live on what they can grow), it's important for widowed women to learn and know how to grow food. So 4 months ago, in June 2011, we travelled with FOVC to provide training. Ryan, my husband, treated livestock (he's a veterinarian) and trained a local guy while I focused on crops. It was at this time that we encountered more of the world around us and committed to continue to help.

Tamara pictured with the farmers.............................

A few short months later, after warning signs were ignored by deciding agency, a full on famine was, and is, ravaging the horn of Africa. (I blogged a lot about the details in July and August if you want to read those posts). That effects Southern Ethiopia. The place where not only my son was born, but the place where his Ethiopian momma and brothers still live. The place where I hugged and played with precious little children earlier this summer. The place that was no longer just a dot on a map but a real place with real people who were being affected. Did you know that by time the word "famine" is used, it literally means that thousands of people are dying a day? Let me say that again in case you're flying through this or got distracted, did you know that by time the word "famine" is used, it literally means that thousands of people are dying a day? This isn't a threat of malnourishment. This is people literally dying on the side of the road as they walk for weeks on end in search of food. Because of the direct impact on Southern Ethiopia, FOVC is in a full blown fund-raising, trip planning, relief giving, hope offerring process. Did that make sense? What I meant to get across is that FOVC is moving like wildfire having assessed the situation and is moving forward with a plan of action.

While we're sitting in our living rooms enjoying a warm cup of coffee, there are sponsored children in Southern Ethiopia thanking God for the one meal they received today but also begging Him to provide food for their neighbors who've not eaten for 4 or more days. While we climb out of our beds with an achy back, children in Ethiopia have never slept in a bed. And while we decide which place we'll go out to eat this week, children in Ethiopia may receive nourishment and might not. You see, children sponsored by Americans receive an education, food and medical care. But there are many children and families who have nothing, not even hope. I'm not trying to give you a sob story. Just trying to show you a few facts quickly. If you want the technical details click on the links above to my July and August posts.

Back to FOVC, they're doing several things. And because I whole-heartedly support them, I'm along for the ride. In October I will be with 3 other people headed to Ethiopia for famine relief. A medical doctor and the President will focus on bringing medical and food for the expected 4 months of famine. I, along with another guy, will be focusing on the long term hope of the project. We'll be training people on things they can do to grow their food even during a drought. If they can grow food during the dry/drought times, they will have food to eat. I'll be in-country for about 7 days. A short, but very focused, trip. After all, I stood and hugged Judah's mom in a tiny village who'd never before seen white people in June.

I told her that I loved her and prayed for her often. I can't imagine the impact this famine will have on her family and the many others in southern Ethiopia. This is one reason I'm going back. Another is that I believe the Bible where it says that it's my responsibility to help care of the orphans and the widows in their distress (found in the Bible in the book of James). Now, whether you believe the bible or not, you can still care for the orphans and widows and those in need.

Tamara pictured with some of the FOVC girls..................

Like Janel and Jake, Ryan and I have found our niche to be involved in. That looks a little different but the thing that is the same is that we're using our gifts, talents and passions to serve the God who loves us. The God who loved us "even when we were like that" as Janel said in a recent post. So, I'm here to share with you about the work that we're involved in with FOVC. But I'm also here to encourage you to find that niche. Is it sewing pillow case dresses for Ghana? Is it travelling with Janel and Jake to do construction? Is it mentoring a student who's a little rough around the edges? Is it taking a meal to your neighbor who's having a hectic week? Friends, we are so fortunate. We have so much. We don't go to bed hungry. We have multiple cars we drive. We are blessed, even when life is tough! I thank God for people like Jake and Janel who aren't perfect but who are using what God has given them to bless others.

I have no desire to take you away from what Jake and Janel are doing in Africa. However, if you would like to read more about what I'm involved with in Ethiopia, feel free to check out my blog Thanks again to Janel for allowing me to post today!!! If you have questions, please feel free to email me or leave a comment and I can contact you. Thanks for reading!

-Tamara B.-

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Jake's Thought for the Week

I haven't been posting Jake's 'Thought for the Week' regularly because I know that many of those who read this blog already get his newsletter every week! But, I really wanted to post this one that he sent out yesterday to the families in his Kingdom Hoops program. I thought it offered some great insight for parents of children in athletics. I always pray that I won't be one of those 'crazy' parents yelling in the stands while my kids play sports! :) Youth sports can bring out the absolute WORST in people...I've seen it first hand....but I loved reading Jake's reflections here of how his own parents shaped and supported his athletic career are his thoughts:

I was thinking about basketball and the development of young people this week and I thought it might be beneficial for everyone if I gave some personal feedback from a slightly different perspective. I am going to share with all of you what I feel my parents did well in regards to guiding me during my athletic pursuits. Next week I am going to share the things I wish would have been different. In my opinion there is not a more important external factor of success for an athlete than how their parent’s guide them in the process. Obviously there are always examples where we can show the contrary to what I may describe below, but from my perspective these are the things my parents did best that helped me reach my goals on the basketball court and off.

Basketball was my thing not theirs. I am not sure I can make this statement any more clear. From the start of my basketball career in 3rd grade when I was just playing on eight foot hoops it was always my decision and my passion to play basketball. From the time I started pursuing athletics, which included both basketball and baseball, my Dad always said, “Son this is your thing, and your Mother and I will always do whatever necessary to provide you the opportunities you desire. However, if we are going to provide the necessary resources for you to pursue your goals we will expect that you pursue it with excellence. If we ever feel that you are not providing the effort necessary to reach your goals then we will not provide the necessary resources for you to continue to pursue a particular activity.” Other than that simple advice it was always my dream, my adventure, my passion and never theirs.

My Dad was always honest - he never sugar coated things. My Dad was probably the most honest person I have ever met. He never sugar coated things just to make me feel good, but yet never offered an opinion unless I asked for it in some way. Here is one example I will never forget: I was in the 5th grade and we were in the finals of a league that our team participated in. I got fouled with 3 seconds left in the game and we were down one point. I missed both free throws and we lost the league championship. I was crying in the car on the way home and he brought down the rear view mirror in order to look at me. He then went on to ask me one simple question. He said, “Why are you crying?” In my mind I wondered if he had even been at the game. He proceeded to ask the most important question of my young basketball career. He said, “How many free throws have you shot over the past six months?” Well the answer was simple, as it was none except when it was mandatory at the end of practice. I gave him my answer and his reply was, “You can’t be upset about not accomplishing something when you have first not put in the time to accomplish it.” His response was simple and shaped my dedication towards excellence for the rest of my basketball career. I have a ton of examples like this one, but this particular one should give everyone the idea of the honesty I was parented with.

I always had two choices: Quit or Work Harder. This one is simple. Whenever I complained, became frustrated, didn’t think something was fair, or wanted a different role on a team my Dad would state the following, “You can quit or you can work harder and that choice is completely yours. However if you quit you won’t play on a different team until next year.” He taught me that complaining and discontentment was always going to be there as an athlete and it would ultimately be in my hands to work harder in order to overcome the adversity I was facing.

It was always my responsibility to talk with the coach not theirs. In my fourteen year basketball career my Dad only spoke to one of my coaches twice and both times I was included in the meeting. The first time was when my high school coach called my Dad and I in for a meeting notifying us that he was moving me up to varsity as an 8th grader. The other time was at 14U AAU Nationals. My Dad and I asked to go to dinner with my AAU Coach to discuss what things I was going to have to do in order to play college basketball. My coach was Mark Wilson - one of the all-time great point guards at the University of Minnesota. That conversation at AAU Nationals did more to shape my career than any other single event. Other than those two instances it was always my responsibility to talk with the coach. If I did not have enough courage to set up a meeting then the problem was not big enough to bring to a coach.

My parents let me grow up despite it scaring the daylights out of me. Oh gosh where do I even begin. I guess two stories pop into my head right away. I was entering the 7th grade and I came running home from school one day telling my parents all about the Five Star All American camp in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I told him how all the best players were going to be there and that I knew I could compete at that level. Two months later during the middle of June I was on my way to Pittsburgh. My Dad brought me to the airport and walked me to the security check-in. He gave me a handshake and told me to go to gate 4, get on the plane when they call my seat section, and then someone from Five Star basketball camp would pick me up at the baggage claim in Pittsburgh. I was scared out of my mind, but survived and ended up being selected for the All-Star team at the camp. My highlight of that camp was playing with Tyson Chandler in the All-Star game. He finished with 17 dunks during the game and was named MVP. Last year he was the starting center for the Dallas Mavericks. This was one of my first experiences learning how to navigate through this world without my parents by my side, and it was the start of developing an independence that helped me reach many of my goals.

The other great thing they did was when I entered high school and started playing 15U-17U basketball. The night before I was ready to head out for my first AAU high school tournament we had one of our famous family meetings at the dinner table. My Dad said, “Son, if you want to be great you will have to learn how to take care of your body. Moving forward your Mother and I will not travel with you to anymore spring/summer tournaments. You will ride in the team vans. You will need to learn to take care of your body - get the right amount of sleep, room with people who have different interests and cultures than you, and begin to develop independence for your own success. You can’t rely on your Mother and I to do this stuff for you the rest of your life, and if you ever go play college basketball you will need to learn to become responsible for taking care of yourself.” As always I was nervous, scared, and doubted his wisdom, but as I grew up it was that responsibility that they gave me that helped shape me and allowed me to reach many of my goals.

My Dad worked with me on the emotional and mental aspect of being a basketball player and left the skills, offenses, and defenses up to my coaches. Only on a very rare occasion would my Father ever give me a basketball suggestion, and if he did it was usually something very simple. He would maybe encourage me to hold my follow-through longer or do a better job being on balance. My Mom would just say make your free throws. They never talked about the offense, the coach, or any of my teammates. If I discussed any of those things in a negative way my life was probably on the line.

However, my Dad spent countless hours helping me on the mental aspect of being a great athlete. It could be the quotes that he stuck in my shoe before every varsity game for five years. It might have been the long rides home from a game after I lost my self-control which happened more times than not. He taught me how to think as leader and an athlete that strived for excellence. My parents left the coaching of the team and basketball related skills up to my coaches, but they took the responsibility of developing my leadership skills and emotional composure during difficult situations.

I could never hear my parents during a game. No matter what game I played or where we played I could never hear them during a game. My parents sat in the same spot for every varsity game. They sat in the upper row over in the corner. They would cheer and clap but they never coached me from the stands and never embarrassed me with the officials. I knew they were there at the game supporting me, but I never remember hearing them at a game. It allowed me to focus on what I needed to focus on no matter how much was on the line in any particular game.

They taught me what it meant to be great. The best lesson of greatness I ever received was prior to my eighth grade year. I was being recruited by every private high school in the St. Paul / Minneapolis area. I was trying to make up my mind of whether I would attend Tartan High School (which was my home public high school), Cretin Derham Hall, or St. Thomas Academy. I was wrestling with the decision because Tartan High School was coming off a 1-21 season and had not been to a state tournament in over 25 years and never won a state championship. Both St. Thomas and Cretin Derham Hall were both athletic powerhouses. One night my Dad knocked on my bedroom door and said, “I know you are struggling with this decision but great players make others great. If you really think you are going to be a great player then traditions and prior championships don’t matter. Great players create traditions and lead teams to championships.” I chose to attend Tartan High School. During my senior year we walked off the floor with a State Championship and Tartan High School went on to appear in the Minnesota High School State Tournament for 11 straight years.

They taught me the importance of failing. In other words they were never afraid to let me fail. They never protected or hovered over me. There were more nights than I could count that I went to bed crying, frustrated, discouraged, or even angry. Those moments taught me so much. They taught me how to bounce back. They taught me how not to quit in the face of adversity. They helped me grow, mature, and reach my goals. I always learned way more when I failed than I ever learned when I succeeded, and it was because my parents were not afraid to let me fail.

They taught me the importance of what a commitment meant. My word was my word. A commitment meant a journey together. It meant no matter how big the mountain was or how long we were in the valley I would be there with my teammates. My parents also never allowed me to forget where I started, or how I had gotten there, and who those people were in my life that helped me reach my goals. It was a great lesson that was taught to me over and over and over while I was growing up. It has helped sustain me through many difficult situations both in college and after when it would have been so easy to quit.

Those are just a few of the things that my parents did that had a huge impact on my journey as an athlete. Not everything was perfect and I will share those things next week. God blessed me with the passion and desire to pursue basketball and my parents did a great job of allowing me to pursue my goals at the highest level.

Have a great week!!


Monday, September 19, 2011

Family Devotionals

One of the core things that our kid’s ministry at church highlights is that us moms and dads should be the primary shepherds of our children’s faith. Church activities and classes should act as a supplement to what our kids learn at home from us, not a substitute. In other words, we should not leave it up to our church to teach our kids about God - we parents need to take the main role. At D6 ( a few years ago Jake and I heard a sermon from our pastor encouraging parents to be opening up the scriptures at home with our kids….meaning, digging into the Bible on a regular basis as a family. We had been reading to our kids out of their little children’s bibles before bedtime almost every night, but we decided it would be great to add in a sort of family devotional night at least once or twice a week. That way the whole family could sit down and talk through/discuss verses, freely ask questions, pose life application challenges and take the time to pray for each other. As we’ve housed various host students and people in our home, this time has not only become a great way to teach our kids, but it has also invited new house members into a non-intimidating setting to learn about our family’s faith. Jake and I rotate the leadership role often so that each of us take responsibility in ‘preparing’ what scripture we will talk through, as well as discussion questions.

Through this act of preparing short devotionals for our family, I’ve realized that I REALLY love writing my own! At first I would try to find family devotionals online, but I quickly found that it was just easier to write them myself so that I could tailor them according to who was in our family at the time. There are many devotionals written for ‘Christians’ who have already expressed faith in Christ. But often times there have been kids in our house who know nothing about God, and it’s best to make it personal – not generic – so that they can enter in quickly. Add in the age range of kids in our family and different backgrounds they are coming from and you pretty much have a smorgasbord of hearts that you are hoping God will break into.

I thought I would share a few devotionals on the blog in case someone else out there needs an idea of how to start in writing your own. Here is one that I did with the kids the other night (I would say this question format is good for 5 years and up):

Scripture: Daniel 3 (story of Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego)

Read Daniel 3: 1-7 aloud, then ask:

1) So what was King Nebuchadnezzar asking the people to do?
-To bow down and worship the image made of gold

2) What would happen to the people if they didn’t follow this command?
-They would be thrown into a blazing furnace.
-Ask them what a furnace is to make sure they know.

3) What is God’s command about worshiping any god other than Him?
-Let them answer then read Exodus 20:3-4
-Highlight that God wants us to believe in Him alone as He is the one and only True God. He wants our whole hearts.

Read Daniel 3: 8-18 aloud, then ask:

1) Why was King Nebuchadnezzar mad at Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego?
-Because they would not worship the image of gold he had set up (3:12)

2) Why did Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refuse to worship the image of gold?
-Because they served God alone (3:17)

3) Did Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego know that if they refused to worship the image of gold they would face death in a fiery furnace?
-Yes (3:15b, 17,18)

4) So what was their comfort, even in facing death?
- Even if they didn’t make it through this trial alive, they would still inherit reward in eternal life. Eternal life is worth any suffering we may have to endure first.

5) So, although Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were facing a painful death, they remained faithful and did not deny God by worshipping an idol. They also believed that they would be rescued out of the furnace. Who were they trusting in to deliver them?
-God (3:17)

Read Daniel 3: 19-23 aloud, then ask:

1) What do you think is going to happen?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

Read Daniel 3: 24-30 aloud, then ask:

1) So what happened to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego?
-The fire did not harm them. Not even a hair on their head, or a piece of their clothing. They didn’t even smell like fire (3:27).

2) Who did King Nebuchadnezzar attribute Shadrach, Meshach, & Abednego’s deliverance/rescue to?
-God and Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego’s faith in Him.

3) So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were determined to follow God no matter what…even to the point of death. What were some ways that we saw that God rewarded their faith?
-He protected them from harm in the fiery furnace
-Through their faith King Nebuchadnezzar saw the awesomeness of God and praised Him.
-In the end God was glorified

At some point throughout devo you can ask them: What would you have done if you were put in the same situation as Shadrach, Meshach, & Abednego – to worship a different god or else? Add in more personal questions like this as the discussion allows.

Pray that we can all demonstrate deep trust and faith in God, and be committed to following Him no matter what - just like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did.

Memory verse – say aloud and practice with actions: Exodus 20:3 ~ You (point to each other) shall have (cupped hands) no (shake finger ‘no’) other gods before me (down on knees, hand raised to heaven).

With younger kids you can then do a craft to drive the message home. I cannot take credit for any of the craft ideas that I post! Most of these I have either gotten online or from church. This one in particular was an idea from our children’s ministry coordinator at our church that she helped me think of for our Ghana trip bible studies:

Craft: Make a fiery furnace.
Supplies: Long white sheet of paper, yellow-orange-red tissue paper, scissors, glue and glue containers, crayons for each child, marker for adult helper to write “I will follow God”.

Tear/cut pieces of yellow, orange and red tissue paper to be about 1" square pieces and put the eraser end of a pencil (or a stick, or a finger) in the middle. Then scrunch the sides up around it. Then dip the tissue paper-covered pencil in glue, and transfer it to a piece of construction paper to make it 3D. Lay the piece of construction paper sideways and fold the outer halves in to make flaps. Put the tissue paper fire on the flaps, then open it up to see the men all safe inside. (They can draw three men...four if they want to throw in the angel.) They/we can write, "I will follow God" above the men.

My kids LOVED this craft and we went over the details of the story again as they each made their own fiery furnace.

Look at the concentration on their faces!

And finished furnace #1...............................................

Finished furnace #2 (I had to help JJ and Jayla draw the men and angel on the inside, but they did all the tissue paper work on their own!)

Finished furnance #3 - completed by a fireball herself! :)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

And That Is What Some of You Were

There is no knowing where her lies start or end.

We’ve learned to mistrust her more than trust her.

There’s eye rolling, there’s secrets.

Immature behaviors pour out of her, even when we ask her to do the simplest of tasks.

Her school work isn’t getting done and we’re getting calls from the principal about skipping class, about assignments not getting turned in, and about more and more lies.

She is constantly doing foolish things to try and get attention.

She purposely lives her life in disobedience just to see how we will react. 'Will they give up on me?' she wonders. It’s written all over her face. She’s testing us. Testing our faith. Testing our family. Testing our parenting skills. 'Well that didn’t push them away….maybe if I do this then they will quit, give up, send me back…..'
Everything inside of me screams out “I can’t love her!!! I can’t stand her immaturity and selfishness and silly mind games and fakeness!! I hate that she lies and lies and lies right to my face!!!! I can’t fathom why she doesn’t want to make the most of this opportunity! Why does she not care if she never gets out of generations and generations of hopelessness? Why won’t she work hard? Can I do this Lord? Can I really learn to love her unconditionally? What if she never changes?!?!?!?!?”

And then I hear it. A reminder. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
It’s easy to withhold my love from people when I don’t think they are deserving. But what if Jesus would have done that to me? God loved me when I was a rebel. When I didn’t love him back. When I hadn’t yet turned to him. He sent his son to die for me….not because I was good enough. Not because I deserved it. Just simply because he loved wayward, lost, sinful, unthankful, superficial me. “Don’t you remember?” he says to my heart. Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But, you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
And that is what some of you were.

And that is what some of you were.

And that is what some of you were.

I was once her. Sin is sin. Among other things I was a drunkard and among other things she is a liar. There is no difference between my sin or her sin. Without Jesus our sin stands. We are not spoken for. We cannot inherit the kingdom of God. We are not justified, rather we stand condemned. Me and her. Her and me. Jesus loved me, even when my heart was the same as hers. Even when I was stacking up sins without care.

But now I know the love of a Father. Of a heavenly Father who is relentless….a Father who leaves 99 safe sheep to go after just one who is lost. A Father who rejoices and celebrates with angels over one sinner who repents. I’ve felt the love of a Father. And He won’t let me stop in contentment by just receiving His love. “Now go and do likewise,” he says to my heart. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another (John 13:34-35).”
My nerves scream that I can’t do it. My schedule tells me I don’t have time. My mind tells me that I am not equipped to handle her and her issues. Satan sets himself up against our every move so that even one step forward is met with 3 steps back…..

But there it is again. That reminder. Janel, while you were still sinning, Christ died for you.
And so my challenge lies before me. To love unconditionally. To love through sin, through disobedience, through unrepentance, through lies….even if she never changes. This was the type of love my Savior showed me, and he asks me to do the same, for HIS GLORY is on the line. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know….

Monday, September 12, 2011

Monday Mosaics

Our weekend in pictures...

Friday, September 9, 2011

Jayla Update

Some recent conversations with Jayla:

“Mommy, when will I be a baby again?” (she asks me this ALL the time!)

“When I was a baby, what color was my pacifier?”

Talking to Jake while we are driving in the car:

Jayla: “Daddy, one time I smelled a skunk and it went up my nose!!!!”
Jake: “Oh!”
Jayla: “Yeah, and skunks have to take baths in ketchup. They have to drink it!”

Jayla is just an absolute hoot right now! She LOVES telling stories and being oh-so-dramatic. She even talks out loud to herself and has conversations with herself. Sometimes she’ll sing about what she is doing in a sort of monologue like, “right now I am going to put my shoes on and then we are going to the sto-oh-ore.” She is also still instructing and scolding JJ and Justice as if she was their momma. If she is trying to play a game with them she will sort of boss them around and set down all the rules of how she wants them to play….then when they don’t follow along she gets REALLY mad! She loves, loves, loves playing with other girls though, and gets along very well with girls her age, or girls who are older. Most of all I think she just enjoys that other little girls can relate to how her mind works….she doesn’t have to try and convince them to play with her like she does her brothers. :)

Other random things about Jayla…..she changes her clothes/outfits CONSTANTLY – like literally 4-5 times a day, she is the s l o w e s t eater ever….always the last one up from the table, she loves watching real-life animal shows right now like the Animal Planet channel or National Geographic animal series, she is constantly practicing the moves she’s learned in dance class – she’ll walk around the house swinging her hips saying “Daddy I am doing my sugars” or “Mommy you want to see my bridge?”, she can hold her breath underwater for a considerable amount of time and just recently started to be able to “dive” for diving sticks, she LOVES LOVES LOVES ice cream just like Jake – her favorite thing is to have a bowl full in our bed right after her bath at night, she is always asking us to rub her back and her feet, and she has also started to notice when things are pretty like my flowers outside our front door….we walked by them one day and she said “Mommy I like your flowers! They are sooooo beautiful!”

Love her! My plan was to get some updated pictures of Jayla during dance class on Monday, but with it being Labor Day they didn’t have class. They are doing some new techniques like learning how to walk on the balance beam, and A LOT of new footwork! I will post more pictures of her next week.

I love my kids SO MUCH!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It’s so fun watching their personalities form and emerge….they are each so unique and different…..I think that is what makes it so fun!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

JJ Update

A recent conversation with JJ (to set the scene, JJ & Justice had been gone for a few days with Jake at a tournament….they had just gotten back and this was after his bath):

Me: “JJ, come back in here you need to brush your teeth!”
JJ: “Why mom, I am sooooo tired!”
Me: “C’mon I bet you haven’t brushed your teeth in at least two days (the boys tend to forgo all body care when they are on the road without mom).”
JJ: “No mommy, it hasn’t been two days.....(pause, he’s thinking)……it’s been five days!!!!!”
Me: “Great, all the more reason to get in a good brush! Now…..where is your toothbrush…haven’t you unpacked it yet?”
JJ: “No, but it’s ok, I’ll just use whatever toothbrush is up here.” (And he said this as if this is a normal occurrence and he has done it a time or two!!!!!!!!!!!)

And so goes my life with boys. :)

JJ has tapped into his Daddy’s love for sports, and the two of them make quite the pair. On Saturday, the season opener of college football, they literally camped out on the couch the entire day and watched game after game. JJ can hold his own in any sports conversation and I heard him say things like “Wow, the Cowboys have a sa-weet stadium (the LSU vs. Oregon game was held there).” “Daddy, who you going for ~ Auburn or Utah State?” “Man, Oregon has an awesome running back.” “Where did Cam Newton go to high school?” and “WOW, Purdue blocked a field goal against Middle Tennessee to win the game!”and running into our bedroom where Justice was watching cartoons ~ “Justice, you should have seen it - Auburn did a short kick cause they didn’t get a touchdown, and #80 for Auburn caught it and then they got a touchdown! They won 42-38!” He can recount plays of games days after they happen, and he’ll remember scores and win/loss records just like Jake.

Although JJ turned 5 at the end of July, our plan (since he was a newborn really) was to wait to send him to school until he was 6, so he won’t start kindergarten until next fall. Jake works with tons of youth and he claims that boy’s ability to focus is so much better if they are older for their grade. And, of course, it’s better for sports if you are older in your class than younger, because you will be more developed at each grade level (life is all about sports right?). And what momma doesn’t want an extra year at home with her kiddo? The next question everyone has been asking me is if JJ is going to preschool. Since JJ gets so much social interaction hanging around the gym, I am really not at all worried about that aspect. And since I am blessed to get to stay at home with my kids, I figure why send them to preschool when I can just teach them myself? So, I am doing a combination of this Little Hands to Heaven curriculum, pre-school work books that I got from Target, and some other letter learning activities. Jake and I have also noticed that JJ has some major memorization skills, so I’ve been working on teaching him to read by word recognition alone. He doesn't really sound out words, but he can see a word once and and remember what it is the next time he sees it. Again, he got this great memory from Jake. I used to get so mad at Jake in college because he would hardly have to study and he would get A’s. I would have to put in so many hours of going over my class notes because I had to study things at least 3 times until I would remember it.

JJ will do anything to make Jayla laugh, and recently that means saying any of the following words: butt, poopy, naked, etc. He will also burp really loud so that he gets the reaction of “Ewwwwwww!!!” from her. Although they do this all in fun, we obviously had to put a stop to it, since it’s not always good when they yell this out at the top of their lungs in a public place. So, I started telling them “That’s not appropriate” and now if he says one of those words Jayla will respond with “That’s not app-o-pee-it JJ” and then they giggle even more. It's hard to be strict when they are so stinkin' cute!!!!!!!!!!!!!

JJ has been participating in the fall skills program at Jake's gym. There is one other little girl there who is 6 years old, and she and JJ are so fun to watch! Here are some videos I took of him doing drills last night...

Full court passing drill...

Right hand pound dribble...

Explosion drill...

Full court dribble between the legs...

Cross-over dribble with a lay-up...

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Justice Update

On August 17th Justice started school as a big old second grader! One of the few pictures I have of Justice from Ghana was a school picture taken about halfway through our adoption process. I’ve used it previously as a comparison, but I’ve got to use it again so you can see how much he has changed in just 1 year of being in our family (September 23rd will be the 1 year mark of him being home with us):

Last year I took Justice to school every morning, but this year I signed him up to ride the bus. What is it with kids and riding the bus that makes them so excited? He asked me to set his alarm for 5am on the first day of school because he wanted to make sure he was ready! He stood out on the curb for almost 15 minutes that morning just waiting and waiting….Jo-Jo waited with him. :)

So far he is loving 2nd grade and his school work is all coming back with stars and stickers and perfect marks. Right now they are working on handwriting, writing sentences, identifying verbs and nouns, putting words in alphabetical order, identifying spelling and punctuation errors, addition math problems, and some simple word problems in math as well. We are still plugging away at reading, and his word recognition is getting much better.

Last week Justice hopped off the school bus and burst in the door flashing a brand new $20 bill! He told us that he had sold ONE Pokemon card to a boy at school for $20. He actually had been talking about it all week, but none of us thought he was serious (I mean really, what kid his age has $20 sitting around?). He was pretty excited about his salesman skills, and was ready to spend his cash right away. Jake and I gave him ‘the talk’ about saving, but he was already seeing a beyblades purchase in his near future. With his leftover birthday money and his hot salesman cash he bought a beyblades stadium and a few spinning tops. If you don’t know what beyblades are you can check them out here:
you have these little metal tops that you use a launching tool for to ‘Let ‘er rip’ which sends the tops into crazy spinning mode. You go to battle against other spinning tops and whoever’s top is left standing at the end wins the battle. This sort of game is right up Justice’s alley, and he’s got our whole family addicted now!

We were in Ghana over Justice’s 7th birthday so unfortunately we missed it! My mom handled the celebration for us, and of course we got him something extra special since we were going to be gone….

A little motor scooter. Hands down, this gift has been enjoyed more than any other gift we have ever purchased. Justice tootles around town visiting his friends, and of course JJ loves to go on rides with him too. He has been so responsible with his scooter….always wearing his helmet, obeying the traffic rules and being aware of cars, and plugging it in to charge it whenever he is done. It’s actually been great to offer him the opportunity to be responsible for something ‘big’…he really does a good job with it.

And just this weekend Jake taught Justice how to mow the lawn! He was SO EXCITED to learn, and took the job very seriously. He was so proud of his accomplishment when we was all done. I think he is really going to like having this new responsibility too!

Thanks to the Lord, the struggles of Justice adapting to our family have been very few (at least the way I see it). Here are a few things we are dealing with now: Justice and JJ are best buds, but as brothers do, they can also fight a lot, especially when they are in a competitive atmosphere. I didn’t grow up with brothers or sisters close in age to me, but Jake assures me that their little cat-fights are ‘normal’. We are still in the middle of teaching Justice to be mindful of his abrasive tone which comes out especially when he is upset. On our recent trip to Ghana Jake and I were reminded of the atmosphere Justice grew up in, and that the kids can be extremely disrespectful to one another (yelling at each other harshly, bopping each other on the head, and lots of loud talking and threats – if you don’t do ____ I am going to _____). Slowly we’ve been trying to root this sort of talk out of Justice, to teach him to speak gently (yet firmly) and to problem solve when he’s upset about something (instead of just yell). We continue to press on in teaching Justice to show respect and compliance to adults, authorities, and those older than him. He also has a tendency to sport a visibly bad attitude if we ask him to do something he doesn’t want to (he’ll still obey, but will purposely drag his feet almost to prove that his heart isn’t in it). Of course, we deal with this same thing with our other kids too, it just comes out in different ways ~ Jayla right now chooses to fall down onto the floor and scream and cry if she doesn’t get her way. :) I can sum this all up by saying that Justice is learning social behaviors now that most kids learn around the ages of 2-4. I sometimes get frustrated with his immaturity in this area, but from where he started to where he is now is a night and day difference. So we keep plugging along. :)

Justice’s love for God is really coming out. He literally ‘studies’ God. He wants to know everything he possibly can about who God is, and what being a Christian means, and how to follow God. He asks tons and tons and tons of questions about the Bible, especially about the character of God. At least once a day he’ll say that he can’t wait to get to heaven to “see how God can watch the whole world all at the same time” or “to see what God looks like” or so that he can ask God all his questions….like how He made the whole world. The other night at bedtime I asked Justice if he had anything he wanted me to pray about for him. I will never forget what he said, “Can you ask God to give me the Holy Spirit?” Among other things, adoption in its own unique way is a chance at fulfilling the Great Commission right under your own roof. How cool is that? :)

Friday, September 2, 2011

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Host Student Switcheroo

Our college host students that had been home for the summer, Yaw and Ezekiel, headed back to college on August 17th. Ezekiel went back to Gillette College in Wyoming where he and Yaw attended school last year. Yaw started at Dordt College located in Sioux Center, Iowa. ( This year we also decided to try and find a host family for Peprah (our high school host student) that was closer to his school, Des Moines Christian. It was a struggle all last year for Jake to get him to school every morning and pick him up every afternoon with that 45 minute drive! It also didn’t seem fair to Peprah that he had to be so far removed from school activities and friends since we live so far from his school. An awesome host family was found for Peprah, the Storts, and he now lives with them in Des Moines and is only 1 mile away from Des Moines Christian high school (the Storts also have 2 younger kids not pictured here)!

Jake and I were so bummed to see Peprah go…..he was a great role model for our kids, a huge help to me around the house, and brought such a joyful-lighthearted-spirit to our family. But, we know that he will enjoy his high school experience so much more now that he can be closer to his school and friends.

So, within one day Yaw, Ezekiel and Peprah were gone, and on that same day we welcomed in our new host students from the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Kiana, 8th grader (pictured left), and Victoria, 9th grader (pictured right), have now taken over our extra bedroom and will be hanging with us for the rest of the school year. The tables have turned folks! We now have more girls in the house than boys!

Here’s a map of the reservations in South Dakota…Rosebud is there at the bottom center….

We signed up to be a host family for this exchange program through our church, fully knowing that the Native American culture and community is something we have very little knowledge about. Since our initial sign up, Jake and I have slowly come to understand small tidbits of what life is like on ‘the rez’ (the reservation). Although we haven’t been to the rez, the descriptions of gang pressure, sexual assault, suicide, and drug and alcohol abuse give me pictures of darkness and hopelessness. There have been a handful of articles written which give quite a glimpse into the depravity of reservation life… is the link to those: I found the following statistics written into the story of Neleigh, a little girl Jayla’s age, quite piercing….

- As a Native American girl and a member of what South Dakota’s U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson calls “the most victimized group in America,” Neleigh has a one in three chance of being sexually abused in her lifetime.

- The possibility of her dropping out of school is greater than her getting a diploma.

- She will know people in gangs, and maybe join one herself.

- She’ll have friends who are crammed into inadequate housing with 15 people or more, or who get ready for school with no running water or electricity in their homes.

- On a welfare diet of Ramen noodles and popsicles, she has a 50-50 shot at developing diabetes.

- She is twice as likely to be touched by thoughts or knowledge of suicide as other South Dakota teens.

- And like her mother, who was 15 when she gave birth, Neleigh is growing up in a place where the rate of teen pregnancy is 2 1/2 times the state average.

It appears that often times, the only future hope to escape becoming another statistic is to leave the reservation.

After having our girls with us for a little less than 2 weeks, I can tell you that hosting them is going to be a night and day difference from what we experienced in hosting our Ghanaian host students. But, we are seeing strikingly similar things as to when Sam lived with us. Namely, this is a major spiritual battle. Yaw, Peprah and Ezekiel each came to us with a professed faith in Jesus. They learned and grew in their faith while here, but they originally came to us with a base of a relationship in God. Reading their Bible was not foreign to them, going to church was not foreign to them, and praying was not foreign to them. This is not so with our girls. Everything that has to do with God is foreign to them, and rather uncomfortable. I know that Satan absolutely hates that they are here, and inviting these girls into our home has put us all in the line of fire for the devil’s attacks. But to me, that is the first sign that we are supposed to be doing this. It was the same with our adoption. We know God is in this, because Satan is desperately trying to stop it.

One of the things that I love about hosting students is sitting down a few times a week to do a family bible study. The discussions stay pretty interesting when you get to hear from teenagers on topics of faith and listen to their questions. I love even more that our own kids get to hear insights and thoughts and questions from those not too far off from them in age. During one of our family bible studies last week we went through these verses in Acts:

The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ (Acts 17:24-28)

We talked about how these verses showcase God’s sovereignty in that He ordained for these girls to be sitting there in our living room from the beginning of their lives. And the same with Justice. We talked about how Justice was one of the millions of orphans in Africa, and yet, God literally picked him out from all the way across the world, and now he was here with us. From there the girls opened up and asked some great questions:

Why is God the most important spirit? Why should we worship him alone over all the other spirits?

How do you change when you’ve grown up your whole life believing something else?

Oh man, are they talking to the right people or what?!?!?! Jake and I had these same questions that we ourselves had to deal with just a few short years ago. Although I hate that I’ve spent more of my life as an enemy of God than a follower, I also now see how I can use my past to my advantage. I know where these girls are coming from. I know what it feels like to not have the Holy Spirit inside, and to not really give a care at all to your way of life, not to mention your Creator.

We got to talk to the girls about what beliefs they’ve grown up with. I asked them about their beliefs on death. “When the Sioux Indians die their spirits go to the wind caves,” they said.

“What about us, then?” Jake asked. “Where does the white man go when he dies according to your beliefs?”

“You go wherever you believe it is you go.”

I can see my old self in these girls. And although it is tempting for me to carry the burden of wanting so badly for them to know truth, I know that it is not up to me. Yes, we can open the scriptures with them. Yes, we can openly talk to them about our faith. Yes, we can pray for them. But, God is the one who will open their eyes and reveal His truths to them, just as He did for Jake and I not too long ago.

….so that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. ~ 1 Peter 2:9 ~