Friday, June 29, 2012

'Give Them Grace' - In Action

I am still slowly reading and digesting the book that I mentioned in my post on Monday: 'Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids With the Love of Jesus' (By Elyse M. Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson ). I knew the opportunity would soon come to do some of this ‘dazzling’ and I didn’t have to wait long….

On Tuesday morning it was about 11:30am. We had just finished up lunch and I was packing up our bag for the pool. As the kids were waiting for me to finish cleaning some things up they had turned the TV on and found that one of their current favorite movies was playing on the Disney channel – 'Let It Shine'. The movie was about ¾ over and they’ve seen it at least twice already. About 10 minutes later once I was ready I announced that it was time to go to the pool and that they could go load up into the car. Justice and JJ immediately protested, asking if we could stay home until noon so they could watch the last 20 minutes of the movie. I then explained to them that I really wanted to get to the pool right when it opened because we had to leave by 3pm that day (rather than our usual 4pm). I also mentioned that this particular movie was on constant re-run on the Disney channel right now, so that they could surely catch it again soon. Justice said, “Ok, I’ve already seen the end anyways,” and he proceeded to the car with the bag, along with Jayla who had already gone out. However, JJ got very upset and began some major hollering/crying that escalated into what us parents would call a full-out ‘temper-tantrum’. He expressed through his venting that the part coming up in the movie was his favorite part, and that he didn’t want to miss it, and he resisted heading out to the car.

Now freeze for a minute. At this point, I knew that JJ had completely lost his self-control and that it was my responsibility to use this as a teaching moment and discipline him. However, this is how lazy I’ve gotten: I actually pondered just giving him a ‘talking to’ in the car, on the way to the pool because I wanted to get there right at opening time, and nothing was going to stand in my way! (Geez, and I wonder where he gets his selfishness from!) I was literally thinking: The car is already packed, Justice and Jayla are already out there, let’s just let this one slide…. But then, with the recent ‘high’ from the insights of this book, and the recommitment I had made in my heart to TAKE THE EXTRA TIME to shepherd my children, I realized this was my moment to start.

So, I told JJ to head to his room and I would be in. He knows the drill. He knew he was ‘in trouble’, and he complied, sobbing all the more. I quickly ran outside to tell Justice and Jayla to play in the driveway for a few minutes until I was done talking to JJ. Then on the way back in I prayed that God would speak through me and penetrate JJ’s heart with truth.

Now, freeze again. I first want to tell you how I normally would have handled this prior to reading this book. It would have gone a little something like this:
I would have asked him, “JJ, what was wrong about the way you just acted?”
He would have said something like, “I didn’t listen to you and I lost my self-control.”

He knows the right answers because we have gone through this scenario time and again, and we try to ‘label’ behaviors and responses with the same words that the Bible uses. [So, for example we call a temper tantrum a loss of self-control] From there I would have tried to draw out the heart issue by asking him, “And what was going on in your heart when you decided to act this way?”

We then would have talked about how in his heart he got angry when he didn’t get his way, and I would have retraced with him how he decided to vent his anger and then wound up losing self-control over his emotions – all because he didn’t get what he wanted.
At this point I would have then, in plain words, given him wisdom on what the Bible says about self-control. One of the verses I would talk with him about is Proverbs 25:28. I wouldn’t have quoted it word for word, but rather would have said something like, “A man without self-control is like a city whose walls are broken down.” Then I would have asked him if tonight when we go to bed if we should leave all the doors and windows to our house unlocked and completely open. He would say, “No,” and when asked why he would be able to generate the right thought along the lines of it not being safe because then just anybody could come into our house. I would try to help him to see that having self-control is the same as locking or guarding our house. That when we ‘lose it’ we end up doing foolish things that we regret and in addition are practically inviting attacks. In the end, this will lead to consequences.

So, we would have talked along these lines and I would tell JJ that he has to learn to keep his self-control, and that it is mommy and daddy’s job to hold him accountable. Then we would proceed with discipline (we follow what is outlined and explained in the book Shepherding a Child’s Heart – by Tedd Tripp) and then I would have prayed for him, that God would help him to have self-control the next time he is in a similar situation.
Again, that is the way I was doing things prior to reading this book. But I’ve felt for awhile that something was missing, specifically in my dialogue with my kids during discipline. Combine that with my recent laziness and ‘let it slide’ mentality, I found myself just hollering commands at my kids when they were misbehaving to get them to stop. Prior to our getaway, I had identified that this was not purposeful, and not how I wanted to parent, and asked God to help me to change. While reading this book, I definitely identified what has been missing. I am sure you will also be able to pinpoint it as well after reading the following excerpt of a similar scenario displayed in the book. I know this is long, but you’ve gotten to the best part now, so keep reading! Here is an excerpt from pages 57-58:
One day, when Wesley was four or so, Jessica remembers sitting in the park with a new friend we’ll call Catherine. Catherine was new to Christianity and new to our church. Like all moms do at parks, she and Jessica began a conversation about raising their children. The conversation turned to the subject of discipline. Jessica was trying to biblically explain to Catherine how important consistent, loving discipline is. She talked glowingly about how beneficial it had been in little Wesley’s life.

But then, when it was time to leave, Wesley decided he didn’t want to go. Apparently, it was against his plan for eternal happiness. So he threw himself to the ground in the parking lot and had a fit. Jessica felt humiliated. Everything she had just said to Catherine about the benefits of discipline was flying right back in her face.

Jessica struggled with her own works righteousness (a term explained earlier in the book). She felt fearful and angry. She struggled with her desire that her new friend think well of her and her parenting methods. She wondered, What does she think of me now? What does she think of my son? She started making excuses, “He normally doesn’t act that way.” By the time she got Wesley buckled in the car, she was consumed with her own failure as a parent. I do exactly what the Bible says. Why isn’t God helping me or changing my child? I’ll never talk about parenting to anyone ever again!

If Jessica had remembered to parent in light of grace, she could have responded differently. Knowing the character of her heavenly Father, she could have remembered that every time something unexpected happens, it is God once again approaching her in love to show her the glories of the gospel and the beauties of grace. She could have been reminded that spanking doesn’t transform the soul; only Jesus Christ does. When she saw Wesley lying there throwing a fit, she could have seen a picture of her own heart. She could have heard the Lord remind her that this heart of a rebel is just like her own…..Then Jessica could discipline Wesley with these words (I combined pages 21-22 and 58 to give you the full response below):
“Sweetheart, I will discipline you now because I love you, and you must learn to control yourself. When I tell you that it is time to go, we must leave. I know you didn’t want to go, but when we don’t get what we want, it isn’t okay to start screaming and throw yourself to the ground. There are two things you must understand: first, you were being unsafe. God has put me in charge of you, and he has told me to keep you safe. When you lie in a parking lot with cars around you, you could get hurt. So, when I tell you to come, I am doing what I believe will keep you safe. Second, when you don’t get what you want, you are not allowed to start screaming and crying. You are sinning against God and against me when you disobey and complain. I understand that you didn’t want to leave the park. I know how difficult it is to show control when you don’t get what you want. God tells us to be self-controlled, Wesley, but you can’t. That is the bad news, but that is not all the news there is. The rest of the news is so exciting! You can’t have self-control like God is asking you to, so you need a Rescuer to help you. And the really great news is that God has already sent one! His name is Jesus!

Do you know what Jesus did when he had to go somewhere he didn’t want to go? He told God that he would do whatever God wanted him to do. He did that for you, and he did that for me. The place he didn’t want to go was the cross. He knew the cross was going to be hard, and it would hurt him a lot. But he did what he didn’t want to do because he loved us.

Jesus knows that there are times you are angry and selfish. But he has loved you in spite of your sin. And because of this, Welsey, because of Jesus alone, because of what He has already done for you, if you believe in him, you will grow to have self-control more and more. But you’ll never be able to do this on your own.”

After sharing soul-comforting words like those, Jessica continued with a time of discipline and prayer for Wesley that would grant him faith to believe that the Rescuer he needed loved him, would forgive him, and would help him to have self-control.
I bolded the parts that really hit me.

What I have been missing in my dialogue, is giving my children the grace of the gospel. Yes we talk about this grace outside of discipline moments, for example during our family devotionals, but I have never worked it into my words during discipline. Basically, during discipline I had always been pinpointing the bad news, (i.e. telling JJ that he doesn’t have self-control) and then loading on a command/a rule: he needs to get it. But, I haven’t been telling him the good news - the beautiful gift of grace - that Jesus loves him in spite of his performance or lack thereof(sin). The grace dialogue above expresses that God’s love for us is not dependent on our works/obedience (i.e. whether we can keep our self-control or not) but rather rests on the obedience and sacrifice of Jesus alone. Where we fail, Jesus has already succeeded and the point is that we would recognize that and our need for HIM!

The author explains it this way (pg. 36 ):
This doesn’t mean that we don’t teach our children God’s law (rules/commands). We are commanded to do so but not to make them good. We are commanded to give them the law so that they will be crushed by it and see their need for a Savior. The law won’t make them good (i.e. me telling JJ that he needs to have self-control). It will make them despair of ever being good enough, and in that way it will make them open to the love, sacrifice, and welcome of their Savior, Jesus Christ.

Yes, give them God’s law. Teach it to them and tell them that God commands obedience. But before you are done, give them grace and explain again the beautiful story of Christ’s perfect keeping of it for them. Jesus Christ was the only one who ever deserved to hear, “You are good,” but he relinquished his right relationship with the law and his Father and suffered as a lawbreaker. This is the message we all need to hear, and it is the only message that will transform our hearts.
And once this heart transformation begins to happen our actions follow suit if we’ve come to genuine repentance. If we do end up obeying God’s commands, the right motivation is because of a love for God and trust in his gracious plan and power. We’re not working/obeying to earn God’s blessing. We work/obey because we already have it! [more thoughts directly from the book]

JJ had been showing me over and over with his actions and emotions: “I can’t! I can’t keep my self control.” And I had essentially been answering that with: “Oh yes you can, and you will. The Bible says you have to, so you can.” But I should have been answering his “I can’t” with a resounding – “You’re right! You can’t! But let me tell you about what Jesus has done….”

Now, back to JJ’s scenario. After he had cooled down, I went to talk with him and I tried out this new explanation that included grace. It wasn’t word for word from the excerpt I have in blue above, but the main parts were close. Immediately he realized that what I was saying wasn’t the usual “you need to have self-control!”. I am not kidding, he started off hanging his head and looking at the floor, but as I spoke of what Jesus had already done for him, he looked up at me, and looked so relieved that it made me start crying! It was like this huge burden had just come off him. I wonder if he was wondering what happened to the mom that usually swept right in ready to aim a rule/command at him. Before, the rule/command was always the primary part of what I taught him. This time, I still told him that God expects us to have self-control, but I DRENCHED him in the truths of grace – that although he really struggles to keep his self-control, there is hope because he, JJ, is the exact sort of person Jesus loved to be around and came for. The good news of the gospel is for sinners, like him and me.

From there I continued with a time of discipline - as outlined in 'Shepherding a Child's Heart' book - and time of prayer for JJ.  And you know what, by the time we were done, over 20 minutes had gone by and there was no way that we were going to make it to the pool by opening.  But I didn't care anymore.  By the look I had seen on JJ's face when that burden came off, I knew God had given me confirmation that taking the time to shepherd my children was LIFE giving to them.  And every mom desires that for their children.

Wow has this book spoken such a fresh perspective into me! Until my children fully grasp the love and obedience and sacrifice of Christ on their behalf, only then will I be able to observe the heart change (and eventual behavior change) that is genuine and real.

Have I mentioned I am only half way through the book? :)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

She's back; Christian's fund; Sponsorships; Boy with Compound Fracture; Asikuma Library/Comp Center Updates

She's Back!
My mom arrived home from her trip to Tanzania a few days ago!!!!! She has just begun blogging about her trip…you can read her stories and see photos from her 2 ½ week adventure at her blog here:


Christian's GRACE Fund
Thanks to all of you who have so kindly donated to Christian’s GRACE (Generosity Results in Adoption for Children Everywhere) fund. The current tally is at $3702. [To see the original post with details click HERE.]  God keeps telling me to hang on and we will eventually get to that $4000 mark! From here, I will no longer be doing tally updates, but will let you know once we reach the goal!


I had a handful of people contact me about wanting to be George (and family)’s sponsors! That was quite exciting! I ended up matching him with the family who contacted me first. For those of you who are interested in sponsorship, it is probable that more children like George will be identified on our trips, but we prefer to allow God to lead us to the individual cases. This is not going to be a quick/immediate program that we will set up (if it even becomes a ‘program’). It will take time. In the mean time, there are many children in Ghana in need of sponsorship who have already been identified and placed into an actual sponsorship program through our adoption agency - Adoption Advocates International. Our agency does adoptions, but their first priority in-country is family preservation which happens through humanitarian efforts. Adoption is always the last option. Keeping a family together is the first aim. Specifically, our Ghana program coordinator, Anita, has many children identified in Ghana who are *SO* in need of educational sponsorship (like George and his sister are). I cut and pasted a little excerpt below off of one of Anita’s recent/awesome/thought provoking blog posts:

Orphaned and vulnerable children need education in order to survive their circumstances. Period. You can give it. There's a million and one different organizations with sponsorship programs (of course I recommend Adoption Advocates International). Children in other countries don't take education for granted like our kids do. They cherish it as if it were gold. They beg for it. It's all they would want for Christmas (if it were their tradition to ask for anything for Christmas). I CONSTANTLY have people writing me from Ghana asking me if we can add more kids to our sponsorship program, but I can’t sponsor the ones I already have waiting…. [You can read the full blog post here]

These educational sponsorships through Adoption Advocates International are at $35 or $40 per month. If you can consider it, contact Anita for more information:


The Boy with the Bone Through His Arm: Update 
Had a few people wondering about an update on the boy with the bone through his arm. Also, so I can stop referring to him as that, his name is Dotse. :) On June 5th we received this email from our in-country staff member, ‘K’:

Hello Jake,

Glory and honor be to the Ancient of Days. Yesterday, Dotse and I went to the hospital in Koforidua as planned. We went straight to Dr. Abdul Rahman, and after surfing through the boy's hospital folder, he gave us Friday, July 6th, as his admission date and might be operated in that first week of July. We could not meet Dr. Ofori-Atta in Koforidua, as he told me on phone to rather meet him with the boy today at 8:10 at Akosombo VRA hospital. He would like to check the severity of the case, and then advice Dr. Rahman as to what to do or how to go about the whole thing. It means that I am mailing you from the hospital right now and we have just got out of Dr. Ofori-Atta's office. He says he would communicate with all you guys about it.


Jake was not happy with that proposed admission date, and emailed the doctor directly:

Dr. Ofori-Atta,

‘K’ just informed me that the boy Dotse would not be able to have surgery until July 6th. Can I ask why it takes so long to get him for the surgery with such a severe fracture? I totally understand that things in Ghana work a little differently than in the United States, however, I am curious: If I personally lived in Ghana and my own biological son had a fractured arm, would it take that long to have a surgery to get it fixed? I am just trying to understand the process as God continues to lead us in helping as many youth as possible.

Jake Sullivan

From there the doctor and Jake exchanged a handful of brief emails, and Jake was told to have Dotse at the hospital instead on June 15th. ‘K’ got him there, only to be sent home because there were no available patient beds….the update from ‘K’ that day (June 15th)…..


Dotse and I are just back home. There are still practically no free beds at the male ward to admit him. St Joseph hospital is the only of its kind here and thus the hotcake! Always full of patients. He carried out a review on Dotse and advised him to keep taking the drugs. On the way coming home, he claims to be feeling much much better now and the pains have increasingly reduced! We thank God in all things, Jake! In summary, Dr. Rahman is still referring us to the first week in July for a new appointment; for this reason that it is in that week many previously admitted patients would be released. It is also worth informing you that he says we have to pay a cash deposit of GHC 1000 on that appointment date before Dotse could be accepted. We count on the Lord for help and only he knows things we do not know.


I always like to include the exact email communications so you can really see how things ‘work’ in Ghana. So, as of right now, Dotse is still scheduled to be admitted on July 6th, but even that sounds like it might not be the actual operating day. We were really hoping that we would have our adoption decree by now so that Jake could be in the country this first week in July (to file our I-600) and go with Dotse to the appointment (but we don’t have the decree yet). Dotse continues to need someone to stand up for him and be his voice. Otherwise, we fear that he will continue to get the run around. There is a praise surrounding Dotse’s situation and that is that two families who read of his situation felt led to contribute to his hospital fees.  Right now the admission fee of 1000 Ghana cedis (which is $600 U.S.) has been covered, as well as the costs for his 'drugs' which is Osteocare - a bone strengthening supplement, the recent transportation costs for the hospital trips, and other small fees. We still don’t know how much the actual operation will cost. For right now, July 6th is the day to keep in mind for Dotse.


Asikuma Governmental Primary School Enhancements

Finally, I wanted to include the following update on more progress with our Asikuma school enhancements and library project. I last left off here as I detailed what was accomplished on our recent March trip.

In order for the students in this primary school to pass the entrance exams into secondary school (to go to high school), they must be proficient with use of the computer. Until now, they had no running computers to practice/learn on (you may remember this post from a previous trip in which we observed that students in a school similar to Asikuma’s were learning the computer keys off the chalkboard). An exciting update from ‘K’….

Saturday, June 23rd:

We constantly give glory to God, in whom we have the strength for every kind of good deed he is using us to do.

Here are a few exciting news for you :D. The six(6) computers are in since yesterday and I have sent them to my house for the mean time. This because Sampson hasn't finish with painting the inside of the rooms and I'm still waiting for him to do that. Also, that same yesterday, we erected the big sign for the school and all are looking really beautiful here - just so glad:D!!!

Next is that, the electrician I have got has succeeded in bringing the power in both the KCI-CYBERCAFE and the second room this afternoon. It is now left with Sampson to finish with the painting, then I send the computers in, as I'm already in contact with one ISP (internet service provider) that claim can get our computers connected. They asked me to call again on Monday for confirmation :D, then, they could send an engineer down maybe in the week to fix those.


A few pictures....the sign...

The electrician at work. :)

The computers!
The computer center will double as an internet café and printing center (eventually) in which the public can pay a small fee to use. The internet café is a very typical service in the less rural parts of Ghana, but the first of its kind here in rural Asikuma! The computer center will also be opened up to neighboring schools to use for a small fee.

For those of you who donated to this development for the school back in February, it was only by your donations that we have been able to bring this computer center/internet café into reality. Your donations bought these computers, and your donations are what we have used to pay the electricians, Sampson, and numerous other workers who are completing this labor. Again, THANK YOU!

We are hoping that the computer center/internet café piece can get finished up in the next few weeks so that our team of August 2012 tripsters are able to officially stock the library shelves with the donated books! So far we’ve shipped a little less than half of the donations and they are ready and waiting in Ghana. However, we still have close to 5000 POUNDS (!) of school supplies and books that are packaged up and waiting in Jake’s office to be shipped. When gas prices went up, shipping for these tubs alone was estimated to be $12,000-$16,000. Good grief! We are looking into a couple of organizations who may be able to help us ship them for a fraction of that cost….still working on that.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Preparing for 5 ~ Getaway for 2!

Someone asked me the other day if it had hit me yet that I was going to have 5 kids soon. :) In fact, I have been smiling over how the Lord has gently, slowly, knowingly been preparing Jake and I for 5 over the past few years….

Albeit we’ve never had 5 under the age of 9 all at once, but certainly in different phases we’ve come to understand the crazy-joyfilled-loud-chaos of caring for a handful of ‘kids’ at the same time in our home. It’s fun. It’s draining. There’s never a dull moment. There is a TON of personality. Much laughter. A hand-full of frustrations and moments of defeat. The bathroom is always dirty. But the conversations always rich. Of course with it all comes that dreaded mirror, just waiting to reveal my yuck, but there in the refinement my Savior awaits to trade my impurities for gold. Most of all, there have never been any other circumstances in which I’ve learned to rely on the Lord as much as I have during the seasons in our life when every bedroom is filled to the brim, with no room to spare. When 5 young faces are depending on me, to not only meet their basic needs, but to do so with a mother’s love, with faithful instruction on my tongue, with clever wisdom, and personal touches - in those seasons I don’t have time to be selfish or lazy with my time. I can’t afford to miss even a day of communing with my Savior, diving into the word, and quieting myself to hear His voice. He is my life-line to make it through the day. If I go without His perspective, I am a mess. Francis Chan says in his book Forgotten God: “I have felt closest to God when nearness to Him was a necessity.” It’s a heightened sense of intimacy with God in those seasons. And I love it and think I might be addicted to it.

Although I can’t wait to get back to that, I also recognize that God gives seasons of rest and renewal. That’s the season I am in now, and although my tendency is to hurry it along to the next thing and the next, I am starting to see the beauty in being still and embracing the wait. There is much to learn during this time as we await ‘mass chaos’ to begin again. :)

For Jake, this ‘season’ has been the hardest he has ever worked in his life. We are ever grateful and thankful that his job allows him to simply work harder and longer and then reap the benefits in pay. Most people aren’t given the luxury of being able to put in as many hours as they want to in general make the salary that they want, and this is the first that we’ve ever experienced this as well. Jake can now stack on individual trainings in between his usual practices/camps, and since these are at high demand, he can fill his days with these sessions and generate more income for our family. This has been great since we needed to cover the costs of our adoption. But of course, all that work has come at a price – he’s been working close to 14 hour days and will continue to do so through the summer. This means that our time together has been sparse.

This had been wearing on us. So, Jake decided to surprise me – with a little getaway for two!!!!!! For the past 4 days we had a little escape to Palm Beach, Florida while the kiddos spent some time with Grandma and Grandpa Sullivan. It. Was. Perfect. We may or may not get to go away like this again, just the two of us, for awhile, so we soaked it in all the more. Some pictures of our fun…

The view from our hotel room balcony (!)…



We had a GREAT time (obviously!). Going into this trip, I also prayed that God would use it purposefully to renew me in certain areas. Specifically, for the past couple months I’ve gotten really lazy with my parenting, and I’ve felt like I needed some ‘time off’ just to rededicate myself to shepherding my kids (after I just typed that I laughed thinking what mom gets time off?). I want to be quicker to listen, slower to speak, and slower to become angry. I want to cease going for the ‘quick fixes’ when my kids need disciplined, but rather take the time it takes to teach and guide them. This takes longer, and more thought. But the things that have been coming out of my mouth have been impatient responses that are not purposeful. What good does it do to say, “You’re pushing my buttons!!!!” in an angry voice? With the right mixture of fear and guilt I can get them to obey by showing them that MOM IS MAD. But clearly this only is addressing the surface. I know enough to know that God gives us situations and times to discipline our kids to show them their need for a Savior, and to speak life and truth to them during a time when their hearts are soft and inquisitive. I have been slacking off in this area, and needed a fresh perspective on how to handle certain situations and heart attitudes that we are dealing with now (especially before we add in two more!). As I was packing for our trip, God led me over to the bookshelf to pack up a book that my Mom had given me for Christmas. The one thing that has gone by the wayside in life’s busyness is the treasure of getting to read a good book. In perfect timing, this would be the one that I would get to dive into on our getaway…

And I got to read a lot of it on the beach nonetheless! No, I didn’t get all the way through it yet, but that’s because I’ve read and re-read and breathed in so many paragraphs over and over again. I’ve also practically underlined the entire book. If there is any book that has convicted me/spoken to where I am at in my parenting right now (like, not where I want to be), it’s this one. For example, this quote pretty much sums it up:

At the deepest level of what we do as parents, we should hear the heartbeat of a loving, grace-giving Father who freely adopts rebels and transforms them into loving sons and daughters. If this is not the message that your children hear from you, if the message that you send them on a daily basis is about being good so that you won’t be disappointed, then the gospel needs to transform your parenting too (pg. 21).

And more of her powerful words that detail the part I bolded:

Certainly the faith that has empowered the persecuted church for two millennia isn’t as thin and boring as “Say you’re sorry,” “Be nice,” and “Don’t be like them.” Why would anyone want to deny himself, lay down his life, or suffer for something as insane as that? ...Let’s face it: most of our children believe that God is happy if they’re “good for goodness sake.” We’ve transformed the holy, terrifying, magnificent, and loving God of the Bible into Santa and his elves. And instead of transmitting the gloriously liberating and life-changing truths of the gospel, we have taught our children that what God wants from them is morality. We have told them that being good (at least outwardly) is the be-all and end-all of their faith. This isn’t the gospel; we’re not handing down Christianity. We need much less of Veggie Tales and Barney and tons more of the radical, bloody, scandalous message of God made man and and crushed by his Father for our sin (pg. 19).

Yep, hers is a fresh, tell-it-like-it-is perspective that the mom in me has been crying out for. I am stopping myself from typing out the many more excerpts that really churned in me in a good way. The small ones above are just the tips of the iceberg. This book is full of the theological insights that I so love and enjoy thinking on, but takes it further and gives PRACTICAL ways to employ them. She gives situations that parents face, and then rich, thoughtful, scripture-based dialogues, and words to speak in response. This is the piece that I have been missing. For example when JJ and Jayla are fighting again for the 3rd or 4th time in the day over JJ picking on her, or Jayla wanting to play with something that JJ has been hogging. My default is to quickly respond in order to end the arguing. But how do I thoughtfully respond in a way that speaks TRUTH into their hearts? Or when JJ and Justice are playing a game and then JJ gets mad and quits and Justice calls him a cheater. What do I say when they come to me with their own versions of the story, both tattling on each other? How can I be purposeful in that scenario? Well, the author dedicates an entire chapter (chap 4) to a situation just like that.

Do I dare say this is my favorite parenting book ever? I think this would be in my top trio, with the other two being Sheparding A Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp, and Don’t Make Me Count to Three by Ginger Plowman. I’ve gleaned different things from each, but like I said above, this book is really meeting me where I am at right now in my desire to change.

I am so thankful for this time of renewal, refinement, and preparation, happening in so many ways.

Learn to laugh at yourself more freely. Don’t take your circumstances so seriously. Relax and know that I am God with you. When you desire My will above all else, life becomes much less threatening. Stop trying to monitor My responsibilities – things that are beyond your control. Find freedom by accepting the boundaries of your domain.

Laughter lightens your load and lifts your heart into heavenly places. Your laughter rises to heaven and blends with angelic melodies of praise. Just as parents delight in the laughter of their children, so I delight in hearing My children laugh. I rejoice when you trust Me enough to enjoy your life lightheartedly.

Do not miss the Joy of My Presence by carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. Rather, take My yoke upon you and learn from Me. My yoke is comfortable and pleasant; My burden is light and easily borne. ~Jesus Calling~

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

George Update!!!!

Well, it seems all that was needed to get the ball rolling for George was a quick email! There are a few NGO’s in Ghana (an NGO is sort of like what a non-profit is here in the U.S.) who are able to administer the investigative reports for social welfare, which is what was needed to figure out how we can best assist George. The hard part seems to be logistics. Asikuma is in the Eastern region of Ghana, and none of the NGO’s that we have connections with operate near the area. It is literally a full day’s committment for one of the social workers to travel to Asikuma to complete the report, which includes interviewing family members, neighbors, and collecting details of the child’s history, current situation, etc. Setting aside an entire day to do this takes much planning on the part of the social workers. These are the workers who are also at the same time compiling documents for adoption court, representing cases at court appointments, running here and there to check up on children already in their programs, hosting families and organizations of aid from the U.S., completing Embassy appointments, directing humanitarian efforts, and the list goes on and ON! There is always also the concern that they will set aside the day to complete the investigation, only to travel to the village and to not be able to locate the child!

With George’s situation I had given details/directions to one NGO after our March trip, but it turned out that the social worker was not going to be in the Asikuma area any time soon. Once I figured that out a few weeks ago through some email communication we switched George’s case into the hands of a different NGO. And praise God, that social worker just completed the investigation on George a few days ago! I woke up Monday morning to an email from ‘K’, our Kingdom Cares International in-country staff member who lives in Asikuma. I had asked ‘K’ to meet the NGO’s social worker, ‘J’, when he came to Asikuma in the hopes that between the two of them they could locate George. K’s email from Monday:

Hello Janel :D,

Glory, honor and adoration to He that lives forever! We have found George and his small family:D! Just that his head is shaved and he is now looking much younger, hahahaha! ‘J’ just left Asikuma and I'm walking to the school now again. Before ‘J’ came, I prayed to God to make things easy for me to find George. The holy spirit directed me to the school, where I let some few kids see George's picture you've sent me. Without hesitation, volunteers just came out to send me to George's house, which we found without much problem:).

George's biological father fortunately came last week and the family was having its breakfast when I got there. Thus when ‘J’ met me few hours later under the cellphone tower, we just went straight to the house! God is so wonderful! Brief, the mission is accomplished with the everhelping hands of God. Think ‘J’ would soon mail you on his report. Warmest regards to all.


Yep, confirmation #2 that the Lord’s hand was indeed ready and waiting to act on George's behalf! I was so thankful that they were able to find him, and with these few details from K, I was curious as to what J would make of George’s situation. K also included these sweet little pictures of George – he does look different with his hair freshly shaven! I felt like he was looking much better than when I met him in March….

Just a few hours later J’s report on George was emailed to me:

K led me to the house and i met with George’s biological father and maternal grandmother. the father was married to the child's mother and they had three children. he is a farmer. he travels a lot to other villages to do farming. the wife died at home while delivering thier fourth child. their eldest daughter who is eleven lives with her parternal grandmother. she helps her in her daily chores. she does not attend school. the second daughter (Ruth 7) who lives with them in Asikuma was withdrawn from school to cater for the little boy (George) when they are away. Ruth attends a public school and does not pay so much of school fees. they took George to a public school but he was turned away because he was too little. they could not afford to pay the fees at the only private school in the community that was ready to admit George. they then made the decision to withdraw Ruth from school to cater for George. the father and grandmother go to farm each day and return at nite (6pm). all their neighbours do the same so really there is no one they can live the child with.

when i asked of the level of assistance they may require they said they wanted someone to pay for the fees for George to attend the private school and possibly Ruth to be with him in the same school so that after school is over they could walk home together. they are also open to the children staying with a foster family be it relative or none relative. they however will not consider adoption. they will give the child out to anybody on guarantee that the child will come back to them someday but to not have that right is something they cannot consider.

Do you not just get all choked up as those details sink in? I was so thankful that George’s father was around, and doing what he could to provide for his family – that is so not the norm here. But yet, so hard to swallow that Ruth, a 7 year old, is George’s caretaker all day long…..and that having that role inevitably took her out of school. I had originally figured that was the case and that was one of the pieces that had drawn my attention to George in the first place. When I first saw him back in March, he was being carried around by this tiny big sister – and they had matching dresses on. She had placed him under the shade of a tree so that he could rest, and she could run and play with our bubbles. 

At the outset, it seems that sponsorship is going to be the answer to this one. This is a family who we can help to stay together – family preservation. Adoption isn’t always the answer. For some time now I have had it in my heart to figure out how to start a sponsorship program. I believe the Lord has led me to George and his family in order to teach me how to get this started.

We’ve started a sort of sponsorship for Yaa and Adjoa as well. On our March trip Jake met with a school master at one of the private schools in Asikuma and said that we would like to cover Yaa’s school fees. It was pretty easy to set up, and now Yaa gets to go to school (and she looks stinkin CUTE in her little school uniform, let me tell ya!). We can set up the same thing with George and Ruth. It seems that the best way to go about this will be for us to personally meet with George and his family, decide on a school that they can both attend, and then set up payment with the school master. Jake can easily do this on his upcoming trip to file the I-600 form for our adoption. From there it will be easy for us to check up on George and his family with our frequent trips to Asikuma, and also with the aid of K, our in-country staff member. Once we figure out these details, I think I will open up George’s sponsorship to all of you! Perhaps your family would like to be the one to sponsor George and his family! I can also see that this could be something where George’s sponsor family could send over a back pack of school supplies, toiletries, a few clothes, etc and we could hand-deliver them to George on our trips. WOW! I can see how this could work, I just need to coordinate the details. Will be exciting to watch how God leads and instructs things from here…..I’ll keep you updated as it continues to unfold!

[George with his Dad, grandmother, and social worker outside of George's house]

Monday, June 18, 2012

Update 3: Christian's GRACE Fund

A few days ago on Thursday evening I received an exciting email that someone had donated $500 to Christian’s GRACE fund! I was dancing on the ceiling! Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU, whoever you are!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I just checked with Kathy in the Adoption Advocates Int'l financial department this morning and the tally of the fund is up to $2922!!! We are getting soooooo close! We now need 54 people to donate $20 each and we will be rockin’ Christian’s case to court in Ghana! [For donation information click HERE and scroll down to bottom of post]

Today is Monday - the beginning of the work week. Were you planning on going out to lunch with your co-workers or significant other this week? Would you be willing to sacrifice your lunch just one day this week and give it instead to the Lord’s work in Christian’s life?

When Jesus looked out and saw that a large crowd had arrived, he said to Philip, "Where can we buy bread to feed these people?" He said this to stretch Philip's faith. He already knew what he was going to do.

Philip answered, "Two hundred silver pieces wouldn't be enough to buy bread for each person to get a piece."

One of the disciples—it was Andrew, brother to Simon Peter—said, "There's a little boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But that's a drop in the bucket for a crowd like this."

Jesus said, "Make the people sit down." There was a nice carpet of green grass in this place. They sat down, about five thousand of them. Then Jesus took the bread and, having given thanks, gave it to those who were seated. He did the same with the fish.

All ate as much as they wanted. When the people had eaten their fill, he said to his disciples, "Gather the leftovers so nothing is wasted." They went to work and filled twelve large baskets with leftovers from the five barley loaves.

The people realized that God was at work among them in what Jesus had just done (John 6:5-15)....

It was just a sack lunch.  Willingly given up, and placed in Jesus' hands.  And a miracle happened.  I wonder what God could do with your lunch money? :)

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Thursday, June 14, 2012

My Mom's Updates from Tanzania

My mom will be blogging about her trip here once she gets back, but I thought it would be fun to post some of the little updates she has sent over the past week. :)

Friday, June 8 email:
Jambo! We arrived safely, all bags accounted for and got to the Safari Centre late last night. We are all sleeping under our mosquito nets in bed.

Today was filled with errands and a lot of market shopping, buying large quantities of rice and vegetables. Tomorrow we have our big cooking day for the Compassion International kids.

Internet is very sparse. I'll email more if we get a chance.

Thanks everyone for your prayers! ~Lori

Saturday, June 9 email:
It's 4:25 on Saturday afternoon and we made it back to our hotel for the day. We left early in the rain, got to feed lots of hungry children and sing, dance and squeeze and hug many of the little ones at church. What sweet-sweet kids, who sit for hours in the church and do not wiggle or squirm. Met a little boy, Calvin, who sat on my lap the entire day :) He was probably 4. Amazing process of cooking pounds and pounds of rice by the local women on an open fire. Also asked someone their name in swahili and she was a young beautiful woman, who helped cook. Esther was her name, she said "Estah".

We're starting to figure out the internet finally.

Tomorrow, back to church and another orphanage. Our team is awesome. Everyone is doing well, everyone is healthy, Praise God.

Hope Jayla had a great dance recital!

I have a whole new appreciation for the 'bumpy road' saying...Lordy! More like rocks and ruts. Wait till you see the video.

Love You! ~Mom

Facebook status: Greetings from Arusha and Jambo! We are all doing well, great teamwork feeding hundreds of kiddos today and singing in Swahili, praising God. Every day is an adventure. As the kids were coming through the line today, I heard a voice reminding me to 'Feed my Sheep'. Love and Hugs from Tanzania!

Monday, June 11:
Facebook status:
Greetings from Arusha! We had a long day at the clinic while the rest of the team split up for school and hospice visits. Everyone doing great, adventure and blessings around every corner. Highlight yesterday was orphanage, playing with kids and doing our Jonah bible study. Have you ever acted like Jonah?

Tuesday, June 12 email:
Jambo! It's Tuesday afternoon and we have accomplished our task of shopping at the market for food and delivering it to Faraje Orphanage. The amount of food we delivered will feed the children for a month. Then what? Breaks your heart to see school age children not going to school because the orphanage cannot afford to send them, let alone to pay their own teacher. They eat porridge for lunch and rice for supper. There were some very bright kids at this orphanage when we did our Jonah bible study with them. One older boy could read english, but again, cannot go to school because of the fees of primary school.

Going to the market is always an adventure, but we are welcomed always, with smiles and "Jambo" which means hello.

Yesterday was really interesting as I spent the day at the hospital with the orthopedic surgeon and Gayle, the team leader. We got there in the morning for Chapel and then saw patients all day long, until 6 pm! Very long day, but very eye-opening to the type of care people get here. They think nothing of waiting in the xray waiting area for 3 hours for an xray. We were the impatient ones.

We've been eating really well. Last night to Nick's BBQ, outdoor grill where a few had talapia/veggies and some had chicken. The food tastes very much like our food at home. One night we ate at a chinese restaurant which was very good too. Sometimes we eat at the outdoor patio here at the hotel, the Safari Centre. It is pretty authentic as far as the surroundings. This is our last night here before we leave for the STEMM children's village/orphanage tomorrow morning for 3 days of work and play. When we return to the city of Arusha, we will stay at a different hotel next week.

We have some of the funnest drivers who haul us around all day long. They are funny, and come to the orphanages with us and play with the kids too. Today on our way back from the orphanage we saw poinsettias growing wild, avocado trees and banana trees. It is pretty lush around here as far as green plants and flowers, almost tropical.

Love to everyone! ~Mom

Facebook status: Jambo! Met some new friends today at the orphanage. Never enough hugs and squeezes for them. So hard to leave them and say good bye.

Wednesday, June 13, email:
Jambo! Sitting in the middle of Africa, on wifi! We made it to the Stemm children's village, visited the classrooms in secondary school, came back and took our paints to the classroom to stencil the alphabet on their walls.

The donkeys delivered the firewood for our bonfire tonight. It cost 8 dollars for 2 donkey's-backs worth. Haha. This area is different with much more livestock here.

We got to see the sun set over the African plains tonight. ~Mom

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Update 2: Christian's GRACE fund

Just wanted to give an update that so far $1610 has come in donations for Christian’s GRACE fund – so almost half way there! THANK YOU to all of you who have given donations and to those who have been spreading the word!!!! We are still hoping to raise the full $4000 so that Christian’s forever family can get started on the court proceedings in Ghana. Once again, here is the donation information:

You can donate online by clicking  here.

Once on the donation page you simply need to select “GRACE Fund” under the donation designation section and then write “Christian” in the blank spot below. You can also make a donation by phone by calling the AAI office and asking for Kathy and letting her know that the donation is for Christian in Ghana: 360-452-4777.

In case you need to be caught up to speed, here are some of my main posts about Christian that I have written in the past year (click on the blue titles to be linked to the posts):

March 22, 2011: (The first day I met Christian) My Experience in the Schoolyard

March 23, 2011: The Boy Named Christian

May 2, 2011: The Boy Named Christian – Update!

May 13, 2011: Adoption Update Regarding Christian!

June 3, 2011: The One who Heals the Blind

August 23, 2011: Familiar Faces

Waiting in joyful expectation to see what God will do......

Monday, June 11, 2012

Jayla's Big Day

Yep, that’s right, Jayla had her first ever dance recital this past weekend! I must say, it is so fun to have a girly girl! We are all new to the dance scene in this household, but learning fast that there is A LOT of action in this sport/art! Jayla had to learn for the first time how to mirror a teacher in figuring out dance moves, put the dances to memory, stay in sync with her class, handle props, and probably the biggest one of all – go on stage and PERFORM in front of a very large crowd! We have never experienced anything like this before! In the days leading up to the show, I know Jayla still didn’t really understand what ‘recital’ meant. Her class has been practicing their routines since Christmas-time, but she didn’t really ‘get’ that they would be performing on stage in a big show - probably because we’ve never been to a dance performance before! But, as the recital approached the pieces started to get put together. Here we are on photo day….


And at the first wave of rehearsals…can you spot Jayla?
Once all the classes were together in one studio practicing Jayla got to see the different routines and how they went in order. That’s when things started to finally fall into place in her mind about what all this talk of a recital was! Jayla’s class had to adapt first to a different studio where rehearsals were held, and then to the performance auditorium - CY Stephens Auditorium in Ames – which is a HUMUNGO place, especially in the eyes of a 4 year old! :) The girls were having a really hard time with all that change – their ‘spots’ on stage [marked by floor stickers] looked different, and the surroundings were all completely new. Rehearsals were a little crazy and disheveled, but it got better each time. The recital was a big expo, showcasing all the year’s work of the different classes. Jayla’s class was part of the show that portrayed ‘The Little Mermaid’ (Disney) story. :)

Here are the little fishies backstage, waiting to go on for their first dance….

This production entailed SO MUCH MORE than what you get to see from the audience. Back stage is like an entirely different world….in fact, it is mass chaos back there. You have the older dancers running around in excitement and practicing their routines – giving hugs – taking pictures, you have frantic moms putting the finishing touches on their little ones for costumes and make-up, you have the younger kids either in a daze or in hyper mode or crying in anxiety of the impending stage or of knowing that mommy is leaving soon to go out in the audience, you have the booming music playing from the stage, not to mention you have the stage crew and volunteers running around like crazy with their walkie talkies - doing quick changes - and getting the different classes lined up who are about to go on stage. Whew! It’s a lot to take in!

Once I got Jayla settled on her ‘square’ backstage, with her baby doll as support, and her ballet shoes marked for her next number, I took a deep breath and went out to the audience to take it all in! [We got to practice this part where I would be leaving her backstage the night before at rehearsals, so she knew it was coming. There are volunteers who stay with each class, but it’s pretty dark back there, and with the backstage chaos this part can get quite overwhelming for the little ones. At rehearsals Jayla had a flow of sweet tears and hugs when I went to ‘leave’, but on performance night she was all smiles and couldn’t wait until her turn to perform!] The first ‘number’ they did was a tap routine to the song “Under the Sea” – where Sebastian the crab is singing about how wonderful life is in the water compared to on land. :) Here are the fishies, dancing away!

Jayla and her friend Taylor had little episodes where they would look at eachother and crack up on stage – it was so stinkin cute!
At times they kind of danced to the beat of their own drum….here is a cute video I caught during their next number which was their ballet routine called ‘Tour of the Kingdom’ – now they are on land and showing Ariel around….

Hee hee – I was cracking up! I love it! A few more pictures of this number….

Game face!
It was so neat to get to see all the classes, and the progression of how skilled and detailed the dancers get as they get older. Here is the lead role – Ariel…
The finale of the show was probably my favorite part because Jayla got to be out there with all of the dancers from the whole show, and they were all performing the same routine. It was SO FUN!
There’s our little peanut!


Love how she’s really getting into character on this one! :)
The end!
You probably know it’s tradition to give the dancer a bouquet of flowers after her performance….Daddy was in charge of that!
But, you may not know that it’s also tradition to get ice cream after your performance! Yep, we better add that into the ‘dancer rule book’.
Oreo cookie cheers until next year!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Christian's GRACE Fund: UPDATE!!!!!!!

Alright friends, we are ¼ of the way there! Just talked to Kathy, the head of financials over at the Adoption Advocates International office – as of this morning $1015 has come in for donations for Christian!!!!!!!!!! WAHOOOEY! That plus a $10 donation that was hand-delivered to me yesterday, and one more donation on the way that I know of in the mail! Thank you to all who have donated so far!!!!! PLEASE continue to spread the word about Christian’s need. Feel free to repost my post from yesterday on your blog, or to Facebook! Stress to your friends, family, whoever that NO AMOUNT IS TOO SMALL! The Lord can do amazing things even with just $5!!! If you haven’t donated yet, please, can YOU give even just $5? You may be surprised at how when you open your heart and your hands, and give, God will often bring blessings back to you, and sometimes gives you your money back in supernatural ways. Try it! See what happens!

This scripture challenged my heart this morning when I read it, and I pray that it stirs yours as well….
That's Luke 12:33-34.  My application notes in my Bible say of these verses:

Money seen as an end in itself quickly traps us and cuts us off from both God and the needy. The key to using money wisely is to see how much we can use for God’s purposes, not how much we can accumulate for ourselves. Does God’s love touch your wallet? Does your money free you to help others? If so, you are storing up lasting treasures in heaven. If your financial goals and possessions hinder you from giving generously, loving others, or serving God, sell what you must to bring your life into perspective.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

For the Boy Named Christian ~ Please

On Monday of this week Jayla and I were on our way to the grocery store and I had one of my favorite playlists going on my ipod as we drove. The first song that came on in shuffle mode was ‘Albertine’ by Brooke Fraser. The lyrics in that song are a continual challenge to my heart and even after the song ended my mind was repeating the chorus,

“Now that I have seen, I am responsible, faith without deeds is dead.”

As we drove I started thinking on that line and the depth of what it means. It’s written off of two verses from scripture :

 ...once our eyes are opened, we can't pretend we don't know what to do. God, who weighs our hearts and keeps our souls, knows that we know, and holds us responsible to act. ~Proverbs 24:12~


What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. ~James 2:14-17~

As I thought on these it was then that I started seeing little snapshots of faces flash through my head. Faces that God is holding me responsible for because of what He’s shown me. First I saw George. And I quickly realized that it had been weeks since I checked up on what was going on with his situation. Someone was supposed to go and investigate his situation – I had sent detailed directions to his house, and received a proposed date of when the investigation would start. But did it happen? I haven’t heard anything, but I am ashamed to say that I’ve gotten so busy with my life at home that I haven’t inquired. It took this song to remind me that I am responsible for this child. Who else is going to advocate for him? Nobody else has SEEN what I have about George. I am in a position where I can do something for him. I can be a voice for him.  I am good at bugging people.  I can bug and bug and bug on the investigators until they go and investigate. . Why is it so easy to forget George and get self-absorbed into my life?

I had just resolved in my mind that I would check up on George’s situation once we got back home, when another snapshot of a face went through my mind. Christian. For months now I’ve been able to rejoice in knowing that a family has stepped up to adopt Christian. I don’t know them personally – they in fact live states away from me. But I know many pieces of their story, I’ve seen pictures of their lovely family, and I have been in touch with Christian’s momma-in-waiting. They are a LARGE family, who has our same ‘open arms, open doors’ policy.  I am telling you, as soon as you see even just a family photo of them, you are going to immediately get a glimpse of their beautiful, compassionate hearts. Not to mention the praises you will shout to God when you get to hear their own personal story of redemption. I. Can’t. Wait. to introduce you to them! So many of you have kept an interest in Christian’s story and wondered about updates on him. But there enters what has been weighing on my heart. I can’t introduce you to his family yet. Because in order to do that, they have to pass court in Ghana. Their dossier and documents for court are ready and waiting. But the dossier can’t be sent to Ghana. Because they don’t have the fees to send over for the court proceedings. And that is the way the adoption process works – if fees can’t be paid, the process can’t move forward. Everything is at a standstill until God shows up. And this family is trusting that He will. He’s shown up for them in the past, and they trust that He will again.

It would be easy for me to turn over responsibility of Christian to this family. Afterall, he’s going to be their son. But God reminded me on Monday that it’s not time to do that yet. There will be a time to turn him over to their care. But right now, God is holding me responsible for what I know and what I have seen. On Monday God planted a perspective in me that said, “Christian’s is your adoption. You fight tooth and nail, advocate loudly, and do everything you can to bring Christian home. You plead for him, just as you did for your girls. You do your part, and I’ll do Mine.”

So today, I will.

The need is $4000. This is needed IMMEDIATELY so that Christian can go to court. My posts here on the blog average about 200 viewers a day. That means if each one of you reading this donates just $20, we will have the dossier signed, sealed and delivered to Ghana and a court date can be scheduled. Can you do this for a child who has never known the love of a family? This is a boy who has been purposely abandoned – left fatherless and motherless, he’s been physically mistreated by others in an effort TO KILL HIM, he’s been subject to the darkest of evil, and lived 14 years of his life in suffering and vulnerability. And yet God has taken him up. He’s protected his emotions and kept his heart soft. God has given Christian a personality that exudes resilience and perseverance. And a smile through it all.

I have set up a GRACE fund for Christian through Adoption Advocates International in which you can make a tax-deductible donation towards Christian’s adoption. You can donate online by clicking HERE. Once on the donation page you simply need to select “Grace Fund” under the donation designation section and then write “Christian” in the blank spot below. You can also make a donation by phone by calling the AAI office and asking for Kathy and letting her know that the donation is for Christian: 360-452-4777. As always, you can also hand deliver or mail donations to Jake or I and we will get them to Christian’s fund.

**Please, pass news of Christian’s need on to others you know who may be able to contribute.**

Christian deserves to know the love and comfort of a family and his family is waiting anxiously to do just that. I can’t stand the thought that money is standing in the way of that happening. I am so ready for him to be able to start his new life in the United States. To start fresh and new, and to watch the chains of his past be broken.


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

To Tanzania She Goes

Today my Mom will board an airplane and head miles and miles across the ocean, to a far off, dusty land…

This is a trip in which my Mom is allowing her faith to guide her completely out of her comfort zone. I cannot even tell you how going on this trip is SO NOT something my Mom would normally do. Going to Africa. With a group of strangers. 2 ½ weeks far, far away from home. To comfort, hold and care for the sick - the modern day ‘untouchables’ - the least of these - the down trodden – the abandoned – the suffering – the oppressed. Her courage to go on this trip is the evidence of a mighty God working inside of her – teaching her to rely on Him, and proving to her heart that He can do POWERFUL things through her if she rises up and says, “Yes, Lord! Use me! I will be Your hands and feet here in this broken and fallen world.”
You can read about how this trip came up for my mom in my words here and in her words here. She is traveling as part of a medical missions team with an organization named STEMM which stands for Siouxland Tanzania Educational Medical Ministries ( My mom did not have the money to go on this expensive missions trip. But, as we trusted He would, the Lord provided every single penny she needed by way of fundraising. It was more proof that yes, God desires His followers to reach out to the nations, in His name, and He will do what is needed to make it happen.
Here are some details of her trip itinerary:
-June 6 leave Minneapolis to Amsterdam to Kilimanjaro. Tanzania is 8 hours ahead of Iowa time.
-One of the team’s first projects will be market shopping to buy ‘groceries’ in order to cook for about 250 Compassion International children.
-The team will also lead bible study, and play with the children. The team will be working out of the Arusha Lutheran Medical Centre’, ALMC Hospital. Children in the community suffer from both congenital problems like club foot and acquired deformities such as skeletal fluorosis. In this area, fluoride comes down out of the mountains into their drinking water, and leaches the calcium out of their bones making them soft. Other skeletal trauma is common from burns as a consequence of open fire cooking among the Maasai children. This is one of the reasons that STEMM was founded in this area of Arusha by an orthopedic surgeon. The team will hold ortho clinics (assessments for the patients pre and post surgery), some team members will help the surgeon in the operating room during surgery, they will visit the plaster house (where the children live after surgery if they have a cast – they don’t go home until they are healed – they live at the plaster house until the casts come off), and they will also be going on hospice home visits in the surrounding villages to administer hands-on nursing.
-Since STEMM began its ministry in 1997, they were only aware of what at that time was a relatively small orphan problem. Little did they know that within the next five years, the orphan population would explode through Africa due to the widespread HIV/AIDS epidemic. The experiences in the local orphanages prompted STEMM to build their own orphanage, Stemm’s Children’s Village (SCV), to be run like a home. They are in the early phases of building this village and when filled to capacity it will house 180 children. This orphanage will not only save children from starvation, exploitation and death but also will provide a Christian environment for them to thrive. My mom’s team will be spending much time at the children’s village: interacting, playing and doing bible studies and worship time with the kids, and also doing more hands-on nursing like administering worm medication. They will also be gifting the orphanage with children's bible stories in their native Swahili language. :)
-Other general activities: The team will regularly be purchasing food and cooking meals for various orphanages in the area, they will administer growth and development assessments on children at the orphanages, lead bible studies with the children, and will lead worship at church services.
-For 3 days, June 16, 17, 18, the team will take a break and be on Safari, seeing a few of these sights: Tarangire National Park, walk through farms to see agriculture, Masaai village, Mivaleni lake and waterfall. This is their time as a group, to decompress and grow as a team before they head back to Arusha on Monday 6/18 to complete their remaining days of work.
In one of her recent blog posts, my mom laid out the most perfect prayer request heading into the trip….in her words….
We are the Lord’s servant every day and moment of our lives. Although on our trip we think we are going to the ‘multitudes’ I’m reminded not to miss the ‘one’ along the way, for whom Jesus also died. My prayer is to surrender my agenda and needs so that I don’t miss what God wants me to do each day. Help me to see the ‘one’ here and there. Each of you can recite the same message…as you serve each day and moment of your life. The one, for me, is Edward, who came right up to me and grabbed my hand. He is a little boy living in Cape Coast, Ghana, Africa and I think about him every day. Because I missed the ‘one’ along the way. So for Edward, I will be hugging more and reading more and sitting down to hold more children.
I can just picture the dark chocolate eyes and little brown faces that will capture my mom’s heart. :) This trip will be woven with such intimate workings of the Holy Spirit – I can’t wait for my Mom to experience those personal moments in which it seems as if Jesus is right there – disguised as a child.
Dear Mom ~ I cannot think of any better encouraging words to send you off on, than those found in the lyrics of this song…..
We are the change
the world is waiting for
We’ve got a love
the world is desperate for
We will lead
and take to your streets
Now’s the time for us to rise
and carry hope and let love shine
and show this world that mercy is alive
Now’s the time for us to rise
and carry hope to hopeless eyes
and show this world that mercy is alive
We’re not afraid
we will abandon all
to hear your name
on lips across the world
we will run
in the wake of your love
Fill our hearts with your compassion
let our love be active here
We will go
where you tell us to go
We will speak of your very Word
We will move
when you tell us to move
We are yours

(The Church by Elevation Worship)

Therefore, go, and be a light unto these people....

Monday, June 4, 2012

Older Child Adoption

A large percentage of the orphans worldwide that are available for adoption and waiting for families are older children. I don’t have any fancy global statistics to cite for you (and honestly I am starting to get bugged by misleading and misapplied statistics happening within adoption advocacy - that will be a post for another day), but, Jake just mentioned to me that in a book he was reading (The Poor Will Be Glad by Greer and Smith) the amount of older children within the global estimate of orphans is about 80%.  I can also share the following stats with you from our adoption agency’s Ghana program:

In the last 5 years, our agency’s Ghana program has seen about 120 kids home.

-In those 5 years there have been no children who have come home that were under 1 year old at the time of homecoming.

-66% of the children who have come home were between 5-10 years old.

I recently read an awesome blog post from a family considering adopting an older child (you can read it here), and it spurred a lot of reminiscing from me of when we were in a similar position at the start of Justice’s adoption. Lately, a bunch of articles and blog posts about orphaned older children have crossed my path, and it’s hit me that I quite possibly haven’t done a very good job of advocating for older child adoption. Honestly, because our adoption of Justice and his transition into our family went rather smoothly (at least in our opinion) I didn’t want people to start reading into that and thinking it was ‘the norm’. I’ve heard of many families who have had smooth experiences with older child adoption, and many who haven’t. In fact, there probably isn’t a norm – rather each experience is based on the individual child, their background, history, personality, etc. Justice’s history involved a loving, non-abusive birthmother, and I would attribute that to being the main reason why we did not encounter any major attachment issues with him. Upon his adoption I would say he was emotionally intact, was able to receive love, and did not have unreasonable fears that prevented him from trusting us. There were, however, other non-attachment related behaviors that we had to work through, which I will get to below.

First, in my friend’s blog post above, she listed off several things that some of her wise friends encouraged her and her husband to ponder as they considered adopting an older child (in their case it is a specific child that they are considering). They were spectacular suggestions to think through and although Jake and I unfortunately did not have this sort of counsel during our first adoption of Justice, we arrived at a somewhat similar thought process. I wanted to repeat the considerations here on this post in case you are also thinking about older child adoption. Here are the considerations, cut and pasted in my friend’s words:

1. Find someone who's been there, done that and ask lots of questions.
2. How might displacing Scott's "oldest" status impact him? (Scott is this family’s eldest biological son – the child they are considering adopting is older than Scott)
3. I love that my kids are close in age. And I selfishly desire for any future kids to also be close in age. But close in age and developmentally different are a potential for struggle.
4. If you run a tight ship, are you ready for that boat to be rocked? Are you patient enough and willing to wait for an 8 year old to start acting like an 8 year old?
5. What are your plans if things are really a mess? What if he needs counseling? Are there counselors available nearby to help?
6. It might be helpful to have a trusted amharic speaker who's willing to help communicate here and there (the child they are considering adopting is Ethiopian). 
7. Would your family be supportive of the adoption? In my specific situation, my mom is my daycare provider. Would they be patient enough to deal with a struggling 8 year old?
8. Which brings up the next concern: are you willing to stay home while that child adjusts? What if it takes more than "maternity leave" and you need to stay home 6 months? Or a year?
9. Attachment challenged kids can come off pretty charming. His personality could be very different than the agency or visiting Americans have seen.

These considerations are just so right on! Going into our adoption of Justice, the biggest of these that we weighed was #2 – How would adopting Justice affect our bio kids - namely JJ - since we would be disrupting birth order and Justice would become our eldest child? Let me tell you, this weighed HEAVILY on me. If there was one way that the devil got a hold of my mind during our adoption, it was with this whole topic of displacing birth order (which some agencies won’t even let you do by the way). There were two things that really played into me becoming at peace with adopting out of birth order in our family. The first was a dynamo blog post on the topic that a friend sent to me since she knew I was struggling with this. The post had so many good points that my fears literally fizzled away as I read it - you can read it here. The second was that as Jake and I discussed it, we kept coming back to JJ’s personality. At the time JJ was overly shy, reserved and passive. Both Jake and I felt that JJ having an older brother would actually be beneficial in engaging him to come ‘out of his shell’ a bit. That probably sounds weird, but I don’t know how else to explain it. By nature, JJ’s personality is just not very dominant, and he certainly also does not get stressed out easily – he’s more ‘go with the flow’ type. We knew he wasn’t going to be damaged or angered by no longer being the eldest – in fact, we thought he would probably like it and that it would affect his life positively rather than detrimentally. Adopting out of birth order isn’t right for every family, but for our family it worked.

I think another thought that definitely goes along with adding an older child to a family with children already present in the home is that you start coming up with these sorts of ‘what if’ fears. [I’ve already blogged about this previously, so feel free to skip this paragraph if you don’t want a repeat.] A big fear of mine was ‘what if the child we adopt hurts one of our kids?’. Well, the reality is that it could happen. There is a chance that an adopted child who has experienced past trauma could act out physically in his/her new home. And that’s where I remind myself that I don’t live under probability or by chance. I don’t live under the idea of fate. I don’t live by being lucky or unlucky. I live under the hand of a Sovereign God who is the blessed Controller of all things (1 Timothy 6:15, PH). God does not make mistakes or miscalculations. EVERY circumstance in my life is under His Sovereign control. Because of His Sovereignty I can trust Him with my tiniest doubt, or with my most heart-wrenching fear. I fully believe God has a higher interest in protecting all of my children, biological or not, than even I do. He loves them more than me. I was the “Queen” of these sort of ‘what if’ fears throughout our adoption process of Justice. With adoption, there is so much that you can’t see and that you don’t know….your mind can pretty much go wherever it wants to. Adoption (and life in general) is full of potential problems and pain. And not only are you dealing with this in your own heart and mind, but outsiders observing your adoption may slam you in the face with ‘what ifs’ as well. In my personal experience, this was the way that Satan capitalized on my fears and tried to paralyze me into inaction (I wrote a little about that here.) I finally had to come to a point in which I fully gave this fear over to God by trusting Him in faith. God had brought me to a place in which I needed to trust Him with my most treasured possession….my children….even though I couldn’t see what the outcome would be.

Now, onto our post-homecoming experience. Like I mentioned above, with Justice’s transition into our family we didn’t deal with any major attachment issues, nor did any of my ‘what if’ fears come true. :) However, after Justice’s homecoming, the biggest thing that we did deal with was #4 on the considerations list: ARE YOU PATIENT ENOUGH AND WILLING TO WAIT FOR AN 8 YEAR OLD TO ACT LIKE AN 8 YEAR OLD? I chuckled out loud when I read that one. Although this consideration sounds like a petty/minimal thing compared to other issues that could come up in adoption, let me tell you, when you are dealing with this day in and day out you feel like you might lose your mind. This was our biggest struggle with Justice. He was no where near the social/developmental maturity of his actual age. In fact, as I was thinking back to our first months of him being home, the words that came to my mind to describe his every day behaviors were “wild and unruly!” Him being a big brother figure to JJ flew completely out the window because he was acting like he was the same age as JJ! Justice needed to be taught everything that a child (in America) grows up learning just as part of every day life…for example:

Social manners
-Doing away with loud/fierce yelling/talking and arguing
-Doing away with rude facial expressions
-Understanding that there is a time to be ‘goofy’ and a time not to be
-No running/chasing/wrestling indoors or out in public places

Awareness of others (especially spatial manners)
-Not cutting people off when walking through a doorway
-Not walking backwards in public places while talking loudly as people try to dodge out of your way
-Not flailing limbs wildly in play while in public – I can’t tell you the amount of times he accidently hit or kicked someone walking by!

And a really big one was respect/appreciation for authority – especially women.
-I didn’t realize that this was a common experience across the board in regards to Ghana adoption until our current agency sent us an article about it entitled: Adopting Older Boys: What this can mean for Mom. In our early days, I faced a big challenge in earning Justice’s respect and therefore his obedience to my authority. What I didn’t know at the time was that this was a sort of engrained cultural value that he had grown up with. We came to this realization right away when we took Justice to his first basketball tournament – which just happened to be a girl’s tournament. Justice was flabbergasted that 1) Girls were playing basketball and that 2) Jake was coaching girls. I remember Justice kept trying to physically shove me out onto the courts (literally) and he kept saying to me, “You coach! Daddy no coach girls!” He just could not wrap his mind around the idea that Daddy would take the time to coach girls! He saw it as humiliating to Jake’s worth if I can explain it that way.

-Another way that this was displayed was that if I asked Justice do something, or if I gave him an answer to a question, etc, he would turn around and go and seek a different answer from Jake. I can still remember a situation even a year ago in which one evening Justice asked me if he could sleep on the couch that night. My answer that night was no. About 5 minutes later I was in my room folding laundry and I heard him ask Jake the same question. And you better believe that I flew (or maybe stomped) out of the bedroom and brought it all to the surface. One thing that I’ve always appreciated is that Jake often expresses/highlights our oneness. To Justice he responded “Mommy and I are always on the same page, so my answer is the same as hers.” I know even American kids take part in this sort of playing sides scenario, but honestly, with Justice I firmly believe he was not trying to manipulate in order to get his way. His behavior simply stemmed from him doubting the authority of my answer.  Just a few weeks ago I was talking with a mom who had adopted an older boy from Ghana and was experiecing this as well, although in a different way.  She said that her new son had been doubting her capabilities on everything – telling her how to drive the car, how to cook meals, how to clean, etc.

-Eventually I was able to earn Justice’s respect for my authority by finding something that Justice valued, that I knew more about and could teach him. For us that turned out to be the Bible. Justice had (and still has) this God-given, engrained interest in really understanding scripture at a deep level. He thirsts to understand the Bible, and I mean thirsts! This is where our minds are completely similar. I want to dig and dig and dig and unwrap the treasures hidden within verses – even if that takes me into complex theology. When I started doing regular Bible studies with Justice, that was the point when he realized that I knew more than him (hee hee!). The best part was that since our minds follow the same train of thought, I could guess ahead of time what his questions would be. I always had an answer for him, and when he realized that I could interpret scripture and teach him, he was ALL EARS! This was what paved the way for Justice to start respecting me in other areas. Even now as I write this, I feel like this issue of respect for female authority is completely behind us.

The great thing about all of these less-than-desirable behaviors is that with consistent teaching and set expectations, Justice quickly learned what was expected and what was appropriate. It just took time (and patience – which I hopefully will have more of this time around). :)

While I am writing this post I also wanted to include our thought-process/approach regarding school - which was not based on any sort of expert opinion by any means - but I’ll share how we handled it. Since I am not a homeschooling mom, we had to figure out when it would be an appropriate time to transition Justice into the school scene. For the first few months after his homecoming we knew we wanted to focus on bonding/attachment. In addition, we also wanted to wait until Justice had a better handle on English before sending him. His homecoming was in September (2010), and our initial thought was to have him start school at the start of second semester which would be after Christmas time. That would give us a few good months under our belt at home. We also were trying to figure out what grade to start him in. Upon his homecoming, Justice physically fit in well with the 3rd graders on Jake’s Kingdom Hoops team, and we guessed his age to be somewhere in that range (although his Ghana birth certificate had him at 6 years old!). However, emotionally/socially, as I mentioned above he was years behind his peers. We knew it would be way too overwhelming and pressure-filled to just pop him in a class with others his age and expect him to ‘catch up’ educationally. So, we decided that we would start him at square 1, and move him up in grades accordingly as was necessary. This would allow him time to gain confidence, gradually master educational concepts, and also ensure that he didn’t miss any integral concepts – the main one being learning how to read.

We ended up starting Justice in school sooner than we had thought because Jake and I both felt that he ‘was ready’. You can read more on that here. Although by American standards it was out of the ordinary to see a [probably] 8 year old in kindergarten, Justice thought nothing of it. Age doesn’t matter in Ghana (if you go to a village school you will see quite the age range in any given grade), and it didn’t matter to him either. It also helped his cause that he socially/emotionally was so far behind his actual age. He, in fact, got along great with kindergartners! Looking back on it now, I think we could have had Justice skip kindergarten and start right off in 1st grade. However, with Jake and I never having a child in school before, we were overly cautious in that we did not want him to miss out on ANYTHING! From there, our school ‘plan’ actually worked out as we had anticipated. Justice has gradually ‘skipped’ grades since he started in Fall 2010 in order to get him up to a class with his peers. One thing that has helped TREMENDOUSLY is that our school has an amazing ESL (English As A Second Language) teacher. We honestly didn't even know about this program until Justice started at school.  The ESL teacher has worked with Justice about 30 minutes a day on his reading/literacy for the past 1.5 years. She also tutored him last summer, and will be doing so again this summer. Justice finished off this school year completing second grade, but will be starting in 4th grade in the fall – so essentially skipping 3rd grade (which is where the summer tutoring will come in). With that, we guess that he is still probably about one grade behind his actual age classmates, but the goal has been to give him a gradual transition into American education – and it has worked for his individual situation.

Along the way, Justice has also become much more conscious of age. Kids in America are always talking about their birthdays, and how old they are – in fact, just keep track of how many times you are asked your kid’s ages in any given week. It’s a lot. Inevitably, these sorts of conversations came up a lot among Justice and his classmates because up to this point he’s been obviously/noticeably larger physically than them. Interestingly, we were at the park in town the other day and I overheard a kid say to his friend, “That’s Justice – he’s in my class at school, but he's really more like a 5th grader!” When people have asked me Justice’s age in front of him I have always been truthful and explained the adoption process and that in Ghana they don’t keep track of birthdates, and I would give our ‘guess’ of his age. From these sorts of interactions, Justice has learned that in American culture age does matter. In fact I was just going through some of his end of the year school papers and found this:

On his own, he had listed his age as 9 and I loved how he even adjusted the years accordingly on his birthdate (that’s the math perfectionist in him). Just recently Jake and I have started discussing formally changing his age on his birth certificate. (Normally you would do this during the re-adoption process which we’ve already completed.)

All that said, we have learned a ton in our experience of adopting an older child. I am obviously not the one you want to turn to if you are in need of detailed attachment tools and strategies – but there are MANY resources out there to help with that should you need them. I hope though, that in reading about our experience you would prayerfully consider if your family could leave the door open on adopting an older child.