Friday, August 23, 2013

Back 2 School

This week was a big week for us as it was back-to-school in our neck of the woods! First order of business leading up to the week was hair - believe it or not! Justice has been growing his hair out to get cornrows for a looooong time, but it was still too short for my novice hands to attempt it. Through our foster care/adoption network at church I found out about an ISU student who does cornrows for only $15! She does hair out of her apartment as a side-job so it was pretty simple to get in for an appointment and to get them done!

You can imagine that it takes some pretty skillful hands to braid that short of hair! But what you probably can’t imagine is that this only took her an hour and 15 minutes!!!!! I know Justice was thankful for that, as these ended up being quite painful to get put in since his hair was so short and she had to get each row real tight. He loved the outcome though and especially loves how low maintenance these are to care for day to day.

Jennifer wanted to go back to her long hair for school, so we set aside a day to put in extensions. This time however, I decided to use synthetic hair that you can get at Sally’s Beauty Supply as I had heard that it helps the style to last much longer than the yarn that we used previously. We used 100% Kanekalon hair…


I really, really want to do these extensions with beads on the ends some time, but when I practice putting the beads on the doll it just takes sooooo long. Doing the style already takes long enough! But I did want to give Jennifer a little color/spunk to the extensions…something different/special for back to school….so we added in some hot pink accents!  Here was the finished look!


These turned out SO FUN! The hot pink hair was also 100% Kanekalon however I picked it up at a hair supply store in the inner city…they don’t sell this at our Sally’s. I put these extensions in exactly as I did the yarn extensions, however, I had to knot and burn the ends (with a lighter) to seal them. With the yarn extensions I could just knot them, but the synthetic hair won’t stay with only a knot. Having to burn each end caused putting in this style to take longer than last time. For our next go-round I think we will need to spread out the styling over 2 days instead of our all day marathon. But seeing Jennifer swing her hair in the mirror full of giggles, and dance around the house in her excitement of having long hair makes all the hard work worth it!

And here were my babies on their first day of school which was Monday of this week! Jayla started Kindergarten (!!!!), Justice ~ 5th grade, Jennifer ~ 1st grade, and JJ ~ 1st grade.


I held it together in sending Jayla off for her first big day of school until she got on the bus, sat down, and waved from the bus window with her sweet little smile. I smiled and waved back, then turned toward the house and lost it while Kenny Chesney started singing in my mind as if on cue – “Don’t blink…”


Since then, it has helped tremendously that Jayla is SO EXCITED to go to school each day! She just can’t seem to get enough of it and is all bubbly and bouncing off the walls each morning while we get ready! Here are her first two pieces of school work that she came home with...

 


JJ is also pretty pumped about school right now, especially when it comes to reading! He is a memorizer, so reading has come rather easy to him which I am so thankful for. For 1st grade he has been given a reading log in which we record the amount of time each day that he reads to us, or us to him. For every 100 minutes logged in he gets to add a bead to his guitar necklace kept at school which their class will wear on special occasions. For whatever reason, this has just tripped his trigger and the kid cannot stop reading! Jake thinks it is his competitive nature and that JJ wants to beat every kid in his class and get the most beads. Well, I can tell you that he is definitely on track for that! He barely gets in the door from off the bus and he is asking if he can read to me. We set the stopwatch on the phone and he usually goes for 30 minutes straight. I have to laugh at his reading posture because he reminds me of a little old man reading a newspaper.
 

And did you notice what his choice of reading material is? That would be WWE character profiles and statistics. Every day this is what he reads to me. I should be able to spout off the biographies of every WWE character by the end of the month. :)

So with all the older rugrats in school now, that just leaves me and this little lady at home during the day!

Let me tell you, the girl is a HOOT! She has not missed a beat since the older ones have been gone! And having her one-on-one has helped me to appreciate her entertaining antics (and non-stop talking) much, much, more. :)


 
 

Friday, August 16, 2013

My Battle with Anger and Rage

I thought parenting was going to portray my strengths, never realizing that God had ordained it to reveal my weaknesses. ~ Dave Harvey

God has been writing this post in my heart for about the last 6 months (just take a glimpse at how long it is and you won't doubt that for a minute!). A recent sermon at my church on ‘using anger wisely’ really sparked me to know it’s time! It’s time to share about how the Lord has been disciplining me in this area, and how He has helped me to ‘get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger…’(Ephesians 4:31).

I was relieved to learn the truth in that recent sermon that anger in itself is not sin. God created us in His image. God gets angry. Jesus got angry (Mark 3:5; John 2:13-17). God can use anger for good and for His Kingdom purposes. Anger can spur us to rebuke evil and sin, call out lies, stand up against injustices, and boldly proclaim the truth, all of which bring honor and glory to His name. And as I believe the prophet Jeremiah revealed, anger in the form of zeal can be the fuel that allows us to prophesy with passionate conviction, in full confidence of the Lord’s messages that He would speak through us….

I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me. Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long. But if I say, ‘I will not mention Him or speak any more in His name,’ His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot (Jeremiah 20:7-9).

There is such a thing as righteous anger.

But we humans can take anything that God ordained to be used to glorify Him and His Kingdom purposes and instead turn it into something evil that becomes sin.

Anger in itself is not sin. It’s what comes after our anger, how we manage it (or don’t manage it) that can entangle us and give the devil a foothold in our lives (Ephesians 4:26-27)….and worse, destroy those who are in our line of ammunition. And for us moms, many times, that becomes our children.

It is my own children’s sin that provokes my anger. When I observe their self-centeredness...thinking/acting like the world revolves around them, direct disobedience to authority and disrespect of authority, self-seeking attitudes…it’s those kinds of situations (and many more) in which my anger starts knocking down the door. I’ve heard the ‘advice’ before to not get offended by your kids’ sin. For myself I consider that hogwash. Of course I am going to be offended when they sin! I am their mother. A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish son grief to his mother (Proverbs 10:1). I have a responsibility to train and instruct them in the way they should go. It is repulsive, offensive, and grieving to me when they depart from the way of life. I was SO thankful that in his sermon our pastor pointed out that our children’s sin should make us angry. He noted that the opposite of anger is apathy….the man who is angered by nothing cares about nothing.

But, all that said, herein is where my problem lies: my anger triggers a physical reaction inside of me. I can literally feel a rush of adrenaline begin to rise up in my chest ready to explode. It’s like a power surge. If you plugged me in at that moment I could give electricity to the entire town. You can imagine what this gives way to when in those moments I am supposed to discipline and shepherd my children in love. What instead often comes out of me has been something so ugly, so dark, so sinful, so shocking, that it absolutely repulses me. RAGE. Impulsive actions. Venting my anger. Allowing words that destroy, cut down, and dishearten to come carelessly flying out of my mouth - instead of words that shepherd, encourage, and lift up. And all of that, stemming from anger. In me, anger turns into rage.

You didn’t know I had it in me did you? Yeah, me either. The fullness of this wasn’t revealed until I became a parent….and the full fullness wasn’t revealed until the past 6 months when I became a full-on mother of 5. But the other thing is that this sin is so easy to hide. Moms can hide it at play dates or on the playground or at family gatherings. But get us home alone with our kids and you’d see it all in full view. I know the devil would have me to believe that I am the only mom who struggles with this. But in my current bible study group, as I’ve become transparent about warring against this sin of rage, instead of being met with dead silence and crickets chirping or seeing judgmental looks of condemnation, I’m hearing “hallelujahs” and “amens” and seeing heads nodding yes. So, I’ve come to realize that it’s not that I’m the only one struggling with this. It’s that this is a widely un-talked about topic within the church….especially among women. It feels shameful and awful to share these things as a mom….especially to other moms. For one, our worldly culture so desperately tries to invite us to compete with each other and compare to one another. To put on the ‘I’m a good mommy mask’, keep our failures to ourselves, lest we show that we don’t measure up. It’s safer to keep these ugly things hidden and to instead share recipes and talk about potty training strategies. Second, isn’t the word ‘rage’ a long ways off from defining the essence of Mommy? I am supposed to be the warm, cuddly, gentle, sweet, patient, maternal one, aren’t I? Aren’t those the traits that are supposed to come naturally to moms everywhere?  Yes I felt those things when my children were infants.  But slam with me an 11 year old, 7 year old, 6 year old, 5 year old, and 2 year old and oh, how my inner nature begs to differ. Now I see what other natural traits are in me, and it ain't pretty. Yet, as a Christ-follower, I know the King I follow. He opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. God would rather have me bow down low in my failures, humble myself and confess that I need Him, and use my transparency to encourage and help others going through something similar. I hope this post can be that for someone.

So on with my personal struggle. I got to a point this summer where I was so sickened over this sin of rage in my mommyhood that I wound up in the closet (the only place in the house I can lock the door and receive peace and quiet) crying out to God that I was so weary of wrestling with this.  I told God I couldn’t do it anymore, and that it was like I had no power to stop myself. In their misbehaving times it was such a huge release to vent at my kids and respond on impulse, yet moments later I would feel awful condemnation and guilt over what I had just done, needing to apologize and ask for their forgiveness - only to know and expect that an hour or so later it would be happening all again. How can I lead and instruct my children out of their sin, when all they see in those moments is mine? The end goal of self-control wasn’t even on the radar. It was like I was stuck in this cycle of living in defeat. The devil had created a dominion of rule in this area over my life. I would wake up in the morning and say to myself “Ok. Today I am not going to lose it. I am not going to blow up on my kids. I am going to stay self-controlled and take deep breaths. I will not allow my anger to become rage.” But I’d fail by 10am, and the devil would be right there, snickering in my ear, confirming my deepest fear – that I was an incompetent, unfit mommy. “What kind of mom does that.” “Your kids don’t even want to be around you.” “They’re going to grow up to hate you.” “Your child doesn’t feel loved because you’re a terrible parent.” “They think you’re mean.” They’d go over to the neighbor’s house to play and the devil would whisper of my neighbor, “They wish she was their mom.” I had all of that and more rolling through my head as I talked with God there in the closet, trying to understand if I was going to be plagued with this the rest of my life. I told God that this sin repulsed me and I hated it. It was shocking to me that this vicious thing was living inside of me. I was becoming so grieved over it. I didn’t want it anymore. I even asked Him why I had to struggle with this sin. Why couldn’t it be some other sin that wasn’t as ‘horrible’? In my calculations it seemed that it would be a better idea if He just took me on up to heaven right then. I could not continue battling on in defeat….I was losing heart. I asked Him to rescue me from this body of death. I was ready to shed this earthly dwelling full of sin and yuck and get on with heaven. My plea was so honest and urgent that I fully expected that He may just shoot me right through the roof on up to glory in that moment. Didn’t happen. So I asked Him for a word of encouragement that would enable me to go on fighting this battle. I closed my Bible, and left the closet.

Later that day, in order to complete my ‘homework’ for a bible study I am in I was walking through verses in Hebrews chapter 11. As I often do, I started skimming around the surrounding chapters to catch more of the context. As I did, my eyes zoned in on Hebrews 12 and once I started reading I couldn’t stop. This is what I read:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,    
and do not lose heart when He rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines the one He loves,    
and He chastens everyone He accepts as his son.”

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in His holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it (Hebrews 12:1-11).

Oh. Well that put things into perspective. I have not struggled against this sin to the point of shedding my blood as Jesus did…I’ve only shed a few tears. I can struggle and war against this more. And who else but God could lead me to a passage of scripture that spoke the exact words I had cried out to Him about…Lord, I’m weary, I’m losing heart, please give me a word of encouragement to help me press on. Those exact words were in that particular scripture. Only my King can do that….speak to my soul in such a personal way….and right on time. And God reminded me of something that I had been hoping to walk around and avoid instead of go through….His discipline is painful. He and I have places we need to go, promised lands to claim and enter, and this sin cannot go with us…..it was time for Him to expose this sin, rebuke me, and start the sifting process. In the end, being trained by His discipline would grant me the rescue and peace my heart was longing for, but for now I was still in His training grounds….ugly as it felt at the time.

In that set of scripture I had definitely received the word of encouragement I had asked for. But I still had one lingering question in my mind:

What am I supposed to do, practically, in those moments when that anger rises up in my chest as if it is a rush of adrenaline, an electric power surge, ready to explode?

Am I supposed to suppress that feeling? If so, then how do I suppress it? What practical steps am I supposed to take in order to deal with that anger that boils up,up,up, just waiting to make its appearance as rage? We hear verses like in your anger do not sin (Ephesians 4:26), and be self-controlled (1 Peter 5:8), and be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry (James 1:19-20)…..well, ok…..but how practically do you accomplish that when the physical uprisal inside of you is screaming to do the opposite? With many other sins the answer is to avoid the temptation in the first place….to actually flee from it and run the other direction. But my trigger is my kids. I can’t just flee from them every time they misbehave. :) So what do I do practically in those moments?

God would give me the practical answer that week in my bible study.

The study I am doing is called ‘Believing God’ by Beth Moore. On this particular week I was working through page 25 in the workbook which had nothing to do with anger, self-control, or the like, but actually was a message about faith being a quality of the fruit of the Spirit. However, in the author’s commentary, two sentences stood out to me like a sore thumb and spoke directly to my condition:

When we are yielded to the Holy Spirit’s authority, His personality fills us and eclipses our own. When we’re not yielded, we grieve the Holy Spirit and operate from our carnal (sinful) nature.

God spoke to me so clearly through those two tiny sentences. I have been governed by my feelings rather than the Spirit. When I allow my flesh to choose the reaction, I am smothering the Holy Spirit’s personality that wants to work through me, and I am instead choosing to operate from my own sinful nature. The practical answer in those heated moments is to YIELD/PAUSE right in the middle of the moment and submit and wait for the Holy Spirit’s response to invade me. I began to get a vivid picture of my afternoon drives to Ankeny which happen daily. One of the first parts of my route is merging onto the interstate. Many times lately I have been so lost in thought that I am literally gunning the gas pedal along the on-ramp while completely tuning out the yield sign to merge onto the interstate. More than once I have almost been knocked over by semis flying by that don’t have enough warning time to switch lanes before they see my car right there and merging….because I haven’t been observing the yield sign. I’ve just been gunning it right onto the interstate without thought. Hmmmmm. This is the exact thing happening with my anger. I’ve just been gunning it….and letting it go wherever it would take me. Not even giving thought to yield, submit, and merge with the Holy Spirit, allowing Him to take me onward instead. That same week, a magazine that we receive from our adoptions called ‘Thriving Family’ actually had an article entitled ‘Women and Anger’ included in it. Of course it caught my eye because I’ve never heard anyone address the topic before! And in the article, God confirmed this idea of yielding/pausing to the Spirit. The author of the article said:

When I yell, I communicate to my family that they have the power to make me act crazy. And I don’t want my kids, my husband, the family dog or anyone else to have that kind of power over me. So, in that split second before I yell, I try to insert a pause. Pausing reminds me that God gave me emotions to experience life – not destroy it. Pausing helps me look for a little perspective. And best of all, pausing allows for the Holy Spirit to intervene in my response. ~Lysa Terkeurst~

Alright. Pause for the Holy Spirit confirmed.

Although I had finally found the practical answer I was looking for, God was going to take me even a step closer to Himself through my weakness.

You see, for weeks I tried this pause method. Some situations I could do it. But many times I would find that I would fail, even though I now knew what I should do….yield. The physical uprisal of anger inside of me was just too strong and overpowering. And coming to that reality, that now I even knew what I was supposed to do, and yet still couldn’t do it, was something that God used to give me a reality check of my own depravity...to show me my desperate need for Him. I started to see something profound: God didn’t want me in a place of self-sufficiency. Because then I don’t need Him. I was going to learn that I could not rid myself of this rage on my own. It was going to take something supernatural….His all-sufficient grace.

About this time that I was beginning to see that even with a practical method to avoid my sin, I couldn’t do it, I was now weeks further along in my bible study. And the author had put forth a challenge….ask God to consecrate our mouths...to give us a desire to stop misusing our mouths. Yet, I knew I didn’t stand a chance at that if the source, my boiling rage, was still stirring around in my chest. My misuse of my mouth 95% of the time comes as a result of giving full vent to that physical surge that rises up. I had that in mind as we walked through the homework for the day. As the backdrop for the challenge we were taken through Isaiah 6:1-8 ~

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above Him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;
 the whole earth is full of His glory.”

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

As we looked up some of the words of the verses in the original Greek, I started to see something that I never had before. The words ‘taken away’ translated into ‘removed’ and the words ‘atoned for’ translated into ‘purged’. And then it dawned on me. I had never asked God to simply touch me and rid me, purge me, remove from me, the boiling rage that would rise up somewhere in the pit of my sternum. Could I approach Him and ask Him to touch me in the sternum, just as the angel did Isaiah’s lips with the coal, and simply remove it? Let it be gone? Let it not even be part of me anymore? The next verse we were led to gave me my answer:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:15-16).

My faith was being stirred. Over the past 6 months I had so desperately wanted this to go away. It felt like I had tried everything, and yet through it, my insufficiencies were only highlighted all the more. I, in and of my own power, could not rid myself of this. And yet, that’s it, isn’t it? That’s the whole point of the gospel. That’s why Jesus came for us. We must learn that only God can take away our sin and heal us….we are insufficient to do that on our own. I started to get a visual in my mind. Of another who had faith to believe that if she could just touch Him, touch His cloak, she would be healed….

A large crowd followed and pressed around Him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind Him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering…..He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering (Mark 5:24-29,34).”

Her need was physical. A healing from the suffering of sickness. My need also felt physical….that yuck there in the pit of my sternum. Yet also a need for healing from the destroying work of sin…as was Isaiah’s need.

This was all it took. I went back to my closet and confidently approached His throne of grace. I can tell you that in those moments I felt so certain of what I was about to ask of my Savior. I literally, honestly felt like He had already whispered that the healing would be given to me before I even opened my mouth. I went for it. But this time, instead of asking Him to remove me from this body of death, I asked Him to physically remove the body of death from me. Not the anger. Not the zeal.  But the rage. I told Him that I had faith that He could just simply touch me, as He did Isaiah and the woman, and heal me, rid me, remove from me, the filthy, destroying work of rage.

And He did.

I didn’t see angels or a vision or anything with my eyes, or hear anything with my ears. But I can tell you that in those moments I simply felt tremendous peace and stillness. I knew that it had happened. It was a John 14:13-14 moment for me. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. I truly had not a doubt that God had removed it.

And it didn’t take long to find out for sure. The next day a misbehaving scenario came about that normally would have sent me through the roof. I still felt anger against the sin, but there was absolutely no rush of rage rising in my sternum to fuel me into fury and impulsive actions. It was awesome. I can only describe it as a stillness resonating inside of me that I have never known in situations like that before.

It has been weeks since God removed this from me, and the stillness is still there. It has been so awesome, so relieving, so freeing, so glorifying to God in my life, that I have at times started to fret that the rage is lurking around somewhere, just waiting to crawl back inside of me and chain me up in the pit again. Even in the days it took to write out this post, it felt like the enemy was doing everything possible to squander and discredit what God had done. In my Bible study the author shared with us that if you start to feel threatened once again by a past stronghold that the enemy has gotten a lot of mileage over in your life, you should speak out against it in those threatening moments. Renounce it. Literally with spoken words. She said that for reasons ultimately known to God alone, He has ordained that SPOKEN words carry a power, authority, and effectiveness that exceed words we simply think. When we get in the devil’s face, by speaking scripture out loud – verbally removing all attachment from the sin, we intimidate the devil. Renouncing is our loaded gun against our enemy. Using my authority with the spoken word saying scripture out loud like, “I renounce the secret and shameful way of rage (2 Cor 4:2), I am not characterized by it anymore. God has removed it. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed my rage from me (Psalm 103:12)” has enabled me to get the devil out of my face and continue to rest in my healing.

I was not sufficient to rid myself of this rage on my own.  Nine years ago I put my faith in Jesus alone to rescue me from the eternal punishment that my sin deserves. And yet, today, I have become increasingly aware of how desperately I still need Him to rescue me from my sin. Apart from Him I am nothing, and can do nothing. Every hour I need Him.

I am able to bring beauty out of the junk of your mistakes. Thinking that you should live an error-free life is symptomatic of pride. Your failures as a mom highlight your dependence on Me. View your insufficiencies as doorways to a deeper reliance on Me. In My kindness, I am stripping you of self-reliance, of confidence in your own strength and abilities. Although the world applauds those things, I see things differently. I may choose to use your weaknesses and failures to glorify my Name. I may choose to give you ‘thorns in your flesh’ to acquaint you with My grace in ways that you have never understood before. Why? For, it is only when you arrive at that dreaded place of weakness that you will discover the place where you learn to depend on My power. (Tailored from Jesus Calling and 2 Corinthians 12:9)


Monday, August 12, 2013

More on the Children's Center ~ In Jake's Words

In Jake’s words…

Today was a day filled with sadness and heart break, but also a crystal clear vision from God. As we drove down the streets of Apeguso all I could think about was the song called “Yours” by Steven Curtis Chapman and the lyrics that say “I walk the dirt roads of Uganda and I am reminded that every child in Africa is yours.” The roads to Apeguso, Ghana were made of a rich, dark red clay that were surrounded by bush on both sides.
 

It seemed like we were on the road forever until we finally reached the little village tucked back away in the bush just off the red clay road.
  

I was on my way to meet a young boy named Israel. Israel has HIV, is an orphan, suffers from epilepsy, and was recently badly burnt by fire. I had seen the pictures and heard his story, but nothing in this world could prepare me for what I would see on the streets of Apeguso.

As we approached an isolated mud hut I was told that this is where Israel lived all alone.
 

As we opened the door a young boy appeared who was so ashamed of himself and his surroundings he could not lift his head to look at us in the eye.
 

His entire body screamed Help me, I am alone, I am afraid, and I am ashamed. My father has died, my mother has run away, and I have been neglected by this fallen world.

It was the first time in five years that I was lost for words and simply wanted to cry. I wanted to cry and ask God why? Why allow this type of suffering? Why allow this type of heart break? Why allow a child to be alone, afraid, and ashamed? 

Then I felt God reverse the same questions that were stirring in my emotions and my own head right back to me. “Jake,” God seemed to ask, “Why would you allow this boy to be alone? What will you do to meet his needs? How will you provide him an earthly family and teach him about his true Father above? How will you raise his chin and provide him eyes of hope?”

It was so clear right then. Over the last five years my wife and I have dreamed about opening a children’s center in Ghana where the most vulnerable and hurting children could be loved. Where God could provide the least of these an earthly family and a loving setting to be taught about our great Savior.

Just an hour earlier I was sitting with the Ahodwo Architecture Firm discussing the plans of the children’s center we want to build in Asikuma. Everything seemed too easy until we came to the cost of the project. The total cost for Phase 1 of the project, which is the children’s home that will provide a family to those suffering and alone, would cost $130,000.

A couple months ago Kingdom Cares International received a surprise gift from our home church, Cornerstone Church in Ames, Iowa, of $40,000. When I received that gift I was sure that would be plenty of money to complete a children’s home. However, that would be too easy and require very little faith. I know the vision that God has given me for the home and I know God has shown up in big ways in the past. I felt as though God was saying to me, “Are you willing to take that step of faith and see Me provide once again?”

I gave a tentative yes to the architects, but yet doubt filled my mind as I made the trip to Israel’s house and village. Even as I sit here in the Ghana airport writing this post doubt covers every ounce of me. I know Satan will put those thoughts in my head and he will try to put up road blocks in our path. Tonight I got a call about someone disputing the land which now means we have to go to the land’s register office to make sure the land is clear and free. This just delays the project by a week or two and fills my mind with doubts and second thoughts.

I am sure we will face more roadblocks and question things more than once, but that is what faith is all about. I know God wants us to take a gigantic step of faith and to not just speak the verse that what seems impossible according to men is entirely possibly with God (Matthew 19:26), but to actually live it out in our lives.

The entire vision of the project is to develop five acres of land into an entire youth complex that will include the children’s center, a school, and a recreational area that will have a soccer field, basketball court, and playground. We want this to be where the children go and it will be our opportunity to impact their lives for Christ at an early age. The entire project will cost roughly $250,000 to complete. We are only focusing on phase I at this point and that is the development of the children’s center so we can care for children like Israel.

We have the first $40,000 thanks to Cornerstone Church and pray that all of you reading this post will choose to play a part in serving the vulnerable children and being the family that God intends for every orphaned child.

Below we have included all of the architectural drawings for phase I of the project. If you have additional questions please feel free to call me at 515-291-1542 or email (jake@kingdomhoops.com).

I always have great fear and reservations when I look at something so big. However, I know the vision God has given me. When God started the journey five years ago to Africa some of the first words I read were from David Platt in the book “Radical”. It said when you start in on something that in no way can be accomplished by man, and the only way you will make it is if God shows up in a big way, you then know you are walking in the footsteps of God.

God Bless,
Jake Sullivan

Donations can be mailed to Kingdom Cares International – 315 Ridgewood Drive, Huxley, IA, 50124 or you can donate online by going to www.kingdomcares.org and click on the donate tab at the top of the screen. All donations are tax deductible and you will be sent a receipt following your donation.
 





Thursday, August 8, 2013

Israel's Story and the Birth of a Children's Center

I introduced you to Israel in this post...


Our in-country worker, Wisdom, was able to accompany Israel to the hospital to receive treatment for his burns while Jake and the team were in Cape Coast on Monday.


Israel & Wisdom


Yesterday Jake and the team were back in Asikuma, and as promised, the two ladies from Israel’s village came and got Jake and took him to meet him. In Jake’s words he said that meeting Israel and seeing first-hand his condition and the reality of how he lives was the saddest, most upsetting encounter that he’s ever had in all the times he’s been to Ghana.

The two ladies had found Israel living here….


But have since been able to help him get into this mud hut…..


where he now lives all alone and sleeps on the dirt floor….


he weaves together these fans and sells them to survive…


As it turns out, Israel is epileptic. He was cooking for himself one night, had a seizure, fell into the cooking fire, and that is how he got the burns. His father has died. His mother, is in fact not dead, but ran away. He has HIV. Because of all these stigmas the community has abandoned him. He looks at the ground when you talk to him, unsure of his worth.

Kingdom Cares gave 500 cedis ($250) to the women who are helping defend Israel’s cause. They will use that money to get Israel to the nearby hospital in a neighboring town each day for the next weeks to have his wounds re-bandaged. Next week the mental nurse will be at the hospital to evaluate Israel’s epilepsy and write a prescription for the appropriate medicine. Today Jake recruited a woman within in the community to cook for Israel and make sure he is getting to eat each day. KCI provided the woman with funds for her help and to cover the cost of his food. The two women advocates in the community will continue to monitor Israel and ensure that all these details play out as described. Thanks to some of the teenage boys on the current KCI team, Israel now has a handful of clothes to wear which he has on in the pictures.

My heart is so heavy and burdened for this young man. This all just doesn’t seem like even coming close to being enough to help ease his suffering or the torment and loneliness he must be feeling inside.

 
With Israel’s situation in full view, I think it is now the appropriate time to tell you about a project that KCI has had in the works for a couple of months. Israel’s situation has become another one motivating us to break ground and get moving on what I am about to share.

Earlier this year, our church – Cornerstone Church of Ames, decided that they wanted to take up a free will offering one Sunday with a very specific purpose in mind. Every single penny from this offering would be given away to local and global organizations who were reaching out to the poor, needy, oppressed, overlooked, ignored, and disadvantaged. Kingdom Cares International was informed ahead of time that we would be one of the organizations receiving a percentage of whatever the offering was. Our pastors and church leaders had no idea what to expect….no idea how much God’s people would give. They gave the congregation a few weeks notice of when the offering would be, and they listed off the different organizations that would receive percentages of the offering. The Sunday of the offering arrived, the money was tallied that next week, and in total our church body gave over $250,000 in an offering that day. Unbelievable. I have goosebumps just typing it. That next week Kingdom Cares International received our percentage of the offering which ended up being $40,000!!! Almost immediately God specifically laid out what to use the money for.

For children like Israel.

And Emefa.

And Emmanuel.

And George.

And….the list goes on and on.

A children’s center. A place in the community where we can meet needs. Hand out a meal a day. Ensure children are getting access to medical care and help to administer the medicines they've been prescribed. A place to take in true orphans in dire situations like Israel….give them a place to live, help care for their needs, sponsor them in school, love them in action. A place to share the gospel and give out the fullness of real hope.

In addition, we need a place to house our short and long-term missionaries. We currently have two interns from the U.S. that just arrived to live in Asikuma and volunteer for KCI for the next 6 months. They are staying at the lodge in Asikuma, but it would be much more ideal if they could live and serve out of the same place….the children’s center. Same for our family. We would love to make this center a place that we could stay in during our frequent trips to Asikuma.

With Cornerstone’s donation in hand, it has enabled us to start on the project right away. Over the past few months we hired architects from the Kwahu area in Ghana to begin drawing up the plans. Jake met with them earlier this week to review the drawings and to begin picking out the more detailed pieces of the home such as how he wants the security wall done and what kind of burglar proof windows he wanted to choose.


There are two chiefs in Asikuma, both whom fully support KCI’s ministry to the community. We found out on our last January trip that one of the chiefs was considering donating 5 acres of land to KCI.  Yesterday Jake and the team went and met with him.


The chief finalized the donation of the land, the land was commissioned (which is the official agreement between Jake and the chief and is the customary time for Jake to present a gift to the chief) and tomorrow the land will be surveyed. The children’s center will sit on 1 of these 5 acres. Friday the bulldozer will come in to clear the land, and next week construction starts! I told you we were moving on this! :)




There are numerous ideas of how to develop the rest of the land in the future, but for now we are focusing on the children’s center.

Jake will be writing a blog post on more of the details of the children’s center when he gets back, but for now you can picture it as a big, giant house. There will be 6 bedrooms for house mothers and orphans, 1 bedroom for our long or short-term missionaries, and 1 guest room for non-live-ins (like our family when we visit), bathrooms, kitchen, etc.

The project total looks like it is going to be $130,000. The $40,000 we received from our church has enabled us to start right now, and will likely be able to fund the first few months of construction. We are choosing to trust God to provide the rest, just as we did in our adoptions. The good thing about Ghana construction is that everything is paid in cash. So if you don’t have the money the work just stops until you get more money. They don’t do loans or credit cards or anything – you only hire workers as you can pay them in cash. If you don’t have the money you don’t hire and the project just sits. We are trusting in faith that this project won’t just sit. 


Monday, August 5, 2013

In Cape Coast


Today the team traveled to Cape Coast to deliver a donation to Hoops Care International which is a local youth outreach that uses the game of basketball as its platform. The donation will allow them to redo their basketball court, add bleachers, lights for night programs, new hoops, refinish the bordering cement walls, and develop an area next to the courts for educational outreach. This trip Jake has 3 of his Kingdom Hoops players along and today they got to team up with a few of our KH Ghana boys to play an informal game against the Hoops Care International team.
 



While in Cape Coast the team also took in some history and visited the slave castle. This is where slaves were imprisoned, and in reality – tortured, before they were shipped across the Atlantic Ocean to North and South America as part of the slave trade. It’s a humbling place to experience to say the least.
 







Today is also Justice's 11th birthday!!!!  The last time he was in Ghana on his birthday we were oceans apart, longing for him and sinking in the treacherous waters of hopes delayed....wondering if he would ever get to come home.  Now, 3 years later, he is back in Ghana on his birthday by choice, and Jake is making good on his promise that Justice would always know his rich heritage and where he came from.  Each day I see the handprints of an amazing God all over Justice's life...using him to shout out the evidence of a Savior who hears our cries, lifts us out of the mud and mire, sets our feet on a rock, and gives us a firm place to stand. Justice's presence in our family has blessed us, refined us, humbled us, brought us the most genuine moments of joy and laughter, and given birth to life memories that will be etched in me forever.  I will never stop recounting what God has done in our lives through this son who God picked out for us all the way across the oceans....red hair and all.  Love you buddy!  HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!

Those In Need

Jesus doesn’t say to the poor, ‘Come find the church,’ but he says to those of us in the church, ‘Go into the world and find the poor, hungry, homeless, imprisoned,’ Jesus in disguises.
~Shane Claiborne, Irresistible Revolution~

*****

Yesterday was dedicated to Jake and the team visiting with families, children and individuals in need in the Asikuma area and determining how Kingdom Cares International can best assist them. Look deeply into their faces, read their honest and humble pleas, and feel the impact of what our King whispers over them to us, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

Their stories…

The Ekavi Family


This family had been living in Togo, Africa when the father, who worked for the military police, was tragically killed during fighting. After her husband’s death, the newly widowed mother relocated the family to Ghana which is where she was originally from. They had been living in HoHoe, Ghana for 8 months when a tribal war broke out in their village. The opposing tribe came in and attacked their home, burnt down their house, and also burnt down the widowed mother’s shop where she sold cooking supplies and utensils to make a living. After the attack she and her family fled their village and ended up in Asikuma. Since then, in order to survive she has been borrowing from the community and has become in debt to community members in Asikuma. Our in-country worker, Wisdom, often makes appeals to his church to provide the family with cloth and other necessities. All of her children had to drop out of school due to lack of funds. When the mother explained their situation to Wisdom she shared that she often felt like committing suicide when she looked at her hopeless situation and that she could not provide education for her children. One of the faith-filled women in the community from Wisdom’s church met with the mother and introduced her to Jesus. She accepted Him as Savior and was baptized at the end of June!


We had learned about the Ekavi family by email back in June, and since then we were able to secure a $2000 sponsorship for them via a family in Jake’s Kingdom Hoops program. Yesterday Jake was able to meet with the Ekavi family in person and take care of dispersing the funds appropriately. The $2000 was able to provide and cover:

~School fees for all of the children. Daniel, the oldest (16 years), had ambition to attend a specific senior high school that specializes in agriculture and science. Janet, 13 years old, will now get to continue on with her high school education...she had just completed junior high school when she had to drop out. Christian (11 years) and Courage (4 years) were both in basic school needing assistance for their uniforms and books. Admission starts in September for all of the kids.

~Gave the mother start-up funds to open up a new shop and sell her cooking utensils and supplies again. This will be the main income for the family. The agreement is that KCI will sponsor this year of school for her children so she can get her business going again. But next year she will be responsible for paying their school fees with her business income.

~Paid off the mother’s debt to the community members that she borrowed from. There can become quite a stigma attached to this as you can imagine so KCI wanted to ensure that she could get a free start.

*****    

HIV Cases

In a neighboring village to Asikuma called Apeguso, HIV is running rampant. Our in-country worker, Wisdom, had met two ladies in the community who have hearts captivated by Jesus and have been helping to care/defend HIV orphans, and are actively promoting HIV awareness and education. The plan is that Jake will get to go around with these ladies on Wednesday of this week and meet more of the children they are helping. For now, they have brought KCI two cases of orphaned children with HIV who desperately need financial assistance. It has been determined that the total care for 1 year for an HIV orphan will be approximately $2400. That would cover their HIV medicines (over $100/month for the best medicines – health insurance in Ghana does not give these patients access to the BEST medicines…so this is a cost beyond what is covered by insurance), medical care, schooling, food, and assistance for their caretakers…

The first child KCI has pledged sponsorship for is Anita who is an HIV orphan being cared for by her elderly grandmother…she is pictured here with one of the two ladies in the community helping to defend her cause….


The second is Israel, an HIV orphan who’s mother and father also died of AIDS. Israel is 15 years old and because of the social stigma of HIV he has literally been living in the ‘bush’, fending for himself with no one to care for him. He was unable to come and meet Jake yesterday because he was ashamed that he only had one pair of shorts for clothes that he wears every single day. Jake took the following pictures off the computer that the two women had brought with them. Israel recently fell into a fire and has severe burns which obviously need medical attention.
 



There is a hospital in Koforidua which the ladies believe will treat him. Kingdom Cares donated 200 Ghana cedis to get Israel the hospital visit. Jake was able to gather up some clothes from some of the teenage boys on the team in Ghana currently with him, and they put a little suitcase of items together for the ladies to take to Israel. Jake hopes to get to meet him on Wednesday.

Joyce is an HIV orphan who lives in Asikuma and is being taken care of by her aunt.  KCI is hoping to raise $2400 for her support.  She has not had any previous access to medical care.



*****

Princella


In July we had received an email from Wisdom about Princella. She was having troubles in school because she was appearing to be mostly deaf. KCI sponsored her to go and get a hearing test back in July. It was found that she was not completely deaf, because when they put a hearing device on her and tested her she completely lit up with a huge smile plastered all over her face….with the aid she could hear! However, her family was not able to buy her the hearing device which cost 400 Ghana cedis ($200). Yesterday Kingdom Cares International donated the funds needed so the device could be purchased for Princella.
 
*****

Alfred


When Jake arrived in Asikuma on Friday he received from Wisdom a hand written letter in brail which had been translated to English. The letter was from a man named Alfred who was hoping to come to the hotel to meet with Jake and ask for KCI’s assistance. Jake got to meet Alfred yesterday and heard his story. Alfred explained that he had suddenly gone blind at the age of 18. Tragic as it was, God came to him one night and spoke to him about his condition. What Alfred heard from God: “You may be physically blind but you are not spiritually blind. Use what I’ve done to you to share the gospel.” And so, Alfred is a missionary. He brought his brail Bible with him and told Jake to pick out any verse in the Bible and he would read it to him. This is not the best video because of the all the background noise - it’s really hard to hear….but it will paint a picture for you of what it is like to be Alfred….

video

Alfred’s desire is to go to a specialized blind school in which he can get his social worker degree and pastoral training degree. But he needs a special typewriter to type in brail. He can’t do actual college level work handwritten in brail….the typewriter is a necessity if he wants to further his education.  The total amount needing to be raised for Alfred is $2500...$1200 of that covers the typewriter and the rest would cover his school fees. 

*****

Seyrum

Seyrum’s father brought him from a neighboring village to seek KCI’s assistance (in the picture he is being held by one of the ladies who cares for HIV orphans). It is believed that Seyrum was deprived of oxygen during the birthing process. Jake said his condition seemed to be like a version of cerebral palsy. Seyrum has normal breathing but can’t move his own body parts, yet he laughed and giggled when Jake tickled him and interacted with him. Seyrum’s father asked if KCI could provide assistance to purchase a special medical chair that can help Seyrum to sit up on his own and hold his neck in place. The chair can be picked up at a local hospital and costs only 50 Ghana cedis which is $25. Kingdom Cares was able to give the family 60 Ghana cedis to cover travel to the hospital and cost of the chair.

*****

The Donkar Family


Eight months ago the father of this family passed away unexpectedly. The mother was left with her 2 month old baby (at the time) and 4 other children to care for. We received word on her desperate situation back in June via email from Wisdom. That same day, Jake received an email from a mom in his Kingdom Hoops program. She said, “God has put it on my heart to donate $2000 to KCI. But I don’t know if I should donate it now or save it aside to come to Ghana as part of a team sometime in the near future.” Jake forwarded her the email of the Donkar family and said the decision was up to her, but that this was a need he had just gotten that same day. The Kingdom Hoops mom knew God was giving her an answer and she donated the $2000 in sponsorship of the Donkar family. One of the best supports we can provide widows is giving them capital to start their own business. The Donkar’s are living in a decent house that had been earned by the father which just happens to be right along the roadside. Momma Donkar wanted to go into selling fresh fish for reasons that she could do so right from the roadside….not having to leave her house or her children during the day. In order to do this she needed to purchase a small freezer to keep the fish in. Yesterday KCI was able to purchase the freezer for Momma Donkar as well as the first round of fish to get her going on selling. KCI also sponsored each of her children for the year in school. When the children went to get dressed for the picture taken above, it was noticed that the little boy in the red could not get one of his arms through his shirt. Upon a closer look Jake realized that the little boy’s elbow was extremely swelled up and enlarged.

When Jake asked about it he was told that it happened by some sort of accident about a month and a half ago. Now the little guy won’t let anyone touch it, let alone wash it, because it hurts so bad. While Jake was inspecting it he did touch it and said it is on fire temperature-wise. The plan is to take him to the medical clinic in Asikuma today and it seems likely that he may have to make a visit to our ever beloved FOCOS hospital after that depending on the diagnosis......



Saturday, August 3, 2013

Chief Jake

My boys made it safely to Ghana! Today was a celebration in honor of Chief Nana's 20th year as Chief of Asikuma. Nana, of course, is the one who led us to Asikuma where the majority of our ministry now takes place. Today Nana inducted Jake as 'Chief of Mercy and Needs' of Asikuma and Doug as 'Chief of Development'. They were taken through the entire traditional ceremony to become chiefs.





It is a blessing and honor to serve the children and families of Asikuma, and yet we know that THEY have enriched, changed and blessed our lives and perspectives way, Way, WAY more. And as I watch my husband's new life in Christ unfold onto amazing paths that we could have never envisioned, I know that behind all that choice African fabric and fancy sandals is a servant heart. Over the next week he'll be found sitting in the dirt holding sick and hungry children, praying over elderly grandmothers left to care for orphans, and helping widows to start businesses to create income. Jake's example reminds me that the best leaders don't live as kings...they live as servants.