Monday, June 26, 2017

Enemy to Brother

Last night we watched Remember the Titans, based on a true story about the newly integrated T.C. Williams high school football team in Alexandria, VA in 1971. These are two powerful scenes from the movie that demonstrate the incredible change in Gerry and Julius, a white and a black player, whose relationship changed from one full of hatred toward each other to a bond in which they considered each other their brother. 

In the first scene, the two of them are unhappy roommates during their pre-season football camp and are forced to learn some facts about each other so that their coach will ease up on their 3-a-day workouts.

"What I have to say, you really don't want to hear. Cause honesty ain't too high up on your people's priority list," Julius challenged. "Honesty?" Gerry countered. "You want honesty? Alright. Honestly, I think you're nothing. Nothing but a waste of God-given talent. You don't listen to nobody."

This conversation turned out to be transformative as Gerry (the team captain) took Julius' final words to heart: "Attitude reflects leadership." When he then exploded at his long-time friend Ray for not defending for his black teammate, the atmosphere began to change. The ice melting between these two leaders, combined with the leadership of Coach Boone (their new black coach) and Coach Yoast (the white previous head coach), set the stage for most of the players overcoming their prejudices toward each other and learning how to play together as a real team.  Their transformation and resulting winning streak that season had a huge impact on the whole town. While celebrating their victory at regionals, Gerry was tragically struck by a car and the second scene shows Julius arriving at the hospital after he heard the news.

"I was afraid of you, Julius," Gerry confesses. "I only saw what I was afraid of. And now I know I was only hating my brother."

This movie is both inspiring and sobering to me, when I think about the racial tensions that still exist in our country today, 46 years later. How desperately we need to get to know people who are different from us so that we can see the "other" as our brother or sister, as Julius and Gerry were able to do.

Thomas' sermon this morning at Pulpit Rock went right along with this theme: "Being us is better than being right."

We want to be about "seeking common ground as we seek higher ground."

"If Jesus put Simon the Zealot, an insurrectionist who hated the Romans, on the same team with with Matthew the tax collector, a collaborator with the Romans, and made them roommates, I'm not sure why we can't set aside some differences for the common good."

We need to really see and really hear the people around us in order to experience the kind of self-sacrificing love Jesus intended for us. 

And if we find that the people around us are too similar to us, then we need to go beyond some borders to find brothers and sisters who look different and have different beliefs than us.

As Thomas said, "We are known for our beliefs but remembered for our love."

Who might God be asking you to step out of your need to be right in order to love? Do you have enemies who could become your friends, if you let go of your need to be right?

Friday, June 23, 2017

Be Loved

As David was telling me about his dream last night, he seemed to be glowing. His whole countenance was unusually peaceful and reflective.

“I was fighting in a battle with Legolas,” he smiled as he remembered the scene. “We were a team. I was kind of like—you know—his vice president.”

I nodded.

“He gave me one of his arrows to use. But his bow was broken so I couldn't shoot the arrow. I had to use a gun instead and it was too heavy.”

“We were fighting the dwarfs, and there were too many of them so we lost.”

“But it was really cool to be with Legolas. He's really kind and I can always count on him.”

“I wish I could have more dreams like that....I wish I could meet the REAL Legolas!”

What an honor it was for David to be Legolas' vice president. He felt so treasured and valued in his dream.

This afternoon he was working on an exercise to distinguish linking verbs from action verbs. I was thinking about the word beloved (the theme for Velvet Ashes this week) and how the word could be separated into two: be loved where “be” is a linking verb. There is a necessary receiving on our part. God calls us his beloved but we don't always feel that way.

Shame, self-condemnation, perfectionism, and pride can block our ability to experience God's love.

As I was reading The Jesus Storybook Bible to the boys today, we got to the parable of the Hidden Treasure again. And David said, “I bet I know what that's about. God is the farmer who dug up the treasure and the treasure is us.” I really like that view of the parable, not just that our greatest treasure is God but that His greatest treasure is us!

Daniel, as you know, often asks the same question multiple times. One of his favorites as we're reading through the Storybook Bible is, “Am I God's children?” Each time I answer, “Yes, you are,” he gets such a sweet smile of contentment. Being reminded of that truth is very comforting to him.

Don't we all need that reminder?

We can get so focused on the activity around us that we forget the truth that God calls us His beloved. His treasure. His sheep that He would search the ends of the earth  to bring back to Him. He longs to carry us close to His heart. Because we belong to Him. He has written us on the palms of His hands. He delights in us. He wants us to Be Loved. To receive His Love.

As we long for the day that we will see Him face to face.

Which will be even more incredible than meeting Legolas.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Wearing the Hat of Motherhood for 22 Years

22 years ago CJ's premature arrival presented me with the gift of motherhood. There have been days when I thought I knew what I was doing as a Mom and days I was sure I didn't know what I was doing. But motherhood has been one of my biggest blessings in life and I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Some of the different hats I have worn these past 22 years (as my hair underneath the hats has been turning more and more white):
New Mom
Toddler Mom
3 kids 3 and under Mom
Mom of TCK's (third culture kids)
Stay at Home Mom
Foreign Mom (in China)
Special Needs Mom
Mom of Adult/College kids

Out of all the Mom hats, the one that I won't wear for a long time is the one for the Empty Nest Moms.

A friend told me last summer after we'd spent time at the park together that her 11 year old daughter said how sweet it was that God had given us David and Daniel so that when Jordan left for college Charly and I wouldn't be bored and lonely at home with no kids.

We are not bored or lonely. That is true.

We have traveled the road of teething, throw up, temper tantrums, and tattling.

We have laughed, we have cried, we have worried, we have prayed.

We have walked the difficult line of giving boundaries and giving freedoms, sometimes better than others. Our kids have usually told us when we haven't done it well.

We have tried to find the balance in practicing Sabbath, teaching our kids about God and building character with times of being silly and just having fun together. Our kids have pointed out to us those times when they thought we were taking the fun out of life.

We have had heartwarming moments and heartbreaking moments. Moments when our family was truly united and moments when we really struggled with unity.

We've lived out of our comfort zones in different cultures, and adapted in ways unique to our personalities.

We've been separated both by oceans and by time zones across America (skype has been our great connect point). Times that all 7 of us can be together are truly a gift.

We've been learning how to parent all over again through adoption, as we try to understand the different needs and life stories our boys have (so much that we missed of their early years).

Now our kids' ages span from 11 to 22. You could call us parents who are seasoned and very much aware of our shortcomings.

On the way back from CJ's graduation in Indiana last month, I was taking a turn driving across Kansas when it began to get very windy. So windy in fact that I felt like our van might get blown off the highway. As I looked ahead at the dark threatening sky and saw the first drops of rain hit the windshield, I knew it was time for me to pull over and let Charly drive. But no sooner had I gotten out of the driver's seat when Jordan asked, “Can I drive?” “Of COURSE not!” I replied. “These are bad conditions.”

“I've never driven in the rain before,” her voice sounded hopeful. Charly (with no worry at all) agreed for her to take the wheel. She had a sparkle in her eye as she braved the storm head-on, while my eyes were tightly shut in the seat right behind her.

She did great. And I learned yet another lesson about letting go and trusting God with my kids, in scary situations that cause me to get a little panicky.

Even though I want our kids to be safe, I also want them to have courage and not be filled with doubt or shy away from the hard. And God has given each of them this brave desire to do hard things. They are willing to take risks, when they're unsure of what the outcome will be.

As my children demonstrate courage, they are teaching me to be more courageous too. (But I am almost positive that I will never personally want to drive in a thunderstorm!)

That's ok because as our kids get older, much of Motherhood is not in the driver's seat anyway, but coaching from the passenger's seat or praying hard from the back seat.

Bless all you mothers who can relate. My hat is off to you.

Friday, June 16, 2017

A Letter to the Birth Fathers of My Sons

Dear birth fathers,


On Mother's Day last month I wrote a letter to our sons' birth mothers. Since I've been thinking about you too, I wanted to write to you on Father's Day.

Earlier this week I took David to a physical therapy appointment. In the waiting room, I noticed an Asian couple with their child in a baby carrier. When the nurse said it was their time to see the doctor, the dad carried the baby back. And I thought about you and how you were with our boys when they were this young. This scene reminded me of how important dads are and how much you might be missing David 丁一凡and Daniel 华明安. Maybe there are certain dates that especially cause you to wonder how they're doing: their birthdays (we have estimate dates in December of 2004 and 2005 but you know the days they were actually born), the days they were taken to the hospital and secretly left in places where they would be found but you wouldn't be discovered for abandoning them, June 1 儿童节 Children's Day...

When I think about a Dad's role in his child's life I think about providing and protecting. I can't imagine how heart-wrenching it must have been for both of you, after waiting with great expectation for 9 months for the births of your children, to discover that they had medical conditions you didn't feel you could provide for. You did your best to care for them for an estimated 1 and 3 months before you and your wives decided that you were not able to keep them. So you protectively wrapped them up, kissed them goodbye, and left them in a safe place in a hospital. Maybe you hid in the shadows, with your heart pounding, until you saw that someone had discovered them and you knew that they would be taken to the Lanzhou orphanage. And then you returned home heavy-hearted and empty-handed.

As I've been reading The Jesus Storybook Bible to Daniel recently, he's been asking questions and telling me his thoughts about the Bible stories. This week as we were reading about how God the Father abandoned Jesus temporarily on the cross, in order for Him to bear the full weight of our sin, I read that Jesus' heart was torn in two. Daniel commented that he thought His Father's heart was torn in two as well.

Just as David and Daniel's hearts were torn with the loss of a father in their lives for 7 and 8 years, we know that your hearts were torn too. A huge loss on both sides.

David has gotten interested in books that are part of a series. He really wants the story to go on. And so it has, in their lives. Book 1 began with their birth families, book 2 was called the Orphanage, and now God is writing the pages of book 3 with our family. Each part of their stories is significant and has shaped them into the special young men that they are.

I believe that you would be proud of them for their resilience, their courage, and their strength. They are both fighters with hearts of compassion. They are overcomers. (Maybe they got these qualities from you.) And they are growing in their understanding that God loves them and has had His hand on them for their entire lives.

You haven't had the opportunity to see your precious sons grow up. We missed years of their lives as well. But we believe that they are children of God and that He has been their Father, their ultimate Provider and Protector, all along.

Even though you didn't hand them directly to us (we wish that could have happened), we thank you for entrusting them to us. We would love for David and Daniel to get to know you.

Happy Father's Day. 父亲节快乐


God bless you,
The Pines


Detoxify=to counteract or destroy the toxic properties of. To remove the effects of poison from.

I'm starting Day 4 of a detox program, trying to help my body get healthier. This morning as I watched a video of a comedian transparently sharing her story of coming to accept her daughter's down syndrome, I was struck by the similarities of the need to be cleansed of toxic thoughts related to special needs parenting.

The past few days, Daniel's limitations have been very much on the surface of life, and I've felt a sadness in my soul.

The school district generously provided summer boxes for our boys with books and activities to stimulate their learning. Daniel's box had a “Bridges” workbook from 3rd to 4th grade. I flipped through it and saw at once that it was way beyond what he could do. But he was so excited about his new book that it felt like I was crushing him to tell him he couldn't start working in it because I wanted to see if I could trade it in for a different one.

Yesterday we picked up a 1st to 2nd grade Bridges book, and he told me he was so excited because he'd waited such a long time for his book. He started working on it before dinner, and I realized with discouragement that almost every page will require instruction, redirection, correction, and more redirection as it's still a stretch beyond where he is (maybe I should have asked for the K-1st grade book). But he's wondering why if he's going into 4th grade does he have a 2nd grade book? I just told him that this one is better for his level and he will be able to do more of the pages. David then pointed out to him that he will probably be the oldest kid at Pioneer next year because most kids are 10-11 in the 5th grade and Daniel is 11 ½. Because he was in the back seat of the van and didn't respond, I couldn't tell how Daniel actually felt about this concept.

The truth is that I don't know the best way to navigate this road of Daniel's growing awareness of the gap. But I feel sure that the key is for me to first accept the gap so that I can better help him accept it and then both of us can help others accept it as well.

David and Daniel came home hot and sweaty from playing basketball at the park yesterday. The first thing Daniel told me as he plopped down in the chair to take off his shoes was, “A boy made fun of me.” That's the first time I've heard him say those words and I felt my stomach tighten. “What happened?” I asked him. He said that the boy was joking about his feet. “What did you do?” I inquired. He said that he just told the boy he'd had surgery and they kept playing. I felt relieved that Daniel had handled the situation well, even though the boy's teasing continued, and that he didn't seem to feel that being on the receiving end of someone's mocking meant that he was less of a person. On the flip side, it was the boy who had a problem of being mean.

I wish that I could protect Daniel from all forms of teasing in his life, but of course I can't. What I can do is help him learn to have a balance of toughness and graciousness. To learn how to speak up for himself, to forgive and let go, and to not internalize insults.

The toxicity that I'm trying to rid my body of is also the toxicity that I want to purge out of my heart.

I can't harbor negative feelings toward insensitive kids who attack and tear down.

I can't dwell on the hurts and disappointments of Daniel's and my growing awareness of the gap between him and other kids his age.

I can't focus on fears of how far he's going to make it educationally, emotionally, socially.

As I drink enzyme-rich, life-giving vegetable juices these days I'm thinking about what I'm really hungry for. What do I crave?

More than delicious food I desire for my gut to be unclogged of years of toxic build up.

More than satisfying my sweet tooth I want to be full of the real Truth.

More than putting “whatever” into my mouth I want to be aware of what I am allowing in.

I believe that the most important truth for me to dwell on and to help Daniel to dwell on is that we are beloved children of God, fearfully and wonderfully made. And that God has a unique purpose for each of us. He enables us to hear His voice and to follow Him. Because only in Him will we find significance and contentment. My "craving" is that Daniel would grow in confidence in how much God loves him and delights in who he is. Fully known and Fully loved. And that he would walk with Him all of his days.

Daniel often talks about being afraid of snakes, but at the library last week he was brave enough to touch a red-tailed boa and even wanted to go back and hang around with the huge snake. He courageously overcame his fears. And so can I.

As I am becoming detoxified, I am trusting anew that
God's work is Unfinished and that He has great things in store.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

To Love Mercy

Watching the Disney movie The Hunchback of Notre Dame this week has caused me to think about outcasts and the idea of sanctuary. As people of faith, do we notice those people suffering on the outside and try to bring them to safety, in an attempt to protect them from harm? Or are we more about trying to keep people out, in an effort to protect ourselves?

Frollo, the villain in the movie, chased a gypsy woman to her death on the steps of the Notre Dame cathedral as she attempted to seek sanctuary for her newborn son. When Frollo discovered that the baby was half-formed he started to dispose of the "worthless" creature. But he instead listened to the priest who said he should raise him as his own. And he kept Quasimodo locked away as a slave in the bell tower.

Twenty years later, an outcast gypsy woman named Esmeralda stood up for Quasimodo at the Festival of Fools where he made his first public appearance and was ridiculed.

This scene from the movie is very moving:

God Help the Outcasts

I don't know if You can hear me
Or if You're even there
I don't know if You would listen
To a gypsy's prayer

Yes, I know I'm just an outcast
I shouldn't speak to You
Still I see Your face and wonder
Were You once an outcast too?

God help the outcasts
Hungry from birth
Show them the mercy
They don't find on earth

God help my people
We look to You still
God help the outcasts
Where nobody will

I ask for wealth, I ask for fame
I ask for glory to shine on my name
I ask for love I can possess
I ask for God and His angels to bless me

I ask for nothing
I can get by
But I know so many
Less lucky than I

Please help my people
The poor and downtrod

I thought we all were
Children of God

God help the outcasts
Children of God

In her book Invitations From God, Adele Ahlberg Calhoun writes, "Jesus' followers follow Jesus' example of humility and vulnerability. They risk his journey of descent--the journey that will be the making of us. Maturity, humility, patience, godliness--these are all fruit of following Jesus. These are the fruit of following Jesus down."

Esmeralda risked her life for Quasimodo at the festival, and he in turn risked his life for her by scaling the cathedral walls and carrying her to safety. A third character joined them in the risk-taking: Phoebus the soldier, who refused to follow Frollo's orders to kill innocent gypsies and courageously stood beside his two new friends. Instead of seeing them as beneath him, he recognized the genuineness of their character and realized that they could teach him the meaning of real friendship.

As these three transformed heroes selflessly protected each other through helping them to find sanctuary, they embodied the challenge of Micah 6:8: "What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and walk humbly with your God."

Esmeralda and Phoebus did not focus on Quasimodo's deformities but on his true beauty, and they helped the townspeople to accept him as one of their heroes as well.

Calhoun states, "Each of our faces reflects a facet of the image and beauty of our Father in heaven."

"We were meant to see our value through the adoring gaze of the Father, who mirrors back to us our worth."

Frollo had convinced the gypsies that they were worthless and that the people of Paris would be better off to be rid of them. But he faced his own judgment at the end of the movie, and the mindset of the people was reversed.

This is the transformative power of love: "Kindness softens hard hearts, disarms the defended, mends the hurting, values the unnoticed, strengthens the weak and brings in God's kingdom. In a hard world, kindness shines with the face of God." (Calhoun)

How is the love of mercy changing your life?
What does the Kingdom of God look like to you?

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Greatness is Found in Humility

"We all have our story, the unique place and family that we come from." CJ shared in his commencement speech two weeks ago. "And during our time at Notre Dame, our stories have become interwoven and linked. We have lived and studied alongside people very different from ourselves, who have become our friends and family. I want to tell you about two of my friends who have shaped my vision for life while being here.

Walking into Jordan Hall for international orientation four years ago, I could not have anticipated that I would meet one of my best friends at school – Majak from South Sudan. This past semester, Majak has been in his home community, Bor-town, pioneering a school for 240 students, through his organization Education Bridge. I have learned deeper magic, the power of sacrifice, from Majak as he gives his life to service in the context of conflict and famine.

Coming to Siegfried Hall, a proud all-men’s residence, little did I know how much our time as Siegfried boys would be shaped by the songs and joy of Ms. Ellen, the champion housekeeper of Siegfried. Ms. Ellen is working in the hall today, serving all the families and visitors during this commencement weekend. She embodies a deeper magic that arises each day and shares God’s love with the world. To Ms. Ellen, I hope you are watching, and to every employee of the University of Notre Dame, in every department, every building, every function – when we say “We are ND” we mean you...

Class of 2017, we would not let our rights be taken from us or our futures dictated to us. Therefore, as you and I leave this stadium, we must fight for others, for their unalienable rights, so that their future becomes their own. Our generation must stand against the scapegoating of Muslims. Our concern for freedom of religion must mean freedom for all religions, not just our own, otherwise none of us is free. We must commit ourselves to make certain that all of our friends and classmates at Notre Dame receive equal rights and respect when they leave this stadium with us...

We believe that greatness is found in humility. It is in giving of ourselves — as we leave today — that we find ourselves. Our time at Notre Dame has taken place within a tradition that explicitly follows the deeper love of Jesus that crosses borders...

We are part of something bigger. We stand on the shoulders of giants, as we carry on the love of our families and the legacy of Father Hesburgh...

Father Hesburgh and Majak

Our calling as we leave this stadium is to get these gowns dirty together, as we wade into muddy waters, as our learning becomes service to justice. When we follow the deeper callings of justice and proclaim the deeper magic of love and sacrifice that connect all of us – no matter which corner of the world we come from, then we will be true to what we have learned at Notre Dame. Then we will be true to our humanity, to the person that God has called each of us to be."

Reverend Gregory Boyle's speech was also very powerful.

"You imagine with God a circle of compassion and then you imagine nobody standing outside that circle. You go from here to dismantle the barriers that exclude.

And there’s only one way to do that: and that is to go where the joy is, which is at the margins, for if you stand at the margins, that’s the only way they’ll get erased, and you stand with the poor, and the powerless and the voiceless. You stand with those whose dignity has been denied, and you stand with those whose burdens are more than they can bear, and you will go from here and have this exquisite privilege once in a while to be able to stand with the easily despised and the readily left out, with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop, and with the disposable, so the day will come when we stop throwing people away...

You go from this place so that other voices get to be heard, and you go equipped with values so eloquently articulated by C.J. earlier, values born in the Acts of the Apostles: see how they love one another. There’s nobody needy in this community...

The measure of our compassion lies not in our service of those on the margins but only in our willingness to see ourselves in kinship with them."


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Who Said Returning Would Be Easy

If I could write a letter to my weary self in the spring of 2015, as I was surrounded by 20 years of our China life, packed in semi-sturdy fruit boxes from the market…

In that stressful season, when my sense of accomplishment each day was how many trash bags I could send down the trash chute from our 9th floor apartment. When my biggest dread every trip outside was discovering our rejected stuff in the overflowing trash heap—waiting for pick up by the Jingle Bells-playing trash truck–and then having second thoughts of maybe needing to rescue something that I might one day regret throwing away. When more than one person asked me if I needed someone to fly out to help me pack because they could see that I was not handling life all that well…

This is what I would write:

Dear self,

You need to let go of what you can’t keep. All of the memories and mementos will not fit in your well-worn suitcases or in the boxes that you’re shipping back...

You can read the rest of the letter by clicking over to Velvet Ashes:

Sunday, May 14, 2017

A Letter to the Birth Mothers of My Sons

Dear birth mothers,

你们好!I don't think we will ever have the opportunity to meet face to face (although I wish we could) so I wanted to let you know how much our family has been blessed by the gifts of your sons, 丁一凡 and 华明安, we named David and Daniel. They grew up in the Lanzhou Orphanage “like brothers” and we were able to adopt them together while we were living there in October of 2013, when they were 7 and 8 years old. So many people tell us what great smiles they have, and I wonder if they got their smiles from you.

David recently drew a picture of his Chinese mom in his life book for his English as a Second Language class. I noticed the dots all over her face and I asked if those were tears. “Yes,” he said. “I think she must have felt very sad to leave me at the hospital.” “I think so too,” I agreed. So although David doesn't know much about you, he does believe that you loved him and I'm sure that you still do and probably think about him often... 

Daniel frequently asks if I will read the Jesus Storybook Bible to him, and a few days ago as we were reading about Jesus' birth, he said, “I wish I was a baby.” “You know,” I told him. “I bet your birth mom held you, just like Mary held Jesus, after you were born.” “You???” he asked me with surprise. “No, you had another mom who gave birth to you, and later I got to become your adoptive mom.” “Oh,” he said with a question mark on his face, and I know he's still pondering what that means. Ever since his brain infection just before we adopted him, he has struggled with developmental delays and memory loss. So as he continues to process this idea of having two moms, I will keep letting him know how much his birth mom really loved him and wanted the very best for him, just like David's.

Because Daniel doesn't remember a lot about his life at the orphanage, David has filled us in on some details. He knows, for example, why Daniel has scar on his forehead because he witnessed the fight when another boy pushed him into the corner of a door. I remember the time last year when David told us proudly that he has lived almost his whole life with Daniel, first as friends and then as brothers. Even though they are almost exactly one year apart in age, when they joined our family 3 ½ years ago, Daniel had become like an infant in a 7 year old body.

Because of the brain damage from his illness and the 6 days of being in a coma, he had to relearn all of the basic life skills that he'd lost. David eagerly volunteered to help spoon feed him and assist him as he learned how to walk again. Even now he still offers to read to Daniel and help him tie his shoes. Most of the time he is a caring older brother who understands Daniel's limitations. After they both had major surgeries on their feet in February, they enjoyed having wheelchair races together. And now that they are walking again, one of their favorite things to do is to play basketball against each other.

It has been a joy to watch them grow and develop. But to be honest, being an adoptive mom has been one of the biggest challenges I've ever undertaken. Likewise, I can only imagine that leaving your precious boys in the hospital, so that their medical needs could be taken care of, was one of the most difficult things you've ever done. I still struggle sometimes with feelings of doubt that I am a good enough mom for them. And I imagine that you might still struggle with feelings of doubt that you made the right decision in leaving behind those tiny lives that you nurtured inside your bodies.

I hope that God has given you peace about that life-changing heart-wrenching decision, and I want you to know that I am thankful that you gave our boys the gift of life and cared for them in their first weeks.

We have a bird's nest in the wreath on our front door right now and this morning we were watching some videos my husband found online of house finches like ours hatching from eggs, being fed by their mothers and fathers, and then leaving the nest. It struck me how fragile the baby birds were and completely dependent on their parents. Their wide open beaks crying desperately for food, and then—just days later--they looked more like their parents and were ready to fly on their own. Daniel asked as we were watching, “When the baby birds fly away, do they need their mother and father anymore?” 

The picture of baby birds being fed by their parents has stayed with me and caused me to think about how you must have mothered our boys when they were newborn, fragile, and helpless. When you felt you couldn't care for them anymore, you put them in a place where you knew they would be found by someone who would take them to the orphanage. Neither you nor I got to see them “grow their wings” with their first crawl, their first steps, their first they were living in the orphanage during all of those milestones (although we were actually able to experience Daniel's 2nd round of those firsts). Our sovereign and gracious God had His hand on them during those years, like a protective wing, and He guided them to fly into our home when His time was right.

I want to wish you both a happy Mother's Day and thank you for bringing our boys into the world. David and Daniel are both very happy living in America, but Chinese food is still their favorite, especially 兰州牛肉面. I wish all of us could go out for Lanzhou beef noodles together. I'd like to see how much spicy you put in your bowls, as they pride themselves in being able to handle a lot of hotness. And I'd also like to see their smiles reflected in yours.


Monday, May 8, 2017

I Get It

“I get it.” Those three simple words are packed with the power of connection. I heard them this morning from Daniel's 3rd grade Sunday School teacher after Daniel angrily found his name tag on the wall and entered his classroom with a scowl on his face. He avoided his teacher's attempt at eye contact and his cheerful greeting, “Hey, Mr. Daniel. How are you this morning?

“I understand,” his teacher said to me. “We had a meltdown this morning at our house which is why we only made it to the second service.”

I get it.”

No other words needed to be said because in that brief interchange I knew that he knew what it was like. But the few more minutes of conversation about what had been going on with our kids bolstered me with a feeling of solidarity, as I headed downstairs to the church service. Through our Adoptive Parent Sunday School class together last year, I knew that we shared the same goals of connected parenting in our adoption challenges. Our families are on the same page, in the same boat, and I felt so thankful that he was the greeter today who saw Daniel enter the classroom when he was struggling. Really saw him. And understood.

“I get it” communicates that I see what is going on.
I'm not going to make assumptions or judge you.
I have experienced something similar enough to understand.
And I know how difficult it is.
You are not alone.

In parenting, when our children's less-than-desirable behavior is on display for the whole world to see, feelings of guilt and shame are often present. Questions and doubts from ourselves and from others, “Are you parenting in the best way?” can cause us to lose heart. With so many opportunities for being misunderstood in our challenging parenting situations, knowing that there are other parents who “get it” is invaluable.


Who has communicated “I get it” when you really needed it?
Who in your life needs to hear those words from you?

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Stand Up Gideon

Stand up, Gideon,” the principal spoke into the mic, in front of a few hundred rising 6th graders seated cross-legged on the floor and their parents crowded into the gym bleachers of Timberview Middle School. Gideon rose to his feet and became the focus of everyone's attention, as the principal went on to say, “Gideon's mom already introduced him to me and I just wanted to recognize him.”

I really felt for that kid, even though he didn't seem embarrassed at all. And I know that David, sitting at my side, was relieved that he wasn't Gideon, as his goal at the middle school intro night was to blend in as much as possible.

These past couple of weeks I've been thinking about Gideon's mom, and how I can relate with her desire to be a mover and shaker for her son. To help stack the cards for him so he might have a better chance of succeeding. Not only in school, but in all of life. 

Gideon's mom reminds me of the mother of James and John, who was so bold as to ask Jesus if one of her sons could sit at his right and one at his left in his kingdom. (Matthew 20:20-21) It doesn't hurt to ask right? Let's dream big.

One of our family's favorite movie scenes is from Glory Road, when Harry's mom, determined to help him improve his grades, sits in the desk right behind him at school. When the teacher asks who can answer her questions, his mom responds each time with confidence, “My son Harry can.” Jordan can do a great impersonation of Harry's mom and had us all laughing with that line in our last family skype call.

Gideon's mom, James and John's mom, Harry's mom--all have the same goal in mind, don't they?

They want the best for their children and they're committed to doing whatever they can to help them reach their goals. Is that true of us too?

Is the main focus of our lives Jesus, with gratitude for all of His grace poured out on us? Or do we feel a heavy weight on our shoulders that everything is up to our effort? If I don't make it happen, it's not going to happen. (I am definitely guilty of believing that at times.)

Paul wrote a stinging letter to the Galatians about how they had begun with the Spirit, but were now trying to reach their goal by human effort. “Something crazy has happened, for it's obvious that you no longer have the crucified Jesus in clear focus in your lives.” (Gal 3:1 MSG)

Clear focus. That's what I really want for each of my children. But I also need it for myself. And I'm aware of how easily I can lose that focus, so that Jesus is no longer the center of my life. How quickly I default to depending on my own efforts.

Last week CJ called us with some good news: he was selected as Notre Dame's valedictorian. Charly and I felt both humbled and amazed. This was very different than being valedictorian of his home school class of one! He had emailed us his submitted speech, which was one part of the selection process, and we thought it was great (but we might be just a little bit biased). I told him I would have voted for him if I was on the selection committee. But of course, there was nothing I could do to put in a good word for him. I'm sure that popping up behind him in his interview, like Harry's mom, "Choose my son CJ" would not have helped him. When we heard the news that CJ had received this huge honor, we received it as a gracious gift from God. So clearly not a result of our efforts.

I finished reading The Voyage of the Dawn Treader to David this morning and I love what Aslan said to Lucy and Edmund, after he told them that although they were too old to return to Narnia, they would see him in their own world. “But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”

Aslan's words help me to focus on what I see as my main job as a mom: not to work hard to help my kids get ahead, but to help them know Jesus for themselves. That He would be the clear focus of my life and their lives. That we would not get side-tracked and lose that focus, like the Galatians did, and start to depend on our own efforts to reach our goals, apart from Him.

“Anyone who tries to live by his own effort, independent of God, is doomed to failure.”

“The person who lives in right relationship with God does it by embracing what God arranges for him. Doing things for God is the opposite of entering into what God does for you.” (Gal. 3:10,11 MSG)

Maybe instead of focusing on getting our kids to stand up and stand out, we would do better to teach them how to spend time on their knees, keeping their focus on Jesus.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Teacher Appreciation

On Monday night I had the privilege of honoring Daniel's amazing 3rd grade teacher Mrs. McRae at District 20's Special Education Staff Appreciation Night. The whole evening was very inspiring and heart warming, as parents shared stories of 40 plus staff members (school bus drivers, paraprofessionals, speech therapists, special ed teachers, classroom teachers) and the significant contributions they have made in the lives of their children this year. It was so encouraging to see the life-changing impact one person can make who “gets” a special needs child and creates an environment where that child feels safe and understood.

This is what I shared:

This is such a special event! What a blessing to hear about all of these wonderful teachers and staff who have made such a difference in the lives of our children. I'd like to share with you all what our son Daniel's 3rd grade teacher Mrs. McRae wrote to him on a postcard at the beginning of the school year:

Dear Daniel, I'm so thrilled you are in my class! I love your cheerful spirit, big smile, and perseverance when things get tough. We are going to have a fantastic rest of the year! 
Love, Mrs. McRae

This is the way Mrs. McRae is--so incredibly positive and encouraging! She was able to identify and affirm those traits in Daniel early on and then help him continue to develop them during the year. This has been Daniel's 2nd year in the public school system. Last year he received full-time para assistance, and this year he was able to cut back to half-time as he's become more independent. Mrs. McRae has been committed to fully integrating him into her classroom, and she helps him know what's ok to do and what's not ok.

Another parent shared how her daughter really misses her teacher when she's away from school. Daniel is the exact same way. Whenever we go on a trip, I know it won't be long before I hear from the back seat how many days its going to be until he sees Mrs. McRae again, and how much he misses her already.

Daniel and Mrs. McRae at a cross country meet

One of the most amazing things for me was meeting Mrs. McRae for the first time at Pioneer's Back to School Night. I thought we were going to be meeting his new teacher for the first time, but it actually felt like I was meeting an old friend when I discovered that she already knew Daniel and was excited about him being in her class! Soon after that, I came across a picture (below) of Daniel running cross country the year before and there was Mrs. McRae, cheering him on in the finish chute. We didn't know her then, but there she was. And it's a beautiful picture to me of how God was preparing the way for Daniel and we didn't even know it. 

Daniel's 2nd grade teacher in the center and Mrs. McRae to her left

Daniel and his brother David, in 5th grade, had surgeries in early February. After that, they had to use wheelchairs and walkers for two months. Mrs. McRae was very supportive of our whole family during that time. The day before surgery she sent Daniel home with an overflowing basket of goodies so that both boys would have things to do while they were recovering. She gave our family a gift certificate for Papa Murphy's pizza. And all of Daniel's classmates made very sweet get well cards for him.

Mrs. McRae is an exceptional teacher who has shown us so much love and support this year, and we feel sad that the school year is coming to an end. We are truly going to miss her!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

This is Not Good For Me

This is not good for me,” I thought in that long pause of a moment that my body was preparing itself for a hard landing on the basketball court.

David had just traded positions with his friend Jack. “You guard my mom,” he said and I should have taken those words as a warning. Jack was playing more aggressive defense than David (whose feet were getting tired) and I didn't take that into consideration as I started dribbling toward the basket. Jack planted himself directly in front of me...and down I crashed. Not very gracefully. 

Surprisingly, ten year old Jack, the 70 pound Wall, suffered no injuries.

This is how I imagine the scene right before I collided with Jack

“That was not one of your finer moments,” Charly laughed as he offered his hand to lift me off the ground. The stars were still circling around my head like they do in the cartoons as I hobbled off to the side to watch the rest of the game.

Daniel hopped over from the kid team to join Charly, and they still pulled off a victory before Jack needed to go home.

After we walked home from the school playground, I began to wonder if I had cracked a rib. Anything beyond shallow breathing was causing stabs of chest pain. Certain positions felt increasingly uncomfortable. But fortunately, after a good night's sleep, the pain and soreness have been better today. And I'm hopeful that more healing will come with the passing of time.

All of the basketball action yesterday affected David as well, and his left foot was hurting him quite a bit this morning. He decided to use his wheelchair and walker again at school, and he shed a few tears over both the physical pain and the defeated feeling of going backward instead of forward in his recovery.

His physical therapist examined his feet at his lunchtime appointment and said it looked like an ankle sprain. So she taped it, gave him shoe inserts for more support, recommended icing his ankle twice a day, and gave him some exercises to reduce the swelling.

Pain can enter our lives through so many different avenues. It causes us to slow down and reevaluate what's going on in our lives. And it often brings a combination of discouragement and a desire for improvement.

I really like Max Lucado's perspective on the choice we have to hear negative or positive voices, in his book Facing Your Giants: “Two types of thoughts continually vie for your attention. One says, “Yes, you can.” The other says, “No you can't.” One says “God will help you.” The other lies, “God has left you.” One speaks the language of heaven; the other deceives...One proclaims God's strengths; the other lists your failures. One longs to build you up, the other seeks to tear you down. And here's the good news: you select the voice you hear.

Which voice do you most often hear—the one that trumpets God's strengths or the one that recounts your failures?

How can you get better at listening to the voice that builds you up and disregarding the voice that tears you down?”

Training ourselves to listen to God's voice can enable us to find perspective and renewed strength in Him, like David did at one of the lowest points in his life when his men wanted to stone him. “David found strength in the Lord his God.” (1 Samuel 30:6)

He didn't give up, but decided to keep pressing on.

The thought, “This is not good for me” can become “How might God turn this into good for me?

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Quotes by Daniel part 3

I have to go to the bathroom,” Daniel let me know last Saturday, as soon as we unloaded David's bike and Daniel's scooter from the back of the van at their school parking lot.

You do?” I asked him with a frown, knowing there was no bathroom available.

I'm not too exciting,” he assured me.

What do you mean?

I mean I can wait,” he translated for me.

“I want to be a real basketball player,” inspired by March Madness. His running commentary when he plays nerf basketball on his own is usually a close game between SC and Gonzaga. Since March, he has gotten more serious about playing real basketball on the court as well.

Orange!” he yelled out at the dentist's office yesterday. “BEAUTIFUL orange!” and he held up his brand new treasured toothbrush like an Olympic torch. He was thrilled that they had his favorite color this time.

Oh Dog. I missed you,” I smiled to hear such a sweet voice drift out of his room. But then a not-so-sweet voice followed. “I'm going to cut all your heads off!

“Underwear first,” talking to himself as he was getting dressed after his bath. “Underwear ALL-ways first.”

"What are you doing, Daniel?" Charly called out while we were lingering at the dinner table with our guests and Daniel, who had already left the table, was being suspiciously quiet. "Picking my nose!" Daniel replied in a loud voice from the kitchen. 

Are you playing a game?” He was already kneeling down next to a stranger on her iPad in the vision therapy waiting room as I pushed the door open a second or so after he'd entered the office. ("Stranger" is actually not a word in his vocabulary. People he doesn't know could be classified as “friends he hasn't gotten to know yet.”)

Wait! I want to stay on!” he yelled as I exited onto the 2nd floor of the doctor's office. He thought the stranger he had just started to get to know on the elevator, who was continuing on to the 4th floor, was pretty interesting and he wasn't ready to leave.

“I still can't stand you,” in frustration after I tried explaining one more time how to do a vision therapy exercise.
“I CAN WALK!” he announced to the produce stocker at King Soopers. as he happily pushed his walker and fully enjoyed his first outing with his new walking cast. “That's cool, buddy,” the guy replied. “I like it.”

I want to do it!” volunteering to walk on stilts during a class field trip on Tuesday.

“Are you pretty excited or really excited that Daddy's coming home tomorrow?” he asked me last night, as we're coming to the end of Charly's almost 3 week trip to China.

“Really excited,” I told him. “How about you?”

Me too,” he said with a big smile.

Quotes by Daniel part 2

Quotes by Daniel

Tuesday, April 18, 2017


We've been working on therapy exercises quite a lot recently.

Physical therapy to strengthen leg and feet muscles that have been “sleeping.”

And vision therapy to help David and Daniel's eyes with tracking.

David has a really encouraging physical therapist who has been helping him to improve his walking skills and his balance.

Yesterday she had him practice putting one foot directly in front of the other and holding that position for as long as he could. On his first attempts, he could only stand for a couple of seconds before he fell over. His arms were flapping wildly, and he felt discouraged that it was so hard for him. Then she said, “Look at the yellow strap across the room. Keep looking at it and try again.” By focusing on that strap, he was able to hold his position for over 30 seconds!

Having a focal point helped him to keep his focus off of his imbalance, so that he could center himself much better.

One of the vision therapy exercises we've been working on at home involves the boys lying on the floor, while I hold a ping pong ball attached to a string over their heads. They have to follow the star painted on the bottom of the ball with just their eyes while I swing it horizontally, vertically, and in a slow circle. David has learned how to keep his focus, so that I am able to give him spelling words and math problems to solve while he's following the star with his eyes. Daniel's eyes can track for little while, but then they start darting around so that I have to keep reminding him to follow the star. (It reminds me of the wise men.)

We've enjoyed reading the Chronicles of Narnia books together these past couple of weeks. We finished Prince Caspian on Sunday and watched the Disney movie last night. It struck me how Lucy, with childlike faith, was focused on Aslan throughout their journey, while the others had to grow in their desire both to see him and then to trust in him.

It's so easy to lose focus on what's most important in life, isn't it?


Helps us to balance.

Helps us to have the right priorities.

Helps us to find our way.

What are you focusing on these days?

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Father, Forgive Them

Father, forgive them,” Jesus cried out on the most horrific day in history. “For they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

In Facing Your Giants, Max Lucado writes, “No one had a clearer sense of right and wrong than the perfect Son of God. Yet, 'when he suffered, he didn't make any threats but left everything to the one who judges fairly.' (1 Peter 2:23)

This morning before the boys left for school, we talked about what Good Friday means and we read in The Jesus Storybook Bible about the Last Supper, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Arrest, and the Crucifixion:

My body is like this bread. It will break,” Jesus told them. “This cup is like my blood. It will pour out.”

“But this is how God will rescue the whole world. My life will break and God's broken world will mend. My heart will tear apart—and your hearts will heal. Just as the passover lamb died, so now I will die instead of you. My blood will wash away all of your sins. And you'll be clean on the inside—in your hearts.”

“God was going to pour into Jesus' heart all the sadness and brokenness in people's hearts. He was going to pour into Jesus' body all the sickness in people's bodies. God was going to have to blame his son for everything that had gone wrong. It would crush Jesus.”

Father, forgive them,” Jesus gasped. “They don't understand what they're doing.”

"It wasn't the nails that kept Jesus there. It was love."

This morning as we read and talked about the events, I wondered for the first time how the disciples must have felt when Judas arrived with the soldiers to arrest Jesus. Clearly he had betrayed Jesus (who had forgiven him before the act had even been committed). But I'm sure the disciples must have felt a sense of betrayal too. How could Judas--who had spent as much time with the Master as they had--turn against Him like that? 

On Good Friday we are humbled by Jesus' death on the cross. His willing sacrifice as the perfect Lamb of God. God's forgiveness extended. Undeserved mercy for sinners.

But after we've received and been cleansed by God's forgiveness, how well do we extend His forgiveness to others?

Last Sunday at Pulpit Rock, Thomas addressed the issue of forgiveness and how it relates to our joy. He asked, "Why would you want to hold on to something that's hurting you?"  He challenged us with the statement: "There's never a reason not to forgive." And, "Whatever Jesus expects of you, He empowers you to do."

On this topic, Max Lucado writes, “Forgiveness is, at its core, choosing to see your offender with different eyes.”

“To forgive is to move on," he explains, "not to think about the offense anymore. You don't excuse him, endorse her, or embrace them. You just route thoughts about them through heaven. You see your enemy as God's child and revenge as God's job.”

When we try to seek revenge, he says it "removes God from the equation. Vigilantes displace and replace God. 'I'm not sure you can handle this one, Lord. You may punish too little or too slowly. I'll take this matter into my hands, thank you.'”

Kind of like Peter, who was quick to react in Jesus' defense and sliced off a guard's ear with his sword. Jesus then reprimanded him, “Peter, this is not the way.” (John 18:10-11)

Can we entrust ourselves like Jesus did, in the face of mistreatment, to the One who judges rightly?

Can we echo Jesus' words, “Father forgive them”?

Can we see our offenders as God's children and route our thoughts about them through heaven?

Can we pray for their hearts to be healed as ours have--through Jesus' broken body and blood poured out on the cross?

Jesus died so that we--and they--could experience true reconciliation.

Linking up with Velvet Ashes this week on the Theme of Forgive

Thursday, April 13, 2017


I try to avoid lots of things. Especially when it comes to driving.

Times of heavy traffic.

Poor visibility and snow/ice/rain.

Areas of construction.

Lane changes and merging.

The highway.

Curvy roads and lanes that feel too narrow.

The only time that I actually don't feel stressed when I'm behind the wheel is when no one else is on the road. And that doesn't happen very often.

I often have to get myself psyched up, even for a simple drive across town, “You can do hard things!

Last Wednesday I followed the suggested fastest route of the GPS to take David and Daniel to vision therapy. Unfortunately I discovered that there were way more cars on the highway than I expected at 2 in the afternoon, and I had to tell Daniel to stop talking to me so I could focus. At one point an 18 wheeler was crossing into my lane as he merged in from the shoulder on my right, while cars whizzed by me on the left. And I held my breath, as my knuckles turned white on the steering wheel.

We are going to find a different route next week,” I vowed, once we had gotten safely past the truck and my heart rate returned to normal. “Not the highway again. There must be a better way.”

I am struck by the example of Jesus in the garden, who prayed so earnestly that his sweat was like blood, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:40)

The path would have been much easier for Jesus to avoid the cross.

But there was no other way.

So Jesus willingly walked that road.

For us.

As He hung on the cross, He was mocked by rulers, soldiers, and even one of the criminals who was hanging on a cross beside him:

“He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.”

“If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”

“Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:35-39)

But the truth was that if Jesus had saved Himself, He couldn't have saved us. So He didn't give in to that temptation (and we have no idea how great it might have been). He chose not to avoid the pain, the feeling of being deserted by His Father, the trip to Hell.

So that He could save us, who would not enter this world for many generations to come. He knew us and loved us even then.

“Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.”
(Isaiah 53:4-5, emphasis added)

Jesus chose not to avoid the cross because of His incomprehensible love for us. Sinners, every single one, who would have betrayed Him in the same way that Judas and Peter did, if we had been there. 

On the cross, in the midst of the temptation and the mocking, Jesus chose to focus on the future joy of our being reconciled to the Father and living together forever with us, within the fellowship of the Trinity.

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him 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 sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:2-3)

Consider Him and don't lose heart.


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