When did we decide to JUST SURVIVE?

A Christian radio station has recently aired this sentiment:  “Three keys to surviving fall….” and then they add pumpkin bread or apple crisp as key #1, and then apple cider or pumpkin spice latte as key #2, and lastly the name of the radio station as key #3.  They have played it over and over again and each time the one word that stands out to me is SURVIVING. Why do I want to just survive fall? Why don’t I want to truly LIVE through this beautiful season? (And to think that the key to that journey is a piece of bread or a drink- both of which I like-but are undeserving of occupying the position of helping me through life.  But that is for another blog.)

One definition of the word “survive” is to endure or live through. Endurance is good in seasons that are difficult but what if are overall approach to life is one of just getting through it? We are missing out. On a lot. I have been through times when survive was all I could do. Post partum depression was one long waiting game, hoping I would pull out of it and survive. Literally. That I would still be alive when the anti-depressant started to work. I am thankful I did survive. Survival is understandable when circumstances stretch us to our limits for a time.
But what about when survival has become a way of life? When we check out from our own existence? We numb ourselves with shopping, volunteering, drinking, or traveling just to stay busy enough to not really think about truly living? When we are just going through the motions?
We were all created with PURPOSE. Not the kind the world tries to sell you- being beautiful, fit, and put together. I am talking about real purpose. The kind that calls us to action on someone else’s behalf. We were made to seek God and His best. But we settle for what the world sells us- BUSYNESS. Running in a million directions to meet all the standards of good parents and good spouses and somehow we lose our direction, our purpose. And we succumb to survival. Grin and bear it. Pull yourself up by the bootstraps for one more concert and one more baseball game and one more PTO meeting- none of which are bad things at all- but have we lost our way in the process?
How do we choose LIVING over surviving? I learned it from my friend, Kristen Milligan. She had terminal cancer for almost ten years and could have chosen many ways to spend it. But she understood the importance of being ALIVE even when she was dying. She reached out to everyone around her, loved the one in front of her, and started an amazing nonprofit organization, Inheritance of Hope. I used to tell her that she did more while she was dying than most people will ever do while they are living. 
To really live our lives, we have to stop numbing our pain. We have to get real with our past, our emotions, and our life circumstances and make true peace with them. Facing disappointments and hurts that we have carried like luggage with us everywhere we have gone. Not peace keeping but the kind of peace the Bible talks about- “peace that passes understanding.” And from there we move out into the world in strength.
And then we have to approach life with hope and expectancy. Maybe you feel like there is nothing to be hopeful about. I challenge you to find one thing. Even if it is super small. But please don’t make it a pumpkin spice latte or a piece of banana bread. Something like hope for a great conversation with a friend or a time of worship. God will come through for you.
And from there we need to get outside of our little lives and our little families and our little churches and BE LIGHT where there is darkness. Ask God to take you to the dark and He will. Guaranteed.
Why do we settle for surviving? Maybe because we are scared to step out and be different. Maybe we are too self absorbed. Maybe we just don’t want to. 
The world needs us to leave our comfort zone and stand for justice, goodness, and righteousness but we are too busy standing for status, money, and comfort.
Are you ready for a change?

There is no place for arrogance when it comes to education…..

These four characters could not be more different. Without selling any of them out, I will say one is laid back, one is very fiesty, one is honest as Abe and the other not so much. One loves school- every minute of it and the other three- not at all.  One loves guitar, the other baseball and writing, another the Army and the last one working and tennis. What do you do with all these differences when it comes to their schooling? So many choices.

Public school. Charter school. Magnet school. Christian classical school. Private Christian school. Between our four children, we have been exposed to all of them.  Four kids who have been through different stages with different needs and all these options fit at the time. For a season. When it was time to move on, we knew and we prayerfully made changes.

But what makes a school amazing? Teachers. Educators. Paras. Coaches. The ones who come in day after day, week after week and have the task to make learning come alive to a room of mismatched students who may or may not want to be there. The ones who teach and then coach a sport on the side. The ones who email me at 11:30 at night as they are just getting around to grading papers. The ones who welcome me into their classrooms to teach about the life cycle of the butterfly or life in the third world. Easy? No way. Is it a calling? Absolutely.

If my math is correct, (which I will not assume to be true but has nothing to do with teachers like Mr. Kendrick in 7th grade who tried his darndest to teach me), my children have had 85 different teachers between them. That is a LOT of teachers……their success academically clearly shows what they have learned from these teachers but I have recently asked the question- what have I learned from them?

Everybody has opinions about schools, but I have seen many people haphazardly stereotype schools without real knowledge about them. We generalize, make assumptions, and put them in categories which are often based on unrealistic conclusions. Why are we so quick to bash the type of schooling where our children are not? I believe it is because we desperately want to convince ourselves that the schools where are children are exceed all others to ease our minds that we are doing the right thing. So private schoolers bash public schoolers, homeschoolers bash private schoolers and we all walk around being prideful and unapproachable when it comes to education.  I have been shamed so many times by people who disagree with our choice of schools that I don’t even want to talk about it with people.  I have had people assume my children are homeschooled because they are so grounded. Huh?? There are many avenues that lead to good kids. Seriously.

We, as parents, need to stay teachable. Being arrogant will get us nowhere.  What happens when we need to change our child’s schooling and we are too prideful to do so because we have spent so much of our time slamming the very school our child now needs? Not good. At all.

Quality teachers can be found in small schools, large ones, private and public. I would say that 90% of my children’s teachers shared our Christian faith without crossing any ethical boundaries in the classroom. The ones who have not been Christians have indirectly taught my children how to respect someone with a different faith and we have had teachable moments at home about what that looks like.

The classroom is like a microcosm of the real world.  Learning to get along, sharing, waiting for a chance to speak, following directions and trying to hold to a schedule- everyday our children are challenged with mastering these life skills. Priceless lessons that we need for the rest of our lives. We need teachers willing to work patiently with our children as they learn these life skills at their own pace.

Do they all do it successfully?  No. So what about the teachers who have not been what my children have needed? I am thankful for them too. My children need to learn to adapt to different personalities and environments. We have had the school years when the pieces do not seem to be falling into place and in those moments, my children have learned to respect, even when personalities may not mix very well. Not always easy lessons, but one day it will be a boss, a co-worker, or a college roommate and they will need to know what it takes to find common ground with someone and work together.

I am not discounting that there are teachers who do a disservice to education.  Some make horrible, ethically disastrous decisions and I am certainly not supporting that kind of behavior. We have not personally faced that but I am sure some have- that is a whole other category and I am sorry for anyone affected by those teachers.

As I have thought a lot about education lately, I asked each of my kids to name their favorite teachers. They could have named many but I had to narrow it down to two each just so this does not go on all day.

Here is what they said:

Mr. Morgan- McKeel Academy….wrestling coach and health teacher
“Mr. Morgan was a best friend looking out for me and holding me accountable.  He was caring, spirited, and passionate about his faith.”
Mrs. Grant- Dixieland Elementary, 5th grade
“Mrs. Grant was strict with love and always there to help.”

Mrs. Maurer- Lakeland High School, 10th grade English
“Mrs. Maurer is very smart and hardcore but I learned the most in her class.”
Mr. Cleveland- Lakeland High School, 11th grade English
“Mr. Cleveland relates well to his students and is very insightful.”

Mr. Strawbridge- Geneva Classical Academy, many grades and subjecs- first of all, Coleman can barely put Mr. Strawbridge into words…the only ones he could get out at first were “the bomb” and “JUST SO AWESOME!!”
Then he said, “He is very down to earth and he is young, relates well to students, and is a very capturing teacher.”
Dr. Phillips- Harrison School of the Arts, 9th grade guitar
“He is awesome because he is very determined and is an excellent guitarist so it is not hard to trust him. He is fun but strict.”

Mr. Groff- Cleveland Court Elementary, 5th grade
“Mr. Groff is an incredible teacher and he takes the time to explain things to his students.”
Mrs. Myers- Cleveland Court Elementary, 2nd grade
“Mrs. Myers is the best teacher because she is extremely nice and loves kids!”

The teachers who have personally taught me the most are:
Pam Norris, who taught Connor and Coleman in 2nd grade at Rochelle School of the Arts, is one of the most precious people I have ever know.  Kindness exudes from her and my boys knew she was one of their biggest fans.
Doug Smith, retired Navy and teaching math at Genenva Classical Academy, was able to somehow weave so many life lessons into math that I learned from them second hand!

Naomi Wilson….the most precious teacher I ever had. It was 2nd grade at Cleveland Court Elementary in 1977. She was there for me when I really needed her.  Losing her this year was heartbreaking.

So…..we keep on keeping on.  Knowing we don’t have all the answers and continually seeking the best options for each of our children, we must humbly choose the path best suited for them and appreciate the educators who give their lives away to them every day.

Bring on the rain…..

I have complained at least 10 times a day for the past few weeks about the constant rain.  The pool is overflowing, our road is flooded, the grass is growing too fast, baseball games cancelled, and my hair turns into a frizzy hot mess!  
Then this morning it hit me….

Water.  A necessity but a scarcity for so many.  Walking hours just to fetch water.
And then only having the amount that you can carry on your head.

Contaminated water.
Sometimes just a trickle of water coming out of the source.

Most not having a simple rain barrel.

Washing clothes and dishes conserving every drop of water.

In Haiti we have a school that has grown from 40 students 5 years ago to 300 children currently and there was not a way to catch the rain until recently.  We had a cistern built but no gutters.

Then we built a gutter system.

The cistern had been empty for months but we waited and prayed for rain.
The team was ecstatic about the new gutters but still no rain.  We waited and prayed for rain.

Then it came and it did not stop.  And we hoped it wouldn’t.  In that moment, we knew the importance of the rain.  That is sustains life.  That it is essential to living.  We were not thinking about the inconveniences of the rain or the slippery mountain mud that we would have to endure after the storm.  We were only grateful for the fresh drops of cool rain that poured from the sky.  We were content and not complaining.  
We knew the blessing of the rain.
And the next day the community had water in the cistern that saved them a 3 hour round trip hike to the water source.
So today I have a new attitude about the rain.  As I see it come down, I think about my friends in Haiti who count on it to survive. To boil their rice, to drink a few sips, and wash their few bowls and forks.
I pray one day every single person in our village in Haiti has a rain barrel.
I am hopeful that my inconveniences won’t consume my thoughts but that I would be radically changed because I have seen the need.  Once you have seen you can’t stay the same.  I slip into my little pity parties and God drags me out and reminds me that there is work to be done and there is no time for being consumed with what does not matter for eternity.
Bring on the rain.

Adoption through my eyes

This is my adoption story.  I am not a spokesperson for or against adoption and nothing I share should be taken as a generalization about adopting.  Every story is unique and has its own qualities that make it what it is.  It is time for me to share mine.  It is difficult, emotional, and some parts are hard to admit.  I know it is a piece of my own healing process no matter what else comes of it.

We adopted our son when he was almost 13 years old.  We had never talked about adopting and had not prepared ourselves for it but we felt strongly that God spoke to us to adopt this particular child. And we did. He became our oldest child by 2 1/2 years, which we never heard anyone recommend.  The “experts” say that you should take a child younger than your birth children, but we felt God was bigger than expert opinions no matter how hard it might be.  We did not have anyone really who thought it was a fantastic idea because it would clearly come with a cost to me, my husband, and our 3 children.  We also did not know a single person who had taken this on before. No one.  But we went forward because it was what we were called to do.

The next 5 1/2 years were very demanding- the adjustment, the sacrifices made by the 5 of us, and the mere exhaustion of 4 boys in our family. We only had those 5 years to train our son up for the world- we had missed his first 13 and there was so much for him to learn.  Lessons came at a cost, discipline was constant, and the push back from him was ever present. But we stuck it out.  No matter what. That is what we signed up for when we became his parents.

I have probably had a  hundred people say to me, “I bet he is so thankful he got you!” I would smile politely, without a response.  There is no response to that statement because he did not know how to be thankful. He came to us with so much hurt, disappointment, and anger that there was no way he would let down his guard and think about what he had. It would leave him vulnerable and he had been through too much to open himself up to that.

His therapist said to him, “When are you going to stop pushing your parents away?”  The answer- up until this point…..never. The pain of those first few years made  him into a survivor- a child who can make himself exist in any situation and not be bonded. Bonding is too much.  Too personal.  Too deep.

So we were left with knowing that we would not get from him what he had hoped for. A parent/child relationship. One that involves the give and take of love and acceptance. We were a means to an end for him and after he turned 18 he just left. Took off for somewhere he thought was better. No real explanation or reasoning. Leaving just because he could. Not really leaving much behind because he is a survivor and he can make life work wherever he is. It was the most crushing experience of my life. Watching my son walk out and not look back.

My son graduated from basic training in the U.S. Army and we were able to celebrate the graduation with him.  We were so proud and so excited for his future. We were overwhelmed with his courage and strength to work so hard for something so honorable. We got back from his graduation two days ago and I was beaming with pride. He had become a respectable, honest, young man with credibility and integrity. But I still did not have a son who wants me to be his mom. That crushes me deep to the core. It burns from the inside out.

But here is where my journey has led me.  The picture of this angel is called the “angel of freedom.” I found it today and it spoke volumes to me. In order to be free, I have to let him go and stop trying to find something in him that he does not have to give away. It is not fair to him and it only hurts me. I pry and almost beg for answers I want to hear from him. I wait for the gratitude, love, and acceptance. And then I am devastated when it is not there. 

I pray God will give me freedom from my expectations. Freedom from the constant disappointment that I don’t have with him what I have with my birth children.  We cannot give away what we do not have. 

I have prayed for 6 years now that it would be “well with my soul.”  It is not yet but I am hoping that as I grow I will find the peace that passes understanding. That will be a time of amazing freedom.

It is just hair…..to me.

I can look at pictures and know about how old I was by my hairstyle.  Here I am in the 80’s sporting the BIG hair.  All I can say is WOW.

Then college days….


and NOW……
So much has changed!  It is with great hesitation that I post ANY of those pictures from the younger years and my children would die if they saw them but I do so with a greater purpose- loving people.
I have learned a lot since I turned 40…..and I have been set free by the realization that 
appearances really don’t matter.

The days of hair spray, Sun-in, and perms are OVER!  Now it is a good day if I get out the diffuser on my hair dryer.  I confess that I do color my hair slightly and get it trimmed……if I did not like my hairdresser so much I might not even do that.
So where am I going with this?  IT IS JUST HAIR- TO ME.  But what could it mean to someone else?  Millions of children suffer from hair loss because of cancer treatments or alopecia. Some of them feel like they can rock the bald look or a cute hat but others want to have hair- real hair.  
 That is where we come in.
See, my hairdresser decided I should grow my hair out because it would look better-  I am of the thought process that short hair is less to fool with so the shorter the better.  I told her I would grow it out under one condition….that I donate it when it grows to 12 inches.  There began the journey.
As you can see, I am at about 4 inches now- if it is straightened and pulled.  Ok maybe 3 inches.  I figure that in one year it will be 12 inches if I am nice to it.  But I don’t want to just donate my hair- I want to get enough people together to make at LEAST one wig, which is 12 ponytails and $1500 to subsidize all the costs that go along with providing a child with a wig.
I started doing my research and came across Children With Hair Loss. It is a small non profit organization that makes wigs for children for FREE.  Did you know a lot of other organizations charge for the wigs?  I called them on the phone and had the best chat ever with one of their volunteers.  
It is that simple- 12 ponytails and $1500 and a trip next summer to meet them in person in Michigan. 
Why did I pick this project?  Because long hair drives me crazy and it is one way I can die to self and give it away.  Those who know me understand I do not do this without whining- it is hot, it is frizzy, it is a pain, it is….blah, blah, blah.  This whole experience has been one of God changing how I see things…..thanksgiving that I can grow hair.  That I have a shower to wash it in.  That I have the utmost privilege to give it away.
Children With Hair Loss takes color treated, bleached and gray hair!  I need at least 12 people from anywhere in the world to join me in this cause.  You have a year to grow it out…..and God will take care of the rest of the details.
Will you join me?  Really- it is just hair.  It grows back.  It has noteternal value.  And someone needs it a whole lot more than you do.
Please leave a comment if you are IN and I will get in touch with you.  
12 people. 12 inches.

We are not all winners…..

Yesterday was a big day in the 5th grade- the EGG DROP.  Students, teachers, and faculty gathered in the school courtyard to witness the students’ contraptions made of popsicle sticks and small cups that would be dropped from 7 1/2 feet with a raw egg inside.  The goal- no broken eggs.  My son was about 5th in the line up and as his teacher climbed the ladder with his project I could tell my little guy was on the nervous, anxious side.  

We all watched as it came plummeting to the ground……as it hit the concrete the egg did not crack at first- it actually LAUNCHED out and into the air and splatted yolk and white everywhere.  Disappointment.  Project fail. With his head hung low, he went back to his seat and we went on with the rest of the class.  As he sat there I could see the dejection in his face.  As a mom, I wanted to go rescue him….tell him it was a great try and he was AWESOME even though his project did not work, etc. but I had this nudge inside of me that said…..no, let him be for now.  So I was preparing myself the whole time as to how I would approach him afterwards.  Give him the motivational speech about how he is good at SO many other things or the “you are the best glue gunner in the universe” pep talk- which would it be? He came up to me and started talking about the tape that came off and ruined the project, etc. and I simply interrupted him and said, “Maybe you just need to improve the design next time. That one did not work out but I bet you can make another one that will.”  He stopped, thought, shrugged, and that was it.

I was not sure I was the one who actually said what I did.  Maybe someone else inhabited my body at that moment when I talked to him?  I did not coddle, lie, or help him make up excuses. That is not the me I know! See, I am a rescuer. I want my kids to feel good about themselves and I want to rescue them from disappointment….but I am now a RECOVERING RESCUER. 
In the moment when our children fail, we must stop enabling them to blame everyone and everything for things not working out. This never has to be done where it is hurtful, but it can be done where it is very helpful. Instead of blaming the wind or the humidity or the angle of the ladder, I needed to encourage him that next time he could do it better. Now in that moment he knew I loved him, was for him, and supported him unconditionally but helping him be the victim would never shape his character.
We came home that night and what did we do?  Bought more popsicle sticks and made a better design. Lesson learned- take the failure and let it shape the new outcome. This space ship looking glue gun masterpiece was dropped by dear ol’ dad from the ladder with no broken eggs- TWICE.
We must let them fail and not protect them from how that feels.  I firmly believe we learn more from our failures than we do from our wins.  Failing builds character and perseverance when our kids know we are not disappointed in them.  It should motivate- maybe not at first but eventually.
I am so thankful for the failed egg drop and the lessons it taught me.  As a recovering rescuer, I challenge you to stop protecting your kids from the wisdom that comes from picking themselves up and trying again and again.

Legacy….What If?

As I plunged into the pool this morning to swim my laps, I thought of my friend, Kristen, and how much she loved to swim. Kristen passed away almost 2 years ago and  I cannot think of her without the word LEGACY coming to mind.  Leaving a legacy. She gave me the greatest gift when she showed me what it was like to give your life away and love the people in front of you. That leaves an eternal legacy.  She taught this to me and I pray I can model it for those around me, in spite of my shortcomings.  
So I started to think….what if?  What if we approached life with a greater purpose and focused our attention on what really matters?  It would change everything.  In our busy lives, we miss opportunities that are right there. Such amazing blessings in front of us but we don’t see them. Well, today is a new day!  I love that about life.  So what if?
Many of us drive to church on Wednesdays.
What if we talked to some parents in our neighborhoods whose children are unchurched and asked if we could bring them each week? That reminds me of my neighbor, Kadeem, whose dad works 2 jobs and he was home alone at night and and he just needed a ride to youth group (and some mom love).
What if?
Many of us have our children in sports.  
What if our team decided to sponsor starting a team in a third world country where they do not so much as have a ball to play with- much less shoes? That reminds me of the students at our school in Haiti whose love for soccer could be channeled into an incredible team but none of them have any of the equipment.
And yes, the shoe peeking out from the side of the picture belongs to my son while the others have no shoes. We are all a work in progress.
Many of us enjoy a sport ourselves. 
What if we decided to take our love for that sport and make a difference for those who need us? That reminds me of a sweet friend who I met on an Inheritance of Hope retreat. A 42 year old mom with 2 children, ages 9 and 11, who lost her battle with ovarian cancer on August 10th.  We can run for Inheritance of Hope and raise money so that families like Lisa’s can go on a family retreat and make precious memories.
What if?
Many of us take family vacations. 
What if we decided this year we will take a mission trip together as a family instead? That reminds me of so many families who have decided that serving together is the ultimate family vacation.
What if?
Many of you are already fulfilling your purpose and your lives reach so many. That is LEGACY. That is what changes everything.

Overcoming the Obstacles in Haiti

We all have a story. We all have overcome obstacles.  I personally have never had mountains to climb like those in these stories…….

 This is Jolie.  She stays at home most of the time because of her cleft palate and only comes to see us when our nurse is seeing patients and her mom insists that she comes.  Because of the shame of her condition she and her sisters have never attended school.  She is embarrassed to be seen or even speak because of the way her speech is compromised by her cleft palate.  Four days ago I got a call from Operation Smile after they received a letter from me asking for help for Jolie.  They do not have doctors that go into Haiti but Lizet took the time to pass my name on to a group in Canada called Broken Earth who might be able to help her. Jolie’s life to date has been very difficult but with the generosity of others, everything can change.  Join me in praying for surgery for her. I hope she and all her siblings will be in our school very soon.

 Yslene has just completed the first grade at our school in Haiti.  She did not attend school the previous year because her mother was sick and one of the children had to stay home and take care of her and the household. That fell on Yslene. Last summer she and her father were waiting patiently for me up the hill from the school on a sunny afternoon.  I have no idea how long they had been there waiting to see if I would approach them. I ran to Yslene and embraced her because I had missed her in school that year. Her father begged us to take Yslene back into our school, which was obviously a big OF COURSE! She returned and finished the year at #3 in her class. She understands the value of education and makes me so proud.

Guideline is somewhere around 12-14 years old. No one knows her real age because she was found wandering the streets as a toddler and has been raised by Madame  (in the second picture) ever since.  No birthdate.  No family history….but Madame took her in, in spite of her thyroid issues that cause her protuding goiter and how her daily life is difficult because of it.  For years they have sold candy and fried dough outside the school and Guideline has watched all the children go to school, knowing that without a birth certificate she cannot attend.  In March, we started the process to get her a birth certificate so she can start school in September.  She will enter as a kindergartener and her life will be changed forever by an education.

Angeline has a heart condition and was forced to leave halfway through the school year 2 years ago.  Her parents were faithfully carrying her down the mountain to get her to school until it became too much. She returned to school and rose to the top of the class.  Her health is improving and she was #2 in her first grade class.  She is such an overcomer. I am proud she attends our school.

 Jean Marc has a condition called epiphyseal dysplasia.  Until June 2013 he had never seen a doctor and did not know why he was short in stature and in chronic pain.  Because of an amazing friend of ours, Frank, who works periodically at Cure hospital in Dominican Republic, he was diagnosed and is given medication to help manage pain.  He will eventually need new knees and hips but in the meantime he is a full time student and supports his education by making baskets and bracelets that we sell for him in the US. He is an amazing example of someone who overcomes the odds.  He is extremely bright and in his last year of high school.  He teaches me what it means to persevere.

Because of Jean Marc’s diagnosis, we were able to treat his brother, Reginald, at CURE as well.  He got a life changing surgery on his knee to straighten it out and will need continual surgeries as he grows.  Their condition is not curable but hip and knee replacements will lessen their chronic pain. Reginald is a happy go lucky, playful child in spite of the pain he deals with on a daily basis.  We are praying that one day he will get the extensive surgeries he will need.

The days I start to wallow in self-pity, these and many more stories like them scroll through my mind. Perseverance. Overcoming obstacles. I think we could all learn from their stories. I know I have.