Sunday, October 30, 2016

Pastor Appreciation Month


I'm sitting in my living room on the last Sunday morning of October. I've been sick all week, and although I'm hopefully on the mend now, I'm still not feeling well enough to get myself and 5 kids ready for church plus wrangle them all in the pew for an hour.

So instead of being in church, I'm sitting here thinking about the man across the parking lot who is at this moment about to preach his heart out to a church full of people whom he loves dearly.


Most people will never see the inside view of the lives of pastors, but I do. At least this one. And he is the most hardworking, self-disciplined person I have ever met. He pours his life out for his family, his church, and his studies without ever expecting praise or notice. He works so hard for the church and his Ph.D studies, and somehow still manages to be more involved at home than I think is common.

He is meek and humble in ways that my strong-willed personality struggles to comprehend.

Shaving his head at the end of VBS, because the kids met the missions goal.

He loves the world and the gospel, and constantly strives to lead our church and our family toward ways that we can reach out both in our community, our country, and our world.


He is not perfect, of course, but he is still pretty darn great. I'm so thankful that I get to sit under the teaching and pastoral care of my own dear husband. And I just felt inclined to let him know, on this last Sunday of Pastor Appreciation Month, how much he is appreciated... at least by the frazzled lady who is usually in the second row with all of those crazy kids.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Family Worship: How We Stumbled Into It

I've heard a few comments lately along the lines of, "Only super spiritual/awesome/got-it-all-together/etc parents manage to have a regular family worship time, and the rest of us are just lucky to get to bedtime with everyone still alive."

Let me just clarify from the start: we most definitely fall into the "just lucky to get to bedtime with everyone still alive" category! Guys, this parenting thing is HARD. And EXHAUSTING. We are in NO way more spiritual or awesome than any other family, and the got-it-all-together part is just laughable. But we have kind of stumbled into a nightly family worship that we all really enjoy, so I thought I'd share a little bit about it in the hopes of encouraging someone else.

When Jude was about 4, we started having a regular bedtime routine with him that included a bedtime story (see, definitely not the got-it-all-together type if it took us 4 years to even have a regular bedtime routine with our only child). After getting him ready for bed, we all went in his room and read through a picture story Bible beside his bed each night, then prayed for him and kissed him goodnight. That's pretty basic and easy, and I bet many of my friends already do this.


When JJ, Taylah, and Haylee came to us, we folded them right into our bedtime routine. Everyone sat on Jude's bed while one of us read, then everyone kissed each other and headed to bed, where Josh and I split up and one prayed for the girls and one prayed for the boys individually in their beds. (Or on nights when only one of us is home to do bedtime, we do one room and then the other.) And of course lately we've added a sweet little ball of love to the mix, who is usually happy to sit in my lap during this time.

If you're doing something along these lines with your kids already, I wouldn't beat yourself up about not having some other kind of family worship. This IS family worship!

We kept this routine up for almost 2 years, the only real change being which story Bible we read (more on that in a bit), until a couple of months ago when Keith and Kristyn Getty came out with a new album, Facing a Task Unfinished. Josh was excited to learn the songs and teach them to the rest of us, so we started singing one or two after the story. But it was hard to do in the bedroom, so we moved to the living room where we can cast the lyrics to the TV as we sing along.

At the same time, some prayer needs for various missionary friends overseas came up, so after we read the Bible story and sang, we naturally moved over to our huge school map that hangs in the living room and pointed to our friends' countries as we prayed for them.


And that is the story of how our family naturally stumbled into having something that really feels like family worship every evening. This will look different for each family, but I want to encourage you that it IS possible for normal people to do. If you take nothing else away from this post, remember that family worship is vitally important to do in some way, but looks different for every family, and doesn't have to be long or complicated.

If you're looking for a place to start or a new story Bible to reenergize your family worship/bedtime, here are several that we've read through and enjoyed:

The Big Picture Story Bible (great for younger kids)
The Big Picture Interactive Storybook (lots of stories that other story bibles don't include)
The Jesus Storybook Bible (poetically and beautifully written)
The Biggest Story (short, but good)
The Ology (great for elementary-aged kids)
The Beginner's Bible (I was surprised by how much I liked this old one)
The Gospel Story Bible (also great for elementary-aged kids)

And after reading through all of those (some 2 or 3 times), we are currently enjoying Long Story Short, which is more of a devotional format with readings from the Bible along with a lesson and questions. Long Story Short covers the Old Testament, and when we finish it we plan on going through Old Story New, which is written by the same person and covers the New Testament.

I'd love to hear what your family does for bedtime and/or family worship, and if you'd recommend any other story Bibles that we haven't yet discovered!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Staycation 2016

For the past couple of years, we've taken family vacations to Florida in the fall. October is, in my opinion, the perfect time to visit Florida. It's still warm enough to enjoy the beach and pool without being swelteringly hot, there aren't crowds like in the summer, and the bugs aren't as bad.

But this year Josh's sister, who lives in Orlando, is pregnant with their first baby and due in December. So we rearranged our plans a bit and decided to take a staycation to Josh's parents' house now and a big family trip to Orlando in January to visit them and their new sweet baby.

Mammie & Pappy's house is kind of a kid paradise. They have a pool, several different kinds of swings, a sand box, a trampoline, a 4-wheeler, chickens, a fishing pond just down the road, a treasure trove of old toys, and sometimes Uncle James's backhoe is parked out back. What more could we ask for?






Jude swam in a shirt and hat all week because when you're in and out of the pool as much as this dude is, sometimes protective clothing is just the best way to go. The girls have spent much of the week playing like they are Olympic swimmers. I taught them all of the swimming strokes and they have swam many laps back and forth in the pool. They also played water polo, worked on their synchronized diving (read: jumping) skills, and narrowly beaten an imaginary Chinese team in rowing. 

I'm so proud of how far they have all come with their swimming in the past two years, when they were all terrified of the water (Jude because of a traumatic attempt at swimming lessons and the others from lack of opportunity to swim). The girls and Jude swim without floaties and JJ has graduated from his puddle jumper to floaties. The girls and JJ love jumping in, and the girls both swim underwater and rarely hold their noses. Man Cub loved hanging out on the deck watching everybody play, and he also enjoyed being held in the water or floating on a raft with a grown-up.

 

My mom has been down to see us a couple of times, and we spent one whole day at my parents' house an hour away. My niece was visiting from out of state, and so she, my sister, my nephew, and my dad's parents all came up to hang out with us, too. It was so fun! 



That's Dad with all of his grandkids! We are so thankful for this week that we've had here and for Josh's parents' hospitality. Time spent with our families is always so precious to me, and I love every chance we get for our kids to deepen their relationships with our parents and grandparents. I don't ever take for granted that someone will be here the next time we visit, and I try to treasure it up (usually in pictures, because that's my way of treasuring up memories) as much as I can while I can.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Man Cub is 4 Months Old

This week our man cub turned 4 months old! 

At his 4 month checkup, he weighed 15 pounds and was 24 3/4 inches long. He is in the 33rd% for height, 55th% for weight, and 90th% for head circumference! With his big head and curly hair, he definitely fits in on my side of the family!


He got to experience his first big holiday, the 4th of July, at Mammie & Pappy's house. We spent a few days there over the holiday, and had a big time in the pool and playing with all of the grandparents and Tia and Tio. Man cub wasn't crazy about the pool the first time, because the water was cool, but the next day when he got in with Mammie, he loved it!


He still sleeps like a champ, usually from around 8:30pm till sometime between 6 and 7am, although he's been waking up earlier some days, and I keep trying to deny that the dreaded 4 month sleep regression is real and possibly sneaking up on us. But his armless swaddle jammies have been a lifesaver and I'm holding out hope that they will continue to help him be a great sleeper. He doesn't nap as well during the day, but he has 4 wild older siblings so that's no surprise.


He's drooling like crazy and has just recently started really grabbing at things and putting them in his mouth. It's fun to see what little toys are starting to interest him! Speaking of toys, he's also recently discovered his feet, and there are few things cuter than a baby holding onto his own feet.

He doesn't like being in the floor and much prefers to sit upright. Because of this, he hasn't quite started rolling over yet. He can roll to his side from either front or back, but can't quite make it all the way over yet. I'm not pushing it because I know how fast babies grow up and I don't mind him being immobile as long as possible! Besides that, for as chill of a baby that he is, I'm afraid we're going to have our hands full when he starts moving! He's pretty busy!

He could sit in his swing outside all day long, and I may or may not be begging God to please not make winter happen this year. Summer is just so nice!


His favorite thing in the whole world is being talked to. He's quite the charmer and will smile and jabber back at anyone who talks to him. He is SO talkative, which is kind of a necessity to keep up in our family, and does a deep belly laugh for just about anything, especially if someone is laughing back at him. And it is such a delight to see how he lights up when he sees one of us walk in the room! The only downside to that is that he is easily bored when there is nobody entertaining him. Could he be a social butterfly extrovert like Taylah? It's looking like it so far.

He is such a perfect and joyful addition to our family, and we are so thankful to have him with us for as long as the Lord sees fit to allow.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Our 2016 Malawi Trip

We are home from Malawi and currently working through the fun parents with jet-lag + kids who aren't jet-lagged combo. So what better thing to do while the 2 month-old naps in my lap than write up a post about our trip? Just a warning, this is going to be really photo heavy!

Speaking of photos, I've had a few people ask what my purpose is in going with Josh to Malawi, and for as simple as it sounds, my job is to take pictures. The pictures that I take while we are there serve the mission for years to come and allows them to have high quality pictures of the work they are doing there to use on their website and share with their friends and supporters. Even though I'm not directly involved in the preaching and teaching, a photographer who is willing to come and take photos for the mission at the photographer's own expense really is more of a mission trip than it may seem.


We began our stay in Malawi by visiting Pastor Magada's church in Zomba. This was the first church ever planted by the mission team, and is today a vibrant church.

Josh and Mark together taught two modular pastors' schools, one in Zomba and one at the brand-new Lower Shire campus. Josh was impressed with how many of the pastors seemed to have matured in their faith and understanding of the Bible over the past 3 years. Below is the large classroom of the unfinished Zomba campus.


While the men were at the school, Stephanie took Jessi and me to the market. It reminds me so much of the markets in Moldova. Actually the whole country reminds me a lot of Moldova. The big difference is, of course, that in Moldova if we kept our mouths shut, we could blend in and go unnoticed. That's obviously not possible here for light-skinned people, although you do gradually get used to it and learn to ignore the stares and kindly tell the vendors no thanks.


We spent one night at Lake Malawi, because it's just so gorgeous that you can't help but go if even for a quick visit. The cichlid fish in Lake Malawi are found in the wild nowhere else in the world. Snorkeling among them is such an incredible experience!






After leaving the lake, we headed down to spend a few days in the southernmost part of the country, called the Lower Shire region. 


The first thing we did in the Lower Shire was a mobile medical clinic. Eric and Stephanie run many of these, and it was great to get to see it in action. They pack up tubs of medical supplies and, along with a doctor from Zomba, head out to rural villages where healthcare is completely unavailable. They can't treat every ailment, but they do have a decent pharmacy of medicines that they give away. Many ailments like malaria, infections, and parasites are simple to treat, but life-threatening for people without access to the medicines.


The village that we visited was particularly remote. After turning off the main road, we drove 30 minutes down dirt roads, crossed a river in canoes, and then walked through fields for about 20 minutes before finally reaching the village. 


Eric and Stephanie have a very well-organized system for their clinics. We treated 3 waves of people as they showed up. First, the people are gathered and a basic gospel message is presented. Then, Eric hands out tickets to see the doctor.


There are two lines, one for women with babies and children, and one for adults. The doctor sees all of the children, and Eric runs triage for the adults. Simple ailments can be treated without the doctor, and Eric sends the more serious cases over to Dr. Tata.





While all of this was going on, Mark had brought a soccer ball and played with the young men. He was expecting to be playing soccer with younger boys, but they had a full-sized field in this village and apparently the young men are VERY serious about their soccer. They were all excited to get to play with a real ball, they said they usually play with a ball made out of plastic bags tied together. 


After playing for a while, Mark led a devotion and a time of Q&A with the kids and young adults who had gathered by the field. 


The following day was another Sunday, and we visited a church in the Lower Shire, where Josh preached. I didn't get very many pictures there, because the white lady with the big camera was quite distracting, as you can tell in the picture below. When I take pictures of teaching or preaching, I generally try to get a few at the very beginning and then sit down so as not to be too much of a distraction.






Lastly was the second school at the Lower Shire campus that I mentioned at the beginning. This property is brand new and also unfinished. Mark started off teaching in the little church building on the property, but as more and more pastors trickled in, they had to move to a bigger space.





As is always the case when we do schools, while the men learn, the women cook. We are thankful for servant-hearted women in the churches who volunteer to come cook for such a large group.



Michael and Mark wanted to try stirring the huge pot of nsima, which the women thought was quite hilarious.


And that wraps up our time in Malawi! We are so thankful for the opportunity to go again, and for the blessing of working with Eric and Stephanie and the Malawian mission staff. Malawi is a beautiful country that is desperately in need of the gospel and solid Biblical teaching, and we are humbled that the Lord has allowed us to be a small part of the mission there. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Baby C: One Month Old, Court, & Prayer Requests



Baby C is one month old today. He is growing so fast, and is turning into quite the little butterball. His already unusually long hair is getting longer, and he is rocking a sweet baby mullet. He is absolutely adored by his siblings; there is always someone wanting to hold and/or feed him, and I've had to instate a "no kissing the baby when he's asleep" rule because the girls kiss on him so much and they were always waking him up.

He fits so seamlessly into our family that it's almost weird. A good weird. A wonderful weird, actually. As if he's always been with us.



He looks toward us when he hears our voices, and just yesterday gave me a few sweet smiles while playing peek-a-boo with a blanket. He has started cooing to try to talk to us, and has good eye contact when we talk to him. Sandra McCracken will put him right to sleep in the van. He LOVES to lie on a blanket on the floor and look out the big living room window. He just happily looks around and kicks his legs like crazy for a good long time. He only fusses when his diaper is dirty or he's tired, and he generally sleeps like a champ, especially since we switched to a different formula that is easier to digest. Almost like clockwork at night he will fall asleep around 9, wake up about 2:30, and then again at 4, 6, and 8. I take the 2:30 feeding and Josh usually takes both the 4 and 6. He doesn't usually sleep with us, but like most parents we don't shy away from some morning snuggles.



This month he went to church for the first time and was introduced in front of the church, he got to go to Classical Conversations with all of us and hang out in Taylah's class, and he slept right through his first adventure in Mammoth Cave on Josh's birthday. We are spoiling him rotten and soaking up every minute of every snuggle, partly because we know how fast he'll grow up, and partly because we don't know how many more days of snuggles we'll get.


We go back to court tomorrow and I have to admit that I'm a ball of nerves. He could be returned to his parents immediately, they could initiate a transition process for reunification, or he could remain with us until the next court date. There's no way to know what the judge is going to decide, and it is working every faith muscle I've got to trust the Lord with his future.

Even though foster care and adoption is supposed to be just about the kids and not about us, can I talk about us for a second? We've prayed for a baby for the last 6 years. Saved all of Jude's baby stuff and outgrown clothes. Cried. Begged. Prayed. Miscarried. Cried. Taken medicines and run tests. Prayed. Cried some more. There are no words for how thankful we are for the four amazing kids that God has given us, but it still hasn't dampened our desire for another baby.

And one month ago today I sat in my living room knowing that C's mom was in labor (he is a full biological sibling of our three adopted kids) and had no expectation that he would be removed from her care. That same day we found out another friend is pregnant. And I wept. Hot, unstoppable tears from a heart that hurt so deeply. Tears that I didn't even feel like I was allowed to cry, because I should just be thankful for the kids I have and be happy for others who are given children, right?

That night, on a whim, I took a pregnancy test and it was faintly positive. That next day, I received a call saying the state was going to take custody of C, and would we be willing to take him?

6 years of begging God for a baby, and he gave us two in less than 24 hours.



We spent a blissful and sleep deprived week adjusting to having a newborn again and talking about what life would look like with babies 8 months apart. Eager to tell them when they got older that we found out we were expecting on the day C was born.

Then, as most of you know by now, God's perfect plan didn't include the baby in my womb surviving.  In fact the baby wasn't in my womb at all. In the loving Father's perfect goodness, he allowed me to be within 1 minute of the hospital when my tube started to rupture, and I drove myself to the ER and was quickly taken back for emergency surgery to remove an ectopic pregnancy.

6 years of begging God for a baby, and we've already lost one of them and could lose the other as well.

I'm trying not to see it that way, but it is so difficult.

In a text conversation yesterday, Josh put it so simply and perfectly when he encouraged me, "Do not worry. For by worrying you cannot add a single child to our family." I'm so thankful for that man.



I'm writing all of this to beg you for prayer.

1. Please pray that God would grant the judge over C's case wisdom and discernment, "for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God." (Romans 13:1)

2. Please pray that God would help us to walk by faith and not by sight, and to trust him no matter what happens.

Whenever we have faced trials of any kind, I'm always reminded of Peter's words in John 6:68. Many of the disciples turned away from following Jesus after a particularly difficult to understand teaching. Jesus asked the twelve if they were going to go away as well, and Peter replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” That is always my prayer in trials. I cling even tighter than ever to Christ, because there is nowhere else to turn. He alone has the words of eternal life. He alone is my comfort, hope, and security.