When our boys thought feeding the poor was their favorite summer memory

Sharing Words of Encouragement

But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 1 John 3:17

Sweat dripped off our bodies as we all jumped in the car, and I impatiently waited for the air condition to put me back to comfortable. I sat with my face nearly pressed to the dash allowing the air to blast at full speed. 98 degrees and I are not friends. Neither are 48 degrees and I. I get along best with about 72, but in North Carolina you pretty much go from winter to summer with only a few glorious weeks of spring in between.

Jacob and Zachary clambered into the back. “You know, that was more fun than if you had taken us to a movie and bought us popcorn, cokes, and candy.”

I waited for the “Yeah, right” but it never came. Turning from the arctic blast, I looked at Zachary. “Are you serious?”

“Yes, mom, I’m so serious.”

Then it was Jacob. “Yes! It was so awesome. I want to do it again. When can we?”

Those were not the responses we were expecting, but isn’t God good like that? It’s in those moments I wonder if He is saying, “Renee, trust me more with your time. Watch what I can do and grow if you give it to me.”

Time. That’s really what it comes down to. I want to serve more, but that time thing always seems to get in the way. Honestly, the time issue would have stopped us from feeding the homeless that day as well if Steve hadn’t encouraged us to intentionally take the time before the time took us. When he saw the opportunity to serve, he asked that I schedule the date and make it a priority. That meant we declined playing in a baseball tournament double header. That meant we didn’t attend the free festival in our neighborhood that our kids had been asking to attend. That meant I had to decline an invitation for lunch.

Time. I really don’t need more time, I just need to be intentional with the time I’m given. Isn’t summer a great time to refocus?

Given the choice to give money or time, many of us choose to give money. In the culture we live in, our time has become almost more valuable to us than our money. We are running frantic daily, we are squeezing in as much as we possibly can. When we see pockets of time, we want to guard it, hold it closely, protect it with everything in us. It’s the world we live in, but our model did the exact opposite. He gave it all away, including his very life.

If we want grateful kids, we train them to serve. If we want respectful kids, we train them to value others above themselves. Will this happen overnight? No. Will we see these traits daily in our kids? No. Parenting isn’t for the short-sighted. We parent hard daily to produce adults that love the Lord with all their heart and love others well. This takes time. It all comes back to time.

Several summers ago we began what we called Mission Mondays. You can read about it here. Mondays were reserved for serving others in various ways. Many of our mission projects, while wonderful in so many ways, were projects where we served from afar. We collected money through our hard work and sent it overseas. We created packages for homeless children and sent them away. We sponsored children in poverty stricken countries and sent gifts and letters. While these are vital, we could do them from a distance, we could feel good about what we did, we could remain in our comfortable world, and life for us went on.

I began to ponder something. The people I know who serve with everything they have to give, have a deep love for others. A love for others I wish I possessed. The people I know who love others well usually step right into their lives.

So I wonder if to truly love others deeply, do we need to enter into their world?

When we enter into the life of the poor, the orphan, the widow, the homeless, the needy, the sick, something else happens. We see into their eyes. We see the person created in God’s image. Sending a check or serving from a distance, we miss the eyes, we miss hearing a voice, we miss a story told firsthand. We can’t stop serving from a distance, but we can do both.

Serving a Meal

Packed and Ready to Head Out

Last weekend we served with Bread of Life with other members of our church. Volunteers boxed up lunches, loaded a trailer, and we headed to a grocery store parking lot in downtown Charlotte. We opened up the doors, opened up the window, and within seconds the homeless and poor made their way for refreshment.  We took Jacob and Zachary with us, and they were put on drink duty, which they took very seriously. Filling cups of lemonade and water as we prayed each individual would come to seek living water.

Before we passed out food, we gathered across the street in the parking lot of a restaurant, we joined hands, and we were led in prayer and worship by Freddie Powers of Keeping Hope Alive Ministries. Bread of Life goes to this area a few times a year, but apparently Freddie goes every Sunday. The homeless and poor in the area knew her. Someone was investing in these people who might otherwise be looked over all day long. Someone was telling them they are loved and cherished and they have value in the eyes of God- these people who feel devalued because of a society who can judge a person’s worth based on their surroundings. These people who live in a world most of us can’t imagine.



Afterwards, we served food, drinks, and Bibles. Volunteers prayed with each person who was willing. It was hot, so very, very hot. We are in a 2 week stretch of high 90’s reaching 100. All I could think is how these people who either lived on the streets or possibly in homes with no air this is their reality. These people who are dearly loved by God. I don’t understand the why’s of this world, but I do know that it isn’t simply because of my hard work that I’m not in the position they are in. It’s not that God favors me over them that I’m not living on the street. It’s not that their life holds less value than mine. No, but our society can be quick to say, “Well, I’ve worked hard for what I’ve received.” Yes, maybe, but the hardest work can sometimes turn upside down and inside out. What we do know, is the Lord loves the poor, and the Lord desires we serve the poor, and the Lord is near to them.

When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the Lord will answer them; I the God of Israel will not forsake them. Isaiah 41:17

You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’ Deuteronomy 15:10-11

Later that night our family sat on the lawn in our small town listening to music, throwing a football with friends, eating food we had of plenty. It was just me and Jacob sitting there at the moment. He was quiet, looking off. I placed my salad on the blanket and watched him for a minute. “Hey, Jacob, are you ok?”

He looked back at me and smiled. “I’m fine. I’m just thinking.”

“Everything ok? Just thinking or worrying about something?”

“I’m just thinking about all those people we met today. That’s all.”

Me too. It’s hard not to think of them. Several of their faces continue to scroll through my mind. I see toothless smiles and grateful eyes. I see a mom’s face with her 2 daughters, all took a Bible and food, and I can’t stop praying they will come to know the Lord if they don’t yet. I think of the family that brought their 3 young children. Those sweet, precious, innocent eyes that met ours as they each said thank you. I see the man on the bike who told Steve he’d biked a great distance to come. I watched as he drank 2 cups of liquid in record time. I’ve thought back as well, my boy.

Entering into their world was a completely different experience for us. Seeing into their eyes, hearing their voices, it changes you. And you see Jesus. That’s it. That’s how we love more deeply in order to serve wholeheartedly. We see Jesus.

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Day 2


His head rested on the arm of the chair, gaze transfixed on the rainbow of lights on the Christmas tree.  Fingers lightly grazed the ornaments then stopped.  He gently removed the ornament from the tree.  “Mom”  I’ve grown so accustomed to hearing this.


In his hands he held an ornament of 2 carolers, one an adult, one a child.  His finger pointed to the adult then pointed to me.  “That you,” he said in his thick Latvian accent.  He pointed to the child represented in the ornament then pointed to himself.  “That me.”  And he smiled.

He’s connecting the dots.  He knows what he wants.  He wants a family.  He wants to belong.

Later in the morning he continually asked me to play with him.  Using the translator app, I typed, “I have to finish my chores first, then I can play.”

“Ah.  Ok.”  He understood.  But he didn’t run off to play by himself. He stood right by my side as I unloaded day old dishes and scraped dry food from 2 days ago off the counters.

He picked up a dry erase marker and wrote on a plastic cup.  “Hmm,” he said as he tried to understand this marker with ink that wiped away so easily.


Gently, I took the marker from his hands.  “Here, watch this.”  On my dry erase picture frame, I wrote “Hi”.

A smile broke across his face, and he quickly snatched the marker from my hands and began drawing a Christmas tree.  I drew a smiley face.  He drew a face on Santa.  I drew a cross.  “Ah,” he said as he pointed to the cross made by Jacob that has hung on our walls for a year now.  “Yes,”  I said.  “Jesus” and I wrote Jesus.

We ran out of space to draw.  Using his finger he tried erasing a small section.  Eyebrows furrowed as he discovered the magic of a dry erase marker.  Simplicity at its finest.  A precious moment wrapped in the disguise of sweet, precious, simple.

He erased everything except the cross and Jesus.  We drew around that for awhile until he eventually erased it.  It was as if he knew that was important to me and he gave thought to my feelings.

He’s intrigued by “dad”.  I’m grateful for Steve’s active role in entering Viktor’s life because I imagine it’s Steve’s influence that will truly impact his life the greatest during these 4 weeks.

Viktor spotted the soccer goals up the street and started pointing saying “Futbol!  Futbol!”  When “dad” took all the boys for a soccer match while I cooked dinner, it was the highlight of Viktor’s day.  Especially when he was able to wear Jacob’s Mesi jersey.  Steve is good at getting to know people, and it’s because of Steve that we are discovering all of Viktor’s likes and dislikes.

Es milu tevi.  I love you.  I said to him, “Es tevi milu”.  He laughed and said “Es milu tevi.”  He dipped his fingers in some water and on Steve’s windshield wrote love as he pointed to me.  I smiled back and said correctly this time “I love you too, Es milu tevi.”

Movie time he snuggled under a blanket.  When Andrew joined him on the couch, he patted the spot right next to him, inviting Andrew to draw closer as he held out the blanket to cover little Andrew.  He’s a kind and thoughtful young man.

So many small moments sprinkled through the day.  Beautiful moments and a few slight challenges, nothing different that what we deal with our own children.  But a little bit of pushback, refusal to shower, me standing firm and insisting then spending 10 minutes dealing with the struggle.  He obliged.

I’m not finishing the day as tired as yesterday.  He was more comfortable, therefore I was more comfortable.  We were all a little more able to just do family life like we do every day.  And he fit right in.

He’s here


Approximately 45 days of waiting and praying for this orphan boy to enter our lives.

Giving birth to a child gives way to an immediate love.  Love is there in an instant.  The moment they enter your lives.

It seems odd to say we love a child we don’t really even know yet.  One we didn’t birth, one we have only for a short while.  4 weeks to be exact.

I guess that is just what God does when He brings someone into your life and you pray for them.  You just love them.

Now I get it.

We wanted to host him to show him the love of Christ.  Unconditional love.  In order to show that, it must be sincere.  We must feel it.  And God answered that prayer. He placed in our hearts a love for this child.  This child we don’t know.  This child we don’t have any idea of his background.

I couldn’t rest all day.  I was a little too edgy, a little too snappy.  Nervous energy needed a way out of my body.  As the time approached for us to head to the airport, we were all feeling it.  Zachary told us his heart was beating out of his chest.  Andrew talked about how excited he was.  Jacob was concerned about what he must be feeling at that moment.  Steve was doing everything he could to keep us all even.

2 hours of waiting at the airport.  When they announced that the plane landed, I felt my heart begin to pick up the pace.  My legs needed to move, my palms were sweaty.  I no longer could have a conversation with anyone.  I wanted to see this boy.  I wanted to hug him so tightly.

We made our way to the escalator they would come down.  My little boys were bouncing around trying to be the first to spot him.  On the way to the airport I asked if they would recognize him.  “Oh yes!”   Zachary shouted.  “You know, Zachary, he won’t be wearing a purple life vest.”  Long pause.  “I know that.”  He didn’t know that 🙂

Jacob was holding the welcome sign.  Andrew was holding the gift bag.  Steve had camera poised and ready.  Jacob spotted the red shirts, “Here they come!”

All the kids found their host families and we didn’t see Viktors.  We saw a boy who looked similar, but it wasn’t him.  Then we saw 2 little boys standing to the back alone.  His face is thinner than his picture, and he wore a hood on his head.  But when I got up close, I knew.

One of the coordinators asked his name.  “Viktor,” he replied with a shy smile.  I grabbed his shoulders so I could look him in the eyes and said, “Hi Viktor.  We are so glad to have you here.”  My arms enveloped his thin body.  And I squeezed.  His arms never lifted from their side.  They told us in training they wouldn’t know how to hug back.  They are never hugged.  Steve reached in and hugged him.  Viktor’s arms never left their side.  The boys each took a turn hugging him.  His arms never left his side.  We had warned the boys of this.

My heart was overwhelmed.  I wanted to cry.  I wanted to hold him tightly.  And I didn’t want to think about where he was coming from.  Because it’s just painful.

The rest of the time in the airport, I couldn’t keep my arm off of him.  I just kept thinking he was scared to death and needed a reassuring arm on his back.  We quickly discovered he speaks almost no English.  But his smile.  It’s a shy smile.  It’s a precious smile.  And my Andrew knew just how to pull it out of him.

Andrew was trying to sword fight him after knowing him for 10 minutes.  “He’s not talking.  Why is Viktor not talking?”  He repeated this over and over again.

10 minutes into the drive home, Viktor was sound asleep in the car.  When we walked him into the house, I watched as his eyes tried to take it all in.  He wanted to see it all, but he was exhausted, so I led him straight upstairs.

With massive hand-talking and exaggerated expressions, I showed him his choices of sleeping with my 3 boys in their room or the guest room alone.  He didn’t hesitate as he pointed to the boys’ room.  With my hand on his back, I gently guided him to the bathroom, tore the tags off brand new pajamas and placed them in his arms.  “Come get me when you are dressed.”  It took him quite awhile.  He finally reappeared and I pointed to the top bunk. “This good with you?”  I asked showing him the thumbs up sign.  His head bobbed up and down as he climbed the ladder.

He climbed into the bed and began tucking himself in like he would do every night.  But I could see an expression in his eyes that showed he was looking forward to me tucking him in.  I tucked him in like he was my own.  His new soft blanket up to his chin, I leaned down and kissed his cheek, looked into his eyes and said, “I love you.”  He looked me square in the eyes and smiled the most heartwarming smile.

A simple act of tucking a child in bed.  An act I and my boys take for granted every single night.  What did that feel like to an orphan?  A child who belongs to no one?

And right now, I’m too wired to sleep, which is why I’m writing.  I don’t know what tomorrow will look like.  But for tonight the picture was beautiful.  I watched my boys love a little boy who needs to feel loved.  I watched an 11-year-old orphan smile at us, chuckle at my 4-year-old, and let us love on him.  And I felt my heart grow 3 sizes bigger.

Tomorrow is the day


This Christmas God has led our family to host an orphan from Latvia for 4 weeks.  You can read more here and here.

For 4 weeks we will have an 11-year-old orphan boy living with us, seeing what family life looks like, receiving love and nurturing, hearing the gospel, and receiving hope for a better life.  Or at least this is what we are hoping for.

I don’t really know what to expect.  All I know is that God opened our hearts in a huge way to the needs of orphans and He gave  no peace until we moved forward to host this child.  Through His blessing, He provided every single thing we needed to host this child.  We raised over $3,000 in just a few short weeks.  Friends and family donated items we needed for Viktors and offered prayers and support.  God provided EVERYTHING.

I would be lying if I didn’t admit at times feeling fearful of what might lie ahead.  Satan has attacked our family multiple times since the moment we said yes to this journey.

My postings will be far fewer until mid-January.  I will be heavily living in the moments.  Most of my writings will share the experiences of this journey for the next 4 weeks.

We are as prepared as we know how to be.  Clothes have been purchased, signs made, gifts wrapped, and prayers spoken.

We are expecting an unforgettable Christmas.  I would guess that when we send Viktors back home, it will be our family that received the greatest blessing of all.

Tomorrow night he will enter our lives.  Though we don’t know what to expect, we fully expect to be changed forever.