When the Ride Is Slow


As a celebration to the end of a great school year and the kick off to summer, we bought a groupon for an electric boat rental.  The morning was gray and misty with a slight chill in the air, very uncommon for that time of year.  The weather didn’t dampen our spirits though. We piled into our little boat with our snacks packed and coffee mugs filled to the top.

The guy at the dock gave Steve the instructions and sent us on our way to explore the beautiful Lake Norman.  Well clear of the marina, our speed didn’t change.  Zachary was the first to speak up.  “Dad, let’s go fast now.”

With his feet propped up on the seat, coffee in hand, he smiled back to Zachary.  “Buddy, we are going as fast as this boat will go.”

Three little heads whipped their way to face him with pure astonishment.  “What?!”

“Yep, so sit back and enjoy the slow ride.”

M-girl is here with us.  The sweet girl we are hosting through New Horizons for Children from Eastern Europe.

It’s been the fastest week of my life.  And I want it to slow down.  I want our time with M-girl to be on the electric boat, not the speed boat.

She is pure joy.  Her smile melts me.  Her patience teaches me.  Her kindness inspires me.

We only have 5 weeks, we are down to 4 left.  My blogging will be limited for the next 4 weeks.  Maybe just one post a week rather than 4.  I don’t want to miss a second with her.



When family bonds reach outside their own


Photo courtesy of Disneynature

Watch this video:

In Chimpanzee by Disneynature, Oscar is a playful, adorable little chimp you fall in love with immediately.  His spunk mingled with tenderness captivates your heart.  He’s a baby, completely dependent on his mama, Isha, who patiently and lovingly guides and cares for her little chimp. She is his world.  “Day after day it takes a committed mom to teach him to make it in the jungle.”  Sound familiar, mamas?

When a rival chimpanzee group attacks, Oscar loses his mom, Isha.  In a moment Oscar finds himself an orphan.  No mama grooming him, no mama nursing him, no mama teaching him to crack nuts and gather food.  He is left alone.

Oscar tries to make it on his own within the group.  And like us all, he wants to be accepted.  His attempts to find a new mom left him feeling rejected and alone. He even found himself rejected by friends.  Completely alone in the world, yet surrounded by his own.  Hopeless.

Freddy is the powerful leader of the group.  Unapproachable.  Yet Freddy had his eyes on Oscar from afar.  Through an amazing turn of events, Freddy allowed Oscar to ride on his back, something only a mother would do.  Freddy began to groom little Oscar, the highest ranking member grooming the lowest.  Servanthood at its finest.  The movie described Freddy as the savior that no one could’ve expected.  Freddy adopted Oscar.  He became Oscar’s savior.

I know a Savior like that.  One who descended from Heaven in the form of a baby, an unlikely Savior for sure.  The most humble of births for a King.  One who came to serve, and serve the lowliest.  One who came so we could each be adopted into His kingdom.  Saving is His specialty.

Through my involvement with New Horizons for Children, I have seen hearts madly, deeply in love with Jesus, reaching out to save the orphans of the world- to show them their true Savior.  I have seen God perform miracles for the least of these that have radically transformed my relationship with Christ.

When you host an orphan in your home, or you meet an orphan hosted by another family, everything changes.  A face, a name, a life becomes a part of your heart.  They are no longer just a number, a statistic.  They are a human, hopeless and desperate, in need of a Savior.  In need of love and acceptance.  Aren’t we all?

Through the sale of Seeking Christmas, I am committed to donating 10% of my royalties to NHFC and orphan ministries that reach out to change the life of an orphan.

Seeking Christmas is an attempt to unite families through guided, tradition-building activities that center around Christ.  To help families reclaim Christmas in their home.  Families will cherish memories that will long outlive any material gift.

Orphans do not have families creating rich memories for them.  They aren’t experiencing the security of traditions.  My prayer is that Seeking Christmas will not only strengthen your own family, but that it will be used by God to give an orphan what no one is giving them.  The love of a family.

Viktors is Back


The emotions ran high last week.  Much higher than I anticipated.  The day was approaching for Viktors to meet the family that would become his forever family.

If you are lost, let me catch you up.  Our family hosted an 11-year-old orphan from Latvia over Christmas.  His name is Viktors.  He stole my heart before I ever laid my eyes on him.  We poured our hearts into him for 4 weeks, and when he returned to Latvia in January 2013, a part of my heart returned with him forever.  I loved him like my own.

I was asked how we could do that.  Weren’t we worried about the hurt when he went back to the orphanage?  Worried we were not.  Full of faith we were.  Jesus hung on a cross for me.  Thank God he didn’t let his fear of pain stand in the way of fulfilling God’s plan.  Our decision to host an orphan  was confirmed by God 100 times over, time and time again.

Our 4 weeks were filled with joy, sorrow, trials, and triumphs.  Small victories and big victories.  Exhaustion and elation.  Deep pain that left holes just the right size for God to pour in comfort and peace that can only come from Him.

And through God’s mercy, grace, and loving-kindness, He brought the family that will one day adopt Viktors to contact me the night before he was to depart.  Within one week of Viktors returning to Latvia, this family had received confirmation that they were to be His forever family.

And so the story of Viktors didn’t end when he returned to Latvia.  It was only the beginning.

A boy forgotten in the eyes of the world has not been forgotten by God.

In the wee hours of a June morning, he arrived again.  His 3rd trip to America with New Horizons for Children.  Lord willing, this will be his last hosting.

And this new mama to him.  Well.  It’s hard to articulate.  She’s something else.  This mama who has loved him for 6 months while waiting for him.  This mama who knows he is one of hers.  This mama who must fight the insecurities that creep in wondering if he will love her like he loved his past 2 host moms (and he will no doubt).  Would you believe she brought a picture of me to the airport and showed him when she introduced him to my sister, who happened to be at the same airport picking up her host daughter.  What a picture of selflessness.  What a picture of true love.  A desire to comfort her soon to be son.  By showing him my picture, she was bringing familiarity to him.  Comfort when he was nervous and uncertain.  Oh how he will love this mama, who thinks of others before herself.

She gets it.  She gets him.  She sees the hurt buried deep inside his heart.

Eagerly, I’m checking Facebook to see what she has posted.  What they are doing.  What they are experiencing.  Questions run through my head constantly.  Are they bonding?  Is he pouting?  Does she see what I saw in him?  Yet I know.  I know.  I know the answers.  Because I know the One who orchestrated this entire scenario.  I know the One who chose the players to play the parts.  I know that it will all work out according to His good purposes.  So we trust.

As if she knows how I must be feeling, she calls.  She calls to tell me everything is going just fine.  She loves him.  They all love him.

This hosting season, I watch from the sidelines the families in the trenches.  I’m following the stories of the families.  I’m cheering on their successes.  I’m grieving in their disappointments.  And I’m praising God that He has brought forward so many families willing to open their hearts and homes to children in desperate need of some love.

Day 17: Tell Me More


Using translator the other day, I asked Viktors, “Tell me something I don’t know about you”.

“I can tell you nothing.”  That is what translated anyway.

The last few days he has dropped more and more nuggets of info.  He’s comfortable now.  My boys (up to this point in their little lives) tell me everything.  Usually at bedtime.  Always in private when no one else is listening.  And usually with the instruction to keep it between us.  Viktors has opened up with little bits of info when we’ve been alone.

He has 2 brothers, they are 15 and 17.  One is in his orphanage with him.  One is tall and skinny, the other is shorter with big muscles.  He speaks of them often.

He rides dirt bikes.  And boxes!  He saw me put my retainer in and told me he has one too.  Then he said, “I…wear…that…”  and he motioned boxing moves.  I tried to not look shocked as I asked, “You do this…”  and I pretended to box him.  “Yes,” he gave me his crooked smile.  I think he likes being mysterious.   Just to clarify that he wasn’t telling me he was a fighter, I took it one step further.  “Do you do this?”  And I kicked the pretend person on the ground.  “No, mom, no.”  His crooked smile still on his face, he motioned putting on his head pads and boxing gloves.

Here’s the kicker, no pun intended.  I put them to bed, and I was explaining that the Latvian audio bible we got him was solar-powered.  He said, “Hey mom…this…Russian.”

“What?  That is speaking in Russian?  Can you understand it?”

He said, “Yes, I Russian.  I speak Russian and Latvian.”

“Remember the other day I said tell me something I wouldn’t know?  That would have been a good thing to tell me!”

He laughed.

“So when you are talking on the phone to your director at your orphanage, what are you speaking?”


“When you are speaking to your chaperone, what are you speaking?”


“Do you speak better Russian or Latvian?”

Emphatically, “Russian…Latvian umm so-so”  Ha!  And here I bought him a Latvian bible, Latvian audio bible and have been using Latvian translator apps!

“Were you born in Russia or Latvia?”


“You are crazy.  Very crazy.”  His smile never left his face.

Dad entered the room carrying his iPad  using Russian translator audio to speak in Russian, “I didn’t know you could speak Russian.” Viktors just smiled.  Then dad typed (and it spoke) “Stop eating all my food.”  (It’s a running joke between Steve and Viktors because the boy eats so incredibly much!)  And he laughed more.

There is much to this little boy.  Sometimes I’m dying to know all there is to know.  Sometimes I’m thankful I know nothing.  All I know is what I see in this house.  And it’s probably best that way.

Day 13: Autostereogram Moments


(autostereogram image by John Hsu)

According to Wikipedia “An autostereogram is a single-image stereogram (SIS), designed to create the visual illusion of a three-dimensional (3D) scene within the human brain from an external two-dimensional image. In order to perceive 3D shapes in these autostereograms, one must overcome the normally automatic coordination between accommodation (focus) and vergence (angle of ones eyes)….. A hidden 3D scene emerges when the image is viewed with the correct vergence.”

Some of our days look like one of these images.  When viewed from afar, it appears to be a picture consisting of a bunch of tiny dots, a big mess of something that you can’t quite figure out.  Chaos.

There is something captivating about an autostereogram.  You know that within the picture, another picture is hidden.  It is so hidden that when viewing it without  really looking, you will overlook the bigger picture completely.  However, when you pause, when you focus, when you concentrate, you see it.  You see it so very clearly.  In fact, it will jump right out at you, and you will wonder how you didn’t see it immediately to begin with.

In order to see the beauty of the moments we are sharing with Viktors, we must overcome the “normally automatic coordination” between our focus.  We must shift our focus.

You cannot watch our moments and use the focus you are used to using.  If you do, you will miss the beauty of the moment.  The beauty of this picture.

If you adjust your focus and change your angle, you will see the beauty that is emerging.  It’s a beauty that can easily be overlooked.

I’ll admit we had some extremely rough days.  Days where Steve and I lost our focus.  We were staring at the 2 dimensional image using the wrong focus and nothing but a jumble of mess was jumping out at us.  For the sake of Viktors’ privacy I won’t divulge the details, but they were mild compared to what they could be.  Honestly, they were mild considering this boy is an orphan living in an orphanage in Eastern Europe.  His bad moments could be drastically worse.  But this is a child who is waiting to emerge.  The beauty in him is so close to the surface and each day we see a little bit more of what’s inside him ready to come out.

This child at his core is a good, good child.  He is a good boy.  He is honest, so very honest. Even when I give him things that are mine, he won’t take them.  When he saw me chewing gum at the skating rink, he asked me to spit it out when he saw the sign that read “No chewing gum.”

My 3D  moment for the day came twice today when I saw the image within the image emerge.

I imagine in a orphanage there is very little alone play where a child just uses his imagination and directs play for himself.  I imagine they have freedom within their rigorous schedule, but likely spend it playing with other kids.  Viktors always wants someone to play with him.  We entertain him a lot, the boys keep him busy or we go on outings.

He and I had a moment of correction where I had to explain why what he was doing was wrong behavior.  Honestly, it wasn’t anything bad, it is just he has never been corrected in this area.  When he feels he has done something wrong, he typically retreats to a hiding place.  A place he can feel safe in what he feels is an unsafe world.  When I correct him, he casts his eyes down immediately, withdraws into himself slightly, and seems to try to shut me out either by covering his ears or by pretending not to listen.

“Viktors,” I softly spoke as I gently lifted his chin.  “Please look in my eyes.  I need you to see my face so you can understand my words.”  I needed him to see the softness of my eyes in case he couldn’t understand the words I spoke to him.

His eyes darted up and down.  They would meet mine, then meet the floor, back and forth again and again.  “Please, keep looking at my eyes. I am not mad at you.  Look at my face.  I’m not this,” I said showing him an angry face with arms crossed.  I smiled and continued, “I corrected you because I love you.  If I didn’t care about you, I wouldn’t correct you.”  He just shook his head.  I don’t know if he shook his head because he didn’t understand or he didn’t believe.  Either way, I hugged him and said I loved him and walked away.

For the first time, he went to our toy closet and got out cars and sat and played by himself for 30 minutes.  I have tried to get him to sit and play by himself for 2 weeks.  He finally did it!  I loved listening to him in there using his imagination with those cars.  Even though I knew he was upset, I was overjoyed that he was playing in an unstructured environment without us directing the play!    For me it was a 3D moment!

Then a few minutes later he joined me at the table.  He was back.  His pouting has now almost disappeared.  It surfaces periodically, but it is so incredibly short-lived compared to only 2 short weeks ago.  This boy has made amazing progress in 13 days.

Our 2nd 3D moment of the day came when he asked for something he knew would be an automatic “No”.  He asks anyway, he asks for things all the time.  But even that is lessening.  When I said no to him, he started to begin begging, which has been typical.  He will say, “Please, please, please” over and over again.  I spoke with him about this and asked him to stop begging that when I said no, I meant no, and I expect him to stop asking at that point.  When I gave him the “no” he said, “Pl…” and he stopped himself!  He stopped himself.  Let me repeat…he stopped himself.  And he gave me that sly 1/2 smile and walked out of room saying, “Ok.”

That was a 3D moment in my book.  Self control.  He’s getting it.

To do this orphan hosting thing, our focus has to be completely unconventional.  Every single second we have to pray that God gives us compassion, grace, and mercy.  And He does.

We are entering week 3.  The week that according to training is to be our best week yet.  The week that the testing has ended and our bonds are there.  Trust has been earned and love is evident.  So far Viktors has behaved exactly like they said he would in training.  And he is responding even better than I hoped.

“A hidden 3D scene emerges when the image is viewed with the correct vergence.”  Vergence…the angle of one’s eyes.  A hidden child emerges when we view him with the correct vergence, the correct angle of our eyes.   An angle that comes from compassion, patience, understanding, and love.

Day 10: The little victories


One of the most difficult aspects of hosting Viktors is the language barrier.  We have trained our own children to obey, simply obey first, ask questions after you’ve obeyed.  Now, they don’t always do this, but they know that is the expectation.  Well, Viktors hasn’t been trained to simply obey.  Yet, he wants to.  He wants approval, just as we all do, and sometimes for children they best feel that sense of approval when they have obeyed.

At times Viktors will amaze me by following my instructions with no complaining.  At other times, I become frustrated in trying to convince him to follow our orders.  But what it all boils down to is that he wants to understand why.  In his orphanage, he likely understands why he is asked to do certain things.  And if he doesn’t understand, he can communicate to ask why.  Here he doesn’t have enough English to express his thoughts to me.

My prayer for today is that God allows me to focus on the little moments of victories rather than focusing on the frustrating moments.  Would He stop me right in the middle of a moment and open my eyes to what He brought about.  A victory.  A small step.  And that is what we are seeing with Viktors.  Small steps.  Baby steps.

Isn’t that how lasting change usually occurs though?  One small step at a time?  Why should we expect this child who has always gotten his way by pouting to change that behavior overnight?  So, God, change me!  Change me while you are changing him.  Let me focus on your good works in this child rather than look with a critical eye at everything that needs changing.  Let me focus on those little victories.

So here are a few little victories.

  1. In the beginning, he might ask for chips.  “No, Viktors, dinner is in a few minutes, you can’t have chips right now.”  “Please, mom, please, please, please.”  I would stay the course, but would get worn down from an 11-year-old begging and not simply taking my word as the final word.  Now, there is less begging, he is accepting our words easier.  He may not like them and we may get a sigh, a shoulder shrug, or a roll of the eyes, but the begging has reduced by about 80%.  That’s a victory!
  2. Being told no has drastically decreased.  He still says no, but it is less.  This is a victory.  A breakthrough occurred when Steve was trying to sneak away with Zachary for a little 15 minute alone time for the 2 of them on Christmas Day.  He wouldn’t listen to Steve and Steve asked him to come inside to see me.  Viktors typed on the translator that he thought dad was angry.  Victory!  He described an expression of feeling and we had a chance to discuss through the translator that Steve wasn’t angry but we expect him to obey when we ask him to do something.  He seemed to understand and the evening went much smoother.  Victory!
  3. The first time I told him about Jesus, he furrowed and raised his eyebrows while repeating “Jesus?”  We bought him a Latvian children’s bible for Christmas.  Last night he went to bed with zero complaining, curled up with his new book light and new bible.  My heart warmed as I watched him reading about Jesus in his bed wondering if he knew anything at all about Jesus.  Victory…seeds are being planted in his young heart!  Today he and I spent the morning running errands, he picked up a musical snow globe of the manger scene and asked me to buy it for him.  “Yes, I will buy this for you.  That is Jesus.”  He looked up at me and repeated, “Jesus?”  “Yes, Jesus.  And Jesus loves you.”  He did his shy 1/2 smile while shaking his head the way he does when he gets embarrassed.  Victory!  We are having opportunities to talk about Jesus with this child.


Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were hard days for us.  The holiday combined with house guests coming and going, constant food prep and cleaning, left us feeling simply beat.  My dad and Francine saw us at our most exhausted state as of yet.  However, each of them played a role in helping to refocus our minds.  Francine was able to smile at Viktors no matter what he was doing.  She gave me such a visual image of truly showing him unconditional love.  And as my dad was leaving he said, “I’d be on the translator all the time with him telling him how I feel and really talking to take it to another level.”  That is what gave Steve the idea to communicate his feelings to Viktors about obeying.

Then I called my sweet mom and said, “Would your feelings be hurt if I asked you to postpone coming up here because we are exhausted and overwhelmed right now.”  With zero hesitation and with nothing but sincerity, she said, “Not at all.  I know you are tired and we will gladly hold off visiting and will do Christmas with you all in a few weeks.”

That is love.  No thought of self, only thoughts for the one you love, doing what is best for them not yourself.  And that kind of love is inspiring.

Day 6: Constant State of Action


This is the state of my kitchen in the midst of cookie making with 4 boys.  They are over at the table devouring their masterpieces at the time of this picture.


Jenga has quickly become a favorite game.  No English required and so fun for everyone.  Until little Drew hits the table….



A little Christmas ornament painting. Notice this activity took place while Drew was sleeping.

 A new haircut


A little gingerbread making

Throwing the baseball with Steve and Jacob


And of course wrestling.  A favorite pastime in this house.

We seem to be in a constant state of action.  One of the goals of this program is to give these kids the time of their lives.  We are trying to do all the things he loves while being realistic in showing that the world doesn’t revolve around him.  A hard balancing act.

Evidently, pouting is a typical orphan behavior.  Day 4 held lots of pouting, day 5 a little less, and yesterday even less than the day before.  Before he would pout and shut us out completely.  Yesterday he went to his room to pout.  After a few minutes, I went to his room, showed him we were making gingerbread houses, and told him we would love him to join us.  5 minutes later he was down with a happy face making gingerbread houses.  He is taking no easier.  We had a few episodes of having to really put our foot down to get him to obey, but he did it.