Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Year in Review

If anyone had told me five years ago that I would be celebrating my 2014 New Year's Eve at my own house in The Philippines, I would have told him he was crazy AND that it's not nice to give false hope.

And yet, I did.

At the beginning of 2013, we were just starting to make preparations to sell most of our worldly goods and head over here to The Philippines in service of orphans and the poor.   Just like in most  scenarios, we had no REAL idea of what we were embarking on.

We were just grateful all of our children were supportive, our extended families were warming up to the notion and we had a loosely outlined plan for ministry.

But when we arrived here in July 10th, 2013, everything looked so much different than we expected.   You've all heard the expression "the devil is in the details".   Well, we took TWO vans from the airport to our new home, unlocked the door and had a nice little dose of reality.

The house was dirty from sitting empty for so long.  We did not have one stick of furniture, one plate or cup or even water we could safely drink.

We locked the house back up, got onto a jeepney (public transportation) and headed to the grocery store.  We bought water, noodles, a hot pot and some plastic dishes.  We came back to the house and slept on snuggies with our suitcases as pillows.

And I was utterly content . . . home,  and where I was meant to be. . .

Fast forward just six months.   We are serving children in our center weekly, have sponsored a major surgery, doctor visits and eye glasses for needy children.  We have been able to support and work in cooperation with several other local ministries in service of children and teens.  

We have hosted several people interested in Philippine missions and conducted a neighborhood health screening clinic, all  when we, ourselves, are still learning the ropes.
One of our family members visiting and playing with some local children at an orphanage

God took us from sleeping-on-our-suitcases to digging in deep in a very VERY short time.   We are blessed, humbled and in awe of Him using us, flaws and all. 

We eagerly await 2014.  We ask him to keep us close to Him so we hear His voice when needs arise.  We are dreaming BIG for 2014. My prayer is that, when I look back on this blog entry in 12 months time:
1. We are directing a Special Needs orphanage
2. We have added to our own family through adoption
3. We have helped at least 10 additional children have surgery to save or restore vision
4. We can rest and relax in terms of fund raising because others have come forward to handle that aspect of the ministry in a huge way
5.  We have prayed with many to receive Christ and been able to disciple others
6. Our whole family is serving boldly, walking in the truth and being lights for him.

That list looks "too big" for one family, for one year and for one ministry, huh?  We know that.   We understand that with US, all of this is impossible but HE does more than we ask or imagine.

So in 2014, we are asking and imagining and looking forward to infinitely more.

Because He IS ABLE.

Lunch with Children's Garden

Our 19 year old has moved here to CG to serve and we love to come visit and enjoy the boys who find refuge there

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

For The Sake of The Call

If the title of this blog post sounds familiar to any of you, it should.  It is the name of a song written by Steven Curtis Chapman in the early 90s, I believe.   It impacted me so greatly that I still sing it from time to time, some 18 years later.

The chorus says "we will abandon it all, for the sake of The Call.
                            no other reason at all, but the sake of The Call.
                            Wholly devoted to live and to die for the sake
                            of The Call . . . " 

And sometimes, as I live here in the mission field, I feel sold out to The Call.
But other times,  I wish I'd never heard it.

I read an article recently that talked about an interesting timeline for people who live outside their countries of origin. This article stated that the first two to three months are filled with "wonder" at all the new experiences.  The fourth to sixth months start to get difficult as the novelty wears off.  The sixth through ninth months are characterized by finding  a "new normal" and the ninth month on marks the time when the new destination becomes as much "home" as the former.

I don't know what kind of scientific research went into this article but yes, we are in the 4-6 month zone for sure.  I love this place but it is not new and exciting anymore.  It is a dichotomy of beautiful and terrible.  The landscape is gorgeous. The people are strong, resilient and amazing.  The poverty is crushing and the needs are overwhelming.  I am getting emotional whiplash from the desperate needs I see on every side, all the time.

I never want to leave and yet, I sometimes wish I could run away.   Am I even making sense?   Probably not.   That happens after "year 40", in the life cycle of a human female, I'm afraid.

I remember blogging, years ago,  that for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus, I will walk a hard path if I'm called to.  I wrote those words in reference to parenting one of our very difficult children - that for HIM, I would do it.    I say it again now.  If living here and doing the work we do points anyone to HIM, I will do it.  And gladly.  But, make no mistake, it's getting tough.

We shared so very excitedly with all of you about the provision for the surgery of Reymart, a beautiful two-year-old boy from an impoverished family who had a huge tumor between his eyes.  Remember him? Here is his update!


This sweet boy endured a serious procedure and was such a trooper!  His shy, quiet mother prayed to receive Christ as her savior during this process.  If THAT is the ONLY sinner's prayer I ever witness during this entire ministry in this country, it was worth it.  It was worth the selling and the coming and the stepping out.  "For the sake of The Call." 

There isn't much in life that is more humbling than listening to a woman in tears give her heart to Jesus in her own language while you pray silently in yours.  

And the thing is, I know there are other "Reymarts" out there - kids who need surgery to save or restore their vision and change their lives.  Kids from broken homes, orphaned or fatherless.  Kids who need to know how much Jesus loves them and that they are worth investing in.

I realize He can do all of this without me.  There are others, probably more qualified and more faithful, that could fill my spot on this mission field in the blink of an eye.  

But after getting a glimpse of His hand at work, I never want to be anywhere else! 

Yes the "novelty" has worn off.  I am aching with how much I miss my family and friends in the states.  

But I got to be in on THIS boy having surgery that will change his life.  I got to hear his mother pray to receive Christ. I got to hug and kiss these people and  remind them of how much they matter.  

I think I'm the spiritual equivalent of an "adrenaline junkie"!  After seeing what God has done for this little family, I am afraid to miss seeing it again.  And again.  And again.

So, until He draws us away, we are here.  For the sake of The Call. 

We covet your prayers, as always!  Please pray for our own children - that this calling of their parents draws them closer to Him and that they grow spiritually richer for having been here. 
Please pray for the child we are serving now, a gorgeous little girl who is smart, sassy and precious - that the spots of her cornea do not hold her back from seeing or from being adopted! Pray for protection for our family from the diseases that we see here: diphtheria, tuberculosis, hepatitis, water-born  amoeba  and others.

But most of all, we ask for prayer that God would keep using us up and then refilling us as He has so faithfully done thus far. When we are weak, He is strong!  That rings of more truth now than it ever has before.

We ARE weak.
He IS strong.

For The Sake of The Call. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Lifer

This was a unique Thanksgiving for our family.   We are spending our first Thanksgiving EVER outside of the familiar comforts of the United States.   

But as always, Yaweh provides. And even in the little things, His care for our family has humbled me yet again.
We were invited to spend Thanksgiving with a family of "lifers" . No, they haven't committed  any felonies that I know of.  Lifers are  missionaries who have served here for much of their lives and probably will until the Lord brings them home.  This family happens to be comprised of members who knew and cared for our sons, Lem and Ariel, before we knew them.
And one of the ladies I have grown to love and respect immensely, Jeri,  has been to our home in the states on Furlough more than once.  We sipped coffee  together and "what iffed"  about getting together on HER side of the world at my dinner table in North Carolina.

And yesterday, we did.

As I looked around her home, with nearly 20 years of memories, I asked the Lord if  we could be "lifers", too.

We are still so new, 5 months in country.  We are still learning the ropes, building relationships, getting our feet wet, making mistakes and finding out just where we fit. 
Picking up our COMPLETED registration certificate from the Securities and Exchange Commission, STEP ONE in being recognized as a legitimate helping - hands organization by the Philippine government, felt like a major victory!   But we have so far to go and so much to learn.

We were just able to be an integral part of a little two-year-old boy receiving life changing surgery.
That huge tumorous mass is no longer a part of that beautiful face!   The fact that God allowed us to be a part of this kind of service only shored up my heart's desire to stay here and do MORE. 

I want  to be a LIFER.  But only if He wants me to.   And how will we know if He wants us to?

He will continue to provide.  He will give us work and funding and a peace about staying.

But if I know Him, and I think I do - although not as well as I would like, it won't be easy.    NOTHING He has called us to do has been easy.

It has all been worth it.

And just when we have started to wonder if "worth it" is truly worth it, He sends fellow Believers to us. . .
with Thanksgiving invitations
with boxes of shoes for the BP kids
with emails asking for our address to mail gifts for our beautiful project kids
with friends holding fund raisers just because they want to
with invitations directed at our children for visits and get togethers
with reminders that He always provides, guides and equips.

Lifer or short-termer.  That is not my call to make.
He knows the desire of our hearts.  He knows the plans He has for us.

And I know Him.

And that, my friends, is more than  enough. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Somebody's Baby

She sat on my lap through almost an entire church service just last week.  She wiggled and talked too loudly.
She drew little pictures on scraps of paper and explained to me matter-of-factly that one of the smiling "heads with feet" was her and one was me.

She's a striking child with a sunshiny spirit and anyone would love to be her mother.
But not me.
She's somebody else's baby.

She is going home to an adoptive family very soon.  And as I held her on my lap, I felt so lucky.   I had flashbacks to my own adoptions and recalled just how I ached to hold my kids - even the "big ones".   I scoured the internet for any church or individual who might have visited my boys' orphanages and posted a group picture somewhere online for me to pine over.   I found youtube videos of my guys and even made cyber friends with a college girl who had been with one of my boys just the week before. Paydirt!

I hugged her a little tighter and thought "this one is from your Mama . . . to tide you over.  Just until she gets here. I know she'd want me to give it. I have been in her shoes too many times to even wonder." 

I worried before our move to this country that has given us such amazing children.  I worried I would want to adopt every child I met who did not have a family.

But I'm finding a strange phenomenon to be taking hold of my heart.  One I did not know existed for me.

I do love the children we work with.  But they are not mine.  I feel that in the most direct and no-nonsense parts of me.

They are somebody else's babies.   Even those who are not yet matched to adoptive parents.

I remember asking someone, when I was still young and single
"how do you KNOW when a man you meet is the one you're going to marry?".   And that person answered me
"you just KNOW".
That was an altogether unsatisfactory answer.  I wanted some sign. Some marker. Some concrete, tangible "thing" to hang my hat on so I would know I wasn't making a huge, life-altering mistake before saying 'I do".

But my friend was right. . . .you JUST KNOW.

I find that same advice applies to adoption for us.  Maybe it isn't like this for everyone.  Maybe many of you out there have an algorithm that tells you if a child will or will not succeed in your home.

I'm just a goofy old romantic, I guess.

I saw my boys on the Special Homefinding List and my heart kind of skipped a beat.   I felt surprised, like almost colliding with a stranger on the street when you are lost in thought.
Sometimes I looked up toward Heaven and said audibly   "again, Lord?  Really?"

But I knew it was a futile question.   Because those were NOT somebody else's babies.  They were MINE.  
And when reading through a list of 30 or 40 beautiful orphans, waiting for Mommies and Daddies, having ONE jump from the page and shout "HERE I AM"  is no small thing.

I now live in a world of orphans.  I see them all the time.  I know children in my everyday life who wait on that same Special Homefinding List that  brought me my treasures.  Wonderful kids.  Sweet, deserving, beautiful kids.

But not MY kids.

Could it be that God brought us all the way to this country with so many orphans only to tell us that none of them are ours for more than a short time?

It could be.  If it is so, I have peace there.
If not, and that lightening bolt of "oh my goodness . .. there's another one of MINE" happens,  you bloggy friends will be the
first ones I tell after I give my husband CPR.

Until then,  I relish the chance to love somebody else's babies.   Investing in a child who needs to know how precious he is  is never a waste of time, even for a moment.

And who knows? Maybe one day, I'll be on THIS side of the water and YOU will be stalking ME.
I promise not to call you crazy.
I won't laugh at your frenetic, disjointed questions or your 3am emails asking me if it is EVER going to happen.

It will.  But until it does, pray  and ask the Lord to send hugs to your  babies from the arms of another Mama.
If she's like me, she won't mind.
She'll find it an honor and she'll know. . . it's just for a little while.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

I Still Do

I remember it as if it were just happening:

I was a young mother with two small children.  Three and one.   I went to a mother's morning out at a local church and met a host
of new women.  It was the first time I had ever been to a gathering designed just for moms, with a Bible study and child care completely geared toward US.

As the ladies in the group got to know each other and as we talked ad nauseam about our children, I came to the decision, in my own mind, that as children got older, their parents loved them less.

I know that's silly.   NOW.    But back then, when the moms in our group discussed the achievements of their eleven year olds or the going-off-to-colleges of their older teens, it was NOT with the unrestrained, choking-back-tears love that I had for my two babies when I even thought about them back in the child care area.    I surmised, that a mother's love for her children MUST fade
as her children grow.

The Mother Who Knew It All, and her patient, although inferior, sidekick

And then I got to know a few "mothers of many" and I became SURE that these women did not love their children as strongly as I loved mine.  I could tell by the way the children came to Mother's Morning Out . . . WITHOUT matching gymboree outfits and
individual lunch boxes with their names artistically written on them.  These women brought ONE bag with 14 pb&j sandwiches inside, ONE bag with a bunch of cut up oranges and ONE bag of popcorn for all their children to descend upon at lunch.  And much to my horror and dismay,  their children often SHARED DRINKS!!!!! 

 Yes, I  felt quite sure that I was correct in my assumption that with many children, love had to be divided and therefore, less was dumped on each child.

In my narrow, 20-something year old way of thinking, love for my children was something that others could SEE. In their clothing, in their lunches, in their toy boxes.

I had SO MUCH TO LEARN . . .

And God, in His sovereignty that I often find tinged with a sense of humor, would teach me over the next decade, just how wrong I was to judge these families by my ridiculous standards.

It began to happen slowly, almost imperceptibly at first.  I became close to some Godly Mothers of Many.

I stopped laying out my kids' clothes the night before, even when we were just staying home.    And we adopted a third child.

We began sneaking into Goodwill to shop, under cloak of darkness.   And along came child number four.

I let them go to church once in awhile WITHOUT gelling their hair.   And a fifth child found his way into our home.

I ceased carrying "extra clothing" for children long potty trained and did not stop to make them switch their shoes to the right feet before walking into the store. If they were comfortable, who was I...?    And God blessed us with child number SIX.

I forgot to put snacks in my purse (do "Halls" count as a snack?), rarely made sure they were "entertained" when we
traveled (look out the WINDOW!) and sometimes shorts and sweaters DO go together.   So God blessed us, yet again, with a seventh child.

So, to my babies, big and small, then and now,
I can type with the utmost assurance that I was wildly crazy about you when you were little.
I would have gladly given my life and/or vital organs to you without hesitation if the need arose.
You were my sun and moon and stars.
You were the "idols" I always had to confess and pray about when sermons about putting ANYTHING before God were preached.
You and You and You  . . . TIMES SEVEN.

I felt that way all those years ago.         AND I STILL DO!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Peace, Be Still

I am sitting alone in a dark house at 4:25am Philippine time.

The remnants of Typhoon Yolanda are blowing outside and that wind is something to hear!
Our windows are all closed and latched and yet the curtains are fluttering.  If I did not know we were in a typhoon, I would just assume we lived by the train tracks.

This storm is not just "fresh in my mind".  It's still here.

 And I certainly don't want to use a national tragedy like this and make it all about "me".  There has been loss of life. There are going to be more homeless people as the sun rises than our developing country can serve.  Those things tear at the seams of my heart because I love this place and the people here.

But I was given a glimpse at a peace I have scarcely known, as this storm howled.

Like most of you, my faith has never truly had to carry me through threat of physical harm.
Sure, I don't like flying so I FEEL like I'm in harm's way every time I board an aircraft. I have to pray and rest in the sovereignty of God, but that has more to do with my own deep-seated fears than any probability of harm, real or imagined.

This storm has been real.  There is possibility of harm coming to me or, worse, my precious family.

But there is peace . . .

As I sat on my bed with two of my children and listened to the ruckus outside my window, my conscious mind thought "this is scary stuff" but the deep heart in me felt cradled and altogether peaceful.

I pondered that paradox while it was taking place and thought . . .

And it was. It is.
It is a familiar sense that I can only recall having a few times in my life.

It came when I began to go into labor with my children.  Each time.
 Engulfing fear swallowed by "I feel wrapped in a warm blanket".

It came while I sat by my precious son's hospital bed, watching him struggle to breathe and seeing the treatments fail to open his airways.
 Sheer terror with an underlying "God has got this."

It is more than just ignorance of the threat. It goes beyond feeling bulletproof.

There really IS a peace that defies understanding.  It is an illogical peace that, given the circumstances, should not be there.

It is where my humanity gives way to His sovereignty and it is a blissful place.

And although He does not "owe" me anything and need not "perform" to reassure me, this kind of peace removes any doubt that He is the real deal.

The genuine article.

The ONLY wise God.  The one in whom I can always put my trust.

The lyrics of an old k-love song say it best:
"Sometimes He calms the storm, and other times He calms His child" . . .
I don't even remember the rest of the song.


Sunday, November 3, 2013


Have you ever done something that seemed so small and simple at the outset but,  as it was happening, your heart told you it was
actually something monumental?

That just happened to me with one of our BP boys . . . we had a birthday party for him.
He sat, wide-eyed while we all sang "Happy Birthday".  He did not realize he was supposed to blow out the candles but when we told him to, he blew with such strength I thought he gave the child across from him a free eyebrow waxing!

  I have never seen this little boy smile so much.
And he got to go first on the fishing game!   He got to hand out treat bags to the other kids at the end of the day.  He was the "star" of the show.

My heart knew that this was something unbelievably special for him.  Not to be taken for granted.

Had he had other birthday parties? I don't really know.
Was this the first cake that was just for his honor? No idea.

But this little boy lives a life that carries with it the burdens of never having enough, of needing to keep his eyes open for good items
to recycle or opportunities to eat a little extra.

His life is different from that of the children of you, who read this blog.

He doesn't lose things.  If I give him six crayons and two worksheets for practice, he brings them all back A WEEK LATER and proudly presents them to me for a star stamp on his papers and on his hand. 

The things he treasures make HIM a treasure to us.   
How blessed we are to get the chance to sow into this child's life!  

Like standing on holy ground . . . and singing "Happy Birthday". . .

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Where's The "Radical"?

I read a quote from John Piper this week, one of my favorite authors and teachers.  The quote said:

                            "to prospective missionaries, Jesus says, "i promise to work for and be
                             for you so much that you will not be able to speak of having
                             sacrificed anything." -piper

And I had to "AMEN" out loud, share it on my facebook and do a little research to make sure Dr. Piper actually said it in the first place. 

I have not read anything I've so staunchly agreed with like this, aside from the Bible itself, for a long time.

It made me ask myself "WHERE IS THE RADICAL?".

I remember having a giggly, girly type conversation with my BFF, Thea once. We talked about how "radical" some people think big families are or families who adopt older children.  We agreed together that neither of us - her with her zillion kids and me with my multiple adoptions- felt very "radical". Only blessed and hungry for more.     We thought maybe we weren't doing it right. 

Many of you have read the book to which I am referring.  "Radical" is a Christan best seller in which Dr. David Platt encourages Believers not to buy into the American dream of safety, comfort and material wealth while the rest of the world lives in poverty and often without Christ.   That book was a game changer for my husband and I.   It was the impetus to adopting our then 15 year old son.
 It was the catalyst to us increasing our financial giving, getting out of debt and it's what helped solidify our already wet-cement plans to sell our worldly goods in exchange for a life serving  in The Philippines. God used that book to help us shore up and rebuild some simmering-below-the-surface truth that needed to be turned up to a full boil.

So here I sit, typing away in The Philippines with seven children, a growing ministry to special needs orphans, thousands of miles from my parents, siblings and closest friends  and I ask the question again:


One issue the book did not address and I made some huge assumptions about was the PAIN that would be involved in exchanging our former life for this new one.

I expected it to hurt.  A lot. 

We don't own anything in America anymore. No car. No house. Not even a bicycle or a tent.  I've always enjoyed my "stuff" and I truly expected the selling off part to hurt more.  I had a hard day after the yard sale because reality came full force. It's kind of like that decision to cut your long hair short. After the first big "CHOP", there's a secondary panic.    I had that.  
And then it went away as fast as it came.

The work here is hard.  It's hot. It's paperwork-intensive.  Our finances are dwindling.  I've had intestinal parasites. I don't know how to drive here so I'm utterly dependent on my husband.   We've had many typhoons. The traffic is brutal.
Let's see .  . . any more complaints?    Oh yes, we've had things stolen from us and I never get time alone. The bugs here are huge. The geckos in my house are pink, rubbery and dart out close to you when you least expect it. One of my kids is getting over impetigo even as I type.
I think that's all.
No . .. wait . . . there's no toilet paper in public places here and no rims on the seats. There is no dollar store. No Aldi.
There. That about covers it!  

But even so . . . the JOY of serving the children in our care overrides the BUMMER of the facts I just listed.


I think I had it all wrong.  Radical living doesn't hurt.  It produces abundance, a closer walk with my savior, an inter-dependence on my family and a life filled with purpose and clear direction.  

It has hard parts and draw backs.  It has down sides and "if onlys" .   That's not the same as the  agony I expected. 

This isn't MARTYRDOM,  it's privilege.   A high honor and a GIFT that I don't feel deserving of.

Please don't think for one second my attitude toward this life on the mission field has anything to do with ME.
I am NOT awesome!
I am NOT super patient!
I am NOT  'outdoorsy" or a "risk taker"!

I like to lay in bed with a chocolate bar and a good book just like the next girl.  
I do that here sometimes. The chocolate here is really good.  

But as I ask, actually BEG,  my Heavenly Father to take my heart and mind and place it in submission to Him, things look a lot different.

And I started poking   around in God's word for some information on why I'm not struggling more.   

Of course, I started with Paul.  He really suffered for the sake of the gospel! Beatings, imprisonment, exile, 
abandonment by some who claimed to be for him . . . and here's is what he said:

  11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Philippians 4

And THIS from a man who had issues bigger than bad traffic and rubbery geckos! 

Another lesson learned.  Another misconception righted.

"Radical" is not synonymous with "painful",  "torturous" or "being turned inside out".
THOSE things were at their peak before we ever left US soil.  The prying from our clenched fists has been a lifetime in
the making. One. Finger. At. A. Time.  YEARS.  Refined by adopting.  Polished by hard things. Molded by jumping off the cliff and praying the Catcher really DID say "jump".

In the thesaurus of my ever-learning heart, "Radical" is followed by "rising above", "contentment", "ultimate purpose"
and "unmatched peace".

Maybe in a year, things will be hard and awful.  Maybe I'll get to wear a martyr's crown and can, in complete truth, cry rivers of self pity.  Maybe I'll be packing my family and going back to my first country. 

Whatever He says, I pray I will do.  Wherever He sends, I pray I will go.

There is a RADICAL JOY in RADICAL living!  


Saturday, October 19, 2013

Earthen Vessels

         "But we have this treasure in earthen vessels  to show that this all-surpassing power is from GOD and not from US"  2 Cor. 4:7

 I can't recall a time in my life when I have felt more like an "earthen vessel" or a "jar made of clay" than right now, living in this far-away place and doing work that far exceeds my skill set, miles from my comfort zone and learning the guidelines of a culture, language and geography that have never truly been mine.

More than three months in our new-found  Philippine life brought changes - both welcome and unwelcome - and I want to share them in my pray-for-us,  encourage-us kind of way . . .

My handsome, helpful first-biological child has moved out of our house.  He lives in a shelter for street kids about two hours away.
I miss him very much but I am also bursting with pride that my boy made this choice. It is a life different from his at home.
He uses a bucket for a shower,  he has had to learn new bus and jeep routes to get around a bigger, more dangerous, more crowded city than the one in which we now live.   He has had to overcome his own bit of shyness and jump into the unfamiliar to get involved.
He recently went on a 4-day trip with friends, ate his first balut (duck embryo) and is getting a chance to make friends from walks of life we never knew when we were in the states.  I am honored to watch this son-of-mine becoming the man that he is intended to be.
Yes, he jumped!!!!!!!!

Street Outreach

 My only-daughter is just a few months from high school graduation. She is working on her LAST math course and then she will be a high school graduate. I see her thriving in this new country and am so thankful for the time we have been spending together. She got her first-ever pedicure with me last week and, although she laughed through the whole foot massage portion, seemed to like the results. I know I did! Elliana is having a portfolio done to explore the possibility of doing some modeling here. The "mestiza" (half Filipino/half white) look is super popular here.  Don't believe me? Come walk through the mall with my girl. It honestly feels like going out in public with a rock star.  Groups of giggly teen girls ask if they can take a picture with her. Boys stare with their mouths half open.  Elliana is very good natured and generally just waves and smiles (sending the gawkers into a stunned silence) but every now and then, I do see it taking a toll. She just wants to order her meal or buy a shirt sometimes without the giggles and stares.  This is a "problem" I think most of us wouldn't mind having . . . ha ha ha!  Elliana has been working with a reading group of Bartimaeus Kids on Saturdays and being an all-around great help to me.  I'm proud of her in a million ways!

 For the last two months, we have been getting to know Ariel, our newest family member, in a deeper way.  Ariel is the full biological sibling of our son, Lem.  He is 23. He has a sweet, happy spirit and is truly NEVER in a bad mood. He is happy,  tired, hungry or a combination of the three at all times!  Ariel went from his desperately poor family into institutional care at age 8.  He has traveled many paths from orphanage to adoptive home to disrupted adoption (in The Philippines), back into a shelter, independent living, shelter again and finally, our family.  I'm sure he bears the scars of this kind of life but, to tell you the truth, we don't see scars.   We see optimism and a trust that God is there and always has been.  We see cognitive delays. Early malnutrition is a beast, people!   The things it does to children are truly irreversible without a miracle from God.   This broken world has left Ariel with life long learning challenges that will change his course in dramatic ways.   I spent many years in The States trying to bring Ariel into our family. When we finally got here and were able to commit to him as parents, I  felt that dream realized but, the truth of the matter is, teaching an adult to read, with all of his memory and processing issues is HARD WORK!  It requires that I pray through each school day in a new way, asking the Lord to give Ariel retention,  to make connections, to show him the value of what he's learning.  For myself, the prayer is always patience and compassion no matter how I "feel" that morning or how my night's sleep was.  This young man is counting on me.  God has been so gracious to wrap this difficult teaching challenge in such a sweet, compliant, eager-to-learn package.  I love this young man and that goes a long way at the teaching table.   Yet another chance to remember "it's NOT about me."
Ariel with Ezekiel and Amaris, doing his usual thing - being awesome with the little kids!
Kyle and Ezekiel . . . well . . . what to say about those two? They are my "babies" and they are great friends.  Kyle is showing signs of becoming one of the "big kids" and I don't really like it!  He continues to be so thoughtful, buying candy and gifts for his siblings on a whim, playing games with Ezekiel that he has played a thousand times before - with no complaints.  Kyle is learning by leaps and bounds in school and reading large chapter books of his own accord. He struggles with missing a couple of very special friends from the States.  You know, the kind of friends that just "happen" to you and, before you know it, they are pretty much family.  Kyle had that and he misses it.   I don't blame him.  It takes time and just-right circumstances to find that.
Ezekiel is kind of potty training but, the stubborness innate in his Down Syndrome is making this a cirque du soleil- level challenge for Mama.  I'm kind of up to up, kinda not.
Francis and Lem are doing well, homeschooling, making friends with a group of kids who love basketball and going with the flow as I anticipated they would.  I love my boys. I have been BLESSED that THESE are the ones God gave us!  Perfect? No, not even close but humble of heart, willing to serve and a heck of a lot of fun!  For teen boys, I'd say we have the gold standard.  Maybe that was a bias and completely "obnoxious Mama" thing to say but, it's typed and I don't feel like hitting the "X" key! Plus, I do believe it.

In other news:  I'm working really hard to learn this language and it is NOT easy! The words are so darn long and that "ng" sound is so foreign to my English-speaking mind.  But I NEED to learn.  I know some basic phrases and encouragements that I use when we work with the kids but that isn't enough.  If you don't know what Tagalog sounds like, go to youtube and find a Tagalog song or movie clip.
This language is tonal -changing the emphasis on a syllable changes the word but it is also a language where one word can mean 10 things depending on where you place it in a sentence.  Yeah . . .I  know.   And I laugh when I remember believing the notion that "everyone in The Philippines speaks English."  They don't. And they don't have to.  I'm in their country and I should learn their language. Period.   SOME people here speak excellent English.  Who? Professionals, social workers, etc.  Who DOESN'T? Young children, the poor, anyone who hasn't been to school grade 3 and up. . . most everyone we are ministering to.  I am thankful I have a husband and two sons who are not only bilingual but can translate for me!  I am jealous of them. And prideful.  I don't want a translator, I want to speak for myself.  Humbled again.   Sure I need it.

The Bartimaeus Project:
I have never worked this hard in my life!  Certainly not in the 16 years since quitting my Special Ed job in California and homeschooling my own brood.  Yes, I have worked very very hard as a homeschool mom but this is a whole new kind of tired! Aside from the weekly Bartimaeus Learning Center enrichment classes, we are doing outreach with a local street ministry, mountains of paperwork for our project, visiting orphanages, working on becoming licensed foster parents, and a host of other small tasks that we know God has asked us to do so we do them.  Our original target for ministry here was blind children living in orphanages. We came here with our braille-writer, tons of sensory games and activities for the blind and prepared to self-teach braille immediately.
We arrived to find a few children in orphanages with visual impairments - and we offered our services to them - but, for the most part, kids with visual impairments are not in orphanages. They are turned away because of the high cost of caring for them.   We then broadened our scope to work with children with all types of special needs, still holding out for visually-impaired as our primary focus.
We found that there are so many children in care with special needs. So, so many.  We have had to be particular with who we serve, making the most of our time and resources.  THAT is a foreign concept to me.  I like to throw open the doors and say "everyone, come on in!"  but, realistically, we can't do that.  It would painfully short-change the children we are seeing who have real, genuine needs.
And I am growing to love these kids so much that holding back, for THEIR sakes, is becoming easier.

If you've read this far, you either love our family, really care about orphans in The Philippines or have some extra free time. No matter why, I want to thank you!  I am praying the Lord will prick so many hearts for these kids, and the ones who are to come!
Our goals over here are:
1. To open a full-time Special Education school for orphans with visual impairments and other special needs.
2. To eventually turn that school into an orphanage so we can invest daily, moment-by-moment in the children.
3. To share the awesome, life-changing news of salvation through Jesus with the kids - and live it out FOR REAL.

True fact:  We need a BUNCH more monthly donors.  We have been blessed with awesome one-time gifts. We are so thankful for those.  They got us over here, they help keep us moving forward.  But in order to plan and budget, we so SO desperately need people to pledge monthly.   I'm not going to tell you to give up your Starbuck's for an orphan or to stop eating out after church so one of our BP kids can have lunch and books.  All that stuff stays between you and the Lord.  Adults works that out for themselves.
But I AM going to say, the more monthly giving that comes in, the more we can do over here. It's a simple equation. You give and we work.  We're working already WITHOUT being totally funded (or paid) because God has blessed us personally. But eventually our own resources will run out and we really, really want to be here for the long haul.   I promise I will NOT try to shake you down in every blog post but I have to be true to my pledge to be transparent on this blog.  I think my long-time readers know I share the good, bad and the brutally ugly have been written here over the years.

Anyway, if you feel like God is asking you to support The Bartimaeus Project, you can do it one of two ways:
1. Donate via paypal on the web site (www.bartimaeusproject.org)
2. Send checks offline (the info on how to do that is on the web site, too.

PLEASE pray for our project's big fund raiser!!!! It's happening in Baltimore, Maryland at the Grammercy Mansion on
on Thursday (October 24th) in the evening.  ( For more info, email Emily Russell at emilyrussellphotography@gmail.com).
We are asking God to fully fund our year on that night.  Will you ask, too?  He can do it.

SO, there it is. The mega-update I have been wanting to share for quite awhile and when the internet service and time clock aligned, it was done!

From one Earthen Vessel to another . . .

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Battle

". . . the battle belongs to the Lord . . ."  1 Samuel 17:46

With TWO days to go until the opening of The Bartimaeus Learning Center, spiritual attacks are in full swing.
Let me recap, for your cringing pleasure, the events of the last THREE days:

1. Our one and only vehicle (the 12 seater we are using to pick up the children for Saturday) needs a new alternator.
2. I threw out my back somehow. I am walking like an old lady who leans on a cane.
3. A typhoon is scheduled to plow through our province in the next couple of days.
4. I had the worst bout of unexplained sadness that I've had in YEARS and could not seem to shake it for days.
5. A friendship threatened to go south over a misunderstanding.

I know this post is sounding suspiciously like it was written by Eyeore - negatives abound - but let me tell you why
I am PERFECTLY OKAY with the crummy, annoying and exasperating events of the last few days.


As I sat down to prepare our pre-homeschooling devotions for today,  I came across this verse in the account of David and Goliath.
I saw the odds, so clearly stacked against David, paling in comparison to that simple truth:


I thought for a moment that an alternator, a sore back and a bad attitude are really NOTHING compared to an 8-foot tall giant with a sword barreling toward me and that NO weapon fashioned against us will prosper.   And I asked these words be
written on my heart:


If He has ordained this ministry to the poor and fatherless, He will advocate for us.  He will bring it to pass and He will
sustain it. 

He asks that I trust and obey.

So onward we go, purposing that we will not stray from the vision He has given us, in spite of some obstacles. Small obstacles in light of His power and greatness.

I thank you all for praying for these last few days before we open our doors.  I am sure there are more "battles" to come.
But I know one thing for sure:


Saturday, September 14, 2013

A Change of Heart

I hope you'll indulge me a bit here.     This is one of those "fighting to get out of me" posts but it has little to do with The Bartimaeus Project or our specific work here in The Philippines.

It has to do with my own personal convictions being turned on their heads.

Those who know me "in real life", or even as long-time blog readers know that I am direct. I am
resolved. I am unapologetic about my convictions - whether they be controversial or widely accepted.

Living in The Philippines has caused me to rethink a few tenants I once held dear.

Among them are:

There was a time in my personal journey as a wife and mother that I firmly believed EVERY married Believer should throw away the contraception and let the Lord choose his family size. I still do believe that SOME families are called to walk this path.  I can no longer justify it for all. First, it is not clearly mandated in scripture (although I would have called it "God's Best" in years gone by). Second, there is NO WAY IN HADES I could look into the eyes of parents here, in The Philippines, who struggle to feed their three children and are only in their 20s and tell them that God forbids them from controlling the number of children they have.  And if something is not universally applicable among all Christians, it's "gray matter" and gets tossed aside (cue sound of brick breaking a window).
That being said, I would still love to adopt (or even birth) more children if God deemed it. I welcome as many children as He gives us. But that is OUR path . . .  If I ever judged any of you for choosing to limit your family sizes (by non abortifacient means, of course), please forgive me. I am learning and growing. I pray that never stops.

This is one of the most scalding of hot-button issues among families, especially Christian families. SUPER "especially" HOMESCHOOLING Christian families.  I have been on internet forums where women proverbially "rip each other new ones" over whether or not vaccinating children against common childhood diseases is effective, necessary or even abusive.
If you live in a country where you can choose NOT to vaccinate and your child can still live a healthy, long life, stop RIGHT NOW and thank HIM for that freedom.  In this country, vaccines DO save lives!  Now, before I get 357 comments asking for proof and documentation, let me just share something anecdotal here.  I can not PROVE that vaccines have saved specific children but I can prove that non-vaccinated children here die often of diphtheria, rubella, complications from measles and  that POLIO still lives on here in remote areas.  Again, I would NEVER EVER EVER (even with Dr. Fred Mercola holding my hand) stand face to face with a poor family and encourage them not to vaccinate their children.  Likewise, I would never encourage you to send your child to a country like this  for a mission trip unvaccinated.  The responsibility is too great and the stakes too high to play around with this issue.  All of my children are now caught up on their vaccines and if, later in life, there are autoimmune consequences, I'll be sad.  But if they have made it through years of living here without rubella maiming their unborn child or diphtheria shortening their lives, it's a trade worth making. 

I don't want to scare anyone with this change in me but, here, I see people of different faith streams working together VERY WELL for the common cause of the poor.  As a person of reformed theology (Calvinist-ish), serving alongside those who are very, very Pentecostal, staunch Catholic or even doctrinally liberal has not been a problem.  Again, there was a time in my pre-missionary life when I would have assumed it untenable to work on a project with those who hold such varied beliefs because we would, inevitably, come to an impasse over some issue and have to part ways. Serving here has not changed my own personal convictions about the  reliability of scripture (as 100% inerrant) nor about God's sovereignty in ALL things (including salvation) but it HAS helped me to understand that it is possible, and even desirable, to work in harmony with other Believers who hold different doctrinal beliefs.   I don't have to agree with these people in all areas to find enough common ground to "get the job done".  As long as we all agree that salvation comes only through Christ and HE is the ONLY way to the Father, I think we can cross other bridges as we come to them. And we may never come to "other bridges".  When the needs here are screaming out at us and families are shattering before our eyes, doctrinal differences hardly seem discussion-worthy.

Adoption is amazing, wonderful, beautiful and one of the best decisions or family ever made.
That being said, I believe children, EVEN POOR CHILDREN, belong in their original families whenever possible. Just because I can give a child more "stuff" does not mean he should join my family.  Adoption is a radical measure for a child in crisis, not a "first,best plan" for a child who's parents don't have a nice house or money for the dentist.  I think about my own adoption as a daughter of the King.  It would have been BEST, of course, if the Fall of Man never took place and I was born into a relationship with HIM and stayed there. It was because of a huge crisis, the disaster of sin, that He enacted spiritual adoption.  Now I don't have to live as an "orphan" with the grim prognosis of one who has no lineage.   THIS is why, when I share photos of ministry we have done with children who still  have families, and comments like "I wish I could take them all home with me" are typed, I cringe.  They don't WANT to go home with you. They want to stay with their  first family, right here in their shack with no running water and no electricity.  Sometimes they NEED to come home with you because they are unsafe or alone. Sometimes the first family has had to sign them over for permanent adoption or has dropped them at a shelter and never returned.  Adoptive parents are the "soft place to land". We get to be used by God to fill a gaping hole left by sin in this broken world. But for the grace of God, we could BE that "first family", unable to keep and raise our own offspring.  Trying to keep first families together should be the goal of any ministry working with the poor. When that just can't happen, adoption BECOMES the best option!

Those are the major changes that have taken place in my worldview since moving over here. Maybe I'm just typing this post for catharsis and it doesn't mean a hill of beans to you readers.  Maybe you haven't even read this far down.  MAYBE I'm going to get some "hate mail" now.  I don't get much of that, thankfully. Maybe it's my turn  to get "ripped a new one" by some of you??  That's okay, too.
But I'm a person who will say I'm wrong when I believe I am.

In some places, I have been wrong.

In others, I'm still wrong.   Just trying to prayerfully examine my convictions, line up with scripture the best I can with this fallible, finite mind. . praying I do no harm in my areas of ignorance. . . clinging to the knowledge that when I am weak, HE is strong!

Friday, August 23, 2013


Just yesterday, while driving on a short trip with the family, my daughter and I snapped pictures along the way.  I want so much to share with my friends and family in the states exactly WHY and HOW this country has captured my heart.  I don't know if these photos will communicate that but I hope they will give you some sense of the life we live and the scenes we see every day.

I hope you will see this is a beautiful place.  At times, we see things that haunt us.  At other times, we see things that make us grateful to have been called here.

We observe the lives people are living and the struggles they have.  We see them celebrating their families and sometimes, simply trying to earn money for rent and food.

We notice that people, in general, all want the same things: safety, comforts, provision for themselves and their families, dignity, purpose, to be noticed and to be respected.

I love it here. I pray we never have to leave.  How else to explain what I know except to say "we belong here"?  We do. We know this.

Here is a look at our part of The Philippines, our home, through our camera lens.


An obvious play on the "Wal Mart" name. It's a store with a little bit of everything.

Some young men hanging out by a creek that is swollen from the recent tropical storm

A little boy walking quickly to . . . wherever he's going.

The home here is a shack but notice the motorcycles and clean laundry outside.

The irony of this photo is, the people who built shacks on this land are undoubtedly squatters and therefore, trespassing! You see this everywhere here.

A typical home that is very close to the busy, main road.

These goats were walking freely down the street, careful to stay on the sidewalk as traffic went by.

The Manila skyline. Notice the community under the bridge? They have made it their home.

Men at work

Another community by the river.

Again, the Manila skyline and the vast squatter shacks that are in it's shadow.

A home by the dump. We see people going through the trash (many children) as we drive by. It is how some survive. Finding things to recycle.

A fruit stand off the highway. The fruit here is absolutely amazing! Mangoes, pineapples, bananas . . . so GOOD!!!

These girls were petting this pig in front of a house as we came by. It will probably be lechon later . . . ha ha . . .
A local outreach for street kids that has been good enough to let us participate. They are building wonderful leaders out of their older kids.

Kuya Ariel holding Zeke as the kids from outreach wait for Mr. Anthony to drive them home in the rain. Such an honor to serve them, even in this small way.  
And what more can I say?  We are getting to know our home, enjoying some of the local ministries already up and running and learning from them as we prepare to launch The Bartimaeus Project fully here.   We know there will be no shortage of needs to address. The hard part is seeking God about exactly where we fit and doing those things well - not trying to spread ourselves too thin and becoming ineffectual by diluting our efforts.  
 Prayer Needs:
Door are opening and we are prayerfully walking through them. 
We covet your prayers and we prepare to invite the children who need us into our lives.  We ask you to pray that we serve with excellence, that we keep the fire, that we communicate clearly the love of Jesus and that we not grow weary.    We ask you to lift up, in your prayers, an upcoming fundraiser for The Bartimaeus Project that will take place in the states (details will be shared soon). 
Most of all, we ask that you pray that our whole family is able to lift up the name of Jesus in all we do. This is so much more about HIM than it is about us and we want to make HIS name great among the people we meet.
More of Him, less of us!
Thank you, friends.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Everywhere I Go

 Today, Wednesday, July 31st, marks THREE WEEKS since we turned the key on our new home and started living in The Philippines.  We allowed ourselves two or three days for jet lag and then began to get to work securing the licensing that will allow us to freely work with any child through The Bartimaeus Project.
We are very close to having that license!  We have children lined up and waiting to be evaluated and loved on.  How eager we are to get started!
In the meantime, we are spending our days getting to know this place we call home.  We have driven to the far corners of Luzon and been lost more than once.
We have taken buses, jeepneys and trikes as we get to know our close-by places.
And every place we go, every day, we are confronted with the poverty that earned this beautiful country the status "third world".

I am always uncertain as to how much to post and what pictures would be appropriate for this blog.  This is a country and a people of great dignity.  But I have seen horrible things and I want to share them with you because it is vital to your understanding of the answer to the question  "why can't you stay and help the poor in the United States?".
Yes, we DO have poor people in America.  Maybe even a few who actually starve due to lack of access to food or clean drinking water.

But not like this.

The streets in my town are lined with squatters.  The squatters are virtually homeless people who have make houses out of tarp, plywood, metal and garbage.  You can see them lining the Pasig River in the picture below if you enlarge it.

The squatter villages are full of children.   I have seen naked children playing within a foot of the busy street.
I have had beautiful children see my white face and hold out a hand to beg for a few pesos.
I have seen mothers carrying children who look very frail and sick. Walking down the street with hollow eyes, no hope to be seen.

And I don't have to go anywhere special to see this scene.   On the way to the grocery store, they are there.

Outside the restaurants where my family dines, they wait to ask for help

 And I say to myself "oh, we are here to help visually-impaired orphans. We aren't here for THIS kind of ministry."
But my heart is always prodded by that still small voice saying "whatever you have done for the least of these, you have done for ME."

And I say I would do ANYTHING for HIM.  And here "HE" is.  In the form of a dirty child holding out his hand.
In the face of a mother who's baby clearly has pink eye left untreated.  Looking just like a bone-thin old man coughing his lungs out on a crowded jeep, making me recoil just a bit as I think about tuberculosis.

Yes, we have poor in the United States.  but not like these . . .

Lord, teach us to serve and love and be your hands and feet.  Let us not confine ourselves to only doing what feels comfortable but let us love with reckless abandon.  For the time is short.   Let us not count the cost.