Follow Me

Undoubtedly many, if not all, of us have found ourselves in a situation, in a conversation or in a relationship that touched on the very core of a fundamental part of our belief system; those moments caused us to check on what we believe in – define it, discard it or alter it. If you haven’t had one of those moments yet … you will.

I’ve come across those “forks in the road”, those moments in our lives that make us ask, “What do I believe? What are my values? What is the true self? Is this the direction in which I want to go with my life?” Case in point, my political views.

When I was younger I was a staunch conservative. I identified myself by the tenets of “right wing” politics with a stubbornness that bordered on arrogance. Maybe that’s a function of my youth and inexperience in life. To me, everything was black or white without much gray. If you didn’t believe as I did, there was something wrong with you.  Now I’m older and perhaps a little wiser. My experiences with people, events and alternative thoughts have broadened, my political edges have softened quite a bit and there’s a lot more gray in the world. Recently, my spiritual beliefs and faith underwent a similar re-examination. I had to take a look at my faith and assess its core values.

I am Christian and as many of you know, I am a part of a wonderful, inspiring, challenging, sometimes goofy but always loving family of faith called Hopesprings Community of Faith in Bangor, PA. I first attended the gathering several years ago when I was young in my recovery from addiction. My history with “religion” was spotty and bland; I wanted and needed something more. In my recovery process I was searching for a deeper, more personal relationship with God as I understood Him. I didn’t understand God all that well at that point except that God loved me, never gave up on me (even when I was at my most despicable) and saved me from teetering into the abyss.

I began to question the old rules and dogmas, crafted and honed over millenia, and in which I was raised. They felt wrong, constraining. They felt like chains and weights that made it difficult to move closer to God. Now I understand that society creates some rules – guardrails, if you will – to keep us within a range of acceptable behavior. The rules are necessary to prevent chaos and to protect us from ourselves and others. But sometimes the rules hog-tie us and keep us from seeing the underlying value the rule was designed to promote; especially so when we elevate form over substance. So it was with me and “religion.”

So, I “stumbled” across Hopesprings one Sunday morning still hungry for something more. It felt like I had walked into an alien world.  Here was a group of people – inked, young, old, beaten, successful, broken, mending – joyous and loving on others and the community! Michael began the lesson that Sunday and by the end of the gathering I was in tears – Niagra Falls! This happened again and again, even today with Jonathan as the pastor, week after week. This was no aberration. This is what I was looking for – a community who believed in only two “rules”: love God, love others; here was a family who practiced those fundamental beliefs in real life, on the streets of the community, in small ways with lots of love.

Two rules – love God, love others. So, is this what Jesus meant when he told Matthew, Peter and others “Follow me” (Matt. 9:9; John 21:19, 22)? I mean, the very definition of “Christian” is one who follows Jesus the Christ, right? What does “following” entail? What does it look like in real life?

Todd Van Hoosear

Todd Van Hoosear

Now I can complicate the hell out of making a PB & J sandwich and I know that something as deep as my faith can be made very obtuse, twisted and overly complicated. But Jesus was anything but complicated although we do a really good job of making His message complicated. Case in point – the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). The scholar knows the rule of “love your neighbor” and Jesus confirms this. But the scholar is uncomfortable with what this is asking him to do and he attempts to incorporate exceptions to the simple rule. “What do you mean when you say ‘neighbor’? Who is my ‘neighbor’?”

I am no Bible scholar and I don’t have to be in order to determine what “following” looks like in reality. I can look no further than the way Jesus lived His life. In all matters, the bedrock of His actions and His words was this: loving God and loving people, without exception! He was unconcerned about their socio-economic status; unconcerned about society’s opinions of the poor, the sick, the nameless and the voiceless; unconcerned about the rules that got in the way or obscured the people from connecting with God.

He not only broke the rules but chastised those who created the rules to bog down the people’s hearts and bodies. He repeatedly called out the elite and the pious who elevated following the letter of the law but refused to acknowledge or show mercy to the unfortunate. He shined a light on the hypocrisy of those who claimed to be religious on the outside but whose hearts were black and cold on the inside.

Act justly, love mercy and walk with humility (Micah 6:8); love God, love others (Mark 12:30-31). Simple, easy to understand “rules” to live by. For me, this is what it means when Jesus says “follow me”. Don’t overcomplicate this – when He says “follow me” He’s saying “Watch what I do, listen to what I say, see how I treat others and do the same thing. I lead by example” This is the way to live a life of connection with God and others. Don’t get caught up in the rules that will weigh you down and prevent you from acting justly, being merciful, being humble or serving your neighbor.

So many “Christians” seem to get tied up and entangled in the rules. They equate “Christianity” with a straightjacket of rules – rules about what music to listen to, rules about what clothes to wear, rules about what prayers to say, rules about what sect to belong to, rules about what TV shows to watch … and the list goes on. Too often they treat others who don’t fit in their box as “less-thans”, flawed in some way. They can be judgmental and arrogant thinking that their way is the “true” way. The same could be said of political parties, other religions and cultures. They can be harsh and unforgiving. They seem to fail to consider where they would be if God was as unforgiving, impatient and unmerciful as they were.  In short, a lot like me in my youth.

So what brought all this on? I was presented with a situation that forced me to examine what my faith was all about. I had to look at my values, my beliefs and ask “Who am I? What’s important to me? What am I made of?”

This wasn’t a life or death struggle that prompted these questions. It was a simple meeting in a principal’s office to discuss ramifications of an occurrence at school. This was a meeting where I learned very clearly the difference between law and order, rule-bound, harsh Christianity and the merciful, compassionate and sometimes uncomfortable version of Christianity. I learned that some people’s interpretation of Christianity can be focused on being judgmental, unforgiving, harsh and lacking in patience; what was even more frightening was how they seemed completely comfortable with calling themselves Christian while justifying their rigidity.

I’m all for there being consequences for one’s actions and, in this case, there were. What I was not at all comfortable with was these “Christians” who gave up on my son, who failed to see the potential in him, who saw him as one who should not expect much in his life as he will not be successful, who gave up because things got a little hard. They quit on him and in the process quit on Him; they effectively said that God was not able to do good works in him. Their lack of faith in God was both blatant and astounding!

Where would we be if God have up on us? What would it look like if God threw up his hands and said “This is too hard. These people keep screwing up. I don’t have the patience for this anymore?” What if God got tired of pursuing us? How hopeless, desperate and bleak would our lives be? I shudder to think of where I would be if God had given up on me!

Well, I don’t subscribe to that nonsensical version of Christianity. I am a member of the merciful, just, loving, forgiving and graceful family of the Christ; he has infinite patience and never gives up the chase. The God of my understanding is one of love, mercy and forgiveness.

Follow Him, I will, to the best of my ability.

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Love Transforms – The Neverending Story

“Čau. es saņēmu tavu vēstuli un izlasīju viņu. es ceru ka man noderēs tavi vārdi un tavi padomi kurus tu man biji devis. Es esmu ļoti pateicīga tev un Eileen par to ka jūs rūpējaties par mani un hariju ka atbalstat mūs un palīdzat kā vien spējat. Jūs priekš manis izdarījāt daudz ko labu un par to es jums esmu pateicīga. Jūs kļuvāt priekš manis ļoti svarīgi cilvēki manā dzīvē. Es ļoti ilgojos pēc jums un jūsu uzmanības. Mēs jūs mīlam un skūpstam.” – April 29, 2015

The above message, one of over 600 messages received via social media, was received by me in response to a letter I sent to her ( see Letter to My Daughters).  If you’ve been following along with this saga of love conquering fear you’ve been able to be a part of the journey of hosting Daniela.  You’ve been a silent witness to her very high walls and displays of fear and confusion at the beginning of this process, this metamorphosis (“I don’t understand. They say they love me but they don’t even know me. My own family does not love me.”). You’ve felt our own confusion, questioning and struggles with loving unconditionally.  You’ve also been there when the walls came down, when she allowed herself to be herself.  You’ve been there for the laughter and the tears.  So what’s the point of the story?

IMG_0912The point is in the title.  Throughout this relationship, she’s changed and so have we.  We continue to grow closer as a family, even two years after the hosting experiment ended! Looking back, “hosting” may be the technical name for what we experienced but it turns out it’s closer to finding a long lost family member and smothering them with hugs and kisses.  It’s never, ever doubting that persistent and consistent love will beat back fear every time.  It’s knowing that the tiniest light from a match chases out the darkness and that darkness can never overcome the light.

What’s more is that the impact of love drills down deep into the hurt and the fear and expands to crack the soul’s foundation of darkness and hardness.  In a few short weeks she found lightness and faith and hope and family; we found faith, love, hope and a daughter.  We never imagined at the start of this process that love could have such a dramatic impact on one life; after all, what could we accomplish in such a short period of time? Our expectations were low because, I suspect, we questioned whether love really could conquer all.  The fact is that we, as mere humans acting alone, could not breach those hardened walls … only with God’s help in doing His business could we do this  God shattered that glass ceiling and the love we share with her has now expanded to the next generation – Harry.

If you’re thinking of hosting an orphan, jump in with both feet.  If you’re thinking of coaching little league, do it.  If you’re on the fence about scouting, get involved.  If you’re doubting the impact you can have, show up and leave the impact to Him. The experiences will forever change you and them; love will leave an indelible tattoo on the soul.  Acting in love has a greater impact than just words. 1 John 3:18. Is it scary? You betcha but the rewards are beyond description!!

This is not the end of the story.  The ripples from those five weeks continue to reach distant shores and distant lives.  More will be revealed.  Keep in touch.IMG_0921

By the way, the loose translation for Daniela’s message is this:

Hi. I received your letter and read it. I hope that it will come in handy with your statement and your tips to me that you gave. I am very grateful to you and Eileen that you are caring for me and Harry for supporting us and helping us as long as you are able. You did for me much good and for that I am grateful to you. You became for me very important people in my life. I longed after you and your attention. We love you and kisses.”

I still get choked up over all of this. It truly is a miracle. How can it be that out of all that brokenness – hers and ours – that oneness and wholeness, a family could take shape?

I Don’t Understand

I just have to vent here for today.  I just finished up a post on Presence being present the other day and then … WHAM! I got some news on Saturday that really made me take a step back and wonder if I really have any clue as to what I’m talking about.  Do I really believe what I profess I believe or is it self-delusion?

I mean, I just finished saying how God is there … in the darkness, in the light and everything in between.  Then I am told about a teenager who allegedly commits a heinous act. This teen is a good person, a kind person, a sweet person and I am left shaking my head in disbelief.  I know this because I’ve met this teen. I’ve talked with this teen.  This isn’t just some statistic, some anonymous face, some random number.  I do not understand this.  I am confused and dumbfounded.  How does something like this happen?  I mean, was God taking a nap when this was going on? Was He on another call when this call came in? Did He hit the snooze button too many times? Did this all happen when God blinked? Does God even blink? What? Why?

I don’t like these parts of the Story.  It offends my sense of right and wrong when bad things happen to innocent people, when bad things happen to good people.  It strikes me as patently unfair.  I am not one to think that these things happen because God is “testing” us; I refuse to believe that He is capricious.  Perhaps that is why I have such a hard time with the story of Job as it is written. So I ask “Why?” as I am sure all of us do at some point.3115396317_8c8c812530_o

I don’t have any answers for this and I am sure that I will not find them in this lifetime.  Perhaps mine is not to reason why. Perhaps I just have to have faith in the process of Love.  So, until the time when all will be revealed I will continue walking the walk and I will live with integrity and will do my best to finish the course.  I will continue to do my best to love others.

And I will continue to shake my head sometimes.

The Thread In Between

So, over the past several weeks the conversations at Hopesprings have been about walking, finishing the course and now, finding the thread of God in that journey. Jonathan, my pastor, has challenged (perhaps that’s too strong a word but it seems to fit me at this juncture) me through these conversations to chronicle my journey with Presence. Finding Presence in the mundane as well as the momentous. Frankly, it couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time.

You see, lately I’ve been talking about feeling disconnected with Presence. I shared with some friends how I had these “revelations”, these “spiritual awakenings”, early in my recovery. It seemed that I was having these “magical” moments on a weekly basis – you know, those moments when everything seems to click, to mesh, and a universal truth is “revealed”. Looking back on that time period, perhaps those moments felt so dramatic, so euphoric, because for so long I was spiritually bankrupt. The light always seems brighter when you step out of the darkness. Through4284919085_13c1190738_mout my struggles I felt like I was slipping further and further into the inky blackness of the abyss. The light got ever fainter; my soul was leaking. It felt like I was all alone. No Presence … at all. And yet …. the light never was extinguished. Presence was there; I was just too messed up to notice.

Some how, some way, Presence never abandoned me. It never stopped believing in me. It saw that I was worthy of “saving”, that I had a mission to fulfill, a mission that only I could fulfill. Even though I felt shameful, degraded, worthless and hopeless, Presence said I had value. Presence said, “I’ve got plans for you whenever you’re done with this nonsense.” A series of unfortunate (?) events occurred like dominoes falling, events that would break me down enough to allow me to be rebuilt better than before – jail, divorce, cars repossessed, family lost, friends leaving me, career lost. Presence was there throughout all of it, guiding me to a place where I could be reborn.

Some information was placed right under my nose – a small news article in a local newspaper that I never read very much. The article discussed a “recovery day” sponsored by an addiction out-patient facility in Bangor, PA; there would be speakers, information and free food! Yahtzee! A faint voice in the deeper recesses of my mind whispered that this would be good for me, that I needed this. So, I signed up in over 8 years ago – penniless, jobless and hopeless.

Thus began my more meaningful journey with Presence. This time it would be a much closer walk, a truer walk, a humbler walk with my leaning into Presence to help get me through the tough times and to show gratitude during the joyful times. My new relationship did not come with any guarantees in life. I faced many challenges and will continue to work through difficult situations. So what’s the difference between then and now? Here it is: I know that no matter what happens, no matter what life throws at me, I will be okay for Presence will not and never has abandoned me. Even in the darkest times it was me who walked away from It, not the other way around. Anne Lamott wrote about something like this when she describes feeling as if Jesus is sitting on His haunches in her room, waiting patiently in the dark for her to turn around and ask for help. She can palpably feel Presence. She resisted for some time but eventually broke down to Presence sitting in the corner, waiting patiently. I can relate to that!SAMSUNG

That being said I come to the root of today’s post … feeling Presence in the mundane, in the everyday routine, in the repetition of daily tasks, in the blah, blah, blah of the days, running into weeks, running into months. While I “know” that Presence always has my back and is always within me I don’t always “feel” Presence. Perhaps “notice” is a better word than “feel”. I don’t always see the “wow” within the monotony. I don’t always see the color within the gray. It’s easy to see Presence and feel Presence when things are going really great or really awful. It’s harder to find the Thread during the “in between”. I dare say I think that most of the living and loving and crying and dying happens in the “in between”.

In all likelihood I suppose my expectations were unrealistic. I may have expected that those moments I experienced early on, those moments of elation and awe when the clouds parted, the sunshine beamed down and revealed the universe’s secrets, to continue in ever-increasing frequency and intensity. I didn’t get that. What I got was a healthy dose of reality – dogs needing to be walked, laundry piling up, groceries to be purchased, bills to be paid, a job to go to and people to interact with. Honestly, I was feeling a little deflated. “Is that all there is?” I asked myself. “I thought it would be different.”

Gradually, the everyday rhythm of life and all it’s demands tempered those moments of “awe” and connectedness to Presence. I started to feel like Presence was busy in the next county taking care of someone else’s dreams. Every once in a while I would get those reminders, those “coincidences”, that Presence would send up to reassure me that I was being heard and cared for. Still, I felt like I was adrift.

So when Jonathan talked about finding God in the “Wow!” and in the “Ho Hum” I took notice and sat up a little straighter in my seat. Something clicked. While those “Wow!” moments are beyond description and are cherishable in their own right it is in the mundane, the tedious, the boring, the grayness, where the rubber meets the road.12814240514_8aaebd4df7_z

Presence was there when I marked up the apartment walls with crayon as a toddler. Presence was there when Dad dropped me off at my first day of kindergarten when I was too scared to take the bus. Presence was there when we went on picnics with my brother and sister. Presence was part of the conversations I had with my Mom throughout my life. Presence was there when my grandparents passed away.

Presence is in the satisfaction of putting in an honest day’s work. When there is laughter among friends, Presence is laughing right along with us. Presence is listening in on the phone call with Dad. Presence is in the ordinary encounters with people struggling to make it through their troubled lives. Presence sees the sparkle in my wife’s smile. Presence enjoys the sounds that come from my guitar. Presence is there when my dog greets me in the morning with a wagging tail. Presence was there when we hosted Daniela and when we met Nelya. Presence was with us in Jaycee’s kitchen when we first met Kris. Presence is there in Peter’s joy. Presence is in the kindness shown to others. Presence is in the little finch at the feeder as well as the eagle soaring high in the sky. I’ve just been to busy with16602238939_e87f048c34_m the “busy-ness” of life to notice.

No matter how hum drum or gray it may seem I will try to find the color hidden in plain sight. I will endeavor to notice the Thread working throughout my story. I will try to remember that if I can’t see God in all, I can’t see God at all. I will strive to remember that Presence is present.

Always.

Love Transforms – And the Walls Start to Crumble (Pt. 4)

This is part four of our journey into hosting from 2013.  We spent five weeks loving on a teenager from Latvia and all that goes with it – the frustration, the laughter, the walls and the smiles.  To read the full text of our adventure please visit www.servingdaniela.blogspot.com

This is what I learned about Daniela today:  She is a perfectionist, she takes pride in things done well and wants to excel.  Frustration comes quickly when things don’t go according to plan.  But she keeps on going. I thought the potatoes [grate for potato pancakes] were heading to the trash when she became frustrated. HPIM3926
Another intuitive thought hit me in this deep spiritual moment. Seriously what would Jesus do? Not in the wwjd bracelet kind of way, but the I am supposed to be living like Him kinda way. Apparently when He is not making nutella sandwiches for snarky teens, He helps them ease their frustration by grating potatoes with primitive equipment and smiles.
This young lady is bright and shining for a moment, dark and brooding in the next. She terrifies me, she makes me laugh, she reminds me of how awful sixteen can be and how hard it is to straddle the world between child and adult.
Then came the dessert – homemade Russian Napoleon tort.  Words cannot describe the sweet deliciousness of this cake.  IMG_0325The only thing more delicious at the table was the sight of Daniela laughing, pantomiming, understanding, conversing, beaming, smiling, eating and enjoying our company as a family.  Is this a miracle in the making right before our eyes?  Of course it is.  Did we see this coming? Perhaps, but I will tell you that Phil was very frustrated a mere 72 hours ago!
The power of love standing steadfast against fear is a slack-jawed, eyes wide open kind of incredible miracles.  Tomorrow may bring its own issues but for the past 48 hours God’s love, given to us and then re-gifted to Daniela, has leaped tall buildings in a single bound and broken through the cracks in her walls.
If ever we needed proof that love triumphs over fear and hate and negativity, if ever we needed proof that love can scale the walls built around hearts, if ever we needed proof that God’s plan for loving Him and loving others is all we need to melt away some of the sadness, what is happening here with Daniela is that proof. — July 15, 2013
She told me I was not her mother and should not act as if I was.

She is right. I am not her mother. For me this is the hardest part of loving a child who is orphaned and the parents are alive somewhere reminding her that she is not wanted. I have no place to judge anyone else for where they are in their life, their darkness, their addiction. But boy, it’s really hard to look at this girl  and understand why she is where she is.

God has a plan. A perfect one. One that does not cast me in the role of savior, but servant. Part of the servant deal is that I need to be constant in my response regardless of what arrows might fly past my head, or into my heart, And man this is really hard stuff. I could never have imagined that in such a short time I could love a stranger from half way around the world the way I already fiercely love this kid.

That our God loves us…me..her ..us all… just is an overwhelming, undeserved, no other word but Grace with a capital G. When I agreed to be His hands and His feet, I didn’t for a moment think about  how those feet walked to His death for us. I just wanted the fun, do good, save the whales kind of walk. You know it’s a spiritual journey…when it really really hurts. — July 16, 2013
I read this on another person’s blog today: “And no matter how the craziness of this whole parenting thing all turns out: The reward of loving is in the loving; loving is itself the great outcome of loving. The success of loving is in how we change because we kept on loving – regardless of any thing else changing.” – A Holy Experience by Ann Voskamp.  I thought to myself, “How wonderfully succinct and perfect that statement is and how it so neatly dovetails with what I am experiencing on this journey with Daniela together with what we are discussing in church – superheroes.”
Basically, we have been discussing how God takes the ordinary man or woman and uses them to stand in the breach, to go to the darkest of places and do the mightiest of deeds.  We are called to do deeds that sometimes seem too big for us to accomplish.  Most people would not have chosen Moses, a murderer with a speech impediment, to lead the Israelites out of Egypt – but God did and that seemed foolish.  Not many would have chosen David, a lustful home-wrecker and adulterer, to lead a nation to greatness – but God in his foolishness did.  Why on earth would Jesus rely on a motley crew of twelve bumbling knuckleheads to carry his message of love, peace and salvation to change the world – doesn’t make sense and yet they did just that!
My pastor, Michael, tonight asked if there were any mountains, troubles or issues where I feel I need to be a superhero or in need of one.  He knows our ups and downs with Daniela.  This situation does not call for a superhero.  Daniela does not need a superhero; Daniela needs the unconditional love of a man, a man who is old enough to be her father, so that she will know that someone cares about her no matter what.  Daniela needs to experience the love of God.  Daniela needs to experience that because she has no frame of reference for that – she does not understand how I, a stranger, can love her when her own family does not love her!

I am no superhero.  I am an ordinary man called to do extraordinary work with a young woman. I am called to perform a deed that is more than I alone can do with my feeble powers. But I am not alone! I will show up and God will do His good work with her to heal the brokenness of her spirit and her heart.

I have learned so much from this adventure in faith. I have never really grasped the power of turn-the-other-cheek or how powerful love-your-enemies really is.  Love wears down the walls of fear and hate. I have seen first-hand how steadfast love CAN change a person.  I have seen how steadfast love can bring light into a dark and broken spirit.  I have experienced and witnessed how steadfast love can perform miracles.  I think I’ll keep trying this love thy neighbor thing.  It’s kind of groovy! — July 18, 2013
Today D agreed to go out. We shopped at my friend Cathy’s house because she has the most amazing eBay store and has small sizes. We sorted through the uh huh’s a lot of UT UHNNN (that’s teen age for “no stinking way”) accompanied by major scowl. Bottom line we had a few winter basics and a beach cover up. Stopped at Target and actually purchased things for hair and nails. I tortured and embarrassed her in the underwear section by selecting giant granny panties and saying “PERFECT” really loud!
[S]he typed into the translator ”could we go to Linda’s?” Linda and Wayne have graciously shared their swimming pool and home for her half birthday party! I was astounded; this was the first time she used anyone’s name! We scooted home, changed in swim suits and drove like batman for a refreshing evening dip. It was super; Linda was out and Wayne was busy, D and I floated in the water then had sword fights with the noodles, made elephant trunks and noises and finally filled the water pistols and planned for the arrival of Phil.IMG_0326
He came on down and was welcomed by two girls and water pistols…total shock attack. But we weren’t done…Phil went to change and we positioned ourselves D behind the truck, me flattened against the garage. We were like a SWAT team. We even did the counting sign thing…. We chased Phil into the pool and the water fight continued. He was a great sport! — July 18, 2013
There are those things that comfort us from our childhood. For me it was an IBM paper box and a yellow blanket. For kiddos growing up in Eastern Europe I don’t know exactly what that would be but today I got a glimpse. Milk Soup.
Yes, Milk Soup is mostly what it sounds like Milk. Warm. Like soup. With pasta. Broken not whole. And the staple – Sugar. I was waiting for the cheese, the salt, the pepper. “Nu uhnnnn” I was told. D scooped out a bowl for me and made me sit at the table. Soft, mushy, pasta in milk with sugar. I had quite a preconceived notion.
I watched D as she ate hers. Slowly savoring the flavor. I tasted mine after, of course, smelling it carefully. WOW it was like a box and a blanket and grilled cheese and tomato soup comfort all wrapped up into one! I asked her if this is what the children in Latvia like to eat and explained what we called “comfort food”.  A huge smile crossed her face and she nodded.
I want milk soup in my life. I want comfort and warmth for myself and for those I love and even for those I don’t love. Warmth and comfort from broken noodles. Man, some days I am the broken noodle. But I am reminded of my brokenness and what God does in my life to mix it all up and get something good. I could never have imagined that hosting an orphan could be like this. It doesn’t always look appetizing and I often smell first … but add one teenage orphan and two crazy adults and stir in the warmth and sweetness of His love… voila! Milk Soup. — July 19, 2013
Peter sometimes doesn’t bother taking the skin off of things that he eats or he will eat something and leave no trace of its existence on this planet.  For example, he will eat through an orange rind much like one would eat an apple and he will eat an apple in its entirety – core, seeds and stem included.

Today at the game we were eating peanuts.  You guessed it – he ate the peanuts shell and all!!  This had Daniela shrieking with laughter and amazement.  Eileen tried doing it to show D that it was quite normal to eat peanut shells.  She was crunching away but when D turned away Eileen was spitting out those shells faster than a pro baseball player spitting out tobacco juice!

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I seem to struggle with making a connection with her.  In fact, there are times when I feel completely disconnected from her and this process.  Sometimes I feel like my only function is to make her tea, buy her french fries or make her lunch.  At least that is the way it seems.  She can be charming and lovely but I wonder if she does that because she wants something from me or is she being genuine.  It’s hard to tell at times.  I have to hold on to the hope that we are both reaching out for each other – bumbling and stumbling through this process – and that we will make whatever connection we are supposed to make. — July 21, 2013

Love Transforms – Part 1

The next few posts will be collection of snippets from my blog in 2013 chronicling our adventures in summer hosting for a Latvian teenager – Daniela.  They will be laid out in chronological order and I hope that you will enjoy the ride.  For a full read of these posts, go to www.servingdaniela.blogspot.com

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This is the first of many posts about our adventure for the Summer of 2013. Eileen, Peter and I are hosting a young woman, an orphan, from Latvia for five weeks this summer. We are both terrified and excited all at the same time. We don’t know very much about her except that she is 17, her name is Daniela and she is studying cosmetology in Latvia.

What we do know are several things: we are thrilled to be hosting her; we believe that this is God’s will for us to be hosting her; and, we KNOW that we will be forever changed by this experience.

We have been actively fundraising for several months now and things are going well on that front. We have also been connecting with other families across the country who are hosting other orphans through the same organization, New Horizons for Children. The meeting of other families of like spirit, heart and mission has been a blessing to us as we prepare for Daniela’s arrival. – May 19, 2013

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We continue to make headway on her bedroom (I ran the new electric and Eileen is repainting). We have an American flag and a Latvian flag for decorations. More will be added soon. We will make sure that the Latvian flag is flying along with the American flag for when she arrives on June 27th!

Friends, church and family continue to support our efforts financially and, more importantly, in prayer. God continues to confirm that this is our mission … to love and serve orphans. Frankly, we couldn’t be happier and more assured of His will. – May 21, 2013

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Ok, it is now officially the un-official start of the Summer of Hope. Slowly we are making headway in the attic (plan is to have it painted by the end of the weekend) and then it is on to finding a mattress for her bed and perhaps a dresser/nightstand. We are finding that the “things” we need for Daniela’s visit with us are easily falling into place.IMG_0129

Our prayer support network continues to grow. Our love for a young woman, whom we have never met, continues to grow as well. Our family is waiting with arms and hearts wide open for her arrival to America. It feels like she’s already there. –May 25, 2013

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Home safety inspection looms – tomorrow at 6 pm.

Eileen’s theory is to hide all the crap in the washing machine. Skeletons neatly tucked away in the closets. Dogs are sedated. Batteries changed in the smoke detectors. Bribe money conspicuously lying around (ha ha ha). Phil has promised to watch his vulgarity for a short period of time (Lord we need a miracle on this one)!

There is nothing more to do except …. pray!! — June 3, 2013

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Well, the safety inspection went very well (thank God she didn’t look in the basement). Seriously, Nancy was sweet and we enjoyed getting to know her.

We now are focusing on getting the last items done on the list before June 27th. Speaking of which, we found out this week that Daniela’s flight arrives at JFK on June 27 at 1 p.m. Sooooo excited! We have some photos framed for her room, we have a variety of small gifts and other items ready for her (mp3 player, necklace, purse, etc) and we have been brushing up on our Latvian language skills!

Eileen used her artsy skills to make Daniela’s welcome sign for the arrival at JFK. Looks wonderful! Today, the kids at Church will be making welcome cards for Daniela and learning a few key Latvian phrases to make Daniela feel welcome. More to come … — June 9, 2013

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Today is Father’s Day. As we celebrated the important role that Dad’s play in the family we heard a very inspiring sermon in church this morning. The topic of the “conversation” was Superheroes. The gist of the conversation was that superheroes, like Superman, have super-powers – x-ray vision, strength, speed, etc. Unlike our societal concept of what super-powers a superhero needs, Jesus flipped over that concept. Jesus says the meek, peacemakers, the poor, the grieving, etc are the real heroes. I can be a “superhero” by modeling my life after Jesus’ life – serving the downtrodden, the sick, the outcasts, etc with compassion, love and humility.

That struck a chord with me today. In about ten days a young woman will be experiencing life with our family here in America. While certainly we will have lots of fun and learn many things about each other, my priority is to be of service to God by taking the love and compassion and humility he showed to me and doing likewise to Daniela. We must be of service to her, meet her where she is and love her unconditionally!

By the grace of God I pray that she may know God’s love for her through our love for her. – June 16, 2013

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Words cannot begin to express how excited we are! We are down to counting the hours …. yes, hours …. until Daniela is physically with us. I know it sounds crazy to most people but for us it feels like Daniela has been with us on this journey from the beginning. And it hasn’t just been us on this journey! Every one of our friends and family have been with us on this journey, too! We are truly blessed to have such wonderful friends at work, in our neighborhood, at our church and across the country! They have made this part of the adventure so filled with love for Daniela it humbles us.

I don’t really know if we will ever really grasp the immense love and grace of God in this mission of love for Daniela. Perhaps we aren’t meant to understand it, just feel it and share it with others – love God, love others, serve the world. When I can pause and take a step back, I can see all the pieces falling into place all along the way to make this dream of ours a reality. – June 24, 2013

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IMG_0154What a whirlwind of a day!!!! Woke up at 4:30 a.m. (I did, Eileen slept like a baby) because of all the nervous energy of the anticipated arrival of Daniela. We were on the road by 9 and headed for our rendezvous at JFK Airport in Queens, NY. We hit a few traffic snarls along the way but we arrived at the airport by 12 and met up with some of the other families.

It was really quite indescribable to see all these lovely young people filled with such joy and promise as they walked through the terminal toward us. Several waves of lime-green t-shirted young people came past us but no Daniela yet. Finally, Daniela came into view and you would have thought that we were a bunch of kids on Christmas morning the way we were yelling “Svieka Daniela” and jumping up and down! She smiled and waved. Then we hugged her and welcomed her and waited for the “all clear” signal before heading out. After several pictures we said our “good byes” and headed for home We had some fun pantomiming what the car sickness bags were for and that made Daniela laugh. Daniela was whipped and fell asleep in the car.

We arrived home at about 5:30. We practiced our language skills (Latvian and English) and had some dinner. Daniela really enjoyed watching Peter eat with such gusto … she giggled at him (perhaps because she was such a dainty and slow eater). We showed her her room and how to use the shower, had her read her first affirmation, kissed and hugged her good night and wished her Saldie Sapni (Sweet Dreams). – June 27, 2013IMG_0164

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This is the Eileen version of today’s post: Phil kissed me and then left for work with Peter. It’s me…alone in the house. Wondering..when will she get up? Is it appropriate to let her sleep all day? Can I not tell Phil if she does. Can I sleep all day too? The answer was a crystal clear maybe. So I enjoyed my coffee, stalked Facebook for a while completely dependent on the wisdom of those whose host children had been awake for 5 minutes for deep and meaningful advise. I prayed and I waited

This is what I learned today:
1. She likes the same cereal as I do Special K red berry. She did not eat yogurt.
2. Apparently she likes to shop as much as I do…..we purchased….not a thing.
3. We both can go for long periods of time without speaking…we did
4. She would not eat ice cream
5. She will eat ravioli and almost spit it out while she watches P. scarf his food down like a maniac
6. I impressed her and well even myself a bit with the sit and stay hand signals for the Bouvier (read giant hairy dog) Willem, then she totally cracked up when he would not listen to go outside. Disobedience apparently is a universal language.
7 Dr. Who translates really great! We laughed at the same things, jumped and screeched in harmony at the gross things. She even said with a hand sign she wasn’t going to bed till the episode was over.
8. The jelly beans were all gone!

IMG_0163When we tucked her in tonite, she read her affirmation in Latvian and we read the English: Daniela you are light and love. Then she gave me a serious hug! I understand more of how you can love someone you never knew. It reminds me that this is just a drop in the bucket of how God loves us. – June 28, 2013

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So, Saturday the reality kind of set in … Daniela feels isolated, homesick and frustrated. She talked to her chaperone twice that day (thank the good Lord for Dace (pronounced “Dachay”). She wants to go home to Latvia NOW, TODAY. We gave her her space but there were some tough moments. Tears and anger and frustration and fear were changing it up in an instant. As if it wasn’t tough enough being a teenager, imagine being a teen in a country where you don’t speak the language and you can’t be with your friends.

We slogged through it. Lots of sullenness, homesickness, feeling alone, language barriers (she doesn’t speak any English and is resisting) coupled with teenage daughter angst and you get the picture. We’ve been shopping with her twice without so much as a pair of socks purchased. We figured out she likes jellybeans and wants to visit with her friend Jevgenija. Big pouting when we said “not today”.

After dinner, she went upstairs to her room and fell asleep. Eileen and I processed the days events. We agreed it was important to be consistent and loving. We need to be patient and give her time to adjust and never give up on loving her.

This morning I heard Daniela quietly come downstairs and then go back up to her room. When I came downstairs I noticed that the bag of Starbursts was gone. 🙂 – June 30, 2013

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The day started with tip-toes to the kitchen to root through some candy. There was a brief smile when we said our good mornings to each other and then …. we met with some resistance. When told she needed to wash up and put on some clean clothes for church she had a little bit of a tissue-tearing moment. Then she stalled and stalled until Eileen gently but firmly informed her she had five minutes to come downstairs. She came but she wasn’t pleased.

IMG_0195While at church we introduced her to our friends there which was met with sullenness and attitude as only a teenager can do. Our friend Cathy graciously offered a slew of clothes for Daniela to try on and topped it off with a lovely little card written in Latvian!!! That started the ice to melt.

The younger kids at church had made “welcome” cards for Daniela and decorated them with lots of stickers and flowers and colorful drawings. After Sunday school was over they all went upstairs and handed them to her saying “Sveika”. That brought out a smile on her face.IMG_0174

Then we went to a friend’s house and met up with a few of our friends from church. Linda and Wayne were so loving in offering their hospitality and Jana, Miriya and Alex were fantastic in helping her feel relaxed. After chowing down some pizza, chips and soda we hopped into the pool (even though it was raining at points). Daniela eventually joined us in the pool!! She laughed, floated around and swam like a fish! She interacted so well with everyone, including me, and was joking and playing with Peter!

Afterwards, when we were home, she told us that she really likes tomato juice and could we get some at the store for her. She then asked us to keep Peter downstairs while she took a shower in order to insure some privacy. We finished off the night with a Netflix movie and our new ritual – the nightly affirmation (“Daniela is a joy to spend time with”), “Arlabunakti”, “saldie sapni” and “mes tevi milu” (good night, sweet dreams and we love you).

Sigh – June 31, 2013

A Challenge: #100artworksofgratitude

Sounds like a good thing to try.

the art of breath

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Lately God has been showing me so much about what it means to live in joyful hope. And also that I suck at it.

Negativity and discontentedness are everywhere, oftentimes created in my own heart and spewing from my own lips into the reality in which I live and breathe along with others.

Gratitude is illusive and escapes me in the heat of the little aggravating moments of mess-ups and maladjustments. And so I need to make a drastic change if I don’t want to be continually dragged down deep into the negative trench of discontent and pessimism. It’s hard to get out of when I’ve been practicing it for so long, but I’m ready to fight it with the persistent practice of positivity.

I won’t waste my words with more wanton phrases of failed attempts and disappointments; I will get down to brass tacks and just tell you what’s…

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Signs of Grace

15910043680_5b040e7726_zEarlier in the week I was kvetching about by financial frustrations, demonstrating my whining self-centeredness and my general lack of faith.  Because when I get right down to it that’s what it was – a momentary lack of faith.  I forgot that my God is bigger than money problems. I forgot that my God is bigger than my joblessness.  My God is bigger than material things because it’s not about the stuff.

So later in the week I received 15881170075_aa42c0a802_msure reminders that He knows what is going on in my life.  He is paying attention and sent me small gifts disguised in the form of kindness of others.  That’s how He works, you know … through other people.   They weren’t very big gifts if you measure it in terms of dollar value.  But that’s not the true measure of kindness.  Oh no.  Because the value to me of these tiny gifts is immeasurable.

Lunch paid for unexpectedly by others,  a few pizzas that were on the house and a music lesson that was unexpectedly gratis.

Those small acts of kindness soothed my anxious spirit and provided much more than a full belly o3189923359_0e6fd886db_mr a music lesson.

They served up serenity.  They served up a gentle reminder that I should curtail my whining.  They served up a reminder to relax and have a little faith.

Random acts of kindness … signs of grace … evidence of love.

Thank you to those who unknowingly (perhaps) served as God’s messengers of grace.

It Is What It Is

14692471997_aa360acf66_mI’ve been stressed lately.

Very stressed!

In fact, I’ve been running in panic mode and it’s taking it’s toll on me.2059225092_5287415008_m

What’s going on? Well, I’ve been out of work for about five months now.  As you can imagine that has put a real crimp in the cash flow pipeline.  Yes, I’m getting unemployment and yes, I’m actively looking for work and trying to make things happen.  Despite all that, it is no walk in the park being unemployed; it wreaks havoc with your finances and, more importantly, your psychological state and self-confidence.  Being out of work really chisels away at your feelings of self-worth and, sometimes, self-respect.  I sometimes feel like I’m not contributing.  That’s torture for a guy.  Anyone who tells you otherwise is full of crap and hasn’t experienced the unemployment doldrums.  Well things just got tighter financially and that put me in a tailspin.

I was very frustrated and, honestly, pissed at God.  I felt that I should be further along after 8 years of recovery.  I should have more money in the bank. I should be driving a better car than the one I am currently driving – at least one that is a model year within this millennium! My career should be cruising right along by now.  Instead, I find my self pinching pennies, shopping the dented can aisle, worrying when my car is going to crap out and the like.  It seemed like I was sliding backwards.  Hell, at this point, being stuck in the mud was looking pretty darn appealing. 100761143_226e540b49_m

Quite the pity party, huh!

Yesterday my lovely wife pointed out that I’ve been miserable and it’s making life a bit difficult in the family.  She reminds me of some of the good things that have happened in the past five months: finalizing the adoption of Kris; helping out with Peter while she recuperated from a broken arm; helping Kris adjust to life at home and at school; having the time to help Dad adjust to life as a widower.  She also reminded me that this is not forever.  Smart woman. (Thanks sweetie for the perspective check.)

Then this morning I read two pearls of wisdom that solidified my improving perspective.  One was an email and the other was a blog post.

“Acceptance is kind of like ending a longstanding argument you’ve been having with the Universe.” I took a deep breath, exhaled and said to myself “It is what it is and this too shall pass.”

“Tell me, what is it that you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” – Mary Oliver.  My answer: pretty much anything I’d like.

It just might take a little longer than I expected.

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