The miracle of “Quinn!”

March 2nd, 2017

Quinn on the left, Ru on the right – foster sisters, best buddies, and now, with families only a few minutes apart.

The girls riding on the playground together.

The girls singing karaoke together.

The girls passed out on the way home from a special visit to the zoo.

First of all, for background info, you all know we’re in the middle of adopting two more kiddos, who, for the purposes of the blog I’m calling by parts of their Chinese names for now. Ning is an 8 year old boy we’ve been matched with since the fall (read about that here). Ru is a 6 year old girl we just accepted a match with in January (read about that here). We are super excited to get these kiddos home!

Well, shortly after accepting the match with Ru, we learned something very significant about her. We had seen that most of her pictures were taken with another little girl, but we just assumed they were there on the same day to have their files made ready. That was true, but it turned out this wasn’t just another little girl, this was Ru’s foster sister. They’ve lived together for several years, and we were told they were “best friends,” “inseparable,” and “just like peas in a pod!”

Well, when you adopt, one of the first things you realize is that your new child, while gaining a family, is losing everything they’ve ever known. It’s the hardest day of their lives, frankly. They are losing their home, their country, their language, all their relationships, everything. And while we know as adults that it’s for something better, for permanence, for a family who loves them, it’s still devastating. Watching Noah go through grief for his foster family, something so natural, and yet so hard and so undeserved (no child should have to lose everything they know just to have parents – the world is so broken!) was one of the hardest things I’ve done, and from his perspective it was just excruciating. Knowing that Ru has a foster sister that she loves and has grown up with and that she might have to lose her too was just devastating to me.

We were already matched with Ning and Ru, so by law, we couldn’t even consider bringing “Quinn” home – two is the limit for China. So we decided instead to advocate for her and post her on our Facebook page hoping to get her matched. You see, these kids can end up anywhere. She could have gone to Spain or Sweden. She could have ended up in a non-English speaking home, so that even if we could track her, the girls wouldn’t be able to communicate well if they lost their Chinese. Each agency gets a certain amount of time to advocate for a kiddo, and if they don’t find a family in that time, either the file gets pulled and you don’t know what happens to the child, or the file gets sent to another agency who could be placing anywhere in the world, and we would never know. If we could get her placed with our agency, at least we knew she would be in the US somewhere, and we hoped our agency would help us send a message to the new family and hope they would allow the girls to stay in contact.

So we posted the picture of the girls together, and a plea on Facebook on Feb. 16th:

Okay, guys, calling on you to share and like and pray again so we can get this to as many people as we can. The girl on the right is our new daughter we are in process for, Ru. The girl on the left is her best friend in the world and her foster sister, “Quinn.” Quinn needs a family, and she’s only got a couple weeks left with our agency to find one. She’s been described as sunny, happy, and “an absolute riot!” The team who met her said she kept them laughing all day and was such a sweetie. Could you be her family? Could you help us find them?

We asked for shares and we got them! Almost 12,000 people saw the post and I started getting messages. I ended up talking by phone with 4 different families. The first call was from a family who lived fairly near us. They turned out to be too young to qualify to adopt from China, but that got me thinking. Perhaps I wasn’t being bold enough in my prayers just to ask that Quinn be in the US and that we would know who the family was. Why not just ask for exactly what we hoped for? We started praying for a Christian family in Ohio who would be open to a relationship with our family, and that they would be homeschoolers – something I thought would be so helpful because Quinn has some learning needs which will be compounded by changing languages at her age.

The second family asked me a lot of questions, but had never really considered adoption before. They were curious about the whole process, and trying to get their minds around what it meant, but I got off the phone thinking they were probably not going to proceed – it was too sudden. I thought maybe God was preparing their hearts by opening them up to the idea of adoption for the future. It was too bad, because otherwise, they seemed perfect. I talked to another family who had considered adoption for a long time, but didn’t know if they were ready to move forward with an older child. And I talked to a family who had adopted several children and weren’t really in a position to go back at that time, but were broken-hearted at the thought of the girls losing each other, and so they were praying over it. Unbelievably, every one of these families lived not only in Ohio, but in our hometown of Columbus. None of them sounded ready to commit, but at least they made me hopeful that someone would be.

Fast forward just two days. The mother from the second family sent me a brief message saying that they had decided to put Quinn on hold while they prayed. I was surprised, but so excited. They seemed like a perfect family, but I knew they had never even thought about adoption before. Then, the very next day, I got this message:

Well, Jennifer, we’ve decided to move forward to adopt Quinn! I’ve spoken with [the agency] and she is going to be sending us the First Steps application packet. Ummm… wow. We are very excited, our kids are so excited… and we’re stunned at ourselves. Lol!

We ended up meeting for coffee shortly after that so I could give her the low-down on the process of adoption through China. We learned all kinds of things! One, they are strong Christians, and they actually go to a church here where Nathan and I have so many friends and connections! It turns out that we have many, many mutual friends. Two, they are homeschoolers! Three, she has been bringing her kids to the VBS I work on for years, so she actually already knew who we were. And four, they live only about 10 minutes from our house! Just unbelievable!

She told me that when she saw the picture and read Quinn’s story, she just couldn’t get it out of her mind. At first, she thought God has just told her to pray for the situation, but as the day went on, she wondered if it was something more. She brought it up to her husband and kids the next day and they told her to call me. She said they had never considered adoption before, but had been praying for a specific ministry from God for the family, and they just knew this was what they were being called to. Later, her husband told me, “We saw Quinn’s picture and immediately felt such a peace that this was what was meant to be. It was not that we felt called to adoption in general, but that we had been called to this particular little girl.”

Well, I was sitting there with her at coffee, not wanting to be too pushy, but I was thinking (but not saying aloud!), “I hope they are open to playdates and sleepovers, and maybe we could come and meet them at the airport with Ru when they bring Quinn home” and etc, etc, and telling myself not to freak her out. And then she said, “I can’t believe the girls can have playdates and sleepovers and be at each other’s birthday parties! We would love to have you come to the airport!”

So, so fun. Isn’t God good?! Only He could have orchestrated something like that. I’m just praising Him all day long! We are several months ahead of them in the process, but I am so excited that when we go to get Ru, we can tell her that even though she is leaving Quinn for now, she will see her again in just a few short months. We will get to bring Quinn the book of her new family, and she will know not only that she’s being adopted, but that she will see Ru as soon as she gets here. God is good all the time, and all the time, God is good! I love that He has placed these little girls in families, and also that He has let them keep each other. Praise God!

Wisconsin!

January 23rd, 2017

Praying over the space on Friday night at soundcheck

Rural Christian Women’s Conference in Wisconsin

Signing books and CD’s at Rural Christian Women’s Conference

Speaking at my friend’s church, Zion Lutheran, in Fairwater, WI

So, this past weekend I was in Wisconsin. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Wow, Jennifer, you live in Columbus, OH. What would be the perfect place to visit in Janaury? How about… Wisconsin!!”

Actually, I had to laugh because I went up there for a huge annual event called the Rural Christian Women’s Conference, and when they called to book me, they were thrilled to find out I was from Columbus, OH. “Oh, Jennifer, it seems like most of our speakers tend to come from the south. If you’re from Columbus, you’ve seen snow! You won’t be afraid to come up here in January!” When they heard I went to college in Michigan, they were completely sold. 🙂

I did book my flight out the day before because I’m no dummy, but we actually had beautiful weather for January in Wisconsin! It was so fun to get back up here too – it’s been a couple of years since I was in this part of the country. I got up there easily and we drove out to Wautoma High School where the event was being held. The women who organize this told me that they all live “way out” in Wisconsin, and they got tired of having to drive all the way to Minneapolis or Milwaukee to go to a Christian event, so they decided to start having their own. They never dreamed it would get so big. They sell out every year at 1000 women, and can’t do more because the high school is the biggest venue in the whole region, and 1000 is the max they can get in the gym. I knew from our first conversations that I would love these women, and I did. They were just down to earth, funny, go-getter women who love Jesus and want to serve the women in their part of the world – love it!

We got in and soundchecked on Friday. Then the event was all day on Saturday. I taught on the life of Peter, 3 sessions on “Out of the Boat” or being bold to be like Peter – not afraid to try and risk failure, but to get out and be sold out for the Lord and see the adventure of living life for God. We had an awesome time!

At the end of the day, literally in the final moments when I was leading closing worship, we had a very scary situation. A woman collapsed and the squad had to be called. You know how it is at the end of an event – every one is sort of rushing out to get in their cars and beat the traffic out of there. Well, we asked them all to sit and wait while we got the squad in there, and I led a time of prayer for her – it was so powerful to see all these women who had lives and schedules and places to be gather together, let all that go, and just pray for this woman. It was a very terrifying situation as it was much more significant than just a fainting spell, but I am happy to report that she did recover, and watching that moment as those women came together, while not the ending I had planned, was a powerful witness to the Big “C” Church.

The next day I was scheduled at a very small church in Fairwater, WI, very close by. A friend of mine used to live here, and when she heard where I would be, she asked if I would go to that church. We were hosted by the loveliest people from the congregation and ended up just feeling like family. The people that we meet – this family, the pastor of the church, the committee at Rural Christian Women, so many more – the people are one of my absolute favorite things about this ministry. It’s seeing the body of Christ in all it’s facets and cultures and backgrounds, and still seeing that one thread of a love for Jesus woven through that we all have in common. It’s a little taste of what heaven will be! You know even though you’ve never met before, somehow, you are still family.

Going home was a lot more like traveling to Wisconsin in January, although ironically it was tornadoes in Atlanta that were holding things up. We lost hours and hours, but did eventually get home at around 3 in the morning. 🙂 It was a great weekend, and I’d happily go back up and be with them anytime, even in January!

Adopting *ahem!* a THIRD time

January 17th, 2017

Meet Ru, our new daughter

Another sweet pic

New pic of Ning we hadn’t seen yet! How cute is he?! This pic is probably a year or two old.

The picture I was sent of Ru sleeping in the van – she’s on the right

A picture of our firecracker doing karaoke!

I’m almost hesitant to post this because we realize people think we’ve jumped off the deep end, but we announced about a month ago (read about that here) that we are in process to adopt a wonderful little eight year old boy we’ll call Ning for now (this is part of his Chinese name, his American name is coming soon!). Well, last week our agency offered us a second match, and we decided to accept that as well. She is a beautiful six year old girl we are calling Ru for short (also part of her Chinese name, American name coming someday when we come up with one – we are terrible at naming people!).

China is one of the only countries that will allow you to adopt two unrelated children at once. We didn’t know if we were going to do that, but we wanted to keep the door open. The process to adopt is so long and annoying and expensive, and we really felt like we could give another child a home, but with our oldest starting college next year and all the difficulties of planning our lives around trips to China and holding months open on my ministry calendar for that, etc, we just didn’t know if we could do the process again anytime soon. So we applied to be allowed to do two at once and were approved. Well, literally the day we found out we were approved, Ru’s file was sent to us and they asked what we thought.

Honestly, my first impression wasn’t super positive. On paper she seemed a perfect match – she was exactly the age we were hoping for (we are aiming for the oldest kids we can adopt because they are harder to place, while still maintaining birth order for our other kids), and her medical needs are not terribly severe which we thought was pretty important if we were going to adopt two at once. But the videos they sent us were sort of devoid of personality – I don’t know how else to say that. There was a short one of her going around in a circle on a play toy, and she was just kind of looking around, and there was no real sense of who she was. I didn’t know if she was just nervous (as the kids often are – who are these white people with cameras!!) or if she was delayed, or what was happening. In Ning’s videos, I got such a sense of him, and we saw him playing and talking and writing and it was just a ton of information in a very short video. Hers were not like that. She said one thing in one video, but it was too soft to hear it. She didn’t interact much, but the videos were so short, I didn’t know if that was her or just the couple of seconds they happened to catch. We weren’t sure what to do. Plus the one thing that was clear from the videos was that she couldn’t breathe well, and would certainly need more surgery for her cleft lip and palate and probably speech therapy as well – this isn’t a problem for us, but just more time and more things to figure out that we don’t have experience with while trying to transition Ning and be fair to him too.

We took this to the Lord in prayer. You’ll hear so many different ways God told people that a child they were looking at was theirs. Some fall in love right away. Some just trust that the file the agency sends is for them. Some make specific requests and assume if the child falls in those parameters it will be a good match. For us, we just prayed. I told the Lord that I hate this part. We want to recognize the child you have for us, Lord. We don’t want to take another family’s child, but if they are meant to be ours, we don’t want to leave them behind. We don’t want to say yes to this child if that means saying no to another you might have had for us. We don’t want to look at needs and say, “no, we don’t want to deal with that” rather than looking at the child and saying, “what does this child need to be safe and loved in this world?” There is so much selfishness in human nature, and I did not want the decision to be about me, but about God and what He wanted and about what was best for this little girl and her future and family.

Well, after prayer, we decided that God meant her to be ours. We really didn’t know what we were getting into. But we both felt like this was a match we were to accept. For us, it really was as simple as “we can do it, and so we should.” She needs a family. We can be that family.

Then a few amazing things happened. God is so fun. First, we found out that while Ning and Ru are not at the same orphanage, they are only a little over an hour apart. They both live in the same province, and since you always pick up a child in the capital of their province, that meant they would both be coming to us in the same city. Probably on the same day. This is intimidating, but it’s also awesome – it means we do not have to add another week to our trip as we thought we might. It also means that we can stay in one hotel – this is so much easier than moving with grieving kids – and that we can still take day trips to their orphanages to see where they grew up, something that is so important to me.

Also, the day we found out we were approved by China for Ru, I happened to see a post from someone I don’t know on Facebook. She mentioned that she was going to an orphanage in China and if anyone wanted pics of their kids from there to let her know. It was Ru’s orphanage! What?! In all of China?! So I looked at the date and it was only posted a week earlier. I quickly messaged her and asked if she was still there. She responded that she had just left and was in Shanghai. I was so sad! I asked if she happened to have met Ru? Did she have any pictures, or could she tell me anything about her at all?

Well, talk about a God moment. She responded immediately with, “Ahhhh!!! Yes!!!! Love love love her!” She immediately sent me a picture she had on her phone of Ru asleep in a van – she had taken her to the zoo the week before and she’d passed out on the way home. Then she sent me a video of her singing karaoke, and she was hilarious! My little girl who had really no personality in those early videos apparently has quite a big personality after all. In fact, this woman sent me pictures later and Ru was smiling in almost every one. And she said, “Your little girl is a FIRECRACKER!” Lol, we hope that’s good! But seriously, God is so amazing! What are the chances of me finding a random stranger who had been with her just days before? And how sweet of God to reassure me and show me more of who this little girl is!

So here we go. I am researching cleft lip and palate now, and feel confident that we have a great team here at Nationwide. This is where Noah goes too, so he was actually kind of psyched that that meant he probably would get more hamburgers in their cafeteria – he always focuses on the most important things, that kid. 🙂 And I am eager to see if this little “firecracker” and Ning, who was described to us as “super chill, super sweet, and super smart” get along well. Hopefully they will just love each other!

P.S. We know that Ning speaks Mandarin which is what Noah speaks, but we just found out a day after I originally posted this that Ru speaks Cantonese. That was a curveball we didn’t see coming! So please pray for that complication too – we’ve heard there’s a chance either or both of the kids may speak both because of where they are located, so let’s hope!

Ministry and Family Wrap Up of 2016

December 21st, 2016

Noah put the angel on top of his first Christmas tree

One of the Christmas events at Church of the Open Door in PA

One of the worship services at Church of the Open Door in PA

Soundchecking at Broadway Covenant in IL

Finalizing Noah’s US adoption!

Another sort of mish-mash post. I realized I forgot to blog an entire weekend of ministry, and we’ve had some fun stuff with the kiddos too.

First, we started the month really well with an awesome cardiology visit for Noah! As many of you know, he had some pretty serious complications after his open heart surgery, but he’s been steadily improving, and this time they gave him the all-clear for six months! The difference in him is simply amazing since the surgery! When we first met him (you can read about there here), he was very sick. He would turn blue with any kind of exertion, and when we brought him home, he would have to rest holding onto the handrail halfway up our stairs before he could finish climbing the flight to get up to bed. To see him now is to see a miracle! He even did a walk/run event at school and he went 5.5 MILES! It’s truly amazing, and it’s so fun to watch him realize that he doesn’t have those same limits that he’s lived his whole life with anymore. We are so grateful!

We also decorated for Christmas which was a first for Noah. It’s been fun for all of us to explain what Christmas is (and what it isn’t! Shout out, Santa!) and to be reminded ourselves of all those truths. Noah got to put the angel on the top of the tree. My favorite quote from him as we were putting all the decorations up was, “Hmm, so Americans just put these big socks on the fireplace for Christmas? Okaaayy.” Pretty funny!

I had a great weekend of ministry in Pennsylvania at the Church of the Open Door the first weekend of December. It was great to be with this church – I had done their women’s retreat a couple of years ago, but that was at a camp, so I’d never actually been to their church building. It was so fun to reconnect with some of the ladies from the retreat, and we loved working with Sally the women’s director, and also getting to stay with Lorraine, the women’s retreat director – she and her husband were so lovely to us! The church has done a Christmas outreach event for years for their women, and it’s become so popular that they kept selling out, so this year they had identical events on Friday night and Saturday morning instead. I think it was a great success for them – they were able to get many more people in that way, and while I know they were so tired afterwards, we heard from many women who met the Lord at the events! On Sunday I stayed and did special music on their services as well. I love the heart for people at this church. They really value reaching out and loving on people!

I got home from that event, and then flew out the next day to Chicago and then onto Freeport. I did another Christmas event for the women at Broadway Covenant. This was a little bitter sweet for me. I love the people at Broadway – I was there last spring, and they were just so lovely and warm. But this is where Donna is from (my former assistant who passed away this fall) and we were there together last time. Her best friend, Kim, came to the event, and Donna’s husband, Larry, happened to be in town visiting family and surprised me by coming too! It was so good to see them, but we were all remembering Donna, and it was an emotional evening for me. God is good, and I think the message was really used by Him for the women at the event, and also for Larry and Kim and for me. He is such a comforter.

And also in family news, we have finally completed Noah’s readoption under US law! In our state, they make you wait until the child has been home for 6 months, so we started the process in the late fall. It’s not strictly necessary since the US recognizes our Chinese adoption, but it’s one more layer of protection for Noah, and it also allows him to get a US issued birth certificate. This is just so much easier for his future life, because his birth certificate from China is a four page book in Chinese, and doesn’t look anything like an American birth certificate. If he lost it, he’d have to physically go back to China to try to get a replacement, and I just couldn’t see that birth certificate being the easiest way to get a driver’s license or to register to vote, etc. So now, all we have left is to wait for it to be registered and get that boy a passport, and we are officially done!! And then, as Noah says, “You can do it all again for Long Ning, mom!” He’s so fun. 🙂

Adopting again!

December 9th, 2016
Our new son's agency pictures - his advocacy name is Carter but we still haven't chosen a name

Our new son’s agency pictures – his advocacy name is Carter but we still haven’t chosen a name

A more recent photo

A more recent photo

The Chinese Lantern Festival in Columbus

The Chinese Lantern Festival in Columbus

Part of learning the culture - dumpling making party! Everyone helped!

Part of learning the culture – dumpling making party! Everyone helped!

It’s hard for me to believe that it was just about two years ago now that Nathan and I started talking seriously about adoption. At the beginning of our search, we were really open to going anywhere in the world. We were just praying. The one thing we both felt, though, was that we wanted to adopt older kids who would have difficulty being placed.

At first we were looking for a sibling pair. We felt it would be easier not to be the only child in your family who was adopted or a different ethnicity. We were actually looking for a healthy, older sibling pair in Uganda when I first saw Noah’s posting. That’s a beautiful story that you can read here, but the end of it was that we switched from looking for a healthy, older sibling pair in Africa, and instead adopted a very sick, single boy from Asia.

From the moment we decided to pursue Noah, we both felt he was not going to be the only one. Again, we feel like it would be very hard to be the only adopted kid in your family and we also had already prepared our hearts for more than one child. With Noah’s heart situation and all the unknowns about his health and future, it wasn’t practical to think about adopting two at once. But I knew that if his heart was still operable, we’d be moving forward fairly soon.

There are some real advantages to moving on to another adoption within a year as you can reuse some of your paperwork and update your homestudy rather than doing an entirely new one. So after Noah’s heart surgery, I started looking again on the boards that list waiting children. These are the special needs kids and the older kids – the ones who have a hard time getting placed. One major difference for us this time was that we knew we were going back to China. I thought culture would be a huge issue for us since Noah was older, and I was right! Noah misses his food, his TV shows, his holidays, and we have learned a ton about Chinese culture. I feel very strongly that he should get to keep that – he has had an incredible amount of loss in his life. So I’ve learned to make a lot of Chinese food, we’ve celebrated Chinese holidays, and I’ve learned to navigate a lot of Chinese websites. We can do this with two cultures, but I just didn’t think I could manage to do justice to three. So unless God told us otherwise, we planned to go back to China.

There’s a Facebook page where people advocate for waiting children in China. I am on it and it moves really fast, meaning that if you see a posting, it may be pushed so far down the page an hour later that you can’t really find it again. Some of the kids show up over and over again as their advocates work hard to find them a family, and some appear once and then are gone.

One day I was on Facebook and I saw a posting for a little boy whose agency name was Carter. I really couldn’t believe what a perfect fit he looked like for us. He was two years younger than Noah so he fit in birth order, he likes the same things the boys like, and he was just adorable! I clicked on his video link, praying even as I did so. There’s always that thought: we want the child God wants us to have, but Lord, you will have to help me recognize him! There are so many kids waiting. How will we know which one God means for our family?!

Well, as I was praying that very thing and his video came up, I noticed something immediately. He was wearing a name tag that said “Carter” but it also said his Chinese name. Chinese names have three parts usually, and this boy shared two names with Noah. I could hardly believe it! What are the chances?! It was like God was giving me a confirmation right there. Noah’s Chinese name means “precious dragon” and this boy’s name means “serene dragon” or “peaceful dragon.” His last name was the same as Noah’s first – “precious.” His personality in the video was just amazing – such a perfect fit for our family.

He was waiting because he was older and had had physical delays as a baby. I have no idea why, but his orphanage never did his paperwork, so he didn’t even have a chance to be matched until he was 7, making him an older boy which is one of the hardest matches there is. Well, we fell in love, but he was with another agency. I decided to send an email just in case, but we never thought we’d hear anything. He disappeared from that board in about 10 minutes and I never saw him again.

Fast forward two months. We had not seen any children we felt fit with our family well considering ages and needs, and we had just decided to tell our agency what we were looking for and leave it in God’s hands. If it happened, it happened, and if not, we would wait until we got Rinnah settled in college (she leaves fall of 2017) and then try again. I even said to Nathan, “We should just stay with our agency because of the paperwork. Unless by some miracle we heard about that boy Carter, but I’m sure he’s matched by now.” The next day I got an email. Another family had been matched with Carter, but they had had a family emergency and couldn’t proceed. Carter’s agency had several interested families, but they thought ours was the perfect fit. Were we still interested? We had 24 hours to decide.

My goodness, that was crazy! We made an emergency call to our pediatrician to try to have someone look over his medical report. We asked for one more day, and they gave it to us. We prayed hard and decided that even though the paperwork was going to be overwhelming yet again, this was our boy. We submitted our letter of intent to China for him, and after 4 long weeks, we got the official pre-approval!

So, now we are in process again. We’ve almost completed our home study update, but it was complicated by the fact that Rinnah turned 18 this fall, so she now has to be treated as an adult in our home and get all the background clearances, etc, too (lucky girl!). Our next step will be to apply to the US government for permission to adopt from overseas again. There are many other steps after that, but we hope to keep things moving and be traveling to get him in the summer. Even though his hometown and Noah’s home town are 1200 miles apart, they speak the same dialect which is amazing, and it will be so different to have a built in translator this time in Noah!

We don’t know what American name we will give him. We like Carter, but all our other kids have Biblical names with big meanings so we may need to go another route. With Noah, we gave him his American name and kept his Chinese name as his middle name so he could choose. These kids have lost so much, we didn’t want him to have to lose his name too! Noah chose to go by his American name because he likes it and because he realized no one except our Chinese friends can say his name correctly here. We will give “Carter” an American name too and keep his Chinese name and let him choose.

Everyone is asking if we’ll all go again, and the answer is, we have no idea. 🙂 It depends on what time of year we get permission to travel and how expensive the tickets are, etc. With Noah, it was the most amazing blessing to have us all there to bond, but his province required us to be in country for 3 weeks. We didn’t want to leave our other kids that long, and we wanted them to know their new brother’s culture. “Carter’s” province only requires a 9 day stay (praise God!) which will save us so much money, and makes it possible to think about both bringing the kids and leaving them here. So we don’t know, but we’d love your prayers for wisdom! Noah will almost certainly come, though, because he is longing to see China again (and eat the food!!!!) and because he can translate for us which will help “Carter’s” fear tremendously I would think.

Back when we were in the hospital with Noah, he said to me, “Our van has eight seats, mom, and we only have six people in our family.” And I said, “That’s true, hon.” And he said, “There are so many more kids in China who need families.” Oh, my heart! When we asked Noah what he would tell his new brother when they met, he said, “I will tell him this family is crazy and funny and very good and he shouldn’t be afraid because we are good. And I will tell him the food is good too.” That about sums it up for a boy, I guess!

Number 1 on itunes!

November 13th, 2016
Number One Album on Itunes!!

Number One Album on Itunes!!

The video for my Christmas song, Christmas is Forever, won a bunch of awards

The video for my Christmas song, Christmas is Forever, won a bunch of awards

Leading worship with the team at St. Luke's

Leading worship with the team at St. Luke’s

The funky mid-century modern sanctuary at First Christian

The funky mid-century modern sanctuary at First Christian

Victorian charm at Zaharakos

Victorian charm at Zaharakos

Okay, this is a little hard to see in the picture, but it’s hilarious! Or awesome. Or whatever! Look who beat Drake, Adele, Justin Bieber, One Direction, and R. Kelly to become the #1 album on itunes!! In Gambia, that is. Woot! Who knew my Scripture songs would give Adele a run for her money? And yes, this is for real. My Scripture Memory Songs for Kids and Families album was the number one album on itunes last week in Gambia. 🙂 Pretty much made my day, even though I have no idea what happened there. But on a serious note, how fun is it that my Scripture Memory Songs album would be the number one album in a country that is officially named The Islamic Republic of Gambia? It’s always fun to think about what God might be up to…

Speaking of fun, here’s another fun thing! Tyler Adams who also happens to be my publicist’s son made my Christmas song “Christmas Is Forever” into a new music video and it won a ton of awards! I’m so happy for him! Thanks for doing my song proud, Tyler, it was great fun working with you!

I also have had a few really cool events lately. I went and guest led worship at a church here in Columbus that holds a special place in my heart, St. Luke’s. I’ve done several events for them and just love their heart for the Lord. Their music director, Aaron, was traveling and asked me to take the weekend for him. Had a great time working with their team, and it’s always special to be back with them!

Then this past weekend I went to the mid-century modern Columbus – Columbus, Indiana, that is. It’s a small town, but they are very famous for their architecture, and it was fascinating driving around. The church I was with, First Christian, is reported to be the first architecturally modern church in America. It’s gorgeous! We had a wonderful time with them as well, and I did a concert on Friday night, a women’s retreat called “U-Turn: Trusting God When Life Changes Direction” on Saturday, and then did the worship and special music for their services on Sunday. Their women’s director was fantastic to work with, and I so enjoyed my time with them! And while we were there, we went back to the place I found the last time I was here – a truly classic ice cream shop from the 1890’s called Zaharakos. What a fun town! MY Columbus (OH) still has my loyalty, but I’m happy to visit this one anytime!

Grace Adventures Weekend

October 17th, 2016
Cherri's worship team and me

Cherri’s worship team and me

Teaching the life of Peter

Teaching the life of Peter

Chris on the dunes with Lake Michigan behind her

Chris on the dunes with Lake Michigan behind her

The desert-looking side - those little dots are people walking across it!

The desert-looking side – those little dots are people walking across it!

Last weekend I had the special joy of heading back up to Grace Adventures Camp in Michigan. This is my third time there, and their team is just a joy to work with! To make it even more interesting, I brought Chris Hogan up from Charlotte to help me that weekend. Chris started working as my new ministry assistant earlier in the summer, and we’ve had lots of phone calls and emails, but this was actually the first time I met her in person! So it was super fun to get to know her better.

I spoke on the life of Peter and on getting “Out of the Boat” with our faith. One thing I’ve always loved about being at this particular camp is the atmosphere the camp staff create. They are a wonderful combination of servant leadership, genuine faith, and fun! Cherri Bornman was leading worship with her group, and I worked with them last time. They are wonderful and also super humble and fun and approachable, so I was thrilled to be on the weekend with them again! And, as always, we had wonderful talks with so many women during meals and breaks during the weekend!

Chris and I also headed up to see the dunes, and they were just spectacular. I had seen them from below and I got that they are amazing and huge (think multiple stories high kind of dunes) but I guess I’ve never climbed to the top of them. We did this time and it was like entering another world! To the one side was Lake Michigan, and to the other it was so vast it really looked like the Sahara. You can’t really get a picture that does it justice! People are driving huge dune buggies all over it. It’s just a one-of-a-kind experience.

So happy to be back, and so happy to have the time with Chris!

Happy Birthday, Noah

October 13th, 2016
Homemade birthday cake just for him - he picked chocolate!

Homemade birthday cake just for him – he picked chocolate!

Opening presents from his friends

Opening presents from his friends

Making a wish

Making a wish

Opening one of the first nine

Opening one of the first nine

Geronimo Stilton in Chinese - one of his favorites!

Geronimo Stilton in Chinese – one of his favorites!

Some days are meant to be happy, and this one was! But it was also a reminder of a lot of loss. So goes the weird mix of happy and sad that have become such a regular part of our lives with adoption.

We celebrated Noah’s first birthday with us, but it was his 10th birthday. We’re so happy he’s here, but you can’t help thinking that there were 9 birthdays when he wasn’t. Nine birthdays when he didn’t have a family. About a month ago I said something to him about what he wanted for his birthday, and he said, “I will have presents?” “Yes, of course.” And then, a statement from his mouth that he thought nothing of but it revealed worlds to me, “I never had presents on my birthday.”

Oh, baby boy. He would hate to know I felt such sorrow for that because he doesn’t want us to think he needs or wants pity. He is strong. He is fine. He has learned to be accepting of how things are because that is the best way to survive, and no presents on your birthday is just the way it is. Or just the way it was.

After that conversation about presents, Noah started getting really tense about his birthday. We are big into traditions in our family, so I had told him that on your birthday, you get to pick what’s for dinner. Everyone will make you a card, and you will get gifts. He wanted to know if he would have a party, and I said, yes, you can have a friend party on the weekend before or after, but we will do “family birthday dinner” on your actual birthday. Having your party on a different day was not weird, and it would still be fun – this was a big point for him. Would other people think it was okay if it wasn’t on the EXACT DAY?!

He asked me question after question, many times asking the same question over and over. “Will my siblings get me a present?” “Yes, everyone in the family will.” “Okay, will Rachel?” “Yes, everyone in the family will.” “Will Toby?” “Yes, everyone in the family will.” “Will you?”

As it went on, I realized that this was coming from both fear and hope. He had never had a birthday celebrated, and suddenly we were offering him the dream – a party, presents, people celebrating you, and he just couldn’t believe it, but he wanted it so badly! He was really keyed up over the whole thing. We had his friend party the weekend before with six boys from his class, and he had so much riding on it emotionally that I was getting nervous! It wasn’t even that it had to be that great, it just had to happen the way we said it would and not be a disaster. As I’ve noticed before, he has obviously had promises broken to him in the past, and he doesn’t always believe what we say will actually happen. Every time something happens the way we say it will, I watch him trust us more. The party was no exception, and the day after the party was so interesting to me – he was so much calmer and several times that day he just spontaneously hugged me which is not all that common. I could tell that we had not let him down, and suddenly he was much more hopeful that the family night would also be good, and would be what we said it would be.

We decided to give Noah 9 presents for the years he wasn’t with us. We wanted to acknowledge that time and that loss in a positive way. But here’s the tough part. We try so hard to teach our kids that it’s not about the presents and the “stuff.” Many kids coming home in the US are told that we are all rich and your family is good for buying you things. I didn’t want his birthday to send that message! But I also want him to know that he is a valued and equal member of our family, and that we love him, and show him with thoughtful gifts. We want him to know that it’s fun to have a birthday!

So for those nine presents I got things that I knew he would recognize as being thoughtful and for him in particular, but they weren’t expensive at all. He loves things that hang off his backpack and he loves Minecraft and Star Wars and Lego, so I got him a couple of Lego Minecraft and Star Wars figure keychains for his backpack. We got him a few Tom and Jerry books in Chinese because he thinks those are hilarious. We got him good winter gloves so he could make his first snowman (he’s so excited about that!). And for his “big” present for his 10th birthday, we got a family game to play together because he absolutely loves playing board games as a family.

All of his siblings made him handmade cards that had inside jokes and sweet things just about him. They got him things that he had mentioned wanting to do together. They were so thoughtful, and I was so proud of them. He had chosen to go to a Chinese restaurant for his dinner, and as we were walking out, he ran up between Rinnah and I and grabbed both our hands and leaned his head into my shoulder. He sighed and said, “Thanks, mom.”

It’s a big thing to send the message that you love someone, that they are valuable, and that you are trustworthy all in one day. I don’t think of myself as being particularly good at being thoughtful, but I realize with Noah it’s very important – he needs to know that we took time for him, and thought and effort. We need to make up for some lost time and the holes he has in his heart. I thank God for helping us do it, and I thank God for Noah.

Two Cultures and True Identity

October 7th, 2016
The sky we were all used to in China.

The sky we were all used to in China.

Our first dinner together.

Our first dinner together.

Apartment buildings.

Apartment buildings.

Our lunch at the orphanage - whole fish, rice, congee, shredded spicy potato, greens, and steamed buns.

Our lunch at the orphanage – whole fish, rice, congee, shredded spicy potato, greens, and steamed buns.

A shopping district.

A shopping district.

Getting more comfortable all the time at home.

Getting more comfortable all the time at home.

It’s a very interesting and thought-provoking thing to suddenly be raising a child who is from another culture. Until just a few months ago, Noah had never been outside of China, and with the exception of traveling to Beijing for his surgery as a toddler, outside of his home town. He’d never seen a Caucasian person in person except the adoption workers. He’d never eaten any food except Chinese food. He’d never heard any language but Chinese. Even when we traveled to other parts of China and he heard new dialects or accents for the first time, it was startling for him. So you can imagine how vast the change is for him here.

Here, he comments constantly on the sky (we can see clouds and the sun because it’s clean). He comments on the suburban houses (he’d only ever lived in a high-rise apartment building, and everyone he knew lived in one too). He thought our backyard was a park (he never knew people could own an outdoor space). He comments on the food (he wishes, wishes, WISHES I could make homemade dumplings!). Some of his observations are good and some are bad. There are things he loves about the U.S., and things that he misses about China. This could be the most amazing place in the world, but for a child who spent their first nine years somewhere else, it’s going to take a long time for this to really feel like home.

When Noah was first home, I told him we were going to send him to Chinese class. Having two languages is such an amazing blessing, and adopted kids lose their first language at an alarming rate. We don’t want that to happen to him, so I had been talking to him about it and getting him used to the idea.

I’d brought it up several times, but this day I told him he would definitely start the next week. “But why?” he asked me. “Why do I need Chinese school? I am good at Chinese!” I explained, “But here, Dad and I don’t speak Chinese. Your brother and sisters don’t speak Chinese. Many kids who are adopted forget their Chinese, and we don’t want you to. We want you to keep it. So you will go to Chinese school.” This was the fourth or fifth time I’d explained this.

He looked at me so strangely then and said, “I don’t understand when you say this. You say this a lot. I think you are making fun of me. I AM Chinese. How can I forget to be Chinese?”

While he had misunderstood what I was saying, he had a good point. In Chinese culture, the language is a huge part of your fundamental identity. Having “good Chinese” made you Chinese, gave you honor, and reflected your place in society. Noah was saying, “If I am fundamentally Chinese, how can I ever forget who I am? How can I forget my fundamental identity?”

And yet, we forget our fundamental identity all the time. As Christians, we are Christ-followers and citizens of Heaven. The Bible tells us that we are transplants here, just as Noah has been transplanted to the U.S. This is not our home.

Phil. 3:20 (NIV) “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

We are foreigners in a foreign place. Even if we’ve lived somewhere our entire lives, it isn’t home. Home is with God. Our home is where He is. And the longings we have, that sense that something just isn’t right is our reminder that this isn’t it. We are looking forward to something much better, something greater, something that is coming, and that is our hope!

Hebrews 13:14 (NLT) “For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.”

Or, as the Message puts it:

1 Peter 2:11 (MSG) “Friends, this world is not your home, so don’t make yourselves cozy in it.”

So often we get so comfortable in our culture that we can forget our fundamental identity. We get distracted or lulled into complacency. We can forget our first language, the language of God’s love and purpose for our lives.

As Noah’s mom, I pray that he will become more and more integrated into American culture, and that he will get comfortable and feel at home here. But I also pray that he will come to know the Lord and in that find his true identity, an identity that doesn’t depend on culture or status or location. An identity as a citizen of Heaven, a permanent and unshakable hope and belonging.

As we experience things here that are tough or counter to the Bible, I pray it makes us uncomfortable. I pray it makes us long for our true home, and that we always remember where that is. I pray that we will keep our true identity so forefront in our minds that our response will always be, “How could I forget who I am? I AM a Christ-follower!”

Lessons Learned from My Donna

September 15th, 2016
One of my favorites - Donna right after shaving her head for yet another go-round with cancer and trying on a new wig.

One of my favorites – Donna right after shaving her head for yet another go-round with cancer and trying on a new wig.

Not the best pic of me!  But such a fun memory - down in NC for a couple events and getting to visit her wonderful friend Susan and get out on the boat!

Not the best pic of me! But such a fun memory – down in NC for a couple events and getting to visit her wonderful friend Susan and get out on the boat!

Donna getting to meet one of her long-time favorites from Women of Faith, Thelma Wells, at a conference we were at together.

Donna getting to meet one of her long-time favorites from Women of Faith, Thelma Wells, at a conference we were at together.

Nearly six years ago I was sitting with a friend at a coffee shop, telling her about a job with our ministry I was trying to fill. I said, “I don’t really expect to find someone with experience in this – it’s too unusual for this area. What I really need is a certain personality. If I had the right person, I could train them to do it.” She asked me what I was looking for. “Most important would be rock-solid faith in Christ – I don’t want them to be swayed when Christians aren’t kind. I also need someone who can talk to anyone and isn’t intimidated by that, a connector who loves people and meeting new people, and is also very organized and persistent and willing to travel.” My friend immediately said, “You need to meet Donna Klabunde!”

Things got busy and I was traveling, but a couple of months later I found myself at another coffee shop meeting Donna for the first time. She was lovely, and as we talked, I really felt like she was the right one for the job. At the end of our meeting I said, “I would love to hire you. What do you think?” And she said something I don’t think anyone would recommend saying in a job interview:

“Jennifer, this sounds wonderful, and I really think I could do a good job and would enjoy it. I would love to be back in ministry and I’m very excited! But I think you should know something about me before you hire me. I could die at any time.” It was such a shocking thing to say that it was almost funny, but then I realized she was perfectly serious. She’d had cancer for years. It was currently stable, but she didn’t want me to hire her without understanding the risks.

Donna’s first cancer was as a very young woman with a brand-new baby, her third, Hannah. It was a kind that was easily treatable, and while frightening, seemed to be over. Unfortunately, they now suspect that the treatment used at that time for that cancer caused others. When Hannah was in kindergarten, they discovered a very bad form of breast cancer, and it was Stage 4. Donna was given a few months to live. She asked the Lord if he would save her. Specifically she asked to see Hannah graduate from high school – she wanted to raise her children. The doctors offered her an experimental treatment, and because she was dying anyway, she tried it. It worked. It didn’t get the cancer out of her body completely, but it stopped it from growing. When I met her, she’d been living that way years longer than anyone had data for. But they had told her that one day her body would become resistant, and they would have to try something else.

Donna started working with me about five and a half years ago, and what a blessing she was! She became such a good friend as well as a co-worker, and she had a beautiful ministry of her own at all my events. Every time she was with me, I would find her after the concert or retreat talk praying with women who had cancer, or someone who was going through a hard time. She could light up a room, and she made friends everywhere we went. She just exuded God’s love, and people around her felt it!

She had a very different perspective, living with cancer the way she did. She said often when we would talk about her future and health, “Today, I’m healthy. Until the doctor tells me otherwise, I am healthy.” She could have lived in fear and doubt and worry and let them rob her of the miraculous extra 12 years the Lord gave her, but she didn’t. She lived every day of her life, and last year she got to see her Hannah graduate from high school and know that the Lord had said yes to that particular prayer.

Here are just a few of the many lessons I learned from my Donna:

The Lord is reliable. Donna had “the peace that passes understanding” (Phil 4:6). He met her every need, and His faithfulness to her was a truth she shared with everyone. He has promised us heaven, and He is reliable – she didn’t want to leave her family or suffer, but she was never worried about her future or whether God would supply what she needed. She knew He would.

Every day is a gift. As I said before, Donna didn’t waste her life. I have known people to get bad news about their health, and that is the end of it for them – they stop living and instead wait to die. That was never Donna. She lived every day, and she chose purposefully to see the good and find the fun in everything.

Love people intentionally. Donna had the best friend group I’d ever seen. I was (and still am!) a little jealous – her “posse” is an amazing group. At first I thought she was just blessed, but then I realized she had such a determination to love people intentionally. She didn’t hold onto her pride, she was always willing to be the first to reach out, she was thoughtful, and she was a great friend. I am often scared to reach out, but she taught me to be more fearless. She invested deeply in her friends, and also really listened and empathized with people she met. She made everyone feel special.

Don’t miss an opportunity. When Donna’s cancer came back again about a year and a half ago, it was a different kind and it was much worse. We knew it was going to be bad. But as we talked about it, she said, “I trust God. And you know what? I have met people I never would have without cancer. I am with medical personnel and other patients I would never know otherwise. Maybe God wants me to share with them – He is always working the bad stuff for good.”

Laugh often, and look for the good. Donna didn’t walk through life as a virtuous, suffering saint. She laughed hard and often. She looked for the good in all circumstances and in all people. She made fun of herself. She acted goofy. She said she had a choice in how she confronted hard things in life, and she chose laughter and joy.

Donna leaves a hole in my heart. Her family has become so dear to me because she never stopped talking about them! And I will continue to pray for Larry, Josh, Jon, and Hannah – I know how it feels to be missing someone so crucial. But I also know without a doubt that we will see Donna again. And if we had this much fun together on earth, it’s going to be simply amazing in heaven! I’m so glad she’s there and healed and whole, and Donna, we will see you soon.