Lessons from 2020

December 22nd, 2020

A family photo we did for the upcoming project.

Well, what a year. I just realized I haven’t blogged since the Covid-19 pandemic started. I put out a couple of video blogs (if you’d like to follow me on YouTube, you’ll find my channel here), but otherwise, it was just an instantanious life-change, as I know it was for everyone.

My industry is one of the ones that was “affected.” And by affected, I mean, it disappeared overnight. The week everything shut down, I went from having my entire year booked for events to moving or canceling every spring and summer event I had in about 5 days.

What a weird, fraught spring. I had multiple zooms with speaker groups, and everyone’s story was the same – our industry was gone. Tour managers, videographers, sound technicians, speakers and musicians, all of us who “do” large events for a living were just instantly unemployed. It was pretty devastating. And doubly devastating for those of us with partnerships (I am a Compassion International Artist) to realize that this also meant that none of our Compassion kids would get sponsored at those events, gravely affecting children who are already among the most vulnerable on the planet.

Simultaneously, all my kids were sent home from school, and we were instantly trying to homeschool. Our college daughter had to come home, and our high school senior saw everything canceled – her prom, her senior performaces for her symphonies, her graduation. She couldn’t even say goodbye to many classmates she’d been with since kindergarten, and we were trying to figure out whether she would be able to start college. Every kid seemed to have every class on a different platform, and we were scrambling to keep up. And over it all was just fear. Our son’s heart condition puts him in the highest risk category from the CDC, and we were terrified. I learned how to get groceries delivered, and we literally stopped leaving the house.

That spring I did a couple of my events online. I did a message for NKY Outpost which we streamed online rather than having the event in person (you can watch that here), and I did some music and a short message for The American Baptist Women’s Ministry for their 69th birthday celebration. It wasn’t the same, but it was something.

During the summer, my daughter and I took advantage of the unexpected downtime to work on and complete a new project unlike anything I’ve ever done, and that was actually really fun! But since I didn’t know when events would be possible again and everything was so fraught with the pandemic and the election, we decided to release it in 2021 (more coming on that soon).

Also in the summer, my music video for “A Greater Love” won two awards at the Great Lakes Christian Film Festival – we won for Best Writer and Best Cast Performance. That was a happy highlight for us, even if they couldn’t have the awards in person.

As the fall came, most of those events canceled or moved as well, which by that time we were expecting. Frankly, it was something of a relief given Noah’s situation not to take the chance, but it’s also pretty terrible timing with two kids in college. The nature of my job is that most of my income is from events. So, even though I have worked pretty steadily all year to keep up with moving things and redoing contracts, etc, none of that is work that gets paid if the events don’t happen. But God is so faithful, and we are thankful and grateful that Nathan’s job is not affected, so while it’s not ideal, we are really mindful of our blessings.

I did do one weekend in person in September at a church near Washington DC. I ended up driving because I didn’t feel safe on planes, and they were incredibly careful with their Covid planning, but they felt people were struggling and didn’t want to wait a year. We did a very distanced women’s retreat on Saturday, and then I stayed and gave the message on some very distanced services that Sunday as well. Even though we had to cap numbers quite low and I felt a bit rusty, it was just so nice to be back with people watching God working. I know He’s always working, but it was fun to get to see it.

Our family started to get into the rhythm a bit more. My kids did online school because going in person wasn’t an option for us. I continued to cancel and/or move all my fall and Christmas events. What’s weird is that we are getting close to circling back around to those first March events that pushed out a year, and I’m not sure we’ll be able to do them when we get there again, and who saw that coming last March? So much waiting, so much limbo.

So, what have I learned?

I will be real with you all – this year has been a struggle for me. My life has looked really different, and I didn’t choose it. I have been angry with the people who won’t wear masks or stay distanced to help those of us who can’t take this lightly. I’ve been angry with the extremely divisive nature of the election, with the racial divide and inequalities, with the selfishness I’ve seen, with people being unwilling to listen to others, or to try to see any other side of things. I’ve been so fearful for my family, for my son, for my daughters trying to navigate pandemic-era college, and sad for the very real losses they are having. I’ve been sad that we aren’t able to see our extended family, and worried about our parents. I’ve been sad that, as a nation, we can’t seem to work together. I’ve had to choose, over and over, not to carry anger, to forgive and try to see another’s point of view, to try to gently (not angrily) share our perspective, to continue to show love and empathy in an increasingly angry and divided country.

Honestly, I don’t have it in me. I am not that good. But God is. And how incredibly, overwhelmingly, profoundly THANKFUL I am that God, in His great mercy, continues to help me with this, and continues to forgive me when I fail as I do so often. He continues to help me with my fear, even when I am wallowing, He continues to draw me back to Him even when I’m hardly giving Him the time of day. He reminds me that He loves everyone, and we’ve all made mistakes. He is so good, even when we don’t deserve it at all, but after all, isn’t that the entire story of Jesus? He pursued us and came for us, loved us and died for us, even though we deserved none of it. Praise God, and alleluia for Christmas!

Fear and anger and selfishness are always going to be a struggle, but God is so much bigger than these, and He is faithful.

I am truly hoping and praying for a better 2021. But I also sincerely hope and pray that we do not forget the lessons that 2020 had for us. God is good even when things are bad (Psalm 100:5). We need to be the light and not the darkness (Luke 11:34-36). We need to love others in action and in truth (1 John 3:18), and that means often thinking of others as better than ourselves (Phil 2:3), and doing everything we possibly can to live in and demonstrate peace (Rom. 12:18). God knows us and has redeemed us (Is. 43:1), and there is so much more than just this life (Col. 3:1).

I’ll leave you for 2020 with one of my favorite verses. Praise God for Christmas, praise God He is so much bigger than 2020, and peace be with you and your families! Praying we see you in 2021.

John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” – Jesus

Thoughts on Privacy and Adoption

March 10th, 2020

My kiddos when Ethan and Anna were first home.

I’ve been thinking a lot about privacy and our kids and our adoptions. Many, many people have told me to write a book about our adoptions, and the fact is that I could write a kick butt book about that. It would make you laugh and cry. And it would definitely put out in the world parts of their history and struggles that I’m pretty sure they would not want to be made public. And my loyalty always has to be with my kiddos. Because the fact is that my story is not just my story – it’s impossible to tell just “my story” without also telling parts of the stories that aren’t mine to tell. And my kids have enough to deal with.

When we first adopted Noah, I blogged a lot about it. I blogged the trip and all our firsts and things leading up to it, etc. And I had so many people tell me that they loved that blog and felt they’d visited China and come along with us, etc. And looking back, I think I totally overshared. I blogged for Ethan and Anna’s too, and it was less, but there were still some very personal things in there. Looking back again, I overshared. And I think this is where my writer’s block has been coming from (I’ve been struggling for a while). The more I know and love my kids, and the more I research and try to understand the feelings of adult adoptees and all the complication of it all (and trust me, it is really complicated), the more I feel I can share almost nothing.

And here’s why that is so hard. My kids are amazing. Like, amazing. And hurt. And they needed a family. And watching us become a family has been one of the greatest miracles of my life. I have been absolutely amazed at God, awed by the bravery of my children, and stunned by both the fragility and the resilience of the human heart. The changes are literally mind-boggling, and the stories are incredible. And if I shared it, I know that there are others who would be made braver by our story and who might then go on to adopt other children who need families and who might be a miracle in those people’s lives. And I want that. I want it so much. The children we left behind haunt me, so much that there are times I have to deliberately not think about them or it’s just too much for me. And those children were my children. Those children have all the potential and beauty and humor and love and fun that my children have. They are just children, and they don’t deserve what life has given them.

But sharing our story could hurt my children. In fact, I’m certain it would. I could tell you a heart-breaking story one of my kids whispered to me in the dark recently, and how we are trying so hard to redeem that story and make it something beautiful now, and it would touch your heart, but I would be betraying the trust that was in that whisper in the dark. That trust that came literally years after becoming their mama. And that can’t happen.

I think about the viral video of the boy from Australia who was being bullied for his dwarfism and wanted to die. I don’t condemn that mom – I’m sure she was at her wit’s end and just wanted people to see the effect of bullying and educate their children. And many feel-good moments came out of that. A GoFundMe to send them to Disneyland, a shout-out from Hugh Jackman, getting to lead the National Rugby League’s Indigenous All Stars team onto the field. But does he need a trip to Disneyland? When that’s over, will it make up for 25 million people seeing one of his most private, most vulnerable moments? And will it make up for him being associated with that very painful moment for the rest of his life?

I know that what I post on social media is seen by the wider world, but it’s also seen by our neighbors and by the kids my kids go to school with. I don’t want them to be defined by their struggles or their pasts. I don’t want them to Google themselves one day and resent their mom for sharing what they would have kept private.

So, I don’t see a book coming. I don’t know how to do it. Right now, I share some of my kids’ stories at my events, and they know what I share and have “approved” those stories, but even that makes me nervous that some day they will wish I hadn’t. I guess if I’m going to err, I’d rather err of the side of caution and loyalty to my children. So, let’s all pray that people’s heart are softened without the very personal story, and together we can help all the kids who are waiting to be their family’s miracle.

New York, baby!

December 12th, 2019

With Pastor Mike at dinner – that giant salad on top of a pizza was what they assured me was a personal-sized pizza, lol!

The incredible set they built at Shelter Rock – the books also had storybook images projected across them the entire time.

My beautiful friend, Linda, leading worship before I spoke at Christ Church in Port Jefferson, NY.

The beautiful new sanctuary at Island Christian as we were setting up.

The Women’s Christmas Brunch at Island Christian.

I was back in New York for three Christmas events this past week, all out on Long Island. I used to live out there when Nathan and I were first married and both in graduate school. So it’s always fun to get back to my old stomping grounds, and catch up with old friends and see what is happening with ministry!

I was staying at the guest house at one of the churches, so I got there first and ended up going out to dinner with the senior pastor and his wife, Mike and Mary. They are just fantastic, and I love being with them and hearing all that they have going on for the Lord! Plus, they took me out for pizza and I got a “personal” pizza that was seriously enough for my family – it was pretty hilarious when they put that in front of me!

The next morning I did the women’s Christmas brunch for Shelter Rock Church in Manhasset. I haven’t been there before, but their team was lovely and so easy to work with. Someone had built the most incredible set for their theme, “Storybook Christmas.” I talked about how so often we have these expectations about the perfect “storybook” Christmas which are almost always impossible, but that the true story of Christmas is Jesus’ birth, and that gives us our happy ending because that story is true.

The next morning I did the services at Christ United Methodist Church in Port Jefferson. My dear friend, Linda, is their worship pastor, and they did a lovely job of worship and then gave me the rest of the service. I talked about the true meaning of Christmas and about John 10:10 life, abundant life, that is possible because of this greatest gift of Jesus at Christmas. I also shared some of our story. There was a New York cop sitting in the back, and I made him cry! #goals. It was a great morning, and so fun to be back at this church again. And one fun fact – this is the church where I originally met the family who inspired the song “Your Child.” So amazing to see where God has taken that song, from such a small beginning (see it here).

I had a free day, so I spent some of it with my friend, Linda, and some of it just writing and working. Since I had the little guest house at the church, it was a bit like having a writer’s retreat, which I really loved! My life is never quiet, and that was a lovely little interlude.

Finally, on Tuesday I did the women’s Christmas brunch at Island Christian Church in Northport. This is Mike and Mary’s church. They’ve completely redone the sanctuary since I was there, and it is so beautiful! I was so happy for them – I know that was a rough time since they had to move out completely from the space for months and they are a big church, but it’s going to be so much more functional and usable. The time there was also just wonderful. This church has been such a blessing to me over the years, and I’m just grateful and thankful for them!

All in all, an amazing trip, and now I’m ready to try to wrap my head around Christmas for our family of eight, and all the extended family that goes with it!

Two Podcasts

November 19th, 2019

I’ve been featured recently on two podcasts I wanted to share.

The first was for the National Salvation Army ministry called their “Prepare Podcasts.” I was episode 51 and it was such a fun and comfortable interview! You can find that here.

The second one I did was for Brilliantly Brave Parenting, really focusing in this one on special needs parenting. You’ll find that one here.


Aspire Fall Weekends

November 12th, 2019

Kay, Shaunti, and I backstage at one of the events in MI.

Kay killing it at our sold-out house in Midland, MI

With Jaime and Sandy, my beautiful adoptive mama friends!

At the event in NC.

With Amberly and Barb backstage.

At one of the events in IN with Melissa and Kay

This fall, I did three weekends with Aspire. The first weekend was in Michigan and I had three shows with Shaunti Feldhan and Kay Dodd. This was my first time working with either of them, and they were simply fantastic! Aspire weekends are long and exahsuting and have a lot of travel and packing/unpacking, etc, and these women made it a delight. So fun to get to know them, and it felt like we’d been friends forever! Another really fun moment for me personally was that I had some adoptive mama friends come out to our event in Midland. Shout out to Sandy and Jaime – it was so fun to see you! We met in China when we were adopting our kiddos, and it’s been a joy to keep in touch!

The second weekend was in North Carolina and South Carolina with Barb Roose and Amberly Neese. I’ve worked with both of them before, and again, they made it a joy. We had a lot of driving and travel for that one, and we had a lot of wonderful conversation and laughter along the way!

The third weekend was in Indiana and I served with Melissa Spoelstra and Kay Dodd again on that weekend. Melissa and I have been friends for a long time, so that was just a blessing to get to be with her, and it was so good to see Kay again! Poor Kay had lost her mother just days before these events, but she bravely came ahead and did a great job.

After the Aspire events that last weekend, I went to Taylor University to see my daughter, and to speak and sing at Upland Community Church where my daughter’s been attending for the last couple years. It was so fun to get to see her and her church family!

I have dearly loved meeting and serving with the women I got to know on Aspire. That has sincerely been one of the greatest joys I’ve had. I will not be continuing with Aspire after this season, and I will miss working with these incredible women!

TV Shoot, Salvation Army, and Music Video News

October 3rd, 2019

Filming on the set of 100 Huntley Street in Toronto.

Some of the amazing ladies from the Salvation Army Retreat – I had such fun with this group!

The nominations for Content 19 Film Festival

I had a pretty incredible week last week. First I headed up to Toronto with my mom to shoot 100 Huntley Street, the longest running Christian television show in Canada. I’ve been on it 3 other times, I think, but this was a new host for me, and it was fun to be back!

After shooting the show (I will post when it airs as their shoot schedule is quite far ahead), my mom and I headed over to the Detroit area where I was speaking for the Salvation Army at their regional retreat. Women from all over MI and the surrounding areas were there, and it was just an amazing group. I’ve done several things with the Salvation Army, and my respect for the people in the organization is pretty much unparalleled – I’ve been so touched and impressed by all the staff, and the women were fantastic! It was a fairly rainy weekend, but that hardly mattered. I spoke on the life of Peter, and also led worship and did a concert one night with a focus on helping vulnerable children.

Also, a couple of updates. My music video for “A Greater Love” was nominated for both “Best Justice Video” and also “Best Music Video” at the Content 19 Film Festival, so that was pretty fun!

Family Post

September 16th, 2019

First day of school for all but the senior in high school and the junior in college.

Anna, Noah, and I at the Greek Festival.

Noah and Ethan coming in second and third at their race!

Fun camping in the back yard.

Rinnah’s floormates wandering the neighborhood with lanterns for the Moon Festival.

We are getting back into the swing of school. Life always seems to move at lightspeed toward the end of the summer getting ready for school, and then at the beginning when we’re trying to get everything set up and everyone adjusted. I try not to have events at this time of year just because there’s so little margin!

This is a big year for us. Rachel is starting her senior year, Toby is starting high school, and Noah is starting middle school – lots of transitions! Rinnah is still at Taylor University, now a junior, and Ethan and Anna started fifth and third grades.

We’ve made time for some fun, too, though. We went to the Greek Festival with the kiddos, and taught them all to yell “Opa!” at the dancers and eat some amazing food. The three youngest all ran their first official race which Toby’s cross country team had organized. We had some camping in the backyard, and some s’more time. And then this past weekend, Rinnah brought most of her floor from Taylor to our house for a floor retreat, and we celebrated the Moon Festival too. It was so fun to meet all these amazing young women, and we had fun immediately sending them out with lanterns and feeding them (or trying to) different kinds of moon cake.

All in all, it’s been a good beginning to the school year, and now I’m gearing up for another season of ministry!

Two Years with Ethan and Anna

July 31st, 2019

Ethan in Victoria’s Chinatown, posing by the dragon.

Anna, being like her big brother.

Two years ago today we met Ethan and Anna for the first time. Simultaneously it seems like there is no way that two years have passed, and also that they have been ours forever! It has not been an easy two years, but I love that our family now feels like a family – they are comfortable and happy and know that they are loved. We still have challenges, but the blessings far outweigh them.

Ethan, you are creative, sporty, kind, fun, super smart, and up for anything!

Anna, you are loving, dramatic, joy-filled, spunky, and artistic!

You both have my heart, and I am forever grateful to be your forever mom.

(PS These were taken in Chinatown in Victoria – since the boys’ Chinese names both mean “dragon,” everyone had to pose with the dragon!)

Music Video Chosen For Film Festival

July 18th, 2019

We just got word that my music video for “A Greater Love” was chosen for the Content 19 Film Festival in September, and is up for an award! This is so fun, because that song is so personal, and I loved how the video came out!

I wrote that song before Noah came home. We had just been told that his heart condition was much more serious than we had thought (and we knew it was serious) because he had been left so long. We were told it was likely he was coming home for hospice, and this was so devastating for us. As I was praying about this and pouring my heart out to God, I felt that He said so clearly to me, “Jennifer, your job on this planet is not just to live a long time. Your job is to know Me. And if you can bring Noah home and help him know Me, you’ve given him eternity, whether his life is short or long.”

It was such a personal and profound moment for me. I wrote this song about the love God has for Noah and for all of us. And of course, after Noah came home, we found out he was still operable (praise God!) and so his health is much more stable now.

Noah is pretty private. He knows what I share about him, but he would hate to have a video about him. So this was a concept I came up with to take the video in a more general direction while still fitting the lyric, and I just love how it came out!

You can watch the video here.

We will let you know what happens at the Film Festival!

Podcasts and Radio Shows

July 7th, 2019

Since my article about making churches more accessible for families dealing with sensory and autism spectrum disorders came out (read it here), I’ve done several interviews on this topic. Spirit Radio Network (central US) did a short program and then followed up with a full hour, and I also did a longer parenting program on KNLB (based in AZ). I was a guest on John Clemmons reports (nationwide) and Off the Bookshelf (based in MI). Chris Pugh also did a full hour podcast with me on churches and special needs children – you can see that here (taped in a hotel room while traveling to visit a college with Rachel – it never stops!).

In addition, Campus Crusade’s (CRU) Radio Network released a spot nationwide for their “Making Your Life Count” which was picked up across the country. You can hear that here. I taped several shows for them earlier, so it’s fun to start hearing those making their way into the world!