Tuesday, December 30, 2008

On The Road Again

One of the things we have missed so much about Florida is the access to outdoor activities, specifically biking. Earlier this week we retrieved the bikes and set out to retrace the bike paths that we had mapped many times. Thinking back to the time that Kristina learned to ride, I had to lag behind and snap a pic when I saw her riding fearlessly with arms straight out. What a journey we have all been on since this child has come into our lives.

Yesterday we decided to ride to one of the state parks in our area. Following the designated roadway, we cycled along in single file. As we were making our way along the main street, I noticed a man in an oncoming car wagging his finger at us. I took a quick survey. We were all on the designated path; all the children were wearing helmets. As his car came closer, I realized he was counting. "Yes," I thought, "There are seven of us." I suppose we look like a veritable parade trekking along.

We parked our bikes and wandered the pathway around the lake and through the forest looking for raccoons and baby gators. We were scattered along the boardwalk, each taking our own pace to gaze at a fish in the water or a spider skittering along a transparent web, when I observed Robert drape his arm across the broad shoulders of one of the twins just ahead of me. His voice drifted back, "Son, there's no where I would rather be than here with you, enjoying God's creation. You're growing into a fine young man." And then he pulled back to look him in the face and said, "Oh, wait. You're not Nathanael!" I laughed at his joke as Nathanael made his way over to see what was so funny. The three of them set off and pulling the rest of us in their wake. "Boys, you're both growing into fine young men . . . despite your mother's negative influence." I refused to rise to the bait reflecting on the fact that he waited until he was safely several paces ahead before he made such an observation.

Our time back in Florida for Christmas Break has seemed dreamlike, unreal. We miss the lifestyle we had here and the routine we have so easily fallen back into since returning. Worshipping at our home church, dinner and a movie with old friends last night, movie night with my college girls tonight, coffee with Z tomorrow, and dessert with an old colleague and his wife the next day makes contemplating returning to Mississippi a weary endeavor. While I look forward to returning to work and visiting church with some of my adoption blog buddies back in Mississippi, we have been blessed to have this respite.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Go Long

"You know how to do The Bomb, right?" Robert asked tossing the football between his right and left hand. Kristina eyed him skeptically. Determined to stay out of it, I raised my book a little higher and feigned increased interest in the current passage. From my vantage point on the front lawn, I could see she was curious.

"You're going to run straight out and then cut right or left, but you've really got to run far out," he instructed.

Hand propped on hip, she countered, "What do you mean?"

"Leslie! Leslie, come show Kristina how to do The Bomb, " Robert implored.

"Robert, I don't do The Bomb. I am The Bomb," I replied without lowering the book.

I heard his sigh of exasperation as he recruited Samuel and Hannah. An hour later and they were red faced and laughing hysterically at each other in the street. I couldn't resist setting my book aside to take up the camera and click a few shots.

What You Can Live Without

A week without internet access is wearing on me, so I have tagged along to Robert's sunrise Bible study this morning. Today is Kristina's turn. They have picked up hot chocolate from Starbucks and settled into a small booth behind me at Panera while I type away my thoughts from the week. Initially, it takes Kristina a bit to settle down. She wants to show Robert the verses she underlined from last night's reading. She wants to know what the word "offspring" means. He explains the definition and she replies, "Oh, like Samuel, Nathanael, Hannah and Joshua are your offspring?" "As well as you," he corrects her. And once again a teachable moment presents itself and he is able to share how God brings children into families; much like he brings us into his spiritual family. Quite right. Quite right.

Shoppers flutter in and out of the shops nearby even at this predawn hour. A small girl with a bag from the video game store next door clutches her purchases with one hand and her mother's arm with the other. I notice another woman exit the same store, attempting to balance two huge bags and locate her car keys in the purse hanging precariously from the crook of her arm. "GameStop must be having a big sale," I interject into the silence. "Huh?" they both reply and I realize why Robert does this activity one on one - less interruptions. I apologize for breaking their concentration and go back to clicking away at the keyboard.

I reflect on the gifts we exchanged this year. My new phone served as anniversary, Christmas, Valentine's Day, and any other holiday that comes demanding a token of love in the distant future. Robert: some new books and an audio series by Dr Kistler. Each of the children received a new book and a toiletry kit. The boys' with cologne and deodorant. The girls' with perfume and lotion. In addition, Kristina received an English version of the Bible bound in soft sea foam green leather with silver gilded pages peeking out from a cover embossed with an ivy motif. Rather humble gifts in comparison to the ones being hauled out of the video game store next door, but well received and loved all the same.

There was no Christmas tree this year. Ours was packed away somewhere in the sea of tan corrugated boxes. In the last six months, we have learned a valuable lesson. We have learned the difference between what we want and what we need; what we can live without and what we can't live without. With that in mind, our approach to Christmas was different. We took what we had been blessed with and decided to bless others. Three adopting families received our meager Christmas money his year. What a blessing to share what we had with others. We know it will hardly make a dent in the huge sum that adoption demands, but we learned once how every little bit adds up.

Christmas day was spent playing with old friends from the neighborhood, reading our new books, cooking Christmas dinner, and being together. We have been blessed with family: biological family, adopted family, and spiritual family. These are the things we can not live without.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Season's Blessings

Over Christmas Eve breakfast, one of our pastors shared with Robert that a family from another church was seeking to bless someone this season. And with that Dottie appeared at our door with two small boys in tow. A complete stranger, she came bearing lunch from Chick-Fil-A, a freshly baked coffee cake for Christmas morning, and a Christmas card concealing a gift certificate from HoneyBaked Hams and gift cards. She wanted to share the blessings of the season. She wanted to show her boys what Christmas was really about. We introduced the children and her face registered a small moment of shock when we explained that this would be Kristina's second Christmas with us. "Adopted? How strange! God has been speaking to my heart about adoption." And with that she sat and spoke of her family and we shared our passion for adoption. We placed a copy of our adoption DVD in her hands and asked her to stay in touch. Walking her to the door, we expressed our gratitude over how God had blessed us through her. I could see the tears welling at the back of Robert's eyes as they passed through the door. Isn't it amazing? Isn't it amazing how God is providing us with opportunities to share His love for orphans and orphan ministry? We saw the working of God in this exchange of strangers united through the kinship of Christ. Praise God for his providence and provision!

At candlelight services this evening, Pastor Frank shared that the miracle of the season wasn't just that God's Son had been born into the world, but that He had been born into our hearts. Indeed He has. Indeed He has.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Can't Buy Me Love

The traditional first anniversary gift is paper. Five years is wood. Ten is tin. Fifteen? Fifteen is my year. Fifteen is crystal. Does liquid crystal display count?

I usually discourage Robert from buying me gifts, but how can I scold him this time? Be still my beating heart! My honey knows what makes my heart go pitter-pat. I'm not the candy and flowers type. Technology - now that's the gift that says "I love you".

Fifteen years! Where does the time go? I honestly don't know how two kids ended up with five kids of their own.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Thanksgiving Recap

I know, I know. This is a little late, but I thought I would share it anyway. Cut me a little slack; I'm just getting back on the writing wagon!

We headed back to Orlando for Thanksgiving this year. God hasn't seen fit to send buyers for our home, so we have a Florida vacation home whether we like it or not. We hadn't seen our little house since July and we were anxious to check on things. That, and we wanted to sit on real furniture and sleep in a real bed. We put our things in storage before coming to Mississippi and planned on moving everything once the house sold. Well, the house hasn't sold, so our current Mississippi furnishings consist of 6 air mattresses and a television perched on a moving box that holds my grandmother's china. Yeah, the furniture was a real pull to go back to Orlando!

It was a blissful week being back in familiar surroundings and with old friends. We worked in the yard. The kids played with their old friends and hung out with their youth group. The girls went to a sleepover with the neighborhood girls. We worshipped with our church family. My college girls were home and came over to play games and watch movies. Just to be together again! It was pretty much the perfect holiday.

We were invited to attend a football playoff game at a school I taught at several years ago. I was excited to take Kristina and let her meet the students and parents who had invested in bringing her here. We were greeted with squeals and hugs throughout the night. Kristina was able to meet her "angels" and Stephanie (whom Kristina matches in ability to talk a mile a minute!). I think what surprised me the most was the number of people who greeted us with, "When are you going to post on the blog again???" I was surprised that we were still being followed and grateful for the encouragement to get back to writing.

The big light bulb moment of the week came when Robert and I discussed moving back. We reflected on how many things we had been missing and decided if the house hadn't sold by the end of the school year, we would come "home". After all, we can't continue to pay rent and a mortgage.

The next day, we were browsing our favorite used book store when our realtor called Robert's cell. One of the kids tracked me to the classics section and informed me that Dad needed to talk to me NOW. I found Robert sitting on a step ladder in the theology section deciding between two tape albums. Reading his mind, I advised him, "Get both". "Bev called. There's a couple coming back to look at the house again this morning. They're deciding on buying it today," he informed me with raised eyebrows. Immediately I was reeling. I felt like someone had hit me in the stomach. I leaned on the book shelf for support and asked, "WHY?! Why now? I've guarded my heart for months. I've accepted the way things are in Mississippi and tried to find the positive in every obstacle. Now when we let ourselves consider coming back, He's going to sell the house???" "Nothing in stone. We'll have to wait and see," he replied.

Well, as of today, the house hasn't sold. The truth is, if I had really guarded my heart and trusted God, I wouldn't have reacted that way to a change in what I believed to be our new plan. I think God was reminding me to be content where I am and not plan too much. Now I have a real peace about staying in Mississippi and about moving back to Florida; a peace I didn't have before.

The week went by much too quickly and before we knew it, it was time to wind our way back to the Pine Belt. But you're getting your wish, Ulysses! We're coming back for the entire Christmas break! Guard your phone, old friend . . .

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Insert Video Here

While we haven't found a church to call "home" yet, the children have been attending youth group at a local Baptist church on Wednesday evenings. A few weeks ago, a portion of the evening youth service was carved out to practice for the annual Christmas concert. This year's theme was Christmas Around the World. The music director planned to have the children sing "Silent Night" in several languages as part of the program. When she found out Kristina was fluent in Russian, she scooped our girl up and groomed her for a duet with the son of a missionary family who had just returned from the mission field in Moscow.

I arrived early enough to get a spot on the front row of the balcony. I parked myself in the middle of a row of preschoolers' parent already checking the zoom on their camcorders. They found their little ones in the sea of black patent leather shoes that lined the front row of the choir and waved enthusiastically until they caught the attention of their stars. I got my camera ready too so I could share this moment with all of you.

The moment arrived and I clicked the 'record' button on the video camera. The director cued Kristina and her partner at the end of the first chorus. The boy stepped down to the mic . . . but Kristina didn't! She froze, unsure that the director was signaling her, and then couldn't move. I could see the pink flush fall over her face as she looked up at me and shrugged her shoulders with the slightest movement. Afterwards, she ran up to me and said, "Oops! Mama, I didn't know i was supposed to go THEN!" We laughed and reassured her that it was okay. Oh, well! I'm sure it would have been a real video moment!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Snow Day!

When the forecast called for snow on Thursday, all the English teachers in my wing started praying for wintry manna from heaven. Snow=no school.

I awoke at 5am and peeked out the window. Rain was falling but no snow. I hopped in the shower and started my morning routine, grieving the loss of a day off to catch up on grading papers and sleep late. I clicked on the television to see the local forecast still predicting snow, a once a year phenomenon in these parts. A quick return to the window was rewarded with puffs of white beginning to dust the car top. Minutes later, the text messages from my girls in the English Dept. confirmed that ours prayers had been answered: no school!

I made the mistake of waking Robert to tell him about the snow and he immediately had the children up and on the front porch. Of course Kristina was unimpressed. After all, snow is nothing new to her. She groaned and rolled over unwilling to budge from her snugly blanket cocoon.

Obviously snow is even more impressive when you're traveling 40 mph, so Robert decided we needed to drive through town to get the full effect. Everyone threw on warm layers. The directions were simple: shoes on, everybody in the car ASAP. Now, I blame Robert who scooped the first handful off the hood of the car and hurled the frozen sphere at Nathanael's unsuspecting head. Before I knew it, I had six screaming kids (yes, I'm counting Robert) running across the front yard, pelting each other with snowballs at 6am. Our poor neighbors. I hid in the warmth and security of the car until they gave up because of numb hands and red faces.

I headed for a nearby gas station to fill up. The directions were simple: everybody stay in the car while I pump the gas. But do they listen? Noooooo. They ran in circles around the car, climbing on the bumper to get an aerial advantage and diving behind the pumps to avoid incoming projectiles. She may not have been impressed by the snow, but Kristina has an arm built for throwing snowballs! I declared myself Switzerland, neutral, and threatened anyone who raised a glob of snow in my direction. To my horror, I noticed patrons and staff gathered by the windows at a diner across the way pointing and laughing at the spectacle that my family was causing.

"Hey! Let's have breakfast!" Robert decided. I smoothed the ice of a snowball gone astray from my hair and tried to regain some dignity as I walked into the diner. We slid into red and white vinyl booths under the judgemental stares from photos of Elvis and James Dean and settled on a meal of warm, fluffy pancakes.

Once home, the kids returned to the front yard to team up with neighborhood kids in a full snow battle. I wish I could say I spent the rest of the day knocking out all the papers that accumulate on my desk, but I enjoyed my snow day and got absolutely nothing accomplished!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Gloria in Excelsis Deo

In the middle of singing the above mentioned song in service this morning, I felt a tug on my sleeve. Without taking my eyes from the words on the screen, I leaned down to see what the child sitting to my left wanted. "I'm nervous," Kristina whispered. "Of what?" I whispered back, "The words are right there on the screen." She rolled her eyes at my attempt at humor and went back to singing.

We were invited to worship at Petal Harvey Baptist Church and speak with one of the Sunday School classes about orphan ministry. Kristina would come with us to the presentation and she was afraid she wouldn't know what to say. Quite frankly, so was I. After worship, we made our way to the upstairs classroom. Robert spoke briefly about what the Bible says concerning adoption and then I shared our personal journey with a room of about 30 young married couples. We played the video we made of my first trip to Ukraine. Its always difficult to watch the video. You would think it would be easier after seeing it countless times, but it never gets easier because I know the need now is even greater than it was then. I tried very hard to stay composed, but when I saw Kristina tear up I felt my own emotions welling up.

It is interesting to see her come to the point where she is able to reflect upon where she has been and where she is now. Some orphans embrace their bleak future and begin self destructive behaviors as at a very early age. We witnessed children who were already prostituting themselves, numb to the hope that there could be any other way for them to be loved and needed. Other orphans, like Kristina, refused to see things for what they truly were. For many months, we battled "the lie". The lie that someone would come for her eventually, that somehow she wouldn't be one of the girls who would sleep on the street at the mercy of others. We understand that her clinging to "the lie" was a defense mechanism. Its what kept her from crossing over into the abyss of hopelessness.

Although she was terribly nervous and had moments of stage fright, she was able to share a little bit of what life was like in Ukraine. And like me, afterwards she thought of a million other things she wanted to say to the group. Because she was in the room, Robert and I specifically didn't share the horrors of her personal story and some the details of much of what these children face. We trust that what we were clumsily allowed to share will plant a seed about adoption in the hearts of others.

For months we've been trying to figure out why God has brought us to Mississippi and why we have borne one difficulty after the next in coming here. But this morning, we were reminded that perhaps God's plan has yet to be revealed. If just one family who heard our story becomes involved in orphan ministry or adoption, would the sacrifice not have been well worth it? God showed us today that he indeed has a work for us to do. Pray that He would open more doors that we might speak with other groups and churches to share the message about adoption. This is what Kristina was brought here for: Gloria in Excelsis Deo - Glory to God in the Highest.

"And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.

When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, "Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us."
-Luke 2:13-15

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Journey Home

It's hard to believe we were in Ukraine a year ago navigating the uncertain adoption process. Our thanks to all those who made this journey possible.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Is it Possible to Start this Post Without Apologizing?

Maybe if I just jump to updating everyone, you'll be distracted enough to forgive my lapse in blog postings. I don't really know where to start and that makes things that much harder. Our last few posts informed you that our move to Mississippi has been a difficult transition. Difficult is a mild word. We are still adjusting. I kept hoping that at some point God would clue me in to the reason behind all the difficulties, I would make the spiritual connection, and be that much better for the experience. However, He obviously is still working on me. So I keep my head down and push through, knowing that He walks with us and all these things have come to pass for His glory, in His time.

Let me focus on the good things. There have been good things and that is worth noting. My job is phenomenal. I love, love, love my students and am surrounded by the best collegues. The school system that the kids are in is unparalleled. Spending time together has helped us weather the uncertainties of this journey. All seven of us are adjusting and we have each other to make it a bit more pleasant.

We have thouroughly enjoyed rediscovering Mississippi and our beautiful surroundings. We've been canoeing and kayaking down the Okatoma River. We took this trip right before we moved to Orlando. The twins were 5 and I had to keep telling them to sit still for fear of them flipping us over. Josh was so small, he was swallowed by his orange lifevest. This time, no one wanted to ride in the canoes with mom and dad. Everyone wanted their own kayak to stear down the river. Kristina caught on in a flash and we had to repeatedly shout to her to slow down and wait for us.

Keep your eye on Samuel at the back of the canoe in this clip. We laugh until we cry everytime we watch it.

We've gotten in the habit of making day trips to fun nearby places. We've visited Natchez to view antebellum houses and climb ancient indian ceremonial mounds.

Two weeks ago, we made our way to Vicksburg for the day. We loved the rolling landscape. The kids spent the day running up and down valleys that had once served as battlegrounds during the Civil War.

Last weekend, we drove into New Orleans to shop the French Market and stroll along the river. We wandered the Quarter browsing shops and visiting historic St. Louis Cathedral, dined at our favorite resturant Cafe Masperos, and grabbed a dessert of powdered benigets at Cafe De Monde.

We stuck close to home this weekend. Saturday was Kristina's 13th birthday. It is the first time she can remember celebrating her birthday on her actual birthday. Until the adoption, she had believed her birthday was in April. A big hug and kiss goes out to missionaries Babushka Lela and Michelle who never failed to acknowledge our daughter's special day while she was in the orphanage. We can't begin to thank these two women for the tireless work they do day in and day out to minister to orphans in Kristina's internot.

We spent a simple day together, letting Kristina choose a resturant for dinner. We presented her with an MP3 player, something she's been asking for since the day she arrived. Maw Maw and Paw Paw showed up with gifts in hand and a cake made by special request (pink cake with white icing and yellow flowers). She glowed the whole day. The blessings of family.

A father of the fatherless, a defender of widows,
Is God in His holy habitation.
God sets the solitary in families;
He brings out those who are bound into prosperity.
-Psalm 68:5-6

Monday, September 01, 2008

Bloggin' in a Hurricane

Who knew the first opportunity I would have to get online and blog would be during Hurricane Gustav? Well, Kristina is experiencing her first hurricane with nonchalance. Power is still on and internet is still connecting. The house we're in survived Hurricane Katrina three years ago, but needed a new roof and porch by the time it was all said and done. We've been blessed to skirt much of the severe weather. We're roughly 90 minutes north of New Orleans, and just a few miles east of the violent outer bands of the right side of the storm. Lots of wind and rain so far and some concern about tornadoes is what we're leery of at this point. We considered heading back to Florida yesterday to avoid the possibilities of what Gustav promised to bring, but one look at the interstates in any direction out of here and we knew we wouldn't get out without getting stuck in the gridlock. Friends from Florida have been texting and calling over the past few days to gauge our needs. Wanted to let everyone know we're fine. We'll check in again later.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Thanks to those of you who have checked in on us. We are currently without internet, but as soon as we are up and running I will post an update. Keep praying for us!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Full House

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.

When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
-Luke 2:16-19

I wonder about the kind of woman Mary must have been. Periodically I'll pick up on little things in scripture that give glimpses into her personality and disposition. As a young woman called to such a overwhelming role, I am sure that she couldn't possibly see all that laid ahead for her. She couldn't know the true nature of the role this child would play in the history of time. She was human, like me, a woman called of God and chosen for such a time. So I love that Luke recorded these words: But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

Many times, Mary must have watched things come to pass, knowing they were of great significance, but not understanding the true impact of these events. It was at times like this that she collected these things in her heart, to consider and meditate on them cumulatively. I find myself doing this as we continue to walk through Kristina's adjustment. Lately she and Hannah have been at each other's throats; they cannot seem to reconcile the tension between themselves. A portion of this can be contributed to being in a strange environment and out of our normal routine, but things have been intense lately and it gets me to thinking . . . and pondering.

Some of you may remember two summers ago when Kristina first came to visit. It didn't take long for us to learn that she has a fierce competitive streak and is a poor loser. We've been passing time by playing cards quite a bit lately. Kristina has a really hard time with this. She outwardly revels when someone else loses. She is ungenerous and makes excuses when she loses. She huffs and slaps her cards down on the table when things are not going her way. Plain and simple, its bad manners.

When one of the other kids tries to point these things out, that just agitates her further. After talking to her for the twentieth time about her attitude, a thought crossed my mind. Things would be much easier for Kristina if she had been adopted by a couple with no other children. She could have had the undivided attention of a mom and dad and eased into a life in a different culture.

And then it hit me, since when do any of us "ease" into life? God placed Kristina in this family because we are the perfect fit for her. Now, I didn't say WE were perfect. This chaotic, loud family is exactly what she needed. She needed to be a part of something that wasn't all about her, because she struggles with pride. She needed to have a mom and dad that don't let even the smallest things go, because she fights authority. She needed to have a sister that goes toe to toe with her, because she needs to learn that when love is shared its not divided, its multiplied. She needed to have three annoying brothers, because . . . well . . . she needs to develop patience.

While we are far from perfect, we are perfect together. My weaknesses are challenged through my relationship with the man and five children that God has entrusted to me. When we hit these little speed bumps in life, I ponder the outworking of these things and know that God weaves our lives together for our good and His glory.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Consider Him Faithful Who Has Promised

Now the LORD had said to Abram:

“Get out of your country,
From your family
And from your father’s house,
To a land that I will show you.

I will make you a great nation;
I will bless you
And make your name great;
and you shall be a blessing.

I will bless those who bless you,
And I will curse him who curses you;
And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
-Genesis 12:1-3

We've moved 10 times in the nearly 14 1/2 years that we've been married. Ten times. You would think I'd be a pro at this. Things have not gone well since our move and I have been looking for some clarity from God concerning what I thought would be and what actually is.

Today makes two weeks since we arrived in Mississippi and admittedly, I was not crazy about the move to start with. I was content in Orlando and could have happily stayed there, but God had different plans.

Just to get you up to speed, let me start with the problems. The housing we were counting on fell through, so we're still at my parents' house. Now granted, they've been gracious, but this is not what we anticipated. Because we're still here, Robert is commuting 3 hours round trip each day to get to his job sites. And have you heard about the price of gas??? Tuesday the brakes went out on the front of my Durango and had to be replaced. Wednesday Robert had to have emergency dental work (side note: insurance hasn't kicked in yet). And to top it all off, our sweet Jack cat went missing a week ago. I am longing for my friends, my comfortable little house, and the relative predictability of my life.

So let me tell you how this child of grace reacted to all of this. I second guessed God, my husband, and myself. I cried, I got angry, and I haven't been the most positive person to be around. Surely all of this was coming to pass because we grossly misunderstood His directing. I asked God for some reassurance and was led to start reading in Genesis chapter 12.

Has anyone ever thought about Sarah's perspective of this story? Here Sarah was in her comfortable life in Ur when Abram informed her they were moving to Canaan. "Um, where? Why would we leave all we love? We have family, friends, a life here." But according to the scriptures, Abraham took Sarah and headed into this unknown land on a promise. The scripture goes on to tell us that they found a picturesque setting, built a lovely new house, were surrounded by great neighbors, and made friends quickly . . .


They followed God's promise to go into Canaan where their name would be great, they would be blessed, and they would be protected. When they got there, they found the country that God had promised them, but it was inhabited by a hostile people and there was a FAMINE! Clearly that was not in the travel brochures.

So they went with Plan B: head south to Egypt. Sweet! Egypt! Always wanted to visit there! Of course when they got there, Abraham made a less than favorable impression by lying to the Pharaoh about Sarah. Sarah almost ended up as one of Pharaoh's wives, God sent a plague to remedy the situation, and Pharaoh kicked both of them out of the country.

Can you imagine the conversation that went on behind closed doors??? "Abe, you're still clinging to this promise right? Great name? Blessings? Protection?" Do you think that at any point Sarah said, "Okay! Enough! Things are clearly not working out." How did any of these problems, or the problems to come, impact or alter God's promise for Abraham and Sarah? The truth is, they didn't. God was faithful and saw His plan through in His time.

Sarah and I have a little bit in common here. I am forced to relearn the lesson of being a good steward of circumstances over and over again. I tend to get bogged down in the details and fail to see God working in even the small issues that arise. I consistently fail to understand that the struggles are part of the process. This, friends, is how faith is cultivated.

By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going.

By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise;

For he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
-Hebrews 11:8-10

In essence, Abraham died before seeing the promise come to its fruition. His faith is counted great not because he saw and believed, but because he didn't see yet believed. How shallow my faith is when I consider those who suffered genuine tribulation, not the inconveniences I've experienced recently. A work in progress, that's what I am, and so very far from being finished. I have a lot to be be thankful for and I guess things could be worse. After all, Sarah was living in a tent!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Hello Goodbye

Sorry it's been so long since we posted. So much has been going on here! The girls are all home from college and so our evenings have been occupied with three more in the house. These are all girls I taught in high school several years ago. We formed a bond that only strengthened once they graduated and went their separate ways to colleges here in town, on the East coast, and on the West coast. But every Christmas, Spring Break, and summer we end up together again for countless movie and game nights, our regular dinner at Kobe's, and runs to Jeremiah's for ice cream. I am so blessed to be part of these girls' lives. They're truly members of our family and blend right in whether we're cooking biscuits in the kitchen or teaching the kids a new card game.

It's not all fun and games though; we've gotten a lot of work done here on the house lately. The attic has been completely cleaned out. All the closets have been purged. The boys have been working in the yard and have pressure washed the sidewalks and driveway. I found this message for me one morning:

Its hard to believe that Kristina first joined us for a summer that changed all of our lives two years ago. This summer Frontier Horizon arranged for over 100 orphans to be hosted by families in the US and among them is Kristina's best friend Karina. The girls have chatted on the phone several times in the last few weeks. Kristina has missed Karina so much. She felt she would never again see the girl who was like a sister to her all those years in the orphanage. There was a real sense of relief when they were able to reconnect. Karina is being hosted by a family in Mississippi, so as it turns out, they'll be able to see each other as well.

You see, tomorrow is our last day in Florida. We're moving home to Mississippi. As it turns out, Karina will only be a 90 minute drive from our new home. That information set Kristina to dancing. We know God has been ordering things, we just haven't been sure to what end. A Mississippi school I had applied at over a year ago called me out of the blue about a teaching position. Long story short, I couldn't pass it up. Robert also received a call to preach again at Ellisville Presbyterian. He has some leveling work to do before he embarks on his PhD, so we'll be spend that time in Mississippi surrounded by old friends and family. We are incredibly sad to be leaving St Paul's, the best church we've ever been part of, but we know God has used our experience there to prepare us for the work that lies ahead.

So we begin a new chapter in our journey with a little sadness, much anticipation of a what lies ahead, and great trust in a God who has always guided our steps for our good and His glory. Please pray for us as we make adjustments and get settled in. We'll have some important decisions to make that will require great wisdom. We'll keep you posted on our transition!

"For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope."
- Jeremiah 29:11

Friday, June 20, 2008

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Just Another Day in the Landrum House

Robert is the king of breakfast. He's been up well before the rest of us and has had something different cooking each morning in the last week. Much to the kids' chagrin, he also enjoys waking them up to let them know breakfast is ready. He tiptoes into their rooms, positions himself just so, takes a deep breath, and crows. Yes, crows. Like a rooster. Well, you can imagine how well this goes over with 5 adolescent kids!

Yesterday we were treated to a taste of home when he made beignets and Cafe Au Lait. We picked up a box of mix last time we were at Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans. Beignets never taste quite the same unless you're sitting on the crowded patio under the green and white awnings with a musician playing jazz music in the background, but we made do.

Father's Day was low key. We went to church, ate lunch out, and spent the rest of the day tinkering around the house. Robert and Kristina made cupcakes and then realized we didn't have frosting, so we made a run to the grocery store. Robert made Manwich for dinner. I never have been a fan, but the kids like it. As Kristina polished off her's she asked, "Dad, can I have another Man Sandwich?"

We laughed at the things the kids say quite a bit. Kristina wanted to know why the boys keep telling her to pull their finger. Ugh! My advice? Don't do it! Don't pull the finger. Robert is jotting down the silly things they say and posts them periodically here. During family devotions the other night, we were discussing heaven and debunking some myths about what that will be like. Kristina wanted to know if God would speak Russian. I thought that was an endearing question and it made me think about my dear friend Alicia from Honduras. I loved that whenever we prayed together, she would always pray in Spanish. We encouraged Kristina to speak to God however she could best express herself. God hears our requests even when we cannot find the words for what we need to say. What a comforting thought.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.
- Romans 8:26

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Please Fasten Your Seatbelts

I had the brilliant idea of getting all of the school physicals, immunizations, and dental checkups appointments done as soon as school was out. So our first full week off of school has been spent running back and forth between 10 appointments. We're all done though and I'm relieved to have one (ten!) less thing to do before the next school year rolls around.

I was a bit nervous about Kristina's appointment. She hasn't had consistent dental care and I figured she would need a little work done. Watching her sitting in the chair, I flashed back to a similar moment two years ago when I accompanied her to a Ukrainian dentist office. I had known her just a week and was trying to understand the unusual connection I felt to her. Two years later, she sputters a mile a minute in English with her thick Russian accent and calls me "mom". Who but God could have orchestrated that? It turns out she had three small cavities and the dentist was able to take care of everything that day. She was a real trooper and the only problem was that she couldn't talk while the dentist had the drill in her mouth. :)

In addition to all the doctor checkups, the boys have all been in basketball camp at my high school this week. Several of my students play on the varsity team and are serving as coaches. They were quick to claim the boys and take care of them when we walked in on Monday. My students always had lots of questions about my kids and family, so it was good for them to finally be able to meet. Most of them were shocked to learn that the collage of photos of kids on my desk were all mine. Usually they'd count them and say, "Five? You've got five kids, Miss L?!" Things are going well and so far, Samuel has been voted MVP and won a shootout challenge. At almost 5'9", the twins are taking advantage of their growth spurt.

So we're off to a running start with all of our "down" time. If the rest of the summer is anything like the first week, we'll be exhausted by August!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Steward of Circumstances

It is with a great sigh that I end this year of teaching. It was a year like no other. I have no doubt that God placed me in this classroom for such a time as this; as I learned how to minister in ways I never have before. And perhaps more importantly, I learned how to be a good steward of my circumstances.

Last year, I taught at a school with a freshman class composed of 69 members. This year, the freshmen class of my school was made up of 775 members. That was only one of many differences. Many of these kids faced difficulties that I can not begin to comprehend, and sometimes those difficulties manifested themselves in the classroom. All of them crossed the threshold of my classroom looking for something. I learned to sharpen my spiritual eyes to learn what it was they needed, to provide what I could.

My experience with Kristina has been a wealth of training. She is slow to confess her hurts and to give voice to her needs. Often I have to look for the signs and attempt to unravel things from there. It is rare that she follows up with "Thanks for the discipline, Mom!" or "Thanks for loving me even when I acted like I didn't want to be loved!" And similarly, it is rare to get that kind of feedback in the classroom.

In the last week, I have been slowly tearing down my classroom in preparation for next year. All the posters, student work, and notices have come down. By yesterday, all that was left was the contact paper on my bulletin boards. Knowing the paper would end up in the trash, I refrained from saying anything when I saw kids scribbling on it throughout the day. As the final bell rang and students were dismissed, I stood in the doorway as they scrambled from the room. I'd hear "Mizz L!" periodically and see a hand wave goodbye above the mass exodus as the hall emptied. I stepped back in my room and surveyed what work needed to be done. I reached up to pull down the faded yellow paper on one of the bulletin boards on my way back to my desk when I saw my name scribbled in an unidentified hand. I stood before the board and realized the kids had signed their names, left quotes from things we read and discussed, and written little personal notes of gratitude. I read each of the entries and moved to the other bulletin board to find the same thing.

Finding joy in our calling depends largely on our motivations. It's easy to loose sight of our purpose when circumstances are less than ideal or when there appears to be little "pay off", but that should never affect our calling. Since Robert graduated RTS last May, we've felt like we were sitting on "G", waiting on "O". We know that there is something out there that God has for us to do. Orphan ministry and teaching continue to be huge desires of our hearts. As a family of seven, we have prayed over where God would send us to accomplish this ministry. Could I take my children and go to Eastern Europe or Africa? Would I really be willing to sell everything, leave friends and family behind, and journey to a distant land to see this calling through? We wrestled with that possibility in the last 6 months, making connections in Uganda, and discussing the options with commissioning agencies like MTW. Still, we wait on doors to open and God's directing to be clear.

There is a great line that opens the movie Bella:

"If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans."

In our finite understanding of the grand scheme of things, we cannot possibly see all the possibilities. Kristina's presence in our family is a souvenir of that truth. This school year has been a reminder that regardless of whether I serve in Orlando or Odessa, Mississippi or Malawi, the measure of my faithfulness as a servant depends only on the desire to see His work through.

"For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord."
- Romans 14:7-8

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Humbling Experience

We traveled the long road home to Mississippi last weekend. I took several additional days off from teaching around the holiday weekend to visit with my parents who live just south of Hattiesburg. The end of the school year is always a hectic time for teachers who are trying to squeeze in last things and hold a quickly sinking ship together. So the couple of days off was a reprieve in the middle of the whirlwind. But time with the grandparents wasn't the central reason we went home. Robert had a teaching interview in Hattiesburg and a preaching engagement at Ellisville Presbyterian Church.

Early Sunday morning, we journeyed north to Ellisville and found a picturesque white church with a steeple that stretched toward blue skies. Erected in 1892, the Ellisville church is in its original historic sanctuary. The steeple tower contains the original bell that rings each Sunday to call the surrounding community to worship. The interior of the building was bathed in rainbow light streaming in through the stained glass windows as the children and I settled onto red velvet cushions on dark wooden pews. As Robert made his way to the church office to meet with the pulpit committee, we were greeted by the kindest congregation.
It was an excellent service and as I listened to Robert bring the sermon, I was struck by memories of his early preaching days. We were much younger and the twins were just babies. The boys were good babies and if I planned well, I could usually time it so that they slept through service. That morning I glanced down the row at not two, but five covenant children and wondered at the graciousness of our God. After the service, we lingered and fellowshipped with members who were full of questions. I pulled a reluctant Robert away (he REALLY wanted a chance to ring the bell) and we began the drive back to my parents' home. Thinking back over the morning service, we were humbled by the warmth of the people at Ellisville PCA and the calling to ministry that God has allowed us.

Ellisville is also home to Ellisville State School, a residential facility for the mentally retarded. As we passed the large state run building, Robert pointed it out to the children. As a ministry student many years ago, he had visited the facility and met with the residents. Kristina listened to all of this intently and asked, "Dad, you've been to that school?" Robert nodded and without missing a beat she asked, "Dad, you used to be retarded?" We all dissolved into fits of laughter as Robert attempted to clarify the situation to a very confused Kristina.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Cheers and Tears

Today was the awards ceremony at Kristina's school. Robert was able to go and snap a few pics of her and Hannah receiving special awards. Kristina received the Language Arts Award. Pretty impressive for a kid who spoke Russian just a few months ago! She has accomplished so much in her short time in school and we are so proud of her. She's jumped right in and tried everything. When she's stumbled, its just made her try harder. She's made lots of friends and is rarely afraid to try things. If something's happening, she's right in the middle of it.

One place she's always elbowing her way into is the kitchen. Robert was making hamburgers this evening and Kristina offered to pitch in. She got a little more than she bargained for!