Monday, July 27, 2015

Happy 21st, Sarah!

Sarah, who has her own cake-baking business, specifically asked to have ice cream instead of cake for her birthday celebration. The Blue Bunny ice cream parlor in LeMars was the perfect setting in which to celebrate her 21st birthday.

We were blessed that our dear friend, Kali Moores (Alison's sister-in-law), was visiting from Boston. We love having her visit her second home... our home!

The evening wasn't just about gifts. It was also a opportunity to enjoy great ice cream and great laughs together.  

We thank God for placing Sarah in our family 14 years ago! We can't imagine life without our sunshine girl.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Curious William

Our grandson is oh-so loved! This is childhood as God intended. This tender care is what millions fatherless children around the world completely miss out on. They are profoundly scarred as a result, but their lives CAN be redeemed when they have a loving home, are taught the gospel, and, by God's grace, eventually find their identity in Christ. Orphans must not be considered castaways! Please, dear friends, would you pray about entering the orphan care fray through adoption or foster care? All we ask is that you seek the Lord. Please go to His word and ask Him to show you His heart for the most vulnerable. If you take the step into orphan care, your life will be raw, hard and more blessed than you could ever have imagined!!! God cares for and leads those who care for the orphaned! We've experienced this 10 times over! He is so good!

(If you'd like to talk to me about adoption, my email is -- Please be aware, I'm not always quick to respond, life continues to be wonderfully crazy in our home with 10 children still living with us.)

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Eager to Reread a Book that Changed my Life

A great woman of God recently passed form this world of pain into the permanent beauty of heaven. Elisabeth Elliot first caught the world's attention when her husband, Jim Elliot, and four other men were brutally murdered by the Ecuadorian Indian tribe they were gently and lovingly trying to reach with the great good news of Jesus' life and death and resurrection on their behalf.

Jim Elliot's life shed light on what it means to live all-out for Jesus Christ. Amazingly, Elisabeth Elliot, was able to write Shadow of the Almighty: The Life and Testament of Jim Elliot, not long after his death. She took on this task while living among and ministering to the very tribe who had killed her husband.

If you haven't read Shadow of the Almighty, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND the book. I've decided to revisit the amazing biography after ten years. The last time I read it, we were in the throes of adoption our middle trio of Russian orphans, Christina, Faith and Hope, in 2005. The book ministered to me deeply during that challenging time of adding three more children to our family!

Tonight I'd only read a few pages before something Elisabeth Elliot penned about the foundation of an intimate relationship with the living God caught my eye:
"The relationship between man and God is a very practical one. It finds its sphere of operation in the common life. Let us not forget that any relationship whatever between God and man rests today on the fact that God lived the life of a common man--was born in a stable, sweated in a carpenter shop, preached from a little fishing boat, sat down tired by a well...ate and drank with ordinary men, and submitted to an ignoble death--in order that we could recognized Him. Nobody called a Him a hero or a martyr. He was simply doing what His Father told Him to do, and doing it with delight." 
I don't know about you, friend, but I want to do what my Father tells me to do, and I want to do it with delight. I'm eager to read on in this profound book and be challenged by it all over again, just as I was a decade ago. Any chance you want to grab a copy and join me?

Worth the Pain -- Mommy and Baby Finally "Meet"

Very soon I'll share the story of the remarkable events -- showered in God's loving grace -- that led to the birth of little Jillian.While you wait, dear reader, I wanted to offer this preview of the glorious gift of a third child that God has granted our oldest daughter, Anna, and her husband, Aaron.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Love, Joy, and Bubbles

Eliana (11) and Hope (13)

Last summer I shared some "just us" time with our two youngest children. The evening of laughter over the girls' antics with summertime toys was so filled with joy, that I've anticipated repeating the fun for a year. This week that opportunity presented itself. Once again, we had the sweetest time!

God is faithful. God is glorious. God is the Father to the fatherless, and His hand is on the lives of these two who were castaways. Bit-by-bit, He is healing the trauma of their early years. We find that their love of others brightens the lives of everyone in our extra-large family.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Less than Two Months Now

Before we know it, I'll have Josh and Zhenya's wedding photographs to share with you, dear reader. The wedding date is set, the dress purchased and the reception venue booked. With Zhenya's wedding fast approaching, I wanted to share some photos of the couple that I was blessed to be able to take not long after they got engaged. Our location for was beautiful Franklin, Tennessee. Franklin is just south of Nashville.

Before we left the parking garage to meet Josh when he got off work, Sarah freshened up Zhenya's make-up.

When Josh arrived, we were ready!

I was delighted to have such beautiful architecture as the backdrop!

Once we'd spent enough time in front of this grand old building, we began a walk down one of the main streets in the downtown Franklin. We stopped in front of a restaurant with a magnificent dark wooden door that sat perpendicular to a wonderfully old red brick wall. All this texture and color was a photographer's dream come true!

After I'd taken a few shots, Zhenya suggested that they should ask if the restaurant would be willing to let us put the couple's names and wedding date on their advertising sign that stood on the sidewalk. Honestly, I thought it was a long shot. However, Zhenya reminded me that it never hurts to ask as long as you're gracious. She marched right in and made the request.

Not only did the management say yes, the hostess, Ally, came out and created a work of art for the couple with her chalk. We were overwhelmed by the kindness!

When Ally finished, I took some more photos.

Josh demonstrated his creativity by suggesting that the two of them crawl under the sign.

Following an afternoon of fun together...

...I took one last shot that left me with no doubt that the wedding just can't come soon enough for these love birds!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Taking Stock of What's Really Important

I treasure this picture because it captures two enormous changes to our family this year. Zhenya's engagement ring speaks to her upcoming wedding in September. And, if you've been following our blog, you know that the little hand belongs to our fourth grandchild. On top of those changes, Sarah, Kirsten and Matt all have new jobs. With all that's going on in our extra large family, it's easy to get caught up in the whirl of activities. As a result, the following quote really hit home. The words are written by C.T. Studd, a missionary to China, India and Africa in the late 1800s and early 1900s. In a letter written as a young man while serving in China he wrote:
"Pingyang. February 7, 1886 The Lord is so good and always gives me a large dose of spiritual champagne every morning which braces one up for the day and night. Of late, I have had such glorious times. I generally wake at about 3:30 a.m. and feel quite wide awake, so have a good read, etc., and then have an hour's sleep or so before finally getting up. I find what I read then is stamped indelibly on my mind all though the day. and it is the sweetest of quiet times, not a foot astir, nor a sound to be heard, saving that of God. If I miss this time I feel like Samson shorn of his hair and so all of his strength. I see more and more how much I have to learn of the Lord. I want to be a workman approved, not just with a 'pass' degree, as it were. Oh, how I wish I has devoted my early life, my whole life to God and His Word. How much I have lost by those years of self-pleasing and running after this world's honors and pleasures." Norman Grubb, C.T. Studd: Cricketer & Pioneer, pgs.54-55
I don't know about you, dear reader, but I don't want to move through the crazy busy that is my life like Samson with his hair cut off. I need the strength and wisdom and peace that I can only find by seeking the Lord each day, every day, early in the day. I'm heading to bed right now so that I can rise early and get some of that spiritual champagne!

May God bless and keep you,

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Would the Orphan's Dream Come True?

Last week our family made a last minute trip to central Iowa. We'd gotten word about a horse for sale so quickly rescheduled the days events. Then we jumped in our trusty 15-passenger van for an utterly new experience. This adventure was an especially important one to Mr R and me.

You see, years ago the two of us made a promise to a Russian judge. As we went through the final step of actually going to court in Russia in our effort to adopt Kirsten, Nathaniel and Eliana, we endured intense grilling which culminated in an insanely-long deliberation by the judge. Well, okay...we probably only fidgeted on the hard wooden benches for about an hour -- it just SEEMED like forever! The judge who had intimidated us for two days from his high perch on the dais had our hearts in his hands. Many months earlier we had visited Moscow with a group of fellow Americans interested in providing homes for fatherless children living in orphanages. On that trip, we'd not only felt the Lord's calling to add Nathaniel (10) and Eliana (5) to our family. Much to our surprise, we'd also fallen in love with a 15-year-old beauty with a kind heart and a quirky sense of humor. Since then we'd spent months jumping through hoops put in place on both the American and Russian sides trying to turn the three kiddos -- who had grown up in the same orphanage -- into our children.

When the judge returned after his deliberation, he made it clear -- through our interpreter -- that his agreement to the Kirsten's adoption came with a condition. He looked us steadily in the eye. We held our breath not knowing what would come next. The judge then told us that we must ensure that Kirsten would get the opportunity to interact with horses. During her testimony in court, the judge had asked her about her dreams and goals, and he was determined that her new parents would see to the nourishment of this orphan's aspirations. We didn't know how we would keep our word to the judge. Horses had never been on our family's radar. Even so, we breathed a sigh of relief. All along the arduous path to adopting this teenager, God had been leading. He had been ever faithful when we when we repeatedly ran full force into the inevitable roadblocks that seem to be part of international adoption. So the two of us held hands and meekly nodded our agreement to the judge's condition.

In the four years since that adoption took place, the Lord has opened doors left and right for our horse lover. And, as it turns out, Kirsten isn't alone in her passion. Her sisters, Christina (17) and Faith (15), share her love of all things equine. The three sisters have bonded tightly as close friends through this shared interest. They've taken riding lessons together and volunteered at a nearby ranch that offers therapeutic riding for children with disabilities or delays.

A little over a year ago Kirsten graduated from high school. She did so with a dream in her heart. She longed to become a horse trainer. Last summer she was blessed to work as an intern on a dude ranch. She got in numberless hours of horse riding. She even learned how to heard cattle. Then in the fall Kirsten made a move to Ohio, living with Aaron and Anna for a few months. The Lord opened a door again, and she found a job she loved. She worked as a stable hand at a facility that is home to more than 40 horses, many of them trained to show.

Now Kirsten is back home and ready for the next step in this journey. She hopes to learn the Pat Parelli natural horsemanship training method. Before Kirsten can attend the school in the Colorado mountains, she has to be able to demonstrate that she has reached a number of milestones in training a horse. In order to do this, Kirsten needed a horse to train. Our dream as parents is to be able to help each of our children with a portion of the cost of their post high school education. For Kirsten, this meant we would help her buy a horse. Thus, our four-hour drive into the heart of Iowa last week.

Kirsten heard about a horse named Magic through Brittany, a friend she'd made while volunteering at the therapeutic horseback riding stable. Brittany is thoroughly connected in the horse world in the upper Midwest. With that knowledge, she enjoys playing "matchmaker" -- helping prospective horse owners find just the right animal. The looming question as we drove was would there be a fit between our daughter and this particular animal. 

When we arrived at the stable, Kirsten approached Magic somewhat tentatively. She was studying him carefully to see what traits he would exhibit. She was reading the three-year-old's body language.

While Kirsten was watching the horse, I was watching her. It wasn't long before her expression change. Her look of hesitation changed to a cautious smile, and I knew we were watching something magical happen between a former orphan and a dark chocolate horse sporting a braided mane for the special day.

A few minutes into Kirsten's contemplation, Magic's owner, John, offered to show her Magic's level of training.

He had Magic mount this "bridge" to demonstrate that Magic doesn't spook easily. Next, John mounted Magic and rode him around the arena. Our girls who are now walking encyclopedia's of horse knowledge had told us ahead of time that seeing the owner ride the horse he's trying to sell is crucial. After all, if the owner is unwilling to ride the horse, there's a good chance the animal has "issues".

Now it was Kirsten's chance to ride.

Her siblings watched with interest. Faith recorded the entire ride on Kirsten's phone for her.

While all this was going on, Kirsten's Dad and I were in the background praying without ceasing. We still know so little about horses that we were completely dependent on God to give the wisdom to know if this was THE horse. We felt a wonderful peace despite the major expense we were contemplating making. God leads and guides those understand their dependence on Him. He is faithful to help those who cry out to Him.

Kirsten dismounted and did some more thinking and praying.

And then the came the smile that told us it was time for her daddy to do some negotiating! Over the course of more than four years, God had led us baby step by baby step to this momentous occasion.

As Mr. R and John talked, I just couldn't help thinking back to that Russian court room. I couldn't help wishing that the judge could have been with us to see the orphaned child who lived without hope become a horse owner, by God's grace. Somehow I think that the stoic countenance he presented throughout the adoption hearing would  have been replaced by a grin as wide as Kirsten's.

God abounds in lovingkindness!