the faces that bless me

Ask me about my blessings, and I really won’t know where to start. If there is one thing I’ve learned from living here, it’s about how blessed I am. Not just physical, financial, or patriotic blessings, although each of those smacks me in the face just about every day. These blessings that I’m learning about as years roll by are really measured in my mind by their faces.

People like him.

And her.

People from countries close by and far away.

Miriam discusses a patient’s case with medical workers at the nearby District Hospital in Kollo.

Sweet, treasured souls, who I never would have known if I hadn’t moved away from everything familiar to allow their sweet faces to become my everyday life, so full of blessing.

But the one face I might treasure more than any of them is Atina.

He’s not quite my son, and not quite my brother, but at this point he’s for sure family. I don’t know how many years he’s been living in my yard, but it’s been a few. In the beginning, we just thought of him as a kid we liked. And then as the years rolled by we saw the treasure inside him.

On any given day, Atina (who works for us) will wash my dishes, mop my floor, hang out my laundry, go buy me some apples, and then some sugar, scrub the toilet. And oops, I forgot the eggs, can you go get me those too? He does it with a smile. When I get home from teaching or shopping or visiting at the orphanage he carries in my things, puts them where they belong, asks me how I am. He’s learning to iron and he learned to speak French. He opens the gate when I back the car out, closes it behind me, and always waves goodbye.

When I was sick, he asked about me every day. When the kids are outside, he’s there playing along with them. Greta stands at the door and shouts, “Side,?!?! Side?!?!” And he lifts her up and carries her around until she fusses to go back in.

And don’t get me started about his love for Jesus. A few years back when Dave’s trampoline ministry got really going with the guys in yard Atina told Dave he really needed to go back to his village. To tell them. He said, “They think they understand about Christianity, but they’re really missing Christ. I want to tell them about Jesus.”

Now he’s involved in his Gourmantché (his heart language) small group at church. He brings his friends with him every week. Last week it was someone who had never been. The week before it was a few that are semi-regular. Atina is always there, drinking in the words, getting up to dance, holding Greta, understanding more and more.

This friend, like the others who have been in our home, have left an impression on my life that will always be there. He knows all about us. Sees us argue. Sees us love. Last week I had a flat tire at the Baby Home visiting M. Dave took him in to meet M for the first time. I’m excited to see what happens between those two boys (Atina and M) when they’re both living here. I have no doubt that Atina’s heart of compassion will bond him to sweet M in the same way mine is.

The blessings overflow.

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the tested genuineness of our faith

The power is out. Sweat is pouring down my back and down my arms and legs. I’m laying in bed trying to sleep and trying not to think about the heat.

The road is blocked. There are people, and cars, and donkeys, and I’m trying to get down the road, but I wonder if it’s safe to try. Are there people protesting? Are they burning tires down there? Or maybe it’s just a traffic jam? Should I wait or go around on the bumpy, sandy side street?

IMG_2092Crazy taxis in Niamey.

My child has a fever and he says his stomach hurts. It could be nothing. It could be malaria. It could be typhoid. Why does this always happen on the weekend or in the middle of the night?

imageGreta melting down.

I really wanted to make a chocolate cake for our special family celebration, but there is no chocolate in the stores. This city has run out of CHOCOLATE. It feels like the world is ending.

I watch the insane taxi and the darting moto collide within a few feet of my hood. I thank God that I was able to get out of the way and don’t have be involved. There will be a mob. There will be a big scene. Will that man die? I’ve been told not to stop because the scene is not safe, and I make it worse by getting out of my car. I drive on.

Day in. Day out. My stress level rises. It seems that the things pressing in on me will never stop.

imageNata doing homework during a power outage.

Someone is knocking on my window. When I turn to look, her hands are extended in the hopes that I will put a coin there. She brings her fingers up to her mouth to emphasize her point. She is hungry. She shows me the baby on her back.How should I respond? My heart breaks.

I am blessed beyond measure. In the middle of the stress, I feel the blessing. The provision. The unending grace. I am swimming in it. I am drowning in it. I am here to offer hope. I am here to share this grace. I am here to be effective.

I sit in a room surrounded by my peers. The lights are low, our Bibles are out, and one of the missionary women begins to share about the things that are stressing her out, frustrating her. We all feel this way; we all understand as our friend shares.

We are studying 1 Peter. We have learned that this letter is written to “elect exiles of the Dispersion.” This means that God chose these people to leave their home (or be kicked out of their home) and spread the Good News in a foreign land. Peter encourages these “elect exiles” with these words in 1 Peter 1:6, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith- more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire- may be found to result in praise and glory and honor….”


I am learning to swim in this pool of grace. Some days the swimming is easy and other days I think I might drown. The trials, big and small, all seem to press. I need Him; how I need Him. Every hour I need Him. And when I take my eyes off of His, I find that I am sinking. In truth, that’s what stress is- taking my eyes off Him- a lack of trust.


Pray for us, friends. And pray for those that work side by side with us. So much of the daily trial is not something we always feel we should share. It’s a spiritual battle, but many times the components of the battle are made of dirty dishes, homework, traffic jams, and power outages. We balance it with his grace and pray that even when tested, our faith may result in His glory and honor.

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my baby boy is six!

I am breaking out of my self imposed blogger silence today because I want the world to know about my love for this sweet boy.

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Being a momma has changed my life more than anything else ever has. But this boy, he has most certainly filled me with a joy quite unlike any other. When I think back about his birth, one thing I remember is how surprised I was at how DELIGHTED we all felt to have a new brother. We all felt that this child was a precious treasure, an unexplainable joy.

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There really aren’t words to describe the magic we all felt with the birth of our Caleb. From the beginning, we all felt it was so important be our best for him, to give this boy our “best stuff”, to show him how to love. And so we got busy doing just that.
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These days, our sweet Caleb is growing into a big boy that we are all proud of. He is learning how to love others above himself. He is making choices at home and at school that show that he understands the importance of doing what is right. Most importantly, this boy loves Jesus with his whole heart. He loves to worship loudly (anyone sitting in front of him at church understands this). He loves to play and laugh and really enjoys a good joke. He often looks at me with earnest eyes and says, “That’s hilarious. Right mom?” He loves with great affection and always wants to cuddle. He is loyal, adventurous, and super smart. Really, I don’t have words to tell you just exactly why and how I love this boy, but I feel that it’s important that I try.

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My Caleb greets the adventures of life full force, head on, with determination and courage. He is so excited and happy about getting to be a BIG BROTHER this year, and I am excited for him. He is ready for this challenge. I am so proud of you, son. I am so honored to be your mama.



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miracles (part 3)

Start with part one, posted Monday. Then read part two, posted yesterday. This is part three, which is not the end of this amazing testimony!! He is still doing great things in the life of Naomi and her new family!

The fact that God allowed me to be so involved is a treasure that I will NEVER quite be able to put into words, but I know that Jesus and I will talk about it in heaven.
His love is so sweet. He gives more than we could ever ask or imagine.

I got to share this testimony at our church in Niamey, and our pastor explained to the church that God sent Nana a specialist (Stephanie). He has so gifted her with the ability to supernaturally know what that little girl needs. I know that when God created Nana he knew that Stephanie was called to someday be her mom. The thing that gets me is the whole thing could have happened and I might never have known them at all. But God is so good that he allowed me to show up and nose my way to this beautiful story. And I just get to watch and enjoy and know that it’s all Him.

Our friends walked a long and grueling journey as they waited for the paper work to finally process. Stephanie’s ability to show God’s grace and endure through this process was a witness to everyone who had the honor of watching it. Their return home felt like a miracle in and of itself. God opened doors and timed things as only He can.
Naomi has been living in Colorado with her brother and sister and mom and dad for four months. And we are still seeing miracles happen in her body and all over her little life. The stories are priceless and they are many. I just keep posting that word MIRACLE in the comments on facebook as Steph reports to us after each doctor visit. Please continue to pray for her. I am itchy and excited for the day when she will run. It’s just so cool. As I look back on all of this I am struck with a deep impression that the miracles are just beginning for my sweet friend Naomi and her family. I am so very thankful that I get to stand in awe of all God is doing.

And that’s the (long) story that I’ve been waiting to tell.

Here is the update I have just received from Stephanie on Naomi’s progress(so cool!)….
April 2015: While she’s still working on consistently holding her head in the center, basic head control is something we hardly think about now! She doesn’t collapse to one side in the car seat or high chair anymore, and can hold her head up while being carried with no problem. She shakes her head “no”, and even (vigorously) nods “yes” to answer questions (even rhetorical ones).
Naomi is now able to sit cross-legged, supporting herself with her arms, for 5-10 minutes at a time! She doesn’t make much effort to balance correct with her arms (which can lead to toppling over, but she can take both hands off the floor for a couple seconds to reach for something. She’s also able to stand, bearing her own weight, holding onto furniture for support. She’ll lose her balance slightly every few minutes, but has had the strength to stand for about 45 minutes at a time!
We recently discovered with our therapist that the only remaining stiffness was in her quads where she couldn’t lay face-down and have her foot bent back towards her booty. I confirmed this myself the following day – I couldn’t bend her knee to raise her foot more than about an inch. Two days later, I tried the stretch again… and was able to bring her foot all the way to her booty on both sides!
Naomi’s grasp of everyday English is astonishing, and she’s incredibly creative in combining words, gestures, eye gaze, and signs to communicate. She’ll sign “sick” (one of several signs she’s invented on her own), I’ll ask “Who’s sick?” She’ll gesture toward the bedroom. “Daddy?” She nods and signs “sleep”. “Yes, Daddy’s sleeping.” She signs “medicine” (another invented sign). “You think we should give Daddy some medicine?” She nods vigorously.
She’ll imitate almost any word now, and has many new sounds. She’ll use any opportunity to communicate (mostly, we talk about people’s hair…). She’s able now to close her mouth. (It always gaped open even when eating and drinking) She even purses her lips now in “poison face” when she tastes something unpleasant.
She now lives with 2 loud, often hyper, small dogs and is constantly delighted by them (except when they lay on her doll by accident or try to lick the stray drips from her high chair). She plays a game with the beagle (who I promise enjoys this just as much as Naomi) where she lays on the floor and kicks the dog, who rolls around and chews on her toy. No end of delighted squealing and tail-wagging ensues.

Naomi sits in her high chair in Colorado. Her mama has attached an easel to help her create new works of art. She LOVES all things related to art and music. She especially loves to sing worship music. Which, really, is no surprise!!

Psalm 145 Living Bible

I will praise you, my God and King, and bless your name each day and forever.

Great is Jehovah! Greatly praise him! His greatness is beyond discovery! Let each generation tell its children what glorious things he does. I will meditate about your glory, splendor, majesty, and miracles. Your awe-inspiring deeds shall be on every tongue; I will proclaim your greatness. Everyone will tell about how good you are and sing about your righteousness.

Jehovah is kind and merciful, slow to get angry, full of love.He is good to everyone, and his compassion is intertwined with everything he does. All living things shall thank you, Lord, and your people will bless you. They will talk together about the glory of your kingdom and mention examples of your power. They will tell about your miracles and about the majesty and glory of your reign. For your kingdom never ends. You rule generation after generation.

The Lord lifts the fallen and those bent beneath their loads. The eyes of all mankind look up to you for help; you give them their food as they need it. You constantly satisfy the hunger and thirst of every living thing.

The Lord is fair in everything he does and full of kindness. He is close to all who call on him sincerely. He fulfills the desires of those who reverence and trust him; he hears their cries for help and rescues them. He protects all those who love him, but destroys the wicked.

I will praise the Lord and call on all men everywhere to bless his holy name forever and forever.

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miracles (part 2)

If you missed the first part of this post yesterday, just click here to read it first.

God arranged it so that I got to be at the center on the day that Nana left her bed. And she never went back. This miracle (the first of many) felt huge to me, but I had NO IDEA what God had in store.

That day was the beginning of a friendship that I will treasure forever. We had Steph and Nana (who was now sometimes called Naomi) over for lunch and met them at the pool. We even took them to church with us sometimes. The months rolled on and Stephanie continued to wait for the adoption paperwork to go through. Nana began to make rapid progress in her new life with her new Mama. She began to make noises that sounded like words and she began to show signs that she clearly understood things that Stephanie was saying to her in English. Stephanie became really good at seeing the needs of Nana and finding creative ways to meet them. She sought out the expertise of an occupational therapist in Niamey and others via the internet. We began to marvel at the things that were happing inside Nana’s body.

Here are some details that Stephanie posted in June 2014 (reported with permission):
Let’s talk about neck/core strength for a second.
In December 2013: When we laid her on her tummy, she had to work really hard to lift her head to turn it to the other side. She frequently would collapse and face-plant into the mat, because she just couldn’t hold it up anymore.
Now (June 2014): She can push up to her elbows for a fair amount of time and hold her head with control. When she gets tired, she’s able to lay her head down gently. In the pool this weekend, she held her head up comfortably in any position for a couple of hours before she started showing signs of fatigue!
Before: When we’d sit her up (after a period of wrestling and bending each limb with no small difficulty), her trunk would be limp and her head would loll to one side and flop forward after only a few seconds.
Now (June 2014): She is quite capable of holding her body rigidly upright with reasonably good posture, and holding her head erect for long periods of time. Only when she’s fatigued does her head drop, and then it’s slow and gently, not spastic loss of control. She never needs a head support in the stroller now, because even when she rests her head on the side, her body and head don’t crumple forward. And the only thing preventing her from sitting supported by her arms reliably is her lack of awareness that her arms balance her.
In December 2013: most of her major joints were nearly frozen stiff, along with the muscles and tendons that held the joint straight. Her hips were the worst off. She could only be bent to sit with great difficulty and her knees were in a permanent frogged position.
Now (June 2014): she has full range of motion in nearly every part of her body, with the exception of her hamstrings. She bends at the waist easily, except when REALLY excited (when her whole body still stiffens from habit). She sleeps on her side now, with her knees bent, resting TOGETHER comfortably.
When we first met her: she didn’t even seem to understand or respond to Zarma, the native language the nannies at the orphanage spoke among themselves and to the kids, despite being at the orphanage two and a half years. She rarely vocalized except laughing, and if she did, it was mostly vowel sounds deep in her throat.
Now: she understands and responds to almost all day to day English about what we’re doing. She uses 5-10 signs to describe what she wants as well as the actions of dogs and people around her. Not only does she babble a wide variety of sounds with much more open tone, but she uses several spoken words including “hi”, “dog”, and “juice”. Before: she was TERRIFIED of dogs, and would cling to me for dear life, recoil in fear, and often cry uncontrollably.
Now: she falls asleep with a giant dog on the floor at the foot of her bed, reaches out to him with a hand or foot when he walks by, and talks about “og-gog” (especially about his nose) whenever he’s in sight. She still startles and picks her feet up when we come around a corner and he’s there or if he’ll walk directly up to her and smell her, but most of the time she’s at ease with him around.
Miracles after developmental miracles are unfolding before us – some fast and others gradually. We still have a LONG way to go, and there are times when I get frustrated when she’s too tired to perform the simplest tasks. Or discouraged that she’s not gaining weight more easily. But when I stop to survey how far we’ve come, I can’t think of a single system that isn’t being transformed. And in light of that big black hole she USED* to have in her brain? Well… that’s pretty great!

Months went by and the summer got closer. We were leaving for the U.S. and Dave and one night Dave and I got the bright idea to ask Stephanie and Naomi to live in our house while we were gone. “Why hadn’t we thought of that sooner?” we asked ourselves. We live in a house with extra beds, and Steph had been staying in guest houses and hotels for many months. So, they moved in and we left for the U.S. joking with her that “she better be gone by the time we got back.” You see Steph and her husband have 2 other (biological) kids that had been in the U.S. living with their dad and their grandma for about six months at that point. They were all ready to be united and start life together as a family of five. And we really wanted to see that happen for them. While we visited family and friends in the U.S., Stephanie and her husband decided that their kids should seize the opportunity that summer vacation provided and fly the kiddos to Niger to get to know their sister.

I will never forget the first morning after we arrived back in Niger. The plane had gotten in during the middle of the night when Steph and her kids were asleep. Early the next morning we woke up with jet lag to two darling little blondies playing on their tablets in the corner of the living room. I introduced myself to these beautiful, wide eyed, and seemingly timid children and they scurried back into their room to find their mom.

Life was fun and interesting in our house from August to December of 2014. We found a special blessing and a special grace lived with us, and our two families, as we all ate around the table each night and drove to church together on Sundays. The kids became fiercely loyal and loving with each other. Sam and Steph’s son have decided that they will be roommates in College. So many details about that time and knowing our friends in such an intimate way will always fill our memories of it with gratefulness. We would have never chosen to live with nine kids and three adults for months, but we knew it was what God had clearly asked of us. Stephanie ushered in a deep presence of the Holy Spirit and ministered to me in worship in a new and awesome way.

And then we began to see more Naomi miracles. She began to sit up on her own. She began to say more words. She began to communicate and clearly insist on things she liked and didn’t like. She began to have a voice and learn how to make it known. The beauty of that was spellbinding. I will never forget the day that Naomi crawled to me. She was in the living room having tummy time with her Mama and I was in the kitchen. She started to feel super motivated to move and I laid down on my belly in front of the oven and began to cheer her on. And she did it. Every day I just couldn’t believe the miracles I was seeing. Even more surreal was the fact that I was seeing it all take place in my own home. The fact that God allowed me to be so involved is a treasure that I will NEVER quite be able to put into words, but I know that Jesus and I will talk about it in heaven. His love is so sweet. He gives more than we could ever ask or imagine.
Naomi Crawling

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