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

let me tell you about the miracles I’ve seen

I have decided to post this story in three parts. It’s long, but it’s worth the time! God has done AMAZING things. It’s not an exaggeration to call these things miracles. So, get ready to be amazed…
Over the past year I’ve been posting about living in a house full of miracles. I’ve also said a few times that I have some stories that I want to tell, and hope to tell soon. Well friends, today is the day. I am so excited to finally get to tell you about what God’s been doing. As I write this post I pray that He will give me the words to describe to you what a miracle it has been to me and the ways in which his faithfulness has completely stopped me in my tracks and changed everything about my attitude and my heart. He is so good!
Last year, I had the opportunity to spend time at a Center in Niamey for babies who had nowhere else to go. Each time I went, I would visit my friend Nana. I actually posted about her here. Her smile really found its way into my heart. She seemed to spend a lot of time in her bed, and had very little ability to move. Whereas most of the children in this center were babies, Nana and a few others were older, and they all seemed to be there because of their special needs. I tried to take her out of her bed every time I was there and bring her out into the sunshine. This was a challenge because her body was ironing board stiff. I remember trying to swing with her one day. By the time I got myself into the swing and got her legs and core into a sitting position and got the swing moving I was exhausted, but she was thrilled and making sounds that showed she was delighted. My guess was that she was about four years old because she seemed about as long as Nathaniel, but she was much thinner.
As my heart became more and more invested with this sweet new friend, I became painfully aware of how glum her future looked. I thought of all the benefits she would have in my country. I began to pray for her, and as I prayed I felt so strongly that God wanted to get her out of her bed at the center. So, I asked Dave if we could adopt her. I knew this would change our lives dramatically, but if God wanted me to do it, I was so willing to love this little one with all I had. When Dave said no, I was first disappointed and then angry. I thought he would see the desperation of her place in life and know (like me) that something had to be done for her. His response was that God wasn’t calling us to help her. God would call a family to help her that lived in America. To me, this just didn’t seem fair. I was here, ready to love her, waiting for an “orphan ministry” to step into. I took my frustrations to God and began to seriously cry out to Him to do something for Nana. I reminded him, in boldness, that she belonged to Him and spoke to Him about her destiny and her future. I demanded that he do something to get her out of that bed, and I also told Him that I would help however I could. I think I even asked Him to let me help her.
And life went on.
But little did I know that He was at work. Sometimes He is moving and we can’t see it. I found out later that within two weeks of my blog post about Nana, some friends that I had never met got on the internet and saw her name (no photo) in a long list of names and felt the Holy Spirit move in their hearts. So much so, that a journal entry was written about feeling called to Nana.
Months went by.
Then a friend called me to ask if I was familiar with the center for babies. Did I know the director? Could I bring her there to introduce her? This is the way things are done around here. I gladly obliged. The meeting was set. Then there were some complication in our schedules and the meeting was postponed. Finally we walked into the Baby Center on a day in February (last year) to meet with the lady in charge. We sat in her office for a long time (that’s how things often go). As we talked, I saw a woman walk by the window outside and my attention was immediately turned to her. She looked like an American, and I had heard that there were some ladies that were in town to adopt from this center. As soon as the meeting was over, I made a bee-line to the other side of the compound where the children spent most of their time. As I walked down the sidewalk I saw the woman standing there wearing a red baby carrier and inside it was Nana.
As I approached her, the tears began to flow. By the time we were standing face to face I couldn’t speak. It began to sink in that this woman was here to adopt Nana. Could it be? I looked into this woman’s eyes through my tears and all I could say is, “She’s the one I love. She is so special to me.” It was a very emotionally charged moment for both of us. Even more so for Stephanie because this was the first day that she was taking Nana out of the center to spend her first night at the hotel with her new Mama.
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.

click here to read part two

the other side of birthdays

I’ve spent quite a bit of time this evening thinking about how much pressure I feel as a mom to make my kids’ birthdays exceptionally special. Dave and I are pretty low key about holidays. We try to limit the presents, the consumerism, and the attitudes centered on “stuff” and instead attempt to teach our kids about celebrating the person or the reason for the holiday. This weekend we had a small party for Nathaniel in which three of his friends and his brothers ate pizza, went swimming, and played on the playground at the Rec. There was not a theme, no organized games, no grand fanfare. Oh, and I made gift bags for our guests. Which ended up ensuing in tears by jealous brothers. Fabulous. Very low key (except for the tears).
We’ve done the other kind of party with the theme and the games and the whole class of 25 kids invited. But, we’re kind of over it.
So, why did I wake up this morning thinking of ways to please my sweet SEVEN YEAR OLD boy? Certainly because I love him, but there’s something else. It’s the expectation of a birthday that puts the pressure on me as a Mama.
I remember, vividly, the tears I cried myself on many a birthday. It had nothing to do with my mother (although I probably thought it did at the time). It had to do with the expectation of a perfect day. Everyone sings to you. You get presents and cake and icecream. You’re the center of attention (very important to people like me and also my middle child).
We tried to celebrate Nata’s birthday on Saturday because we knew that Mondays aren’t super easy. We all go to school. We rush home to eat lunch around 1. I have a staff meeting at 3 at my school. Sam has TaeKwonDo at 4 at Nata’s school. Nata has art at 4:30 at a third location. I come home; Sam gets dropped off at home; Someone hopefully remembers to go get Nata. We shove down dinner, study spelling words, and it’s bed time.
Add to that a perfectly frosted cake which the birthday boy has diagramed in great detail, lasagna made from scratch, presents to be wrapped and unwrapped. Oh, and also last night and today we have had a turkey problem (long story) and had to kill 6 turkeys. So we roasted 3 turkeys and froze 3 turkeys today. Oh and my car died today (and was also repaired). Dave shopped for presents and lasagna stuff AND picked up Caleb’s new passport up from the Embassy. AND we had to call the plumber to fix the kitchen sink.
On the way to pick the boys up from school at noon today I was trying to think of ways to make this day special for my boy. I want him to know I love him. I love him so much. I some how squeaked 8 extra minutes out in which I made a mad dash into the supermarket to buy CHICKEN NUGGETS (the first I’ve EVER purchased in Niger), Pringles, Fanta, and Coke. Because this mama shows her love with sugar and fake chicken byproduct. And whatever is in Pringles.
But I can’t quite explain to you the feeling of gratification when I set the table for lunch and called the boys and my Nata IMMEDIATELY honed in on the special treats, “Oh thank you so much for making this SO SPECIAL!!” he squealed enthusiastically. It didn’t matter that there were 6 dead turkeys, a plumber, and sink full of dirty dishes going on in the next room. My boy felt the love.
And that’s really the point.
Some times (many times) my day gets to be so full of all the stuff and the coming and going that I don’t even have time to see what really matters. Today, somehow, through the craziness we sat down in front of birthday cake and lasagna and special presents sent by each one of his grandparents and we talked about why we love our Nata. And I got to think about what it is about this boy that makes him so special.
Yesterday Nathaniel said that the two great gifts God has given him are, “art and viciousness!” This pretty much sums up my boy’s personality. He is intensely creative and yet somehow all tough boy. He loves to dance and sing and draw and paint. He’s emotional and sensitive. He’s also courageous, fearless, and determined. He swims so well that his friends think he should have to play pool games with a handy cap. And if any one ever explains to him about Parkour we are in trouble. Most importantly, he really loves Jesus and wants to be like Him. He comes home from school with proud stories of how, “I did not repay evil with evil, Mom. And that kid was really mean.” He’s growing into a boy that cares about doing what is right and defending those in need. He has a heart full of compassion, full of adventure, sensitive yet fearless. He listened intently as his daddy prayed a prayer of blessing over him tonight. He hung on every word spoken by his father to the Father because he believes that those things are so important. I can’t wait to see what this kid has in store!
Our day was full of all the things that make us a family. Including spelling words coupled with hot tears dripping down Sam’s face as he quietly confessed that his heart was full of jealousy. “I miss my birthday,” he mumbled. Because sometimes it’s not easy to watch your little brother be so special. And we loved him, and we hugged him, and we encouraged him to go to his brother and apologize. And we talked about our hearts. And Mama whispered that she used to feel jealous of her sister too. What an honor to sit with him as he recognizes something so raw and so real. How profound that he was able to voice that to us instead of just having an attitude.
As I sit here tonight and reflect on my day. As I sigh about the struggles and wonder how many other Mamas feel this way about birthdays, it hits me that this is a good parallel to life. It’s busy and crazy and all kinds of things go wrong, but it’s beautiful and joyful and FULL; there’s so much good to be found in the growing and learning. As we struggle to survive, trying to thrive, it’s the things we can learn and the things we see when we step back that make all that running around worth it.
These boys (including Dave) are such amazing people. I am so honored to know them the way that only I do. Any day that I don’t stop and think about that is a little bit wasted.
That’s why I love the joy and the tears that come with birthdays.

life giver, mountain maker

Today I had a moment where I wanted to throw my hands in the air and scream and cry. I am tired, so very tired, of waiting.

I have chosen to live in Niger because I want to minister to women and children. The funny thing about this is that sometimes I put this first in front of, “Whatever you ask of me…” I have this ideal in my head of what my glamorous life should look like, and sometimes I just get disappointed when things don’t go MY way. Today was just one of those days. And then that still small voice (how many of my days go like this….. this is my life people)…. that still small voice reminded me of all the good things that He has done.

And I looked directly in front of me. And I saw this….


And I decided that it’s been way too long since I have celebrated out loud- TESTIFIED- about all the things that He is doing. Because, I know the one who created the mountains. And just because this mountain in front of me (the one named Holding Babies And Hanging Out With Ladies) seems so impossible right now, that doesn’t mean that His beauty doesn’t surround me. It does. He has given me life. Abundant life. So today, in honor of all He has done, I want to tell you a story. And I want to keep telling these kinds of stories forever. Until I don’t have anything left to tell.

This story begins more than thirty years ago when a little girl named Hope Egliht lived in Houston, Texas. God knew. He gave me two sweet neighbor friends named Amy and Jennifer. Amy and Jennifer were pretty great, and I learned a lot from them. We’ve stayed friends and my friendships with these girls continue to bless me. God has given both of them amazing children to love. Jennifer has three awesome kids and shares openly about how Autism has changed her family life. She speaks about the trials and the successes, the joys and heartaches of parenting children with special needs. God used Jennifer to prime the pump, so to speak.

Last year I was at our church in Niamey and I watched as a friend of mine interacted with her 10 year old son. We’ve known this family since we moved to Niger and the older Osse, her son, has grown the more his special needs have become noticeable. This week I watched as he walked up and down the isles of the church banging a plastic soda bottle on people’s heads. Some of the people he knew and some he didn’t. Then I turned to see the look on his mother’s face. And my heart stopped beating. I knew she had prayed and struggled without anyone to walk beside her. For years. I thought of all the resources available in my country through the school system, healthcare providers, therapists, and the like. I immediately thought of my friend Jennifer as I saw her hopeless expression. And I knew that this friend didn’t live the same life with the same kind of aides. I began to pray for my friend. I asked God to help her, and I felt Him say that together we could help her.

2015-03-20 15.59.29

I know very little about helping a boy with symptoms like these. So I set out to find someone who did know. I prayed, and I trusted that the Mountain Maker knew what to do. I felt it down to my bones. He wanted to help this boy. He sent us my friend Reilly. A speech pathologist who had worked with Autistic kids. She’s amazing.

Now, about a year later, Reilly and I visit this family every week. And it is simply. amazing. I can hardly put into words what God has done. He has changed all of our hearts. Instead of feeling hopeless, we are watching in awe as God works miracles in the life of this little boy. Today his momma told me that she thinks there isn’t anything he can’t do. It might take him longer, but if he wants to do it, he can. A year ago he was speaking very little, but we have listened and watched with delight as his therapy sessions with Reilly have build a huge vocabulary. Joyful was the day that he spoke the names of all his family members. They laughed and squealed in delight. Now he is recognizing colors, numbers, shapes, animals, people, emotions. He is learning to express himself.


And I am learning too. In this place where “special needs” kids are literally seen as cursed, I am learning how important it is to stop and take time to love them, see them, talk to them, minister God’s love to them. And to their siblings. And to their parents. Osse’s father told Dave that we were the first people EVER to ask them if we could help in some way. This shocked me. We’ve known them for almost eight years. For all that time we did nothing. How many other families with special needs kids are there in this place needing someone to just reach out and show them the love of Jesus?

What an honor to answer that call. It is all part of His grace. I know the Mountain Maker. He made me, and he is giving me life- abundantly.

Please pray that God would continue to show us those whom we should stop for. As we pass people on the street, as we go about our lives, I pray that we would hear His voice speaking to us about the needs of others. We struggle to share these stories that don’t even feel like our stories to tell. We so want to glory to go to God and not to us. We tell these stories to lift His name high.

what I want to say about Ebola.


Dave pulls up to the side of the road. I hop out of the passenger side door and into another world called “Petite Marche”. I am looking for fabric to give a friend for her birthday. As my family waits in the car, I walk past an alley way filled with bras and a booth of hair care supplies. I dodge the sludge and step into a stall with breathtaking African print fabric hanging from ceiling to floor.

“Mate arang go!” I greet the shop keeper hoping that the Zarma greeting will work like a magic code for “I’ve been here a while. Give me a good price.” The men begin to chuckle and talk quickly in the local language about the white lady who speaks Zarmasani.

I gaze at the beautiful fabrics before me and try to think carefully about which would be best for my friend. I’m distracted by the bartering that will soon commence (in a language that uses numbers based on 5 and not 10). I’m ashamed that I still haven’t mastered this system. I first learned it more than 2 years ago. Math is not my thing.

I ask the shop keeper the price, and he tells me in Zarma. I didn’t catch the number. I ask him again in French. He says, “7,000 francs.” Deal. I think this is a good price. I tell him I’ll take it (6 yards for about $15 USD.)

Then I notice a little girl sitting in the corner of the stall. She looks sad, and I greet her in Zarma. She says nothing. “She must be tired,” I say to the man in French. It’s about one in the afternoon, and I notice her forehead is covered in sweat. “No, she’s not tired, she’s sick.” He replies. And then I feel the Holy Spirit say, “Stop for this one. “ I ask if she has Malaria and he explains that he knows it’s not Malaria. It’s something else.

“Can I pray for her?” I ask. He smiles at me.

“I am a Christian, and I believe that that Jesus Christ can heal your daughter.”

“You can pray for her,” he says.

I sit beside her, and ask if it’s ok for me to touch her. As I lay a hand on her sweaty shoulder, I begin to pray that Jesus will heal her little body, take away her fever, give her peace, and that this family will know the love that he offers to them. It’s a simple prayer. I start in French and switch to English when I get frustrated at my inability to express myself clearly. The moment is over just about as quickly as it started.

I thank the man, grab my purchase, and hop back in the car.


Life is moving along, here in Niger. October is always hot, and I usually feel a bit disconnected as I read about autumn in my homeland. Recently, I felt God pointing out to me how important it is to Him that I “Stop for the one.” This is an idea, or a movement, prompted by a video I recently watched about how God is calling us to take time out in our busy lives to see the individual and their needs. Some days I am better at this than others.

Dave also had the opportunity to help someone who was sick this month. He noticed a boy that recently moved to our neighborhood and suffers from a severe deformity. Dave offered to take the boy to the hospital in hopes that they could figure out what was wrong. Long story short, this boy has been suffering from tuberculosis in his bones for most of his life and was never diagnosed. He is twenty-one years old. Now that he has a diagnosis, he is receiving free treatment provided by the government. While this is a blessing, he is also enduring a new problem. There’s such a stigma about disease, that his diagnosis is causing problems within his family.  They want him to leave because they are afraid.

Fear is such a strong thing. It’s almost hard to put into words.

I have been thinking lately about the threat of Ebola. Will I be afraid to stop for the one if this sickness that is now thousands of miles away comes closer?

There has been lots of news lately, and it all seems a bit like a “virtual reality” to me. My friends in the US are dealing with an avalanche of fear led by the major media outlets. I’m not hearing the constant worry here, as we go about our lives in the Sub-Sahara. Those issues feel kind of far away. People where we live are aware and cautious. We are all left to wonder, watch, and wait and see what happens.


When I am asked if I am concerned about the risk of Ebola to my family, I don’t know what to say. Do I feel there is a risk? Yes. Do I feel that my risk is greater than if I lived in Virginia? Maybe. Am I afraid? No. Not even a little. I understand that “risk” is a factor playing into all of our lives. What makes one place safer than another? Statistics, I guess.  1925pd7oihnlzjpg

One thing that helps me not to worry is an understanding of just how large this continent is.

imagesWhen we decided to move with our family to West Africa, I knew we would face the threat of scary diseases. That’s something that I laid down in front of God a long time ago. We see people here every day whose lives have been greatly effected by illness and disease. I believe, however, that God’s  invitation to live the “Great Adventure” far outweighs the risk. I know that I could build for myself a plastic house surrounded by Clorox Wipes, but I don’t know if that house would protect me anymore than the cinderblock house I live in. My faith does not come from my location. My faith is in The One who makes the weather, has the power to heal disease, and who created me in His image to love others in His name.

Does that mean that we will never leave if this thing spreads across borders and enters our city? No, it doesn’t. But to leave this place and leave this people would break my heart. Our West African neighbors really do need help to conquer Ebola. If we do not help them, the threat will turn to us.

“There s no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” 1 John 4: 18