Monday, December 23, 2013

Our Highlights of 2013 - Christmas Letter

Our Familiy wishes you and yours a truly 
Blessed and Merry Christmas!

August 2013 - photo by Toni Valentini

It has become our tradition to send an annual Christmas letter with our Christmas card. The letter shares our highlights of the year. It is our "highlights reel", so to speak. It is not all of the bloopers, the outtakes, the scenes that had to be done over time and time again, and not the clips that thankfully ended up on the editing room floor. 

Rather, we reflect on the blessings the Lord graciously showered on us and thank Him, giving Him the glory and praise for every good and perfect gift that comes from Him. We love looking back and recounting all of His blessings and acknowledging each one has come from Him.

Our only hesitancy in sending a Christmas letter with highlights of the year is that it can seem pretentious and quite incomplete as we share all of the "positives". It is not our heart or intention to be pretentious or to paint an incomplete picture. Sometimes God's blessings and mercy comes through the most difficult, painful and growing seasons in our lives and hearts. 

So while we choose not to publish in our annual Christmas letter the details of our growing seasons He has seen us through this year, they are written on our hearts and are personal treasures between us and Him. We know we there is no good in us apart from Christ.

"You are my Lord; apart from You I have no good thing."
Psalm 16:2

So these are our highlights. Thanks for visiting!   

Jesus Christ - Our Wisdom. Our Holiness. 
Our Righteousness. Our Redemption. {1 Cor.1:30}

Our Family’s Highlights ~ Christmas 2013

Because we loved you so much, 
we were delighted to share with you 
not only the gospel of God 
but our lives as well. (1 Thess. 2:8)

Family and Friends ~ Warmest Christmas greetings to you and yours! We pray your hearts and homes are filled with His perfect peace. We would love to hear from you about your happenings! We love the mailbox in December filled with colorful envelopes, pictures and letters. Thank you for sharing your lives with us. We count you each a blessing from God.

Reflecting back on 2013, many things come to fruition in our family that have been prayed and labored over for a few years: 1 - Jim’s company’s merger was finalized and we prayerfully chose together that he not take a new position offered to him in Manhattan. 2♥ - My sweet mom, Eileen, is courageously and graciously facing age-related illnesses that have weakened her mind and body, but not her spirit. She moved into a beautiful assisted living home and she loves it! 3♥ - My book “SerenDIPity ~ Celebrating Dips, Faith & Friendships” released in September. Glory to God. In all things, we ask God for His perfect wisdom, leading and provision. Our identity in Christ is secure. “Hello, my name is ‘Child of The One True King.’” – Matthew West

Our family enjoyed a special vacation in June when very fun friends, the Reyeses, invited us to their lovely summer home in Puerto Rico. Their hospitality was incredibly thoughtful, loving and generous. They took us to all the best parts of the beautiful island, including hidden treasures unseen by most tourists. We splashed in turquoise waters, relaxed on gorgeous beaches, hiked through the rain forest, swam in bioluminescent bays at night, walked up a mountain to a lighthouse and breath-taking cliffs, journeyed through caves with bats to see amazing views through natural windows, toured picturesque Old San Juan, worshipped at church on Sunday, ate authentic Puerto Rican delicacies and learned so much about the culture of the islanders. Truly our friends’ invitation to join them  gave us lifelong memories. ♥ Our traditional vacation to Camp of The Woods was so refreshing as we enjoyed each other and the company of good friends. We were blessed to spend a week at the shore in Ocean City NJ and stayed in the wonderfully-welcoming home of friends we hold dear. Treasured friends spent a few days with us in OC, which made it perfect. COTW and OC NJ are two of our favorite places on earth! We also enjoyed a trip to Boston in March when Gabrielle danced in the Irish Dance Worlds Competition! And we visited the most magical place on earth – Disney World – in the spring when we visited Jim’s parents (Pop Pop and Nana) who now spend winters/early spring in Celebration, Florida. In June, we were delighted to host a party for Jim’s parents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary! In August we celebrated my mom’s 80th Birthday with an Eight-Tea celebration. We are thankful for the many blessings of 2013!

El Yunque Rain Forest in Puerto Rico - June 2013

Jim ~ We are ever-grateful that Jim is steadfastly dedicated to God and family. During this career transition time, he has incorporated a disciplined schedule, beginning each morning with generous time in God’s Word and prayer. He closes each day with Joshua and Gabrielle studying through the Bible (currently reading through the Gospel of John). He is taking courses and diligently seeking a new position. He continues to lead a Junior High Ministry LJ3 group of boys and pours God’s truth into them. Jim coaches basketball for our church league and was honored to assist our dear friend Wade in the middle school’s skills and drills practices. A Wednesday morning men’s Bible study group is a great blessing of accountability and growth for Jim. Jim intrinsically seeks every moment to look for ways to serve God by serving us and all those he loves. We are truly humbled and blessed to have him as the head of our home. We are looking forward to seeing God’s plans unfold for Jim and our family .

Jim at base of waterfall at El Yunque

Sharon ~ Serving my family as wife and mom is my greatest and most humbling blessing. These roles keep me on my knees before God for wisdom and grace. Spending as much time with my mom as I can, caring for her and enjoying her company, is a priority, especially as her health declines. ♥ I accomplished an item from my bucket list this summer – I hiked through a tropical rainforest (while we were in  in Puerto Rico). It was beautiful and, yes, it even rained!! Thankful! I attend and soak in Bible studies because, while I delight in God’s Word, I am not always delightful {smile} and I need His truth consistently to sustain and mold my heart. With Jim’s blessing, I wrote and published my book “SerenDIPity ~ Celebrating Dips, Faith & Friendships” to share this unique hospitality idea and the Biblical command of hospitality! My favorite part of writing SerenDIPity was blending in God’s Word throughout the book. I pray in some small way this book honors the Lord. So thankful for the enthusiasm of many loving family members and pure-hearted friends!

Jim and me - both got a hole in one in the same hole!
Camp of The Woods - July 2013

Joshua – An 8th grader now, Joshua is growing in stature and character. He has well surpassed me in height and Jim in shoe size! Basketball is his favorite sport to play, with football being a close second. He is even considering playing baseball in the spring. Joshua and Jim served the Lord together again this summer in North Philly through Mission Philly 2013 with our junior high youth group. We are very thankful they could serve the Lord in this way shoulder to shoulder. Joshua participated in Raise the Praise week again this summer and was asked to serve in the youth group worship team doing vocals. Joshua is not a spotlight kind of person, so being on stage stretches him out of his comfort zone. Still, he remains very excited and thankful for this opportunity to serve. His favorite thing to do with any free moments is shoot hoops. While doing very well in school, his first loves are anything to do with a ball or with music. Joshua is innately thoughtful and helpful, and we are proud of our young man.

Gabrielle  - Our gal is enjoying 6th grade and all of its responsibilities and perks. She loves attending LJ3 Youth Group at church. Gabrielle is a diligent student and sets personal and academic goals. She has such a heart for orphans and for those who have not heard the Gospel. Her resolve and love encourage and challenge us in the best of ways. Gymnastics is Gabrielle’s favorite activity, and she takes it twice a week. She is still kicking up her heels in Irish dance, and she earned and had the great honor of dancing as part of a team in the World Irish Dance Competition in March 2013 where hundreds of dancers from around the world gathered in Boston (go figure…it is usually in Ireland!). Gabrielle also completed a Babysitting course with the American Red Cross. At school, she enjoys taking liturgical dance and playing the flute in the regular band and the 6th grade jazz band. She serves the Lord through song by serving His children with the Children’s Ministry Worship Team. She loves making videos on her iPad and spending time with girlfriends. We love our Brie!

We wish you a Joyous Christmas 
and a very Blessed New Year! 
Love ~ Jim, Sharon, Joshua  and Gabrielle 

Jim, Joshua & Gabrielle stringing Christmas lights together

Nan Nan Hansen's 80th Eight-Tea Party - August 2013 

Pop Pop and Nana Sloan's 50th Anniversary - June 2013

Monday, December 16, 2013

Mom, Will You Frame This For Me?

"I have hidden Your Word in my heart 
that I might not sin against You."
Psalm 119:11

Let's just say we were having a teachable moment. A very teachable moment.

Knowing that the only true transformation of our all of our hearts will come solely through God's love, grace and truth, I asked our children to go to their rooms and read Proverbs 6:16-19. It's a tough but necessary passage of scripture. It's convicting. It's a Hebrews 4:12 kind of verse: "For the Word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." 

Attitudes of the heart. We've all got them. And attitudes under our roof that day needed some fixin'. 

So as I asked our children to go read this passage that had been ministering to my own heart. As they did, I asked the Lord to penetrate their hearts with His truth, love and grace. And I sat down to re-read the passage myself.

"There are six things the Lord hates,
seven that are detestable to Him:
haughty eyes,
a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
a false witness who pours out lies,
and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers."

Tough, necessary truths of scripture. 

When they were done their unexpected quiet time, I asked our children which part of the passage popped out to them, and I was grateful for God's faithfulness in meeting each of them personally in His Word.

A little while later, Gabrielle came to me and said, "Mom, will you frame this for me? I made it after you had us read Proverbs 6. I always want to remember the things the Lord hates. I never want to forget. I would like to have this framed for my room so I remember."

Jaw-dropping praise from this momma's heart to God! He had given Gabrielle the softness of heart, the courage and the wisdom to want to frame His Word...His challenging and convicting her heart and mind. 

I am so grateful for the promises and comforts of God's Word...our go-to scriptures when we need encouragement and reassurance. And I am equally thankful for (though sometimes less inclined to go to them as readily) the soul-dividing passages that keep us on the narrow road that leads to life. The ones that prick and judge the thoughts and attitudes of our hearts.

We tend to frame the comfortable scriptures in our homes and in our hearts. Isn't that just like us? We frame the prettiest pictures that make us look and feel good, and we easily ignore and discard the others.

But through the courage, humility and wisdom of my daughter's heart, God reminded me that our greatest life lessons are often found in the places, pictures and passages that aren't so comfortable or pretty. But if we choose to frame them and remember them, He makes masterpieces.   

I wouldn't naturally choose to frame the difficult and painful times of life to commemorate the seasons or put them on display. Yet my daughter's sweet artwork gently and poignantly reminded me that often God is doing His most beautiful craftsmanship in our hearts during the tough passages, the not-so-flattering and the oh-so-humbling times in our lives.

Framing the tough passages of truth. Framing the artwork He is creating in my heart by seeing truths of scripture alive in my own life, whether consequences of my own actions or someone else's. I want the courage to frame the hard stuff, even if I am the only one to see it in the private places I share with Him.

Framing difficult passages of scripture and life...


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Ushered In By Thanksgiving

“Enter His gates with thanksgiving
and His courts with praise;
give thanks to Him and praise His name.” 
Psalm 100:4

Happy Thanksgiving!

A heart of genuine thanksgiving and praise ushers us across His threshold so we can dwell in the Lord’s presence throughout the day. As we seek to abide in Him, our thankful hearts prepare the way for us. With a grateful and reverent posture before the Lord, we can expect to hear His still, small voice and sense His presence. “The eyes of the Lord are on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His unfailing love.” Psalm 33:18 (NIV)

“In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.” Proverbs 3:7 (KJV
) Genuine thankfulness flows from a humble and reverent heart before the Lord. As we go to Him with gratitude and acknowledging Him in all things, our hearts are postured to receive direction from Him. Then, as we commune with Him from the depths of our hearts throughout the day, we can bring Him our petitions, our fears and our struggles. With the humility of thankfulness as a backdrop, our hearts are poised reverently before Him. He will guide us and lead us. “I know that it will go better with God-fearing men, who are reverent before God.” Ecc. 8:12

When my children approach me with a humble and thankful heart, it is much easier for me to talk with them, rejoice with them, pray with them and guide them. Their hearts are ready. But when they are being selfish, stubborn, prideful and entitled, they don’t hear and are not ready for my instruction and help. The condition of their heart is key to our communication.

It is the same with us and our Heavenly Father, who loves His children perfectly. When our hearts are right before Him, He can minister His Truth to us and reason with us. He can encourage and equip us. He can commune with us.“He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God.” Psalm 50:23 (NIV)

Let’s make it routine not just to count our blessings, but to continually give thanks to God for them. To acknowledge Him in all our ways. To bow before Him with sincerity, thankfulness and reverence. We will dwell in His presence, commune with Him and receive His encouragement and love. Then we'll have“sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.” Col. 3:22 (NIV)

Gracious Father, You are the giver of all good things. By Your grace, keep my heart poised humbly before You in sincerity, reverence and thankfulness. I want to enter your courts with praise in my heart. Usher me in with a thankful heart. Remind me to acknowledge You in all of my ways. Thank you for loving me perfectly and for Your redemption. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

What are YOU thanking Him for this Thanksgiving season?
I am thankful for my Redeemer, my family and my friends. I am thankful for His truth and faithfulness. 
(This post was originally posted on 11/24/08.)

“Joy and gladness will be found in her,
thanksgiving and the sound of singing.”
Isaiah 51:3 (NIV)

“I will praise God’s name in song and
glorify Him with thanksgiving.”
Psalm 69:30

“Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name;
worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness.”
Psalm 29:2

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Phone Is In The Oven!!!

"...he prepares his meal, 
he roasts his meat and eats his fill."
Isaiah 44:16

Six words I never imagined I would hear myself screaming:  "The phone is in the oven!!!" But there I was on a Sunday afternoon screaming them.

I was trying to do too many things at once. My sweet mom was spending the day with us so I was caring for her, I took a call from a neighbor while busy preparing side dishes for dinner and managing two roasts that I had put in the oven an hour before. 

Crooking my neck and holding the phone between my right ear and my right shoulder, I opened the oven door to put an aluminum foil tent over the roasts so they didn't brown too much. My right hand accidentally met with the side of the scorching hot oven and two of my fingers got burned. Natural reflex jolted my hand and body away from the hot oven and the phone went flying away from where it was tentatively perched on my shoulder. At first I wasn't sure where the phone went, but then I saw it in the roasting pan comfortably sitting next to one of the roasts! 

A phone never knew life could be so good.

More concerned that the phone would ignite and start a fire than ruin my roast or itself, I proclaimed and then planned in the midst of panic.

"The phone is in the oven!  The phone is in the oven!  The phone is in the oven!"

Screaming the alarming news flash for my family, my husband and children came running from different directions in the house. All with jaws dropped and, not sure whether to laugh or scream themselves, they stood shocked. All of us were bent over staring at the savory site before our eyes.

Indeed, the phone was in the oven.

With a quick strategical search and rescue mission underway, I picked up the long metal tongs from the counter top and pulled the wire oven shelf out as far it would come. With the tongs, I grabbed the marinating phone and placed it on a towel. My husband dried the outside of the phone off and then disassembled it so the insides could drain and dry.

Phone au jus.  Not what I had planned for dinner.

Nursing my burned fingers under cold water for several minutes, I realized where I had gone wrong:  Doing too many things at one time. Had I slowed down just a bit I would have waited until I was off of the phone to handle the roasts in a hot oven. Or I could have returned the call to my neighbor later that evening when things were more settled.

Everything I was doing was "good" ~ caring for my mom, preparing dinner for my family and taking time to talk to my neighbor on the phone. But sometimes we do too many good things at one time, and we get burned.

In His sweet goodness, God whispered to my heart through this now-funny kitchen mishap. Keep in step with Me.

By His grace, God lovingly leads us through our days. He is faithful to show us how to spend our time and our labors of love. He invites us To LET.IT.GO. and allow Him to guide our steps. We need to only ask and yield. "He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them His way." ~ Psalm 25:9 

Ask and yield. Humility and surrender. Letting it go and allowing God to lead. A daily, moment-by-moment surrender.

I encourage you to begin your day today, or pause in the middle of it, and open His Word. Need a place to start? Read Psalm 119. His Word is the essential lamp to our feet and a light to our path.


"I guide you in the way of wisdom
and lead you along straight paths."
Proverbs 4:11

Saturday, November 16, 2013


"...a sweet friendship refreshes the soul."
Proverbs 27:9

Happy Saturday everyone! My very sweet friend PAT LAYTON is hosting me today at her beautiful blog! We are also giving away a copy of my book SerenDIPity ~ Celebrating Dips, Faith & Friendship! Grab another cup of coffee and visit Pat's blog by clicking here. 

Be sure to leave a comment to enter to win a SerenDIPity book!

“He that is of a merry heart hath a continual feast…” ~ Proverbs 15:15

Monday, September 30, 2013

Guest Posting at Whitney Capp's Blog ~ SerenDIPity Give-Away!

“…a sweet friendship refreshes the soul.” 
Proverbs 27:9

I am honored and humbled to be guest posting at my very adorable, kind and generous friend Whitney Capp's blog - "Speak When Spoken Through"! (That is my favorite blog name ever!) Whitney loves God, His Word, her family and friends. She demonstrates intrinsic contentment in God's plans and timing. Her humor and humility blend together beautifully in such a way that spurs you on in your own walk with the Lord. Thank you, Whitney, for your enthusiasm, joy and friendship. You are a treasure!

You are invited to visit Whitney and be sure to enter to win a copy of my book SerenDIPity - Celebrating Dips, Faith & Friendships!

I hope to see you over at Whit's place!!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

SerenDIPity Saturday

"Seek to show hospitality." ~ Romans 12:13

Hello blog friends! Happy Saturday! I have missed being here with you! Though my heart has been close to Joy In The Truth, my fingers have been tapping away elsewhere as my book SerenDIPity ~ Celebrating Dips, Faith & Friendship released just last week!!! I would love for you to visit the SerenDIPity site! 

This fun and practical why to and how to book will help you:
  1. Open up your home and heart through hospitality.
  2. Creatively prepare and execute your own SerenDIPity party.
  3. Set the stage for fun, friends, and fellowship.
  4. Learn the ins and outs of hosting fun contests and giveaways.
  5. Prepare savory and sweet dips.
  6. Know what to do after the party and how to reach out with SerenDIPity.
  7. Know what the Bible says about hospitality and fellowship.

Grab a spoon and dip into some free resources!!!

Click here for some free hostess-helpful printables!

Be sure to check back often as we will be having lots of give-aways in the upcoming weeks, including SerenDIPity book give-aways!!!! 

Have a DIPlightful day!!!

“When you have eaten and are satisfied, 
praise the Lord your God…” 
Deuteronomy 8:10

Friday, June 14, 2013

My Bucket List and An Invitation

"Lord, You established peace for us;
all we have accomplished You have done for us...
Your name alone do we honor."
Isaiah 26:12-13

Her words took my breath the best of ways. My heart humbled and sweetly hushed, I read her note to me over and over.

"Thank you so much for inviting me to lunch.
That was the first time I ever went to lunch
with a girlfriend."

Wow. I am stilled by her words. You see, I invited my girlfriend to lunch because she is such a blessing to me. She is one of the kindest people I know, and it was on my heart for many months to invite her to lunch. I just wanted to carve out some time together, to pause our lives for a just a bit and enjoy a meal and fellowship together. 

When I invited her and we set a date, she was gracious enough to meet me during my lunch break from work at a great girlfriend eatery convenient to both of us. Honestly, I felt a little selfish because her joining me for lunch was such a blessing to me. After we enjoyed a leisurely lunch and were getting ready to go back to our usual Monday routines, I said to her:

"I don't have many things on my bucket list, 
but having lunch with you was one of them."

She said, "Really?" Yes, really.

"A sweet friendship refreshes the soul..."
Proverbs 27:9

Little did I know...this was her first girlfriend lunch...ever. After reading her thank you note I received a few days later, I imagined how she must have felt that day. Was she nervous? Excited? Hesitant? Eager? I thanked the Lord for her willingness and courage to say yes to my invitation for lunch. 

Her first girlfriend lunch ever.

I thanked Him for the privilege and honor of being the one with whom she had her first girlfriend lunch. 

A simple invitation. A bucket list item now etched into my heart.

It's true. I don't have many things on my bucket list. And the items that are on my list mostly involve nourishing relationships in one way or another. I am not much of an adventurer, but I would like to think of myself as an investor. An investor in God's Word and in the relationships with which He has blessed and entrusted to me. 

For my girlfriend and me, both of us being blessed began with an invitation. And through my girlfriend's sweet thank you note, I am reminded again of the importance and significance of reaching out to others through lunch, to dinner, for coffee, to take a walk, to pray, to a Bible study, to shop, to chat, to serve together in ministry, to vacation together.

Many of our family's most meaningful and memorable vacations have been with family or friends who have invited us to join them on theirs, or when we have invited others to join us on ours. We have such fabulous memories of laughter and fun and growing together on vacation with those whom we love.

Since I was a young girl, I have wanted to visit a rain forest. Studying the rain forest in elementary school was fascinating to me. We didn't have "bucket lists" when I was growing up, but hiking through a rain forest and seeing all of the unique and colorful creations of God is something I have always wanted to do. (There's my shy little adventurous side coming out!)

For the last few summers, our very good friends extended an invitation to vacation with them in their summer home in Puerto Rico. This summer, we are delighted to be able to say "yes" to that invitation! So, through our friends' lovely invitation, my family will be nourishing these friendships, travelling to beautiful Puerto Rico, learning about and enjoying our friends' culture, and...hiking through El Yunque Rain Forest!! OUR FIRST TIME EVER!! We are very thankful and very excited!

Bucket lists and invitations. They go hand-in-hand.

I want my heart to always have the love, boldness and humility to extend and receive precious invitations. Who knows...maybe by doing so we are fulfilling a bucket list item for someone whom we hold dear. Maybe it even will be someone's "first time ever" to do something they have always wanted to do.

Reach out. Invite.

"My times are in Your hands..."
Psalm 31:15

(story of girlfriend's thank you note shared with her permission)

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Without A Word

" quietness and trust 
is your strength..."
Isaiah 30:15

As His children, sometimes God calls us to speak up and speak out in faith.  Sometimes He commands us to be quiet in trust.  Both can be challenging, out-of-comfort-zone experiences. Yet obedience to God, in the speaking out or in the hushing up, brings the harvest of His joy and blessings.

I find that often our worthiest words are those quietly spoken only to Jesus in prayer. Unspoken to others, our most valuable words are whispered only to the Lord in obedience, trust, humility and self-control. 

The other morning morning as I was spending time in God's Word, He serendipitously strung the following verses together for me.  I love Him for confirming these truths to me!  Reading in Genesis, I read this passage in chapter 24. Then He sweetly reminded me of these other verses:

Without saying a word,
the man watched her closely
to learn whether or not
the LORD had made his journey successful.
Genesis 24:21

Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.
1 Peter 3:1-2

He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He opened not His mouth;
He was led as a lamb to the slaughter,
And as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
So He opened not His mouth
Isaiah 53:7

Often times, God's will and purposes in our lives are ushered in as we open our hearts, minds and ears, and open not our mouths. 

Successful journeys.

Husbands won over to Christ.

Salvation and redemption.

All of this while our mouths are hushed in obedience.

Our quietness demonstrates our trust and faith in HIM.  He is our Defender, our Redeemer, our Salvation, our Way and our Provider.  What glory He receives when He works His purposes through our quietness and trust.

"…the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit,
which is of great worth in God’s sight."  1 Peter 3:4

Thank You, Lord, for Your faithful Word!!!

I am honored today to have one of my published devotions "Worthy Words" featured at A Woman Inspired Ministry. Please click over and visit...there just may be a surprise waiting there for you! Like an opportunity to win His worthy Word:

"Your word has given me life..."

Psalm 119:50

Thursday, May 2, 2013

An 11th Birthday and A Gift

Our sweet Gabrielle turns 11 today

A warm welcome to those visiting from my guest post at A Woman Inspired Ministry. I am honored to be invited to share there! Thank you Victoria and Amy and all the girls there! You are gracious and kind.

And as the Lord has orchestrated it, the devotion chosen for publication today is a testimony of God's faithfulness through the heart of a child ~ my Gabrielle ~ when she was only five years old. 

The devotion "A Heart More Beautiful" at A Woman Inspired Ministry was birthed from a painful experience. Yet God was gracious and merciful to bless me with His truth through the words of Gabrielle in 2007. I think back to that day, and I see God's faithfulness still. And I thank Him for Gabrielle, who still gently speaks up in truth, encouragement and in accountability. 

Just yesterday, I heard Gabrielle gently humming the tune to Steve Green's scripture song "Do Everything Without Complaining". I stopped and realized I had been grumbling because I was frustrated with a certain household chore. I looked at Gabrielle and said, "Are you humming that song for me?" She lovingly and respectfully replied, "Yep, I am, Mom. You were complaining. You asked me to keep you accountable, and I am." Well, yes she sure is! And I am thankful!

In honor of Gabrielle's birthday and my God-orchestrated post at A Woman Inspired today, I am giving a gift away to one reader who comments over at A Woman Inspired! Gabrielle loves God's Word and her morning devotion time. So...I am giving one Zondervan NIV Real-Life Devotional Bible!! 

I was honored to be on the editing team for this devotional Bible, under the leadership of Glynnis Whitwer. Included in this Bible are 366 daily devotions by my sweet friends and sisters in Christ at Proverbs 31 Ministries that encourage you to live wholeheartedly devoted to Christ.

Just leave a comment here: A Heart More Beautiful! 
(Be sure to leave your contact information.)

Happy 11th Birthday Gabrielle!
We love you so much!

"The King delights in your beauty;
honor Him, for He is your Lord."
Psalm 45:11

"There is only One who is good..."
Matthew 19:17

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

I Have Been Changed ~ Glory to God!

"Whoever welcomes one little child like this
in My name welcomes Me."
Matthew 18:5

This is part 3 of my dear friend Nancy's testimony about how God has changed her life and the lives of her family through a precious little child.

Here's Nancy....

I have been changed. 

It started on October 5, 2011, and it is still happening. The day I learned of this boy, my “heart surgery” began. Heart surgery is term to describe the complete upheaval of my selfishness. I started to see the value of THIS life on earth in a different way. I started to question how seriously I believed the words of the Bible. Did I believe these words enough to truly exchange what others would think for something I knew Jesus would think highly of?

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless in this: to look after widows and orphans in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27

I began to develop a keen awareness that I no longer wanted my minutes on earth to be wasted on things that will evaporate. God had showed me in the photo of an abandoned boy what is truly valuable to Him. The things that force us to crucify our flesh and move others into position AHEAD of ourselves and our selfishness are the things that carry WEIGHT for eternity. The things that move our hearts and the hearts of others toward the feet of Jesus are the things that carry TRUE value. Wow. 

I have been changed.

Were it not for the heart change, how would I ever be willing or able to give up my desires for rest and free time? I wouldn't. Were it not for heart change, how would I rejoice in the sacrifice of “me” for a desperately weak boy? Impossible without the heart change and the eternal vision that can only come from having my eyes opened by the Savior.

“But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:20, 21

It has been difficult to squeeze the last 17 months of our journey with Bryon into three parts. I have felt led to conclude this series by giving the glory to God by telling some of the countless miracles He has done on behalf of Bryon and our family. 

Every day of this journey with Bryon in our home has been a reminder to me that our God is intimately concerned with every aspect of our lives. My favorite part of this realization is the fact that, just as the Bible says, “The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.” (Psalm 9:9) This is true. He leans in closely when we call His name. When we are too weak to cry out, He is still there, leaning in. He is leaning in to Bryon. He always has been. I have clearly seen this is the ways God Himself has stepped in and made things happen in favor of Bryon's survival and future.

I have seen first-hand that, although there a many great doctors at CHOP, God Himself is the Great Physician at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. A friend had to remind me of that during one of our scary times there. Through many terrifying times where I feared the death of this boy, The Great Physician was there holding him. Holding me.

Since day one of this journey, I became aware that this little boy was in the palm of God's hand. I have had to remind myself often, though, and consciously place him back there many times. From the very beginning, it became clear to us that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was also the God of an abandoned little boy from Haiti. This boy's Heavenly Father has His tender and mighty hand on a curly, little head, and has been carrying him to safe places all along. Amazing.

We found Bryon because of Facebook and because God showed him to me. Say what you will about social media, but through it, we became aware of a boy in need of medical care and a family. Initially, what should have been a return trip to Haiti for a desperately fragile boy having received none of the care he had been brought to our country to receive and would surely end in his death, became the BEGINNING of a new life – for our whole family.

Our first of many six-month visa extensions was granted in late November 2011. It cost just about an arm and a leg, but it was granted. It never should have happened, but it did. God did that. Miracle.

We had been relocated through my husband's former company to Philadelphia, just over a year earlier, in the summer of 2010 – home of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, a world-renowned hospital. God knew this boy would be coming to Philadelphia, even before he was born, and had positioned us where we needed to be in His perfect timing. Miracle. Tender, loving care from God.

These words hang over his crib to today. “Before I made you I knew you. Before you were born, I set you apart.” (Jeremiah 1:5) So true.

As we began the adoption process, we became aware that it would be nearly impossible to complete. It was going to require blind faith through a series of circumstances which seemed insurmountable. Children with special needs are not readily adoptable from Haiti. And this child with special needs was far beyond your typical child with a club foot or cleft palate. Disabled by cerebral palsy, blind, tube fed, in need of breathing assistance – you name it. That is how special he is. Add to the special needs obstacle, a birth mom that needed to be located, or a death certificate produced. Either task seemingly impossible. A birth certificate was going to be required for this boy's file to even make it into Haitian social services. How would we find it? We needed a miracle and that is what we got. Again. Miracle.

Birth mom was FOUND due to the tireless efforts of Giving Hope Rescue Mission throughout the island of Haiti. This young girl even went to get a new birth certificate issued for our adoption. Seriously?? Miracle. Again. That was it. We were in. Our file was in. It was in the safe zone (two words Haitian adoptive parents long to hear) Ridiculous miracle. Two words I have become accustomed to saying over and over lately. Clearly, God was up to something and had plans for this curly-headed boy.

And now we wait for another miracle. We need our dispensation signed by the Haitian President. It states that we have three biological children, which is currently more than the legally-allowed number of ZERO.

In the meantime, just a few weeks ago, after a few scares via email and much prayer, God granted favor once again to Bryon. During a phone call with the medical mission which manages Bryon's visa, and its extensions, and to whom I report weekly with medical updates, there was another miracle. After a lengthy conversation with the new staff member managing our file, I described the ins and outs of the past 17 months. She was speechless. She honestly had no idea what we have all been through and had not been aware of how fragile Bryon is. I told her how God had made a way through our insurance to cover the over $300,000 worth of hospital procedures in the last 17 months. Aside from a large deductible for which we are responsible each year, his surgeries and admissions are 100% covered. She was blown away and even exclaimed, “God has a plan for this little boy.” She then told me of her plan to file for ONE YEAR extensions, as opposed to the 6 month extensions we had been using thus far. This would hopefully cover us and prevent a return to Haiti for Bryon prior to receiving our adoption decree. Mir-a-cle.

The phone call had started out with a little “bite” to it. I immediately picked up on her tone when I answered and she introduced herself. I did my best to quickly disarm the woman and make sure my voice was “smiling” right away. God honored it. Just a few minutes into our 45 minute discussion, she was figuring out ways to HELP us. Amazing, considering the past several weeks seemed to have been an exercise in hindering us. I had asked many to pray for several days prior. Miracle. That morning, without knowing she was even going to call me, I had prayed, “Lord, this is too heavy for my shoulders. All these ins and outs with Haitian and American governments, on top of daily caring for him. Too much for my shoulders. Your shoulders are way bigger than mine. I am placing this burden there and trusting you to continue working on Bryon's behalf. You have never failed.” Faithful God. Faithful and true. He had done it. Again. Miracle. And a quick one at that!!

We have a way to go in the waiting. We have a lifetime of medical challenges and therapies ahead. But amazingly, when my eyes are fixed on eternity, rather than life on earth, it is that much sweeter when I snuggle him to my neck. So many times I feel like I am kissing the cheeks of Jesus Himself. Especially when I lean over him in his crib knowing he can not see me, but he can HEAR me and SMELL me. I lean in and say, “Mama loves you.” He sighs and says, “ahhhhhh...”

We serve a God who cares about every little piece of it all. He is at work on behalf of Bryon and His timing is always perfect. Through it, I am learning how faith works. Faith means I step forward because I know I SHOULD, not because I know what is ahead of me. Faith means I trust the One whose promises I know. It means I don't question what I am asked to do, because I can rest in knowing He knows the best methods for giving me His best. This life is dress rehearsal for eternity. We easily fill it up with things that have no eternal value or weight. Things that will pass away. I want to make sure I am in full costume and ready for my cue when the curtain opens.

“And now, O Lord GodYou are God,  
and Your words are true
and You have promised this goodness to Your servant."
2 Samuel 7:28