Slow.

I used to be someone who never sat down. Didn’t stopped moving. Always had 5 more items on my to-do list to complete before the end of the day. When you are a missionary running an organization in a foreign country, there doesn’t seem to be any time for rest. There is always a phone call about a sick child, a knock at the gate from someone in need, and hundreds of unread emails in your inbox. Relaxation is a seldom sought, but always needed. Exhaustion is the way of life. If there is anything missionaries are good at, it’s running themselves into the ground.

I never knew how to embrace the slow, until my daughter came.

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Ellie came home 8 pounds at 15 months and filled with fear. An orphanage was her former home, but that day she became a daughter. She was tiny, but she was mighty. You see, her body works in a way different than most. Cerebral palsy makes it a challenge to do just about everything you and I would deem “simple”: from eating, to learning to sit, to moving your head. Breakfast was a one hour task, putting on her clothes required stretching her muscles into awkward positions, and getting out the door and to a meeting before 1pm was unheard of.

In the process of adjusting to our new normal as a family of two, I learned how to breathe in the slow.

Simply, caring for Ellie required time. I used to be bound to my to-do lists and hour-by-hour schedules, now the only thing I am bound to is my daughter. I used to think that a successful day required new partnerships, meetings, and program development. Now I know that a successful day could involve all of those things, but it could also involve snuggling on the couch watching ABC videos and doing absolutely no work. Love and patience began to fill the cracks in our home where anxiety and stress used to be.

Through slowing down, my life became more full.

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Joy comes in the mourning (#OurWarriorJustice)

4 weeks ago I got a message from a friend named Tammy who has an NGO here in Ghana. I hadn’t talked Tammy in a while, so her message was a bit of a surprise to me. She said she had been following the journey of The Treasured Ones and knew that we cared for abandoned and vulnerable special needs children. Tammy said that a child was placed in her NGO’s care 3 months ago, but they could not care for him long term because their home was full and the baby had special needs and was very sick.

A few months ago God gave me a vision of a Ghanaian child with down syndrome reaching up towards me and calling out “momma, momma” asking to be picked up. I began praying fervently for that child in my vision.

I asked Tammy what the baby was diagnosed with and she said a hospital in eastern Ghana thought he might have a few different special needs, but most likely down syndrome. This was no surprise to me. The minute Tammy messaged me, I knew this was linked to the child in my vision. God planned. God knew. God orchestrated. Tammy said the baby was having trouble breathing, had high fevers, and wasn’t eating. I knew the situation was urgent. We needed to get him to Kumasi right away.

God moved hearts and government officials into action, and 3 month old baby Justice was driven 8 hours from south eastern Ghana to Kumasi with 48 hours of receiving the first message from Tammy. (You can read Tammy’s side of the story here)

Justice arrived and we rushed him immediately to our children’s hospital because he was in critical condition. He spent the next 10 days in the ICU ward of children’s hospital. We began meeting with different pediatricians and going through testing to see exactly what was happening inside J’s little body. The news we received was devastating: Justice had two major heart defects that were common in children with down syndrome, and these type of defects could not be fixed in Ghana, and therefore were fatal. His list of complicated diagnosees continued to grow longer each time we saw another specialist.IMG_9231

But I do not want to linger on J’s diagnosis, I want to focus on his impact. Justice was in our care for 24 days. Those 3.5 were some of the hardest, yet most beautiful, weeks we have had together as a Treasured Ones family thus far. Meghan (Treasured Ones assistant director), Lauren (Treasured Ones summer intern) and myself spent at least 300 total hours in the hospital running morning, afternoon, and night shifts so one of us was always by J’s bedside tending to his every need. We administered medicine, wiped up vomit, patted with cold sponges, adjusted oxygen cannula, changed blown out diapers, rocked, cuddled, soothed, sung, and prayed over him while he fought for life. We checked oxygen saturation levels, counted breath rates, took temperatures, and measured feeds. During that one on one time in the hospital and at home, J’s personality began to shine, despite being so sick and constantly in pain. He had the cutest face and the squishiest of cheeks. He was squirmy as a worm and loved being held on your chest. He cooed and babbled quietly, yet had an ear piercing cry. Justice dug his way deep into my heart in a way that I didn’t know was possible. Loving a child with a condition that will end in death is the harshest of realities. I knew that J would pass away due to his heart defects and other conditions, yet I selfishly begged and pleaded with God to allow him to stay on Earth for one more year, one more month, one more day.
IMG_9055 IMG_9068Justice taught me that you must love with all you’ve got and to cherish the time you’ve been given. God knows exactly how many hairs were on J’s head and He knew exactly how many breaths J would take in his life. He had them all counted. Nothing was hidden from Him or out of His sight. I rested on those facts as I watched Justice struggle to take another breath, always wondering if it would be his last. I clung to Jesus’ promises as more and more medicine was being pumped into his body to try and help his organs work. I didn’t want to have to say goodbye. I didn’t want to let go.

Justice was in the ICU of our children’s hospital for 10 days before he was released into our care. He spent 2 glorious weeks with us at home getting spoiled with snuggles and constant love by anyone who came to visit us. One morning we noticed that his breathing had become a bit labored and he had a bit of sniffle, but thought nothing serious was going on. We called J’s pediatrician who said we should bring him into the hospital just to get checked out. Meghan and Lauren headed out the door as I was handling some issues at the house. We thought they would be gone for a few hours and come home to make pizza for dinner. The situation escalated quickly as Justice began crashing and was quickly admitted to the ICU. The next 48 hours were the longest and shortest. A lot was a blur in the midst of making split second medical decisions and weighing all options. J was transferred to a larger specialist hospital to pediatric emergency unit, and then eventually to the PICU (Pediatric Intensive Care Unit). I replay those 48 hours over and over in my head, going over every test result, every medication administered, every specialist’s words. I tempt myself to think “what went wrong?” “what could we have done differently?”. But nothing went wrong. Absolutely nothing. Jesus was calling Justice home and there was nothing us fleshy humans could do to stop it. This was God’s timing. Even in the hours before J passed away, I was praying and begging and searching for miracles for healing on Earth. When it didn’t look like those miracles were coming, I prayed for peace so powerful that it was seen and tasted and felt. IMG_9176I can recount every minute of the hour leading up to Jesus calling Justice home. And God was present in each of those minutes. The PICU was chaos; doctors and nurses running everywhere, needles and syringes were flying, yet all was calm. I was in tears, yet not worried. For I knew where Justice was going. He was going Home. Eternity was so close I could touch it. And I wanted to go with him. I held his hand, kissed his forehead, and whispered: “We love you Justice. You were never unwanted, not even for a second. It’s been such an honor to love you. You have been so brave. Go run and dance with Jesus my sweet boy”. Justice peacefully passed away a few minutes later. All was still and silent in the PICU. Tears rolled down the staff’s cheeks. And the heavens rejoiced. J received a brand new heart in that instant. One without holes and defects. A perfect heart. Jesus whispered to Justice “I am so proud of you. You have changed so many lives in your short 4 months of life on Earth. Well done my warrior. Welcome home my son. Welcome home Justice”.

IMG_9115“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully madeyour works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139)IMG_9178

We wanted to honor Justice’s legacy by giving back to the place that cared for Justice during his last days of life on Earth. The PICU (Pediatric Intensive Care Unit) of Komfo Anyoche Teaching Hospital in Kumasi, Ghana is the only PICU in West Africa. They are equipped with life support ventilators, top of the line medical equipment, internationally trained intensivists, doctors, and nurses. I have never, in all my years in Africa, seen a medical facility like the PICU. They save the lives of many Ghanaian children who otherwise would have tragically died. They care for their patients with love, respect and compassion as if it was their own child lying in the hospital bed. We want to make a donation in honor of Justice to the PICU so they can continue to provide the life saving care that was provided to Justice. It costs only $40 USD per day per child to be in the PICU. We aim to raise $2,000 USD which will allow them to cover the medical bills of families who can not afford it. You may donate through PayPal here. If you want to read/see more about the KATH PICU, you may do so through their NGO partner, Little Steps Foundation.

Love Looks Like

I hear a soft whimpering cry coming from her wooden crib in the corner. My feet hit the tile floor and I grab a match and a candle to navigate. The electricity has been off for almost two days straight. I glance at the clock. 2:08am. I check her diaper. Dry. She doesn’t seem hungry. I take her temperature. Normal. She continues to cry. I scoop her up and place her in my bed. Might be night terrors. Institutionalization has major effects on children long after they’ve come home. Maybe a bad dream. I rub her back and stroke her hair and whisper, “Mama’s here. It’s okay. You are safe. I love you” and she drifts back to sleep. These moonlight stricken moments. They’re so sacred to me.

We are in a public bus on our way to bi-weekly physical therapy sessions. She’s strapped to my chest and looking out the window at the people passing. I overhear a group of older women in the backseat talking about her. “Why is she white and that child black? Why does that child have those things on her feet? She must have problems. Who would want a child that isn’t healthy?” I turn around and respond in the local language. Giving grace and educating them on special needs and adoption. They just laugh back at me and continue their ridiculing. She continues to look out the window and smile with her hair blowing in the breeze. “You’re perfect” I tell her.

After a long day we shut the front door and walk outside. Yellows and pinks and oranges greet us in the form of blossoming flowers. I stick one behind her ear. She smiles. I toss her up in the air and catch her again. She releases a loud and excited laugh that only could come from the deepest parts of her body. She look me right in the eyes. That’s it. That’s the sparkle and light that captures me. The look that she gives that reassures me that God aligned the moon and the stars just for her to be in my arms today. I throw her up into the blue sky again. She doesn’t look scared or worried, because she knows I will be there to catch her, time and time again, for forever.

Love looks like the 2am wake ups & putting on armor time and time again & being careless and free. Love is messy. Love is joyful. Love is hard. Love is the in-between moments. Love is smiles & glances & belly laughs. Love is standing up when you are weak & moving forward when you are weary. Love is worth it.

This is what love looks like for us.

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A Soft Heart

I’ve been living in Ghana now for almost 15 full months. Over a year ago I had a one way ticket in hand, stepping out in faith and into the complete unknown of moving indefinitely to Ghana. I had no idea what I was getting myself into at the time. If you told me all that I would walk through from moving day until now, I would not believe you for a second. The last 15 months have held more tears, heartbreak and brokenness than I ever thought I could handle. At moments it has felt like life was literally crashing down around me and I could do nothing about it.  There is a lot that has not been shared on this blog, or on any form of social media whatsoever. Most of those chapters and experiences will not be shared publicly because I am not ready to share, or it is just kept between God and I. But I do want you to know this: it has been a hard last 6 months. It has been a hard 15 months. And through all the trials and tribulations, my heart has become a bit hardened. That is one of the most difficult things to admit, but here I am standing vulnerably and stating it.

In the last 6 months my heart has not broken over what it used to. If I heard stories of special needs mothers being ridiculed and mocked, I would tear up because I have been in similar situations with my Ellie. My soul would ache when I saw special needs children not being treated with love and compassion. Those intense feelings are what drove my passion and motivated daily actions. Those feelings still come around now, but it takes a lot to break through the hard outer exterior of my heart. Being put through gauntlets, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, has caused me to form an armor around my once tender heart. When you walk through pain that forces you into survival mode, it is very hard to get out of that way of living. It is hard to then allow other people’s struggles into your heart because you are focused on your own. It has been hard to live in Ghana and constantly see poverty and despair, when my own life and heart felt like it was crumbling. It felt like I couldn’t take on any one else’s problems because I was knee deep in the trenches dealing with my own. And I am not going to lie to you and say that all these issues are gone and I am back to my old self. I am not there yet. I am not on the other side of the mountain. I have, and will always be, a work in progress, molding and being shaped by the hands of our Maker.

My heart used to break for the hard things in my life, now I want my heart to once again break for the hard things in the lives of others.

My prayers used to be for strength to endure, now my prayers are for empathy to comfort.

I want a soft heart, one that listens to others and responds with grace, patience, and encouragement. I want the armor and walls around my current heart to be shattered, leaving behind no broken pieces. I know this process will take time, but I shall faithfully wait, standing here in Ghana, West Africa with an almost two year old on my hip and a thriving ministry. Break my heart for what breaks Yours.

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Motherhood- six months in 

Its 6am and I hear a whimper coming from the crib across the room. She’s awake for the day. I put on my glasses and plant my feet on the tile floor below and walk to pick her up. I reach her dark brown wooden crib and pull off the mosquito net draped across the top. And then she sees me. Her eyes meet mine and she smiles. She might not be able to say “mama” yet, but those eyes and smile…they get me every single time. Because she knows. She knows I’m her momma. The one who fills her cup up when it’s empty, all drawn from the One who is love, comfort, and peace. She knows me as the one who hugs when she cries, cheers when she walks, and smiles when she discovers something new. For a time in her life she didn’t have that. She had a biological momma who cared for her until she went Home to dance with Jesus, and then it was a little while (too long) until she had me. Our story is beautiful and filled with joy, but also one of loss and sorrow and brokenness. I never want to forget about those darker pieces that make up the puzzle of how Ellie became my daughter, and I her momma. He is glorified in the sunshine and in the rain. He is the only one who could have turned a very sad, malnourished, and reserved orphan into a beloved daughter who is filled with spunk, laughter, and joy. 

 
My sweet girl, you are so very loved. I am so proud of you. I can’t wait for the next six months. IMG_4965-0.JPG

one year.

365 days ago I checked in my bags at the British Airways counter at Chicago O’Hare, hugged my family goodbye, ate my last American meal, and boarded a flight with a one way ticket in hand.

[Read my blog post from the day I left. And arriving in Ghana. And about the crazy flight journey to get there. And how I got horribly sick when I arrived.]

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If I said stepping onto that plane was scary, it would be a vast understatement. It was terrifying. I was 20, in the middle of my college degree, living in Chicago, and settling up a comfortable life for myself in America.
But when God calls, you swallow the huge lump in your throat, and say “yes” to the path He is laying out for you. Even if that means selling everything you own to move 6,000+ miles across the ocean without any solid plan for what you will do when you get there.

So, through joy-filled tears, that’s what I did.

And here we are one year later.

The fact that I’ve been living in Ghana for a whole year baffles me. Time has moved so quickly, yet so painfully slow too. I could never, ever have imagined all that would happen in my first year. Lots of laughter, lots of tears. The highest of highs, along with the lowest of lows. Paths radically redirected. New doors opened. Chapters slammed shut. Hellos and goodbyes. Blessings. Joys. Heartache. Loss. Hope. There are no words to describe it all. There’s so many stories I have’t told. Stories of the most painful heartache, and stories of abundant rejoice. So many moments that are kept deep inside my heart. Moments of weakness, and moments when I knew life from then onwards would never be the same. These 365 days have held a lot. Maybe sometime soon I’ll be able to process it all a bit and explain more. Right now I’m still in the thick of it. Trying to sort through all that’s happened in the last year. [You can see some highlights from the year in the 2014 in review post.]

IMG_8392 Today begins year two of living in Ghana. The Treasured Ones is expanding at a rapid rate. My baby girl is growing like a weed and surprising the doctors & therapists daily. We are putting one foot in front of the other and pressing on in Jesus name. We will continue to walk down the path God has laid out, no matter how difficult. We will keep finding joy in the little moments. We will make it. We will endure and persevere. And in the journey, we will be showered with endless grace, love, mercy, and new beginnings.

Here’s to year two!

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2014 in Review

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[January 7, 2014]
[Said goodbye to parents, brothers, family, and friends to pack suitcases and move across the ocean on a one way ticket]

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[January 12, 2014]
[Moved into my four bedroom house and having no idea who or what would fill it]

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[January 28, 2014]
[Turned 21 in a village and celebrated with hundreds of new little friends]

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[American friends visited all throughout the year]

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[February 24, 2014]
[Met my future daughter Ellie & her twin brother for the first time (I had NO idea what was in store for us!)]

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[March 6, 2014]
[Reunited with my Little Boy in Blue, my first inspiration to found The Treasured Ones]

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[March 8, 2014]
[We met through Instagram. She committed to be in Ghana for 9 months with an eye care NGO. Jamen moved to Ghana in October. I in January. We met for the first time in Accra. We became best friends & Ghana sisters. And the rest is history]

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[March 14, 2014]
[Having my Atonsu kiddos for a sleepover]

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[April 2014]
[One of our many weekend slumber parties filled with ice cream, Jesus, & soul talks]

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[April 30, 2014]
[Met Ronald for the first time after God directed me to him. 24 hours later his $2,000 USD shunt surgery was funded in full. He received surgery a few months later]

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[May 4, 2014]
[My son, Ellie’s twin brother was suddenly & unexpectedly called Home to be with Jesus while I was in the process of getting custody of him]

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[June 20, 2014]
[Officially announced that I was founding The Treasured Ones]

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[June 25, 2014]
[Served as a Short Term Missionary at Joni and Friends International Family Retreat and met some of the sweetest friends & children]

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[July 12, 2014]
[Flew to America for a one month visit and was surprised big time in California]

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[July 13th, 2014]
[My soul sisters and best friends threw Ellie and I a baby shower in California]

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[August 7th, 2014]
[Portia & Kwabena moved in and became the first beneficiaries of The Treasured Ones Foster/Rehab Home]

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[August 26th, 2014]
[Ellie Grace, my beloved daughter, came home forever]

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[September 3, 2014]
[We stood before a judge and she granted me legal guardianship of Ellie]
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[September 2014]
[KCH Inclusive Primary School officially welcomed 30 children with special needs into the school, adding to over 150 students in total]

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[September 22, 2014]
[We welcomed Shadrach to The Treasured Ones Foster Home]

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[October 9th, 2014]
[Light for Children Education Center officially opened]

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[October 11th, 2014]
[Partnered with Joni and Friends Wheels for the World to give custom pediatric wheelchairs to 11 children]

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[October 18th, 2014]
[Ellie continues to surprise all doctors by making huge strides in her development]

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[December 2014]
[We open the Special Needs Resource Center at KCH Inclusive School complete with art room, physical therapy room, computer lab and store]

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[December 24th, 2014]
[Ellie’s first Christmas]

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[December 25th, 2014]
[Ellie home for 4 months & celebrating our first holidays as a family of 2]

Thoughts on Motherhood [Inside Out]

Over three months ago, Ellie Grace came home. And life has not been the same since. I was thrown into instant motherhood through adoption, a blessing and a calling I have been dreaming about for years. I thought I knew what I was getting myself into, but really I had no idea.

Motherhood guts you from the inside out. Fully. Completely. Totally rips your heart apart. When Ellie came home I knew I would watch her be transformed by love, but little did I know that I would be going through a major transformation as well.

Motherhood reveals the deepest, darkest, most ugly parts of your heart. When it’s 3am and the moon is shining bright, and you are wide awake with a screaming child who refuses to sleep, your first response isn’t to react with patience and understand. It’s easier to become frustrated and have a short temper. You say mean things and use strong words. You pace back and forth thinking of your wrongdoings of the day. You question your ability to parent and wonder what the heck you are doing. The ugly and the nasty parts of your heart surface in those moments and you live minute by minute. In those moments you have two choices, let those ugly heart parts continue to saturate your actions and thoughts, or pray for God to change them.

For the first few weeks of Ellie being home, I chose the first option. Ellie had a rocky transition due to extreme trauma and severe malnutrition. She had a very difficult time sleeping and eating, which caused me to become frustrated easily. My temper would be short and my fuse would be hot. I was exhausted in almost every minute of the day. I wouldn’t necessarily get mad at her, but the circumstances and situations I was facing. And the nasty parts of my heart would creep their way to the surface. I would feel guilty because of the way I reacted, which would affect my mood even further. “Mom guilt” is very very real. I felt negativity constantly buzzing around me and was not the happiest person to be around.

Then, I decided that I needed to chose the second option, to ask God to take the surfaced ugly parts of my heart and change them. In those moments when I was at the end of my rope, I chose to not react with frustration, but to cry out to God for help. For strength, and bravery, and energy to get through the long days and even longer nights. And over time, I felt my heart begin to change. I found myself having more patience than ever before, even when Ellie was refusing to eat more than a spoonful. I found myself speaking kind words, even when my head was pounding with annoyances. I found myself holding Ellie close and gazing deep into her eyes under the moonlight, even when she would wake up 15 times a night. My words changed, my actions changed, my relationships changed. When you ask God to take over every piece of your heart, He will. And He will surprise you with that He does. He took the ugliest corners of my heart and flipped them upside down. The hardened, sin soaked parts of my heart are being softened and molded into new paths to Him. His grace is given freely…but only if you accept it.

Ellie Grace, you have no idea the ways you are changing my life.

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