On Hope

Last night was just one of those nights. One of those nights that Tomas felt like sharing about his life in Ethiopia. He has them every once in awhile. He’ll have days where it seems his memories come rushing to him, like a tidal wave of nostalgia. I don’t know what it was about last night that made it happen. We were all around the table as the kids drank hot chocolate and made their lists for Santa Claus. Maybe it was that I was asking him over and over again what he wanted for Christmas. Tomas would answer with just one toy and I would encourage him to keep listing. “More”? He kept asking.

So I don’t know if it was the juxtaposition of the overindulgence that comes with Santa Claus compared to his history that did it, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that was exactly the trigger last night.

But he told me many things, most of which we’ll keep private…part of his story that he will one day choose to share or not to share.

He did tell me again of water. How he used to have to fetch the water. By himself. At 3 and 4 years old. He remembers walking for so long. Putting the water on his head. He talked about it being so, so heavy. That it hurt his head the rest of the day. I have no doubts this is one of the reasons God put water on my radar so long ago.

Tomas talked about food, or the lack thereof. That “meals” would take mere minutes. “It started and then it was done.”

All last night and today I’ve been thinking about hope. More specifically, how in the hell do Tomas, Binyam and Tariku still have any? I thought about my miscarriage and how I was without hope for seemingly months. I thought about other situations in my past that have left me with little hope to grasp and how none of them compare to the situations in which my sons have found themselves in their short amount of time on this earth.

I have no idea how my boys are still full of hope and joy from some of the stories they tell us. I have no idea how they still look at me with hope in their eyes, that I’ll stay, that I’ll love them enough, that I’ll feed them enough. This amount of hope they have, well it makes no sense to me. But I am so, so thankful they still have that. So thankful when I look in their eyes I see hope and strength shine back at me.

Hope. It’s been on my mind the last few days. And then today I read this. Man, how it spoke to me! So I’ll link it and post it for you to read. Maybe it’s what you need to hear today too.

hope is dangerous.

this saturday night marked the first week of advent leading up to christmas, a season we celebrate very intentionally at the refuge. it’s a hard time of year for a lot of people i know.   it seems like loneliness, depression, fear, and shame seem to set in a little extra.  in our community this year we are doing something i have wanted to try for years–a plan to have something to do every day from thanksgiving to new years.  we are calling it the “refuge no-suck holiday plan” & it includes a really great mix of community, serving others, movies, coffee conversations & more.  it’ll be a fun experiment.
for saturday evenings during advent, the refuge is doing a series called “making room for the unexpected”, focusing on making room for unexpected light, love, joy, and hope.  i kicked us off on saturday night (being up & out of the house that long really kicked my post-surgery butt, too, but i was glad i got to be part & now i’m back on the couch).  i challenged us to consider is to be open to the possibility of hope this advent.  but that hope can be dangerous, in a good and scary way.  i thought maybe somewhere along the line i had written on this before, and it turns out i had shared this little piece on the refuge blog in january 2009.  it is called “hope is dangerous” and i thought i’d just re-post it here in the spirit of the season of waiting, of anticipation, of hoping.
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hope. it can mean all kinds of things for different people, but i think it mainly implies “expectation.” a possibility that maybe things could be different, that there’s more to this life than just what we see, that there’s something better ahead. many of us, for all kinds of reasons, are afraid to hope. we have seen many of our dreams dashed. jobs lost. relationships crumbled. addictions destroy. God-not-delivering-the-goods-the-way-we-had-hoped. so we hunker down our hearts and do whatever we can to protect it against believing that good is really possible—again, or maybe for the first time. we settle for loneliness. we settle for disconnectedness. we settle for going-through-the-motions. the thought of something more hurts too much. what if we make ourselves vulnerable and hurt again? what if we try and they all get dashed anyway? what if we risk and lose again? the “what if’s” mount, hope gets held at bay, and we miss out on the thing that Jesus kept pointing to over and over and over again—life now. love now. hope now.
and it remains utterly consistent that pretty much everything Jesus calls us to is quite dangerous. so why would hope be different? hope will require a risk. it will require sacrifice. it will require working against our reflexes to run, hide, self-protect, self-medicate. it will require believing in what it unseen. it will mean we will hurt. it will mean we will be afraid. it will mean taking steps on a path we are unfamiliar with.
it will require us letting God’s spirit move in a way in our hearts that is mysterious and scary and maybe unfamiliar. so how do we get over our fear of hope’s dangerous-ness?
here are just a few thoughts:
  • admit what we’re really afraid of. is it being afraid to fail? are you afraid of your heart hurting? are you afraid that you’ll just end up mad at God again? what is it that freaks you out about hope? real relationship requires honesty.
  • seek courage in the small steps. we sometimes have such a high expectation of ourselves, that we’re supposed to somehow “take the hill” tomorrow, having conquered all that holds us back. that usually just leads to failure & shame & anger toward ourselves for our lack of faith and courage. small steps keep hope alive, especially when we celebrate them together in community.
  • expect it to hurt. hope’s gonna hurt. it’s supposed to. it means we are still really alive. Jesus made very clear that following him would mean pain. hardened hearts do not hurt. but soft open hopeful ones are sure to. i think we need to get better at bracing ourselves for hope to hurt.
  • recognize that hope in circumstances is not the same as hope in God. over and over in the scriptures the psalmists cry out “we hope in You, God…our hope is not in the world, but in You.” it is so easy to rest our hope in outcomes, tangibles, things-the-way-we-want-them-to-turn-out. this is why real hope is so dangerous, because it means accepting somehow that things may not be how we had hoped but that our hope in God mysteriously supersedes circumstances.
  • strain to see God, feel God, hear God wherever you can. i really think we get so blinded by our pain, our fear, our busyness, our self-centeredness that it becomes difficult to experience God’s spirit moving, revealing, challenging, strengthening, encouraging, pushing. especially when hope is waning and our anger or ambivalence is getting the best of us, we will need to strain to see him in small wacky ways that might normally be missed. in the eyes of a friend. in a word of encouragement. in a song. in the mountains. in a crisis. in a scripture. in where-ever-we-feel-a-flicker-in-our-heart-that-reminds-us-God-is-with-us.
yeah, hope is dangerous. i am afraid of it, too, but i sense God nudging me in all kinds of ways to let him fan more and more of it into flame. to risk my pride, my heart, my safety on hope’s behalf.
i love romans 15:13 in the message:
Oh! May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope!
this month, as we focus on hope as a community, i pray that we will be people willing to open ourselves up to its dangers. to risk on its behalf. to take steps toward life that scare us. to let God’s spirit move in ways that make our hearts come painfully alive. to let hope propel us to love.
[and in the spirit of this advent season 2010, i’ll add:  to make room for the unexpected.]
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ps:  my friend craig spinks has a set of dvd’s for the advent season focused on the same theme as the refuge–making room for the unexpected. some refuge friends are part & you can watch the one we showed on saturday here.  these dvd’s include some really great discussion starters for small groups & are very inexpensive, too.
ppss:  some other advent posts i liked:  sarah at emerging mummy has alovely advent prayer, christine sine is starting a new series for advent calledjesus is near: how do we draw close, and brittany ouchida-walsh has a beautiful advent 1 piece.

The Weekend

Friday morning we headed to Des Moines to celebrate Thanksgiving with my side of the family.

We got family pictures taken (you’ll get to see those soon, promise). But my mom also cooked up a delicious feast.

We also had some time for a few at-home photo sessions.

And many naps (here my dad “grandpa” with baby Adley).

I got to see some of my oldest and dearest friends…and their hubbies and babies (Amber just had hers 2 weeks ago!)

I need to find a picture of us when we were just 9 years old and I was all teeth and bangs (picture Trysten with longer hair).

And today, today we got to go pick out a Christmas tree for my parents. The kids were so fun. I’m convinced everything is better with kids, absolutely convinced.

It’s Christmas at Camp!

Last week the kids started begging (well I heard begging anyway, there’s a decent chance Trysten just asked once, I do so love the holidays) me to start setting up for Christmas.

Of course I obliged.

I helped Tomas put up the first decoration. Might not be able to do that for many more years!

Zach even (albeit reluctantly) helps with decorating. He acts like he does it just for me but I can see the smile behind those eyes. Oh, but he does love me that much too.

Me, on the other hand, I seriously love this stuff.

These guys? Yup they do too.

At least for a few minutes. After those few minutes, they wound up wrestling. They always do. What is it with boys?

These two, well they decorated and proceeded to break my heart into a billion pieces with their unlimited preciousness.

After decorating we turned our excitement into a dance party.

Their relationship (Dailah and Tomas), that is something I wasn’t expecting. But they are budding besties. I love it.

Doozie, being the only girl on hand not holding an expensive camera, was passed around readily. It was pretty obvious, though, that this was her favorite partner. And the feeling was mutual.

My favorite part of decorating this year was definitely Tomas. He was enjoying everything so much. I started holding his hand and he turned to hug me, “I’m so excited for Christmas this year because I have a family! And I love you guys so much!”

The feeling is absolutely mutual.


What a year it’s been. When I was showering yesterday preparing for the celebration at the Klipschs, I nearly broke down. Just too much to be thankful for, really. New kids, “old” kids, husband, family, friends, food, clean water. So, so much. It feels sometimes silly to have a day devoted to giving thanks, right? But sometimes it’s exactly what we need to remind ourselves that we weren’t meant to live this life on our own. When I looked around the tables last night at dinner I was so thrilled to be living my life. With the people who have come alongside me and inspired me, loved me and challenged me.

So, so thankful to this God who gave it all to me. So, so inspired to do something with my blessings.

But really, I am thankful for these people every day.

Aunt Kait and all of her nephews (and single niece…until baby girl Klipsch comes home that is).

Dailah and hotflawedmama feeding my nephew, Cassius.

Bini was so precious with his cousin, Cash.

Kait, Dailah, Cash and Aunt Emily (aka “Cash’s mommy”)

And this is us. Arguably the most thankful family this year.

Turkey Trot

Our yearly tradition…the Y’s Turkey Trot. I LOVE this tradition. Clearly I’m pretty passionate about fitness, but I like this tradition because (usually) we involve the kids in fitness too. Childhood obesity is a serious problem, and I think the idea of getting up early as a family to get a bit of exercise in before all of the mass food consumption is a delightful idea.

This year, however, the kids and hotflawedmama decided to sit out and cheer on daddy. We didn’t want to make Bini feel bad about not being able to walk/run with us and he’s a little bitter when he has to be in a stroller. Next year you’ll see the whole family at the 1 mile fun run!

Zach, on the other hand, does the 5 miler. I’m going to just tell you this man inspires me. In many ways, but definitely in this. I’d rather get my fingernails plucked off one by one than to run 5 miles in a herd of people. To each his own, my man looked pretty darn good (here with his sister, Kait).

The kids and hotflawedmama positioned ourselves right next to the bagels and hot cocoa inside.

I took the kids to the finish line when I knew Zach and Kait would be getting close to finishing so they could cheer them on. The kids were so excited about that possibility.

And were so proud of their daddy when he finished.

Zach and Kait, truly some of the most beautiful people in the world.

Then brother Frank joined the photog session and increased the beauty.

Then off to the food!!!


Remember this post? Was your curiosity peaked? I hope so!

Today’s the day. Go over to Jody’s blog right now and hear more about what she’s got cooking in Colorado. It’s kind of a big deal.

So now you have multiple ways to change the way your family sees Christmas. Buy water and buy coal.

If you’re like me and haven’t even begun to think about Christmas shopping yet, go here and become part of the tribe. I am, and so should you be.

Date Night

On Saturday morning I got a message from Jared asking if we were interested in tickets to the Holiday Pops concert (Jared works for the Quad City Symphony, an amazing, vital, aspect of our community). We always celebrate with the boys when their report cards come back if the teachers comment on their hard work and if it’s clear they are doing their very best in school. We don’t actually celebrate grades, but we do praise effort and character. All 3 boys received top props for those categories so a date night was promised.

These free tickets held much promise because 1) they were free and 2) all 3 boys love music. So it was decided, I would take our boys to celebrate their first semester.

They were so excited. Tomas was even more excited once we got him all gussied up.

They were so excited they were smothering me with kisses (especially when I begged for them).

Just before we left an infomercial caught Zach’s eye. And as I turned around I noticed the entire family was equally impressed.

We got to the concert a bit late but this is what we saw when we first got to our seats.

It was beautiful! At one point Tomas grabbed my arm and said, “Mommy I want to cry! The music is just so beautiful!” I seriously love how open and in touch that kid is with his emotions. So many things move him, I can relate to this in an invaluable way.

Tariku noticed there were people on the ground able to eat (he is notorious for noticing all things food related). He was still incredibly irresistible.

They sat really well through an hour and a half so I decided to spoil them with a little cookies and cream Whiteys, despite it being 9pm (1 and a half hours past bedtime!).

I LOVE date nights. Having them for so much time away from everyone else reminds me why I love each one so much. On the car rides we discussed topics as far reaching as: girls, friends, school, Jesus, God, Christmas, Ethiopia and farts.

Tomas told me some things he remembers about Ethiopia.

Tariku told me a story he remembered that I hadn’t heard before.

Trysten took all of that in and, as I tucked him in, said he was so thankful his brothers were here-in our family.

Couldn’t agree more…about all of them.

Love my “bigs”!

My Crown of Glory

So Shonda asked for more information on the hair products I mentioned here. Wen is a great product. I’ve been using it for months. I used to have super greasy hair, as in if I took a shower in the morning, by nightfall my hair would be greasy. But I started using Wen and that changed…not right at first. After a few weeks I started noticing I could space out my hair washings (this was even after working out…I know, ewwww). But Wen isn’t a shampoo, at least not in the traditional sense, I think that’s why it works so well.

There have been studies that prove the more we shampoo our hair, the more our hair needs to be shampooed. It’s a vicious, vicious cycle. So I wanted to stop it, and try to keep my hair as healthy as possible as well.

All this said, Cassie just sent me this link and I’m going to try it! Cassie swears by it and since I’ve seen her recently I can attest to the fact that her hair looks great, I think I’ll love it. It’s super cheap, appears to be super easy and super eco-friendly.

Who’s in with me? Any of you want to try the “no poo method”?


So any parent of a young child knows those initials. “DS”. My kids have been asking for one since they first caught sight the little devil gaming systems. But Zach and I talked about it and made a decision.

They’d have to save for one.

We chose this for many reasons. Probably the first being that we have 5 kids and 1 income. The sheer logistics of buying 5 DS’s on one income does not make sense.

Then there is the little issue that we don’t like the idea of our kids hiding behind gaming systems when life is playing out beautifully and wonderfully around them.

The third reason is because we are pretty serious about teaching our kids about money. Saving, giving, spending, all of that. Zach and I were crap less than stellar about all of that until just a few years ago.

We also wanted the kids to be really invested in it. We lose stuff all the time around here. We break stuff all the time around here. We thought that if we had the kids buy it with their own money, they will be more careful with it.

So that was about a year ago that we announced to the kids that they’d have to buy their own DS. Trysten was serious about it right away. Literally, I think the hour after we made this little announcement Trysten came into my room with $2 he had from the tooth fairy. That birthday he saved the $30 Wal Mart gift card he received from his aunt Kara to be spent on his DS.

A year later and Trysten had saved $165 (counting the gift card). He cleaned cars for money, saved every dollar of his teeth money, looked in the couches, flashed his eyelashes at his grandparents, etc. Pretty impressive.

So on Tuesday we took Trysten to buy his very own DS. He was so excited.

When we got to the DS case we noticed he could have the regular DS or we could give him a few more dollars and he could get the DSi (xl) that came with a game. So we looked at him, told him how proud we were of him and told him he could have the big one and we’d spot him the last few dollars. He turned to me and said, “Thank you for making my dreams come true.” Sniff, sniff.

We had him ask the woman for help, had him pay for it, everything. To drive the point home that he was doing this, it was his. And then he wanted to call his Grandma Connie to thank her for giving him some of the money.

On our way out Trysten says to Zach, “You know what I love more than the DS? You guys.”


So I’m really proud of him. He’s getting to that age where half the time he acts too cool, sometimes he’s super selfish, he’s starting to become a young man. But he’s still my firstborn. The oldest. It’s very hard to treat him like a young man when he’ll always be my baby.

Baby or young man, either way, I love him more than can possibly be explained.

Oh, and if you’re keeping track. The kid with the next closest amount is Dailah, with a staggering $17. Tariku has about $2 (he likes to lose his money and/or spend it on gum). Tomas is up to $5 because he keeps pulling out his own teeth. Binyam has nothing because, well, he drops it within a few minutes of receiving any and forgets to tell me until the next day…and then he can’t remember where he dropped it. Though they all seem a bit more motivated now after seeing the DS live and in the flesh…and in the hands of a sibling.