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Archive for the ‘My Story’ Category

After Kara’s adoption was complete, we were finally ready to settle in for “normal” life. I found peace that our family was complete and did not have that empty feeling wondering who was missing from our table. My heart is still burdened for orphans/adoption, but my role has become one of assisting and encouraging others along the way. My main resources for doing this are this blog and an online discussion group that I started to help families who have or are adopting children with clubbed feet.  The group currently consists of 180 members in all stages of the process with children from all over the world.  It has been a blessing to watch God bring so many of these wonderful kids into loving families where their feet are treated and where they go on to live happy, normal lives.  I don’t know if God has more plans for me in the orphan/adoption arena in the future, but I am open to His leading.

Our lives are very full raising our five children.  It’s easy to be consumed just doing what we have to do:  laundry, cleaning, cooking, etc., but God has called me to a much higher purpose than that.  He impressed on me when the kids were just babies that these are HIS children.  He has placed them in my care to raise them knowing Him–not ABOUT Him, but actually knowing HIM.  That’s where I went astray as a child/young adult, and it is my passion to not have my own children repeat my mistakes.  There is a great difference in having a lot of spiritual, and even Biblical, knowledge and actually having a personal, growing relationship with Jesus Christ.  The latter is our goal.  How do we even begin to do that?  The answer is given in Deuteronomy 6.  First and foremost, I must love God with all of my heart, soul, and strength.  Boy, do I fall short of that, but that is what is required.  His commands are to be in my own heart before I can pass them on to my kids.  Then I am to diligently teach them to my children as we go throughout all of our days.  His principles are to be constantly before us, incorporated into every detail of our conversations and experiences.

Children today live in such a  difficult world.  They are the targets of every kind of worldview.  The opposition is keenly aware that the kids literally hold the future, and fight for every one they can get.  It is the children of today that will be the leaders in the not-to-distant future, and it is the responsibility of every generation to train the next to follow the Creator and His ways.  It is my desire to give my children such a strong foundation that nothing will shake them when God calls them to whatever He has for them.  That requires focused diligence every day as we deal with issue by issue.

Homeschooling, of course, plays a major part in the training of our children, and I am thankful that God has provided a way for us to do that.  My Mom often reminds me that “when God wants you to do something, He always provides the way.”  Oh, that is so true.  Every year there are new obstacles to overcome, but I have learned not to worry about the details.  When I need an answer, it is always there at just the right time.  From scheduling, to physical arrangements, to guiding the kids, etc. , God is always faithful in giving the direction that I need to serve Him.

So, that is my passion.  I believe that is God’s calling on my life.  It’s not very “exciting” or glamorous, but the rewards are eternal.  When I see my kids clinging to Christ it is all worth it.  And it’s not just MY kids–He has placed a burning passion in my soul to reach other kids along the way.  Whether it is through teaching Sunday School, helping with scouts, going to baseball games, or even just writing entries in this blog, He has called me to be a witness to the next generation:  a witness of His amazing, saving grace that has transformed my life from darkness to light.

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“We are in China.”  Those were the words that my sister-in-law Kyleen whispered to me as our plane landed in Shanghai.  I can’t begin to explain the feelings I had at that time.  Excitement, nervousness, fear all mixed together.   We were on the doorstep of an adventure of a lifetime, and I had the perfect travel partner.  Dan had decided to stay home with our other children, so Kyleen volunteered to help me through the process.  God knew she was the one that I needed for those days.

We met up with our travel group the next day in Hefei, which is the capital city of Anhui Province where we were to meet Shayanne and complete her adoption.  There were several families in our travel group, all of whom became very dear to us in a very short time.  Our guide’s name was Rui (pronounced Ray).  She also proved to be just the person at just the right time and place for the days to come.

We had a day to spend in Hefei getting all of the paperwork, money, etc. organized before meeting Shayanne.  We knew that it would be a very emotional experience, so Kyleen wisely suggested that we should write down a list of questions for the nannies so we could get as much information about her as possible.  One of these questions was “is there anything else about Shayanne that we need to know?”

You can imagine the anticipation that filled the bus as we traveled to the Civil Affairs office to meet our children.  Shayanne was the only child being adopted from her orphanage that day, and her city was several hours away from Hefei.  So, she was the last child to arrive.  The people who accompanied her were in quite a hurry to begin the trip back to their city, so they wanted to get through the process as quickly as possible.

When I saw Shayanne, I was completely unprepared for what I would experience.  She was so very tiny–nothing  like the other toddlers in our group.  She was very much an infant even though she was the oldest child there that day.  Kyleen and I both immediately felt uneasy, and to be honest, I knew right away that this was not my child.  Things just didn’t seem right, that’s the only way I can explain it.  We were rushed around into a room to sign temporary custody papers–we had to request that they at least wait for our guide to come explain what we were signing before they would leave.  Kyleen had the presence of mind to get out our list of questions, and they said they would only answer three.  She immediately pointed to the question, “is there anything else about Shayanne that we need to know?”  Quick, awkward glances were exchanged among the people in the room, and our guide talked with them back and forth in Chinese.  She informed us that there was something else, but that she did not know exactly how to translate it.  She said that she would work on it and let us know later in the day.

We took Shayanne back to the hotel, and began the process of trying to figure out what her exact issues were.  Her hearing loss did not explain the child left in our care.  For the sake of Shayanne’s privacy, I will not go into what our experiences were, but let’s just suffice it to say that she was in extremely poor physical condition.  When Rui returned to our room with the translation of what the nannies had told her, it all began to make sense.  This child had severe neurological issues that had never been explained to us.

My heart was torn in two!  I did not know what we were going to do!  I had never dreamed that our journey would lead us to this.  I did know that there were no resources available to help a child in Shayanne’s condition anywhere near our home that is “on the prairie.”  Dan was back in the USA, but I had to contact him with the details.  He wanted us to send pictures and information to our local doctor while we had her examined in China to try to determine what decisions we should make.  All of the advice pointed in the same direction:  that this child was not in strong enough condition to be adopted or to travel back to the United States.  All parties involved were in agreement, although we were told to expect to travel home with no child if we did not continue Shayanne’s adoption.

This was such a difficult moment.  It seemed hard to understand why God would have brought us to this point only to go home with no child.  But, God…  BUT GOD!  He spoke in my heart to trust Him.  Even if we were to go home with no child, I was to trust Him, and show nothing but praise for His goodness, sovereignty, and power.  Kyleen agreed that even if it never made any sense, we were in China at that time in that situation as part of God’s perfect plan.

So, dear, dear Rui guided us step-by-step of interrupting the adoption process.  She was a tower of strength as she spent hours communicating with our adoption agency’s office in Beijing.  She truly took up our situation as her own.  She explained our complex situation to the Chinese officials, and helped them to understand that this child was simply not adoptable at this time.  She pled for their mercy, while we pled with God for guidance, and that mercy was granted.  We were told not to get our hopes up, but that we should begin thinking about what special needs we would be open to if another child could be found for us.  We had a only a few days to work with because a week-long holiday was quickly approaching in China during which no offices would be open for business.

So, a light began to emerge out of the darkness, but we still had the difficult task of letting go of Shayanne.  The people from her orphanage came to pick her up, but only after I had time to say good-bye.  I’m telling you, it was like a death.  It was a death in many ways–death of the child that had never been.  The Shayanne that we had held in our hearts during those months of waiting and preparation simply did not exist, and that was heart-wrenching to say the least.  We dressed her up in the one pretty outfit that we had that fit her–the one 12-month outfit that I had packed, fixed up her hair, and gave her back with many, many tears.  It’s difficult to explain that there was peace amidst the tears.  We knew that God had led to this decision and that this was part of His perfect plan whether we would ever understand it or not.

Our travel group gave us nothing but support during those days of uncertainty.  They shared their hearts, their beautiful new children, and their love.

After Shayanne left, we had to turn our attention to the paperwork involved with requesting a new referral.  Rui told us to write a description of what had happen with Shayanne and to respectfully ask for another child.  She said to include the age range, sex, and special needs we would accept.  I wrote that we would prefer a child of either gender, any age (preferably younger than our youngest son, but not required), with any special need related to orthopedic issues, hearing loss, blindness, etc.  Kyleen and I really felt that this was a holy time–a time that God was truly at work to bring us the child He had planned.  It was exciting to see.

We were originally told to expect a wait of several days while the officials searched for a child.  We were surprised when our guide came to our room a few hours later with not one, but two children that had been identified as possible candidates.  There were no pictures, or even names.  All we had was gender, age, and general description of the special needs.  Both were girls.  One was approximately 12 months old, and the other was almost three.  The younger girl was described as having one leg fatter than the other, and the older was described as being “pigeon-toed” with a possibility of some problem with her fingers on one hand.  Exciting telephone calls back to the United States were made to confer with Dan, and he, Kyleen, and I all felt led by God that the older of the two girls was the one.  We had nothing concrete to base that decision on, but God had led us all to that child, so we proceeded with faith.

So, we informed our guide of our decision, and she called the adoption officials with our decision to adopt Huang Min Cui from Huangshan.  She wondered if we wanted to wait until we could get more information about the girl, but we said no.  I told Rui that I knew God’s hand was at work, and that I knew I could trust Him.  Our time frame was very tight because of the impending Chinese holiday and our already scheduled Consulate appointment in Guangzhou.  Rui said she’d need an English name to begin the paperwork, and after more phone calls and discussions, Kara Joy was chosen.  “Kara” means pure, so her name means “pure joy.”  We knew that God was turning our sorrow into unbelievable joy.

So, our course had taken a serious turn from our original plan.  God kept impressing upon me that this was not a surprise to Him, and that I needed to show complete confidence in His loving care.  Rui was concerned that we might not have appropriate clothing for this child who was older than we had been planning for.  She recommended that we should shop for bigger clothes, but I told her how God had given me peace about the clothing as I packed, and that I felt certain that He knew all about what Kara’s needs would be.  Rui thought I was crazy, but I told her that I fully expected the clothes that we had to fit this child.

Rui also wanted to prepare us that this child would very likely be extremely frightened.  She had come from an orphanage that did not participate in international adoption, so she had not been prepared.  Again, God gave me the words to say to Rui.  I told her that I had complete confidence that God had prepared this child and that she would know that I was her momma.

A few days passed while Kara’s paperwork was hurriedly processed, and finally we were ready to meet the child that God had hand-picked for us–the child that had been in His mind all along.  I could not wait!  Her orphanage was very far from Hefei although it was still in Anhui province.  So, Kara was accompanied by two nannies on her first airplane ride to Hefei.  She arrived in the middle of the night, and was soundly asleep when they got to our hotel.

She was absolutely stunning sleeping on the nanny’s lap.  My heart overflowed with love knowing that this was my child.  I knew right away that she was not “pigeon-toed.”  Her foot was clearly clubbed.  In fact, she had just had a cast removed that morning from her most recent surgery, and her foot was still swollen (and still crooked).  I saw her hands.  Several fingers missing, the rest all deformed. But none of that mattered.  Huang Min Cui was my girl, and I knew all would be well.

The nannies could not get little Cui Cui to wake up that evening, but they had a story they really wanted to share with us.  They told us through our interpreter Rui that she had been a favorite in their facility and that they had all been really stirred to learn that she was going home to a family.  They said it was with mixed emotions that they would give her to us.  They said that everyone was crying when Cui Cui was ready to leave, but that that sweet little child had reached up with her stubby thumb to wipe away the tears and had said, “Don’t cry.  I am just going to find my Momma.”  That came from a girl who “had not been prepared for adoption.”  Rui looked at me with astonishment.  Yes, this girl knew she was going to her Momma just like I had said.  Truly, God was at work.

The next day we completed all of the final adoption papers, and Huang Min Cui officially became Kara Joy Mincui O’Brien.  She was naturally a little shy at first, but it did not take long for that “shy, introverted” child to transform into a happy, loving, beautiful Kara Joy.  The clothes?  Guess what–every item I packed fit Kara Joy perfectly except for the shoes.  But she didn’t need the shoes because she had just had surgery and was instructed not to walk on her foot anyway.  Yes, God had provided for her needs before I ever knew that she existed.

We spent the rest of our time in China getting acquainted with the special girl that God had given us.  We spent a lot of time taking her on walks in the stroller so she could be out in God’s beautiful sunshine.  We shopped, we played, and worked on being able to understand each other (which was no easy task since she spoke fluent Chinese!!)  We kept all of our original appointments in Guangzhou before flying home on the same flight that had been originally planned.

To make a long story short, Kara fit into our family right away.  The other kids all loved her, and she loved them.  There were challenges, of course, adjusting to life with a family after knowing only life in an orphanage, and it took time for Kara to learn how to accept unconditional love.  There were many challenges ahead, but we knew God was faithful, and that He placed Kara in our home and would guide us all through each step of the way.

We had a crash course in clubbed foot treatment because Kara’s surgical incision became infected shortly after we arrived home, but even that proved to be our Lord’s guiding hand.  He used that to lead us to the orthopedic surgeon who would ultimately be used to bring God’s healing touch to Kara’s foot.  He truly healed Huang Min Cui through and through.  He took that shy, broken child and transformed her into the confident, happy girl that she is today.  Her heart as well as her body are whole.

What a picture of what God did for me!  He took a broken, miserably lost soul and paid the eternal price to adopt me when I was completely unaware of His presence.  He took me in, cleaned me up, washed my heart and is in the on-going process of transforming my life.  My story, as well as Kara’s, are all for His glory.  He is the one to be praised for His mighty goodness and power.

In the final installment of My Story, I plan to explain where God has me today.  It is not nearly as dramatic as where I have been, but it is just as important in His purposes.

I will put three slideshows onto this entry.  The first will be pictures from the day that Huang Min Cui became Kara Joy.  The second will be more pictures from my trip to China for those who may be interested.  The last slideshow shows the dramatic healing that God gave to Kara’s foot.  My He be praised!

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow: Meeting Kara Joy Mincui
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Click to play this Smilebox slideshow: More Pictures from China
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In 2003, God began to stir my heart. I did not hear any “voices from Heaven” or anything, but God’s still, small voice began speaking to my innermost soul. Even though I had been richly blessed with four wonderful children and had been advised medically not to have any more babies, I was unsettled. In a way I can’t explain, God impressed on me that I had one more child, specifically a girl. I did not understand how this could be since I was not to have any more children until He began to move me towards international adoption.

I kept this hidden in my heart for many months trying to figure it all out. After all, my life was so full already: was it my own selfishness that had planted this seed? I did not feel ready to express what was going on even to Dan because I thought it all sounded so strange and unreasonable. One day, I had a divine-appointment in the Wal-Mart parking lot that confirmed God’s message to me and encouraged me to proceed in faith. I met up with a lady who had herself adopted from China, and I just kind of blurted out what had been stirring inside of me. She had wise advise. She said that when God has a job to do, He provides the way. If this idea of adoption was truly from Him, He would open every door. If not, He would close them. She encouraged me to take the first step of trusting Dan with my thoughts.

It still took me several weeks to gain the boldness to approach Dan about this topic. I knew it would be quite a shock for him and had no idea what he would say. Finally the spark burned so hotly within me that I could no longer contain it, and I poured out my soul to my husband. Yes, it was a surprise to him. He did not say no, but he wanted time to pray about it to see if God’s hand was truly in this process. Well, God opened that first door. It was not very long after that that Dan also believed that we should at least explore adoption–maybe international, maybe not.

We were completely new to all of this. No one in our families or close circle of friends had ever taken this path, so we started with what we knew: internet searches. We gathered all kinds of information about different countries and processes. And then I saw them–the lists and LISTS of kids from all over the world waiting for a family to love them. Oh, how my heart ached! I loved them ALL and wanted to bring them ALL home! 🙂 How in the world were we ever to find the right one when the needs were so great? Well, we just kept knocking on doors. Many doors closed because of our family-size. That narrowed our options tremendously. Our hearts were originally drawn to Haiti, but no doors there opened.

Eventually we were led to China. We had to trust that it was God’s hand leading us there because that seemed to be the door that was open. We applied to the program, and began the long process of completing all of the necessary paper work to be put on a waiting list for a “healthy, young” girl.

One of the heaviest doors that had to be opened by God related to my history of depression and the resulting protective-custody arrest. (These incidents were related in earlier segments of My Story). The social worker that handled our case was somewhat concerned that my police record might result in our paperwork being denied. It was easy to try to cover it all up since it had happened many years prior to this, but God convicted me that I needed to trust Him with every detail of this adoption. It all had to be open and honest–it was His job to open every door, not mine. So we proceeded that way. Part of the paperwork required a police history background check. It had to be faced head on, but GOD WAS FAITHFUL! When our local police ran my report, it came back CLEAR. I even told them about the protective custody arrest, so they did further checks. They all came back CLEAR. No record at all of any arrests. God had literally wiped my slate (and my heart) clean! Praise His Name! So, the law enforcement agency provided the letter stating that all was clear in my case, and the adoption door remained wide open.

We finished our paperwork and submitted it to the Chinese adoption officials on December 5, 2005. God continued to lead us as we waited for our paperwork to be approved. He began to impress on me that we needed to revise our request for a “healthy, young” girl. In fact, he began to reveal to us both that the child He had for us was going to have special physical needs. So, we did the required paperwork to switch over to the special needs program, and began to head in that direction. Again, we found ourselves pouring over photolistings of beautiful kids needing homes. What a heartwrenching experience! We began to research what needs we were open to, and began the painful process of applying for a specific child. At that time, the competition for a young girl from our agency’s special needs lists was intense. We applied for several different girls, and were turned down every time. It was terrible! God kept closing every door, and it made no sense.

Then we saw her: a lovely 2-year-old Chinese girl born with deformed ears who had resulting hearing loss. She seemed perfect to us because I had worked with hearing impaired kids after graduating from college and felt very comfortable with that special need. The only problem was that she was not listed with our agency. We inquired about her, but were told that we would have to withdraw our paperwork and resubmit it with the child’s listing agency in order to adopt her. This would mean a great deal of lost money and time. But, God. How many times do I say that??? BUT, GOD!!! The representative from the child’s agency contacted the Chinese officials about our case, and they decided to grant an exception for us. It would be an almost unheard of dual agency adoption. The child’s agency would handle the special needs paperwork, all other paperwork and travel would remain with our original agency. Our original agency could hardly believe it–it was completely unprecedented in their experience! In fact, this was only allowed for a few cases in a very brief time period before it was not done anymore, and our adoption was one of the few that squeezed into that short time frame.

So, we really saw God’s hand opening every door, and we just waited for His timing to complete the process. We spent that summer readying our home for our new addition–especially learning about this child’s special needs and the treatments that were available. We decided to name her Shayanne.

The waiting for travel was terrible! I so wanted to go grab that child and bring her home, but we had to wait for all of the appropriate arrangements to be made. On August 29, 2006, our travel approval arrived and we immediately began getting all of the details arranged to leave for China on September 14, 2006. Those were hectic days! I specifically worried about packing. There was a very restrictive limit on baggage weight, and trying to pack everything for myself as well as Shayanne seemed almost impossible. I had no idea how big the child was or what size of clothes to take, and it frustrated me for several days. But God calmed my soul by reminding me that I did not need to worry about what to eat, drink, or wear. His Word says that He knows that we need these things and that He will provide them. We are to set about seeking Him, not worrying. (Matthew 6:31-34) He impressed on me that I should just pack what looks good and makes sense and trust Him with it. So that’s what I did. I put in one 12-month outfit, but put in mostly 18-month cute clothes that I had picked up during our waiting period. I thought they might be too small for a two-year-old, but rested knowing I had followed where God had led.

I kept a blog during those days, and those entries can be found in the beginning sections of the Prairie Family Chronicles. The day before I left for China, I wrote out a prayer praising our great God for all He had done to bring us to that point.  Here is a portion of that prayer:

God, as we are now ready to go to China, I have many fears, but I know You are with me and that this trip is all part of Your plan. Please use this trip to help me to grow. Teach me the lessons that You have for me. Help me to see You in each step–for I know that You have gone before me.

Truly this all was His plan–he had been so clearly at work at each door.  Little did I know that His thoughts were way beyond my own, and that His way was going to be difficult.  Indeed the events of the next few days were for my growth and His glory.  My life was never the same.

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Please note:  Most of the information in this entry is accurate, but because Huang Min Cui’s history  is sketchy at best, some of the details (especially of the birth family) are speculative–how I like to think of them.

My story takes a break for this entry to make way for the amazing story of a little girl in China.   This background information is important to understand the miracles that I will explain in the next segments of my testimony.

On an unknown date in 2003 somewhere in or near Huangshan, Anhui Province, China, a baby girl was born.  Huangshan is a beautiful city known for Yellow Mountain and tourism.  To control it’s exploding population, China many years before 2003 had instituted its One Child Policy, which allowed families to raise only one child in most cases.  A preference for strong, healthy boys to pass on the family name quickly developed, and sometimes families who did not have a strong, healthy boy faced tough decisions.  Such was the case for this family in Huangshan.

This baby girl was beautiful, but not “perfect.”  Her hands were strangely shaped with fingers that were all fused together, as were many toes on her feet.  Most troubling of all, however, was a foot that curled in.  Despite the fact that this child had defects, the mother was smitten by the girl’s lovely almond eyes and hoped for a miracle to happen in the baby’s life.  She knew that she had no resources to help the little girl–she had only enough money to survive herself, she had no way of paying for medical intervention for her sweet baby.  Despite the pressure she faced to abandon the child immediately, the woman chose to keep and love her little girl for several months.  Her love for that child, however, eventually led her to consider options she never thought she would think about.  She knew that she herself could not provide for this baby’s needs, but she knew that the Social Welfare Institute in Huangshan took in babies with all kinds of problems and provided them with whatever medical care was needed.  It was a heartbreaking decision for her, but she decided that this facility gave her daughter the best chances for care and help.  So, on December 8, 2003, the mother bundled up her baby and placed her in a location where she knew the child would be found and taken in.

The child eventually ended up at the Welfare Institute where they gave her the name Huang Min Cui.  Huang, the family name, was given to all children in that orphanage.  Min Cui means “green jade” and they thought it described this lovely gem of a girl.  They followed the usual protocol of posting an ad in the local newspaper in an attempt to locate her birth mother, but no response came.  So little Min Cui began her life in her new home.

The nannies gave Min Cui as normal of a life as possible.  They fed her, held her, and loved her.  They sought out advice to try to repair the physical deformities that she faced.  In the first three years at the Institute, she had several surgeries.  She had surgeries to separate out the fused fingers using skin grafts taken from Min Cui’s arm.  The foot was operated on several times, attempting to straighten the crooked foot that made the little girl so wobbly when she walked.  The wobbling caused her at one point to fall and cut her head open which required stitches to heal.  The hands healed properly.  Her fingers were separated, but it left one hand missing some fingers and the other hand with short, deformed fingers, but both hands were very functional, and Min Cui adapted in her ability to do any task without any difficulty.  Her foot, however, was not easily corrected.  Several attempts were surgically made, but it seemed that the foot only tightened into a more distinct curve with each surgery.

The nannies described Min Cui as being shy and introverted, but very lovable and spoiled.  She had one friend that she consistently played with:  an older boy named Anthony that had similar hand deformities as her own.  Her life transitioned back and forth between the orphanage and the hospital many times during those three years, which left her confused and frightened of medical personnel.  She was very bright and learned things at an earlier age than many of the other children at her “home.”

Such was the life of this lovely girl, Huang Min Cui.  As far as she or anyone else knew, her life would continue on in the expected course for a disabled orphan:  she’d grow up and be turned out to try to survive on her own, which would be very difficult for such a person.  She may be able to have a job someday, but more likely, she’d earn her living by begging people to help a “poor, crippled” girl.  The prospects of adoption were bleak at best because of her physical challenges and because of the fact that this Institute did not participate in the international adoption process in China.

The Father of Orphans, however, saw Huang Min Cui.  It was He who had led her to this place to receive such love and care.  He was guiding her each step of the way because He had a plan for her that no one would understand or even believe.

I am adding two slideshows to this entry.  The first shows beautiful scenery from Huangshan.  The second includes pictures of Huang Min Cui as she lived in the Huangshan Social Welfare Institute.

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I was completely unaware of God’s behind-the-scenes work in the weeks just prior to my salvation. While I was busy chasing the darkness, God was directing the steps of a man who loved Him. He had just finished graduate school and had been hired as an area agricultural economist for the Northwest Research and Extension Office of Kansas State University. He moved to Colby and immediately began looking for a church to attend. He tried several different ones, but never felt settled until he found a little church right across the street from the local community college. He began attending faithfully, and there he heard the prayer requests for a lady in the church who was in protective custody in a nearby town. Yes, that was me. Because of my sporadic church attendance, he and I never met prior to my salvation.

Within a very short time of my salvation and return to my home, I gave my testimony and was baptized in this little church. This was the first time that I met the new-comer to our church, and he came up to me after the service to let me know of his prayer support as I got back on my feet. We enjoyed talking together so much that we decided to get together later in the day to have more time to visit.

We had several “get-togethers” after that, but Dan wisely wanted our relationship to remain on a friendship level for several months because he wanted me to have time to get settled in my newly-found faith. He wanted time to prove that God had indeed changed my heart and did not want a relationship to complicate any growth in my life. Eventually, though, God made it clear to us both that it was His plan for us to deepen our relationship. I was truly blessed on February 17, 1996, when Dan O’Brien became my husband.

This is a slideshow of some of our wedding pictures. It was such a beautiful day–absolutely perfect. The song that accompanies the pictures was sung in our service, and has always been special.

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Dan and I both wanted children, and were happy that God answered our prayers to bless us with them. Each of our kids is a miracle. All of them had struggles as infants, and it is only by His grace that we enjoy them today.

Our firstborn, John Michael, was born in May 1997. He was born about 6 weeks early, but because he had a good birth-weight of just over 5 pounds, the doctors were not overly concerned about him and sent him home like they would have if he had been born full-term. Being new parents, we noticed John’s sluggishness and sleepiness, but we assumed that his behavior was normal for a newborn. We struggled for weeks to keep him awake enough to finish a bottle, but it wasn’t until his four-month healthy baby check that we were alerted to a problem: His head circumference was way off of the chart for normal growth. We were immediately referred to a pediatric neurosurgeon in Denver who performed a multitude of tests that confirmed his suspicion of hydrocephaly, which is an accumulation of fluid in the brain. His apparently was the result of an undetected brain-bleed which is not uncommon in premature babies. This also explained John’s sluggishness. Usually, hydrocephaly is treated by surgically implanting a shunt to drain the fluid in the brain; otherwise, the increased fluid would cause pressure that could lead to severe developmental delays. This surgeon was in the process of completing research on a certain type of hydrocephaly and believed that John had this type–so we were led in the right direction. He advised us that in the past, John would have immediately been shunted, and that we would have to deal with that shunt for the rest of his life, but because of his research, he had discovered that certain types of hydrocephaly would not cause brain damage and would self-correct over time. He believed that John had this type, so he advised us to monitor John’s brain and development over the next few months to see what would happen. God was gracious, and the hydrocephaly did dissolve, and John’s development went on normally. I guess he was a late-walker, but that was because he had a large, awkward head to balance! 😉

Brock’s birth was extremely complicated. I was within minutes of delivering him naturally when the monitors went blank–no sign of any heartbeat in the baby at all. Needless to say, things happened very quickly! They immediately began prepping me for an emergency c-section. From the time they lost the heart beat to the time they had the baby out, 10 minutes elapsed. That included the time to get the surgical team in place, get me anesthetized, and perform the c-section. It was done in such a hurry that I lost a lot of blood, and ended up having 2 blood transfusions before I began to recover. Brock, however, was in very serious condition at delivery. He had no heartbeat, no respiration, no response of any kind. He was not able to be resuscitated for several minutes, but eventually he did have some signs of life that encouraged the team to continue working with him. Eventually he did have a heartbeat and was breathing, but he was very unstable that whole first day after delivery. His status was really confusing to me coming out of anesthesia, but he was very much touch-and-go. They did not assure me that he would be all right, and that even if he did show improvement, they did not know if he had suffered damage from being without oxygen after birth. He did, however, improve, and he and I were both able to be released after 3-4 days in the hospital. As time passed, we saw a normal baby–it appeared that Brock had suffered no long-term consequences from his traumatic birth. Indeed, he has developed into a wonderful, smart boy who has been an incredible blessing in our home.

Cosette was probably my healthiest baby, but even she had issues. She was pretty close to being full-term, but she did not breathe on her own for several minutes after birth. She was just sluggish getting going, I guess, and there was concern during her first night of life that she had a resulting heart murmur. As the night passed, though, the murmur closed, and she went home a day or so later. So, again we were blessed with a complete healing, and a happy baby.

My last birth-child, Luke, was probably the biggest challenge to my faith up to this point. He was born at 27 weeks of gestational development and weighed right at 3 pounds. His weight dropped to 2 1/2 pounds before he began to grow. He spent 8 weeks in neonatal intensive care, during which I had to share my time between my three other kids at home and my precious son in the hospital. He had the normal ups-and-downs of a baby born that prematurely, including two separate brain bleeds (similar to what had caused John’s hydrocephaly). Again, God was gracious, and these self-resolved with no long-term effects. He grew and developed. His biggest challenge was breathing on his own. In fact, he required supplemental oxygen for most of his time in the hospital. Eventually he was strong enough to come home and again only time would tell how his prematurity would effect his long-term development. God again was faithful: Luke developed normally.

Here is another slideshow of my four special blessings. I praise God for each of them.

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So, those early years of our marriage were filled with happy and challenging times. Through it all, however, God was so good to us. He granted us the peace and strength for each moment and guided every step. Our lives were very full of His blessing. I had been told after Luke’s birth that I should have no more children because of the risk to myself as well as the baby, so we settled in for the child-rearing years. But God had other plans….. He began to stir in my heart that I had one more child, specifically a girl. I couldn’t understand how this could be until He began to reveal to me that my girl was not going to come from my womb. In fact, she was not going to come from our country. That began our next journey of faith.

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After I graduated from college, my life continued to go in a downward spiral. I went from job-to-job, but the darkness that was in my heart could no longer be hidden, and it affected my work. I even taught in a Christian school for a short time, but ended up being released from that job because of my sinful, darkened life. I moved back to my hometown, found a place to live, and secured two full-time jobs, and that pretty much became my whole existence.

My days were spent working at the local school as a professional accompanist and my nights/weekends were spent working in the cash office of our local Wal-Mart. I had little time for recreation or personal activities, but I preferred it that way. When I was alone, I was overcome with darkness and self-destructive thoughts. I would go days without eating, and really did not care if I lived or died.

On the rare occasion that I did not work on Sunday, I would attend church at the church that I grew up in. I opened up to a couple of people about my spiritual questions, but I was always brushed aside. “You raised your hand for salvation when you were very young. Don’t worry about it.” That was the response I would get. My life had become so out-of-control that I not only wondered about my salvation, but I found my self even questioning the very existence of God.

I decided to attend a church where no one knew me, so I could try to gain some spiritual stability in my life. Of course, I could rarely go on Sunday mornings, so I joined a Bible study that was led by the man who is now my sons’ Scoutmaster. We completed studies on experiencing a relationship with God and having a mind like Christ’s, and as I completed my homework assignments, I knew that my answers were fake. Nothing was heart-felt, but I shared nothing with the Bible study group.

I was still hit-and-miss on my attendance at this Bible study because of my crazy work schedule, but one week I actually arrived early and was the first one there. On the table I saw a paper that had evidently fallen out of the leader’s Bible. I picked it up and saw that it was his prayer list. On that list was my name with several question marks after it. That immediately jumped out at me, and for the first time in many years, I felt God tugging at my heart to turn to Him in faith and belief.

Unfortunately, I quenched the Holy Spirit again, and continued in my darkness. My life had no meaning, and I was determined to destroy it. God had other plans, though. God used a dear friend along with two of my co-workers to get me where He wanted me to be. They prodded me to see a doctor for help. Believe it or not, I was so tired of my dark life that I actually went. The doctor saw my condition and called the police to take me into protective custody. While we waited for the police to come, he got out his Bible and ministered to me from Psalm 139. He explained to me that God loved me more than I could imagine and that He could change my life if I would let Him.

Riding in that police car, I felt cornered. I knew I needed Christ, but I wasn’t even sure that He was real anymore. That evening, my pastor drove two hours to the facility where I was taken to help me. He and his wife had bought me some clothes to get me through several days, but more importantly, he wanted to see where I was spiritually. At this point, I had nothing to lose or to hide, so I was very blunt about my questions. I told him that I was unsure of my eternal status or even if God was real–or if He was real, what difference that made. He encouraged me to use my time in the facility to search for the answers to my questions. He told me to pray that God would open my mind to what I needed to know and that I should read the Book of First John. He explained that that short book of the Bible is a test, of sorts, that can be used to give yourself an evaluation of your salvation.

It took me several days to accept his advice, but finally I did. I prayed that if God was real, He would show me through His Word what I needed to know and began reading First John. Many verses jumped right out at me:

1 John 1:5-6 “This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.”

1 John 2:4 “He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”

1 John 3:10 “In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother.”

I could go on and on, but let it suffice to say that God got my attention that day. The Holy Spirit revealed my true dark, lost condition and convinced me of my need of a Savior. So all alone, I cried out to God for mercy. I told Him that I knew I needed Him and Him alone to forgive my sin and heal my heart. I acknowledged my sinfulness and need for His atoning sacrifice, and I was saved–praise God, I was SAVED!

My life was changed from that very moment. The darkness had been taken over by the Light of the World, and my self-destruction had been given LIFE. Oh, there were many consequences of my wicked behavior that took many months to unwind, but I knew I had been forgiven, and that Jesus had won the victory in my life. My darkness was replaced by unspeakable joy, and that joy has never ended. I truly have a well-spring of Living Water in my heart that continually refreshes and renews me. I could identify with the once-blind man whom Jesus had healed that said that all he knew was that “once he was blind, but now he could see.” He did not know who had healed him, though. I did: the KING of KINGS and the LORD of LORDS.

After a few weeks of healing, I went home a changed person. I publically and boldly praised my newly-found Savior, and was baptized. This time I wasn’t looking for the baptism to change me for I had already been redeemed by the Blood of the Lamb. No, this time it was to proclaim to the world the saving grace of my dear Jesus.

My story does not end here, though! No, my Jesus had wonderful plans ready and waiting for me. That will be the topic of my next entry.

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Recently my pastor asked me if I would share the story of my salvation for a church service in May. I am always happy to do this. As I have been thinking about what I will say, I realized that I have never shared this story on my own blog, so I guess it’s about time that I do! This will give me a chance to tell you all about my wonderful Savior as well as give me the chance to organize my thoughts.

I grew up knowing about God. My family attended a Bible-believing church almost every Sunday from the time that I was a baby all through my childhood. I have many happy memories of Sunday School, Awana, and many other Christian activities. I heard the Gospel regularly, and could repeat the story of Jesus Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection. I began playing the piano for morning services before I was in the 5th grade, and when I became a teenager, I even taught Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, etc.

So, I guess to the outside world I would have appeared to have been a “good, Christian” girl. I remember many times that I wondered about God and my eternal destiny. In fact, I often laid awake on my bed at night worrying about what would happen to me if I would die. I really did know the Gospel–I can’t explain why I never believed except that as I was spiritually blind.

By the time I was a young teenager, my life began to change. I was a good student and obedient in public, but inwardly I began to have a lot of rebellion and darkness in my heart. This came out at home, and I found myself getting into a lot of trouble with my family. I led quite the double life: good to the outside world, and dark on my inside world.

I sank into a depressed, self-destructive lifestyle that I cannot even understand or explain. All I can say is that I caused so many people heartache and frustration. I look back on those years with such sadness and regret. God was good even in those times, though. He placed people around me that tried to lead me to His salvation. I had a counselor who spent innumerable hours working with me for no personal gain. Even though she worked for the public school, she often talked to me about my relationship with God. At this time I considered myself a “Christian,” though, and did not take too seriously the things that she said. After all, I taught Sunday School, didn’t I?!

My rebellion continued throughout high school. During that time, an evangelist came to our church that really had a heart for me. He shared the Gospel with me even though I had heard it hundreds of times. He explained to me that I could receive forgiveness for my sins if I would just believe in Jesus’ payment for sin and trust Him for my salvation. I was so confused in those days that I told him that I did not even understand what “faith” meant. I went on to describe my fears and insecurities about my relationship with God. He pointed out to me 1 John 5:13 which says “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may KNOW that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.” I did not need to fear the future, because if I believed in Jesus, I could rest KNOWING that I have eternal life. Unfortunately, my heart was so confused and darkened by this time, that nothing he said made any sense to me, nor did it cause any difference in my life.

I graduated from high school still leading a double life: “Christian” on the outside, and rebellious on the inside. Although my darkness was known by a few outside of my family, most people just saw me as an introverted, studious person who didn’t relate well with people. I went to a well-known Christian college. It was there that I really began to question my salvation. I saw a love for God in those around me that I simply did not have. They had joy; I did not. Again, I was exposed to the True Gospel almost on a daily basis, but it meant nothing to me. I concluded that my problem was that I had never been baptized, so when I was back at home on vacation, I gave a “testimony of salvation” and was baptized by my local pastor. Guess what? My life did not change. That baptism did nothing. Some of my darkest, most self-destructive days were the ones I spent at that Christian college. I graduated with a 4.0 gpa–the absolute top of my class–but my soul was lost.

That pretty much summarizes what my early days were like. I will continue my story in a future post that I will entitle “My Story, Part 2: The Change Comes.” It is truly miraculous. My Savior is so good, and I can’t wait to tell you about His merciful grace in my life!

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