From Latvia: "No, you cannot adopt." (An update on our adoption situation)

Stalled.

The word I would use to describe our current adoption situation.

I quickly googled the definition of “stalled” and this is what comes up on my Iphone:

To stop running, typically because of an overload on an engine.

Stop or cause to stop making progress.  

The second definition definitely applies, but the first one I find intriguing and wonder if there is some truth in that one, too. 

Quick backstory: we are an adoptive family with three kids – two teenage girls and one tween boy.  Our first two kids we adopted as infants from the United States, and the third adoption took place eight years ago in the middle of the coldest winter on record in Ukraine as we adopted an eight year old girl from an orphanage in Poltava. After several years of adjusting Khloe into our family, we decided to begin the process of our fourth (and hopefully final) adoption of another boy.  We decided to adopt from the small baltic country of Latvia, because Erik’s entire family is from Latvia and his grandmother has an amazing WWII survival story, which you can read about here:  https://permission2speakfreely.com/2016/11/29/escape-from-latvia-annas-story-part-i/

Because Erik’s parents were born in Latvia, I was able to obtain my husband’s Latvian citizenship (which in itself took several months to obtain).  We had heard that being a Latvian citizen would allow us to adopt a younger, healthier child.  

So, three years ago we turned in all of our paperwork (which took months to complete) to the country of Latvia and waited for a referral of a young boy between the ages of 4 and 7 (Logan was 8 at the time).  We were told by our adoption coordinator that we would receive a referral of a little boy in the next few months. Yay!  We were excited and hopeful. 

This is what we all looked like over three years ago – at the beginning of our adoption process from Latvia!
And this is us this past summer (2019). Still no adoption! (And time is flying my friends!)

However, as the months flew by, our excitement turned to frustration which turned to uncertainty until finally two full years passed without a referral.  So we decided to change and expand our criteria so that it would increase our chances of adopting.  We allowed for an older child with additional special needs, and said we would also take a sibling group.  And then all of our paperwork expired and we had to do it all over again.  But still nothing.

So after three years of waiting, it has dawned on us that we entered the Latvian adoption waiting pool at a time when they weren’t really letting foreigners even get into the pool in the first place.  They basically stopped us as we were dipping our toes in the water and said: “we want to keep the younger, healthier Latvian kids in Latvia and we don’t want you to adopt them, so get out of the pool.”  

Here is what we also learned:  due to several reasons ranging from staff changes, to more emphasis on kids going into foster care (and once they enter care they cannot be adopted internationally), and an overall sour attitude about foreign adoptions, Latvia has become a very difficult country to adopt from (also see my P.S. for even bigger, more drastic changes on the horizon).

That brings us to January/February of this year (2020) as we received even worse news: in order to get back into the waiting pool for a referral, we now had to do several more hours of in-person training because Latvia refused to allow us to be grandfathered in from the old regulations (even though technically we should be).  

Our adoption agency argued and pleaded with the Latvian ministry, but they would not budge. 

So I asked my adoption coordinator if we could give them an ultimatum of sorts.  We wrote them a letter asking them the following: if we agreed to do the 40 hours of additional training, would they give us a referral of a child or a sibling group?

To my shock and horror, they wrote back saying the following:

“We are so happy that you have chosen to adopt from Latvia, however, due to the popularity of our domestic adoption program, no, we do not anticipate you getting a referral of a child any time in the near future.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and went into a shock and denial stage.  I have finally worked through all the stages of grief and yes, the tears have flowed:  

Tears of frustration for all the time, effort, energy, and double paperwork that turned out to be for nothing.

Tears that my kids are more than three years older and still no little brother.

Tears of sadness because we really wanted to adopt a little boy.

Just a small portion of all the paperwork I have done over the years – all for nothing. 😔

And while we are on the topic of disappointment, I am also disappointed that all of our orphan hosting we have done over the last few years has yet to lead to an adoption. In a quick nutshell, we have hosted several kids over the last few years from Latvia and Ukraine, and for a wide variety of very legitimate reasons, our hosting experiences, while super worthwhile in many ways, have not yet led to a path towards an adoption.  All is not lost as I firmly believe that hosting is a wonderful experience and ministry to the kids without parents. For more information on our experience with hosting kids, click here: https://permission2speakfreely.com/2019/04/17/orphan-hosting-and-hosting-to-adopt-ten-things-you-need-to-know/

However, it’s still disappointing that many people have been able to adopt through orphans hosting, but for some reason our family has not.  

One of our past host kiddos gets lots of love from Erik- which he desperately needed. Hosting is an awesome thing!

All of this bad news has me getting very introspective and trying go figure out why God has not allowed us to adopt yet.  Here are some guesses:

Maybe Logan is not ready.  

This summer he confessed to me that he “doesn’t want a brother.”  I asked him why and he said that he is jealous of the concept of a brother and doesn’t want to share mom and dad’s attention or love with anyone else.  Interestingly, with most of the boys we have hosted, we have seen some jealous behaviors come out in Logan, but after a week or two, he has taken most of them under his wing and really enjoys spending time with each of the boys we have hosted.  He always cries when they leave!  

UPDATE: Logan prayed last night for a little brother for the first time!

Possibly Khloe needs more time to adjust and change before another adoption takes place.  

To say that her adoption and adjustment was difficult is the understatement of the century, but Khloe is doing much better now.  Yes, she struggles with anger and attachment issues, but overall, things are much improved.  Could it be that she needs more time to heal and to change? 

Our adoption of Khloe was one of the hardest things I have ever done. But it’s been 8 years and she is doing much better.

It’s not God’s will for us to adopt any more kids.  

I have considered this too but after many years of praying and even “not praying” for a long period of time, we still have a strong desire to add more kids to our family.  We are in good mental and physical and financial health.  I am always praying the “May God’s will be done” type of prayer over this situation.  But right now, we are both in faith and desire to add to our family. 

Maybe we are supposed to adopt from a different country or from the U.S.

We are very open to looking into the country of Columbia.  We plan to host a boy or sibling group this summer.  All the kids who participate from Columbia in the hosting program are free and clear for international adoption.  I am also in the process of doing research on adopting from the foster care system.  This is a process which will take some time, along with about 40 hours of additional training.  I have been open to adopting locally from the start but due to many factors, we went in a different direction.  

It is getting much harder to adopt internationally.  Adoptions are down something like 80% over the last ten years.  Maybe it’s nothing personal, but we are just wrapped up in an overall general statistic.  

However, that leads me to right now.  How am I supposed to respond to this unfair situation?

I am learning that with all seemingly unfair situations, I have to both look back at the way God has been so good to me in the past, and then look around at the good that is happening right now.

Look around

We hosted Lasma, who is now 19 years old, from Latvia.  I never would have been looking into orphan hosting from Latvia had we not been trying to adopt from there.  Now I consider her my daughter and she constantly calls me her mom. I tell her all the time that she is a great kid and that it’s so unfair that she had crappy parents because she deserves so much better.  I am so glad we met Lasma and again, we never would have met her had I not been dialed in to Latvia.  I am glad that she is our new “adopted” daughter!

Lasma, our Latvian daughter! We love her and so glad we met her through hosting!

We also met Nina who is a wonderful ten year old from Ukraine.  I can’t say much about this situation but we are quietly working on a plan to adopt her in the future!  We will keep you posted!

Logan and Khloe have been developing and maturing and growing.  Maybe they were supposed to do that for a lot longer than I would have preferred!

Look Back:

I thought it was unfair that I had such a difficult childhood, but I realize that it made me into the strong and resourceful person I am today.

I used to struggle because most of my friends didn’t have to work the hours I did to pay my way through college, until I learned that working so much helped me to develop a very strong work ethic that has stayed with me to this day.

I used to struggle that I never had a boyfriend, until I met my awesome husband and then was relieved that I didn’t have to deal with losers my whole life waiting for him.

I used to think it was so unfair that Erik and I struggle with infertility, but then I look at the faces of my beautiful children and realize we weren’t meant to have biological children for some reason, because the kids we have were meant for us and we were meant for them.  

It seems unfair that I wasted so much time on trying to adopt from Latvia, but then I realized that my time is God’s time. If this is how God wanted me to spend my time (which I think was a waste), then I need to be ok with that.  Maybe someday I will understand.

In conclusion, God is in the middle of this unfair situation.  Why did He allow it?  Why didn’t He prompt Latvia to let us know to move on with our lives years ago? I have no idea.  God is writing the story of our family, and we are smack in the middle of a difficult chapter. But I know at the very end of the day, it will work out the way it’s supposed to and I will have peace and joy as I look over the faces of all the kids he has brought into my life, both the ones we have adopted and the ones we have hosted.

And that, my friends, is the latest on our adoption situation.  Please pray for us!

UPDATE: 

It has been over a month since I originally wrote this post and two things have happened since then.  One, Latvia came dangerously close to shutting down all international adoptions.  Not just ours, but all international adoptions.  Latvia is in the process of “figuring things out” with respect to international adoption.  I guess I don’t feel quite so bad that they rejected us.  

Second, the coronavirus – it has literally shut down the world.  First, of course, I pray for the safety of the world as well as all of my Dear Readers. Second – I cannot imagine the impact that COVID19 will have on adoptions – both locally and internationally.  I am praying a very general “God, please help us to complete our family” prayer without a lot of specificity and just trusting that He is bigger than any country closing or any horrific virus descending.  We hope to host from Columbia this summer while we continue to check out local options.  Thanks for reading!  Stay safe out there everyone!  3/23/2020

Jehosheba – The Girl (you’ve never heard of) Who Saved Christmas

My husband’s grandmother Anna barely survived World War II as she navigated war-torn Europe with her young daughter, Irena, in the 1940s.  The two of them were on the last train out of Dresden, Germany before it was leveled. Irena eventually survived the war, grew up, got married, and had three sons. Her middle son, Erik, is my husband. Had Irena been killed during the war, my husband would never have been born.

If Erik had never been born, I never would have married him and we never would have adopted our three beautiful kiddos.  All of my kids have different birth stories, and I am not sure where they would be today had we not adopted them (especially our daughter Khloe, whom we adopted out of an orphanage in Ukraine).  

Lineage matters. 

There is one very obscure story in the Old Testament found in the book of 2nd Kings.  In this story, there was a very close call in Jesus’ lineage.

Back in the days of the Old Testament, Israel’s Kings had many, many sons through many different wives and concubines.  However, at this particular time in Israel’s history, their country was in a very sinful and unstable place, and due to the acts of one crazy, murderous woman named Athaliah, the royal line of King David was reduced to one heir.  

This is important because the Old Testament foretells that the Messiah must come from the Davidic line. 

Had that one baby been killed, there would be no Messiah.  

In 2 Kings chapter 11:1-3 we read:

When Athaliah (crazy grandmother who was also the Queen) the mother of Ahaziah (the current King) saw that her son was dead, she proceeded to destroy the whole royal family. But Jehosheba, (the girl you have never heard of) the daughter of King Jehoram and sister of Ahaziah, took Joash son of Ahaziah (the one little baby left in Jesus’ line) and stole him away from among the royal princes, who were about to be murdered. She put him and his nurse (the hero unnamed nurse who took care of the one remaining baby) in a bedroom to hide him from Athaliah; so he was not killed. He remained hidden with his nurse at the temple of the Lord for six years while Athaliah ruled the land (and then the little boy became King and all was well again and the Davidic line was preserved).

Essentially, the Davidic line was reduced to one baby, and Aunt Jehosheba saved his life.  

By saving him, she saved the eventual Messiah.  

By saving the eventual Messiah, she paved the way for Jesus to save the world.  

It’s like something out of a Terminator movie, with Jehosheba playing the role of Arnold Schwarzenegger (after he became good, of course).  

Jehosheba is mentioned only once in the Bible.  Her story is summarized in just three verses.  But because of her bravery and quick-thinking, she saved the Christmas story.

Two closing points: 

One, you have no idea how the small action you take today can have a profound impact on not only your future, but the future of the world.

Two, God often uses obscure, unseen people to accomplish a huge portion of His will.

You never know what God has planned for you life, and how He may use you to change the world!  

We celebrate Christmas because God used one obscure woman, Jehosheba, to eventually bring about the coming Messiah.

Merry Christmas!

Hark, now hear the angels sing, a new king born today.  And man will live forevermore, because of Christmas day!

Dairy Farmers are in Crisis – Find out why

I chat with Erica Leubner, pictured here with her husband, Tim. Erica and Tim are both farmers from farming families, and they know what’s going on in the farming community.

I grew up in the rolling hills of Upstate, New York, where many beautiful farms dot the landscape. My grandfather built silos for all the local farmers and I even played on a small dairy farm down the road as a kid. It’s fair to say that I have a soft spot for farmers.

So when I heard that famers are committing suicide at an alarming rate, I reached out to my friend and high school classmate Erica. Erica is a farmer, business owner, counselor to the farming community, owner of Tim’s Pumpkin Patch, and a wife and mom to three adorable girls who run a farming Instagram page. I figured that Erica would know what’s really going on.

I was right.

Erica has warm brown eyes and a friendly and laid-back demeanor. She is always upbeat and positive. But behind her ready smile is a burden she carries for all the farming families she talks to around New York state. These farmers are really struggling right now and facing increased pressure, depression, and even suicide. Erica tells us what’s really going on and how we can support them.

Erica, tell me a little bit about your farming background so that people know you are the real deal.

I grew up on a small 100 cow dairy farm in Onondaga County, New York. I am the second of four sisters. My father is the second of four brothers, all of whom have their own dairy farms. My husband is a partner with his siblings in their dairy and grain farm operation. They milk about 550 cows and grow around 2100 acres of corn, wheat, soybeans and hay. My husband and I also own and operate Tim’s Pumpkin Patch with our three daughters. Our pumpkin farm business is a pick your own agri-tainment farm including a farm bakery and brewery. 

Aerial view of Tim’s Pumpkin Patch, outside of Syracuse, NY.
Who doesn’t love a good corn maze?

You also work part-time with farmers. Tell me about that.

I have my Masters degree in Social Work from Syracuse University. About 15 years ago, I learned about an organization called NY FarmNet based out of Cornell University. I can utilize my background in social work, as well as my own life experiences growing up on and operating a farm business, to help other farm family businesses. I have been doing consulting work for NYFarmNet for almost 8 years. 

What are you consistently hearing from the farmers you interact with? 

That it is too expensive to produce milk for the prices they are getting paid for it. Most recently, the newly elected democrats in New York are trying to pass new labor laws that will dramatically effect farmers. They want farm workers to get paid for overtime and be able to unionize.   These laws have passed and will take effect January 1, 2020.

New York State farm families are facing the worst economic conditions since the farm crisis of the 1980s. Farm families’ heritage, identity, pride, and finances are tied directly to the farm. And yes, it’s costing more to produce milk than farmers are getting paid for it. I have a client right now, his banker just told him to get on food stamps! That is the last thing a farmer would do. The long hours they are putting in, as they cut back on employees, equipment failing (that they can’t afford to upgrade), and the biggest stressor for them is that they might be the generation that loses it all. I was at a farm a few months ago where the farmer was suicidal. He had just found out that he is going to have to sell his farm.

On that note, I read that the suicide rate among farmers is increasing. Why?

Dairy farms, especially small dairy farms (200 cows or less) are going out of business at an alarming rate. These farms have often been in the family for generations. The burden is too much to bear for a farmer to be the last generation  to lose the farm. Stress levels are extremely high. This often leads to depression. Farmers by nature are often very unlikely to ask for help, especially mental health help.  Depression can lead to suicide if left untreated.

I originally interviewed you about six months ago and you were concerned about the farming community back then.  Has it gotten any better or worse in the last six months?

I feel that stress levels are starting to go down, especially because milk prices are starting to increase. However, in New York, the labor law legislation did end up passing so there may be added stress as the pressures to comply will create more financial strain on farmers. 

To read more about the pressures facing farmers, including suicide rates, click here: epublic.com/article/153604/work-suicidal-farmers-its-becoming-much-bear.

How can we support farmers right here, right now?  What is one action-item we can take away from this interview?

Do not rely on google and youtube to get your information about farming and agriculture. Animal rights activists have done very well at dispensing false information about animal agriculture on the internet, which is very triggering to the general public. Follow actual farmers on social media who tell the true story of what really goes on in agriculture.  And buy milk and other dairy products!

Can you describe the role of the Federal government in the agriculture community (in other words, setting milk prices, subsidies, bailouts)?

Many people think that the United States government subsidizes Agriculture.  The reality is the consumer is subsidized.  According to the article below and as an example, Americans spend just 6.4% of their household income on food. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/12/this-map-shows-how-much-each-country-spends-on-food/. Food is very inexpensive in the US and so called subsidies to farmers artificially deflate consumer prices. Historically, the United States was more involved in setting agricultural prices. The passage of the 2012 Farm Bill eliminated and or made significant progress toward the elimination of direct payments. Direct payments are replaced with crop insurance.  Farmers purchase insurance to protect against price validity; similarly, consumers purchase car insurance in the event of a car accident. Form more information: https://www.extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/EC/EC-774-W.pdf

Are farmers heavily subsidized?

I would not say farmers are heavily subsidized, and farmers do not want hand-outs at all. They want a fair price for the work they put in to produce the safest, healthiest foods on the planet. The government steps in to help farmers because Americans are used to cheap food! There are certain programs that the government supports such as crop insurance, and premiums are subsidized by the federal government. Then most recently, 11 billion dollars was handed out to farmers, which they called it “Tariff money” from President Trump’s trade renegotiations. Look on the website www.weforum.org to see what percentage of income different countries spend on food. We are so spoiled in this country!! You can also check out this article: https://www.fsa.usda.gov/programs-and-services/Dairy-MPP/index

Describe other ways that farmers can make money.

The pumpkins are a money maker for us. If they weren’t, it would be a hobby! 🙂 Farmers who are diversified and produce other goods besides milk have an advantage when times are tough. Anything from Maple syrup, to a sawmill, pumpkins, apples, beef cows, etc. Farmers get pretty creative when they need to bring more money in. That’s where hops, hemp, cannabis comes in — diversification.

What do you think of President Trumps policies towards farmers? 

President Trump is putting his best foot forward to protect all American businesses.  Unfortunately or fortunately, US agriculture is dependent upon exports.  We produce a commodity product meaning corn from Brazil is the same as corn from the US.  China and other countries are now purchasing corn from Brazil vs the US.  US farmers are feeling much short-term pain. In theory, this should only be short-term.  

Why is the biggest misconception about farmers or farming?

The average American is about three generations (about 100 years) removed from farming. Therefore, there is a huge knowledge gap about modern dairy farming. Consumers only recently starting paying attention to how their food is produced. Consumers became alarmed and upset when they learned about modern dairy farming. They created the demonizing term “factory farms.” Farmers are extremely efficient and always adapting. The way that we farm now looks nothing like it did when great grandma and grandpa farmed. 

Will there ever be a food shortage?  

There already is.  Food deserts exist in every part of the country.   Why would I operate a retail store in rural America if I’m not profitable?  Why would I deliver food to a rural retail store if it is not profitable to deliver food to a retail store? The most efficient business will survive.  I just hope those businesses outlive the unhealthy consumer living in the food deserts.

(Heather’s note: a food desert is defined as parts of the country without fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas. This is largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers markets, and healthy food providers.)

Briefly describe your farm: what do you grow? You also have a dairy farm, please describe that. Tell me about Tim’s Pumpkin Patch.

At our farm we milk about 550 cows and have around 1000 cows in total. We also grow 2100 acres of corn, soybeans, wheat and hay. At Tim’s Pumpkin Patch, it is 65 acre pumpkin farm – 30 acres is for pick-your-own and 35 acres is used for our displays and wholesale orders. We also grow about 30 different varieties of squash, gourds and decorative Indian corn etc. We have a farm bakery, farm brewery, and several activities for our visitors. We have always tried to keep the activities agricultural, such as visiting with farm animals, hay/corn mazes etc.  We also have about an acre of asparagus. 

What do you love about Tim’s Pumpkin Patch? What do you dislike?

I love the fact we’ve been able to raise our girls in the business. They watched their parents work hard and now they know how to work hard. They have an incredible work ethic and critical thinking skills that is hardly seen in the average teenager today. I also love that Tim’s is a happy place, where people come to make memories. I love that we get to be a part of that. We just celebrated our 33rd season!

I think when I was younger, my dislike list would’ve been a lot longer than it is now. Things like being in a weather dependent business, people who steal from us, managing over 30 teenage employees (herding cats), those are all things that present challenges. Now I just look at those challenges as a part of the business that needs to be dealt with. 

What do you think of Hemp Farms and marijuana farms?

I think right now there is a “goldrush” mentality in NY amongst farmers who are looking for the next money maker. There are many factors that need to play out. Licensing, where to get seed, marketing, harvesting, product, and market flooding. We are sitting back on this one for now. 

What is running a dairy farm like?

It has a lot of ups and downs physically and mentally. It is usually a lifelong commitment. You have to be extremely business minded. 

What do you dislike about farming?

The fact it’s so weather dependent. 

Tim and Erica try to squeeze in as much time as possible having fun with their three girls.

Please tell me about your girls.

Evelyn is 20 years old and in her junior year at SUNY Cobleskill. She is planning to graduate early doubling up on all of her classes. She is currently searching for an internship in the south. Evelyn is most interested in communications, marketing and social media in agriculture. Claudia is 18 and a senior in high school. She has been accepted to Kansas State, Nebraska-Lincoln and Iowa State. She’s still waiting to hear from a few other colleges, but as you can see, she wants to be where the action is in the mid-west. Jojo is 15 and a freshman in high school. She works with Claudia at the farm and is very much involved in soccer. 

They also have a huge following on Instagram. I’d say head on over there, because they have multiple posts that describe what they are up to. (You can find the girls on Instagram at nyfarmgirls. The girls have a whopping 31,100 followers!)

They also have a YouTube channel, ​Facebook and TikTok page where they advocate for the agriculture industry.  

I understand your girls face a lot of criticism on Instagram. Why? And how do they respond to that? 

The animal rights activists do not think that animals should be used in any way for human consumption. What I love about the girls’ Instagram page is that it’s very positive. They get a lot of criticism, but they remain positive and kind through it all.

Here is a sampling of what Erica’s daughters are up to Instagram: “Making sure our animals are taken care of in the best way possible is our #1 job. If you have a farm that should be your biggest priority. If you aren’t patient, caring, and compassionate, don’t work with animals. Plain and simple.
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After the Fair Oaks video came out last night I was so angry. Angry at a lot of things. First I was angry that management had no clue that was happening. I understand it is a big operation, but that means you should only be watching your employees more closely! Secondly, I was so disappointed in the employees that were harming the animals. It hurts to know that humans are capable of such horrible things. There is not an excuse in the world for the appalling treatment of those innocent animals. Lastly, (and the biggest reason) I was angry was because the people filming, who apparently love animals so much, didn’t do a thing. They let it go on for months without saying a word. Many are saying this was a set up by animal rights activists, in order to raise more money for their cause…but who knows. I know not everyone will be angry about this scenario but this is our take on it. It happened and it’s not a good representation of our amazing industry. Despite if it was a set up or not. 
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All we can do is continue to show love and care for our animals.”

When I was growing up I played on a family farm down the road.  We had so much fun making mazes in hay bails and playing hide and go seek around the farm (I once hid in a milking vat!). What are some things farmers do for fun around the farm?  

I think every farm family finds fun in their own way, or at least they should. That is the key. It can be difficult for farmers to get away so making time for fun is so important. When Tim was growing up his family would often stop for lunch and make a small campfire in a nearby woods and roast hot dogs. We continued that tradition when our kids were small. Any time the girls can incorporate having fun while they work, they do. Much of that can be seen in the videos that they make. Farmers are natural-born pranksters. Growing up we pulled a lot of pranks on the hired guys that worked at our farm. Once I put duct tape over this one guy’s headlights and then watched him drive down the road trying to figure out what was going on with his car. 😂

Farmers can have fun too!
Erica with her three girls.

Last question: if you could speak for a farmer, what is the number one thing he or she would want all of us to know?

That farmers are just like anyone else. We love what we do, we love our families, and we love our country.

Tim’s Pumpkin Patch is celebrating their 33rd season. Tim, Erica’s husband, started the pumpkin patch from scratch when he was a teenager!

Heather’s closing thoughts: I’m very grateful for Erica’s time in giving this interview. We went to school together so I feel like I really know and trust her. Also very grateful for my now deceased Grandpa Art, who built silos and modeled an amazing work ethic (as all farmers do). Their work ethic is the best in the world, in my humble opinion. 👍

My hope is that, after reading this interview, you will support your local farmer, especially your local dairy farmer, as much as possible. Check in on them. Get to know them. See how they are holding up. Follow them on social media. Buy their milk and cheese and ice cream. They need our support as much as possible because they feed the world.

Thanks for reading and thanks for supporting the farming community!!

PS: One last article if you are interested: https://fortune.com/2019/06/11/farm-crisis-midwest-floods-2019/

Sexual Abuse, Forgiveness, and Janie’s Got a Gun – my story of healing and freedom after sexual abuse

This is me at about the age when I was sexually abused by two men.

“In speaking the words, you release the shame.”  — Oprah Winfrey
“She said ’cause nobody believes me, the man was such a sleaze, he ain’t never gonna be the same.” — Aerosmith 

You know how some songs can stir up strong emotions deep inside of you?  Maybe it’s a sad song that reminds you of a person you once loved very deeply.  Maybe it’s an upbeat song that makes you feel happy and optimistic.  

Or, maybe it’s a song that makes you think about getting revenge on someone who did something very bad to you.

There was a time not so very long ago when two songs brought up strong feelings of anger and vengeance inside of me.  Those two songs were: “In The Air Tonight” by Phil Collins and “Janie’s Got a Gun” by Aerosmith.  

Why the strong reaction? 

Because I was remembering the way two men whom I trusted had sexually molested me when I was just a little girl.  I was angry at them and wanted to take revenge, even though I am a Christian and I know that the manner and timing for vengeance belongs to God, and not to me.

Two quick qualifiers to start.


First, I thought “In The Air Tonight” was about a man who saw someone being raped (allegedly Phil Collins’ wife) and when the bad guy was drowning, Phil Collins “would not lend a hand.”  This is an urban legend and the song has nothing to do with sexual abuse (it’s about Phil Collins’ divorce).  So I guess I was singing to that song for nothing. 🙂 But I felt a strong connection to “Janie’s Got a Gun” and would frequently jog to it, all the while thinking about my dislike for one particular person. This man was a man whom I was close to and frequently interacted with growing up who molested me up until the age of seven years old.


Second qualifier: no, the molester was not my father nor my step-father (because immediately people think of them because statistically they do a lot of the sexual abusing).  And also, I was not raped.  


Now a confession: I was never, ever going to share this story so publicly.  But that all changed one day several years ago when I was watching an episode of the Oprah Winfrey show.  The studio room was filled with 200 men who had been sexually abused as children.  At the very outset of the show, all of the men stood standing and with a quiet dignity held up a picture of themselves as little boys, when their abuse began.  Some of the men were teary-eyed.  I, too, became teary-eyed. I sat transfixed for the next hour. Later in the episode, actor Tyler Perry, who himself had suffered abuse, stated the following: 


The only way, the only way, I was able to be free was to forgive this man.  Which was very difficult.  But it truly changed my life.

Oprah then went on to say the following about forgiveness:  
“And by forgiveness you don’t mean in any way for you to be able to say that that was ok what happened to me.   Forgiveness means I am not going to let you continue to hold the reigns over my life. Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could’ve been any different.  It’s accepting the past for what it was. And using this moment and this time to help yourself move forward.”


The episode resonated with me for many reasons, one of which is that I, too, forgave my abuser and I, too, experienced freedom and healing.  It was then that I thought that maybe someday, somehow, and in some way, I would share my story publicly.  The reason?  Because I want to help people who have also been abused.  And because sometimes other people’s stories can help you to process your own.  


So here you go, peeps.


(note: if you have suffered as a victim of sexual abuse and hearing other people’s stories is a trigger for you, feel free to skip ahead to where I indicate it is safe to start reading again with a ***)


My first abuser was named Keith and he was a teenage boy whom my mom hired one night to babysit my sister and me.  After he put me to bed I was unable to get to sleep so I came out of my room and told him I couldn’t fall asleep.  He said “Ok, I know how I can help you.” And then he proceeded to do something to me that is highly inappropriate and morally wrong for a teenage boy to do to a little girl.  What followed was quite traumatic and the details are not necessary. The whole time it was happening, I kept thinking to myself: “this is wrong, wrong, wrong.  Why is he doing this to me?”  


But I was a little six year old girl so I kept my mouth shut.


The next morning I told my mom, and she immediately confronted Keith and told him to stay far away from us and never to even come near the house.  I never saw Keith again after that.  


I know what you are now asking: “did your mom report him?”  The answer is no, and let me explain why.  A fun fact is that back in the 1970s and early 80s, sexual abuse of children was not common, even borderline unheard of.  My mom didn’t even have a category for it. She was crushed, but she took action and did what she had to do, and she was effective.  But back in those days, reporting was sadly rare.  There are so many sexual abuse scandals that took place in the 70s and 80s (think churches and universities) and unfortunately, many were never reported.  


While Keith was a one and done situation, my second abuser was sneaky in that I’m sure he was molesting me for a long time but I didn’t necessarily realize it. I guess you could say he was grooming me. He would do things like push me on a swing but grab me from my private area while he was pulling me up. I remember one day noticing it and thinking it was odd.  He exposed himself to me one day in the bathroom in a casual, even happy-go-lucky way.  When I sat on his lap he would put his hands in my underwear.  He would give me back rubs but would end under the front of my shirt.  He left pornography out for me to see.  I confess I saw the naked boobies of Madonna and Grace Jones in the 1985 edition of Playboy magazine.  I remember just staring and staring at these two naked ladies.  Another fun fact: abusers often leave porn out to “soften” the child to sexuality.  It’s gross.


But the one incident I remember the most vividly is being over at his house and he started the whole back rub thing and then went to the front, but this time he said “you have a nice body.”  For some reason I always remembered that pick-up line because I was grossed out.  I remember feeling very, very uncomfortable and had the feeling that he might try to take things further.  But then something very strange happened: the rotary phone rang, and he got up to answer it. He was on the phone for a long time, and while he was on the phone, I snuck off to bed. (Another fun fact and this one is actually fun: back then, everyone got up to answer their rotary phones and nobody screened their calls like they do today!) 


(***It is now safe to re-enter the story)
I always felt like God made that phone ring, because He said: “this far and no farther” to this man.  Maybe God knew the abuse would progress that night.  I have no idea.


The next day, I finally told my mom what had been going on for a very long time.  My mom wrote him a letter telling him she was onto his arse, that he had to stop or she would report him, and left the letter on his desk in his office.  He immediately stopped and never did anything else to me again.  


I recently asked my mom why she didn’t report this time, and her answer was something to do with the fact that he was a trusted man close to us, and she didn’t want to embarrass me or drag me through a very difficult court process.  I am glad my mom took immediate action both times.  She feels horrible about what happened to me, but I am so grateful she believed me and did what had to be done immediately.


I hold no anger or judgment against my mom.  The late 1970s was a completely different time period than we are living in today.  Both times my mom took action, and both times the abuse ended.  She was effective, and she protected me in the way that she could.  


So how did sexual abuse affect me?  Even though I was about seven years old when the abuse stopped, it was enough to affect me in deeply emotional and psychological ways. First, it dulled me to sexuality.  I remember making out with my female babysitter’s 15 year old brother David, when I was only ten years old. I remember he was lying on the couch and I decided to “seduce” him. I took out the couch cushions, put them on top of his torso, laid on top of the couch cushions, and then started to kiss him passionately.  I think I was headed in a sexual direction as a young girl due to my abuse.  But thankfully this incident was the only time I acted out in a sexually premature way. 


The other effects were more internal. I began to have inappropriate crushes on teachers and men who were much older than me.  I wrestled with a low-level sense of shame.


But I would say that the number one way I struggled after the abuse was a combination of fear of rejection and a very low self-esteem.  I was hyper-concerned about what people (especially men I admired) thought of me.  I was constantly trying to “win” the approval of other people.  I thought very little of myself.


But then something happened to me that changed the course of my life when I was thirteen years old. I remember it so vividly to this day.  I was just beginning to have a Christian faith and went on a retreat for teenagers one summer at Delta Lake Youth Camp in upstate, New York. The Camp Pastor was named Bill Brown and he spoke one night to all of us kids.  He was one of the more popular speakers as he was direct and blunt and highly engaging. I always listened to every word he said.  


One night, at the end of the message, he directed all the kids to bow their heads because “I feel like God wants to heal those who have been sexually abused as children.”  Immediately I knew he was talking straight to me (and I’m sure many other kids).  He went on to say “I feel that the Lord is saying that if you raise your hand, and I will pray for you, God will heal the effects of the abuse tonight.”  


I had a decision to make.  I remember being so incredibly embarrassed because we all know that teenagers look around to see who is raising their hands!  But I did it! I raised my hand to ask for prayer.  Then Pastor Brown prayed for us and we all called it a night.


And guess what?  All I can say to you, My Dear Reader, is that God healed me that night.  I still struggled with some remaining fear of rejection issues, but overall I felt free from most of the effects of the sexual abuse.  My confidence in who I was and the way God made me also began to grow.


But even though I felt free, I still harbored feelings of disgust towards the man who abused me.  I hated hugging him and would often do one of those awkward, barely-any-contact hugs with him and tried to avoid him as much as possible.  I still had feelings of anger toward him, and vengeance. It was about this time that I felt God nudging me to forgive this man for what he had done.  I thought I had and maybe I had, but I decided to re-forgive him every time those feelings of vengeance came to me.  


Over time, I began to feel better and more set free about the abuse.  It didn’t have as much of a grip on me as before. After I grew up and moved away, I thought I was pretty much done and moved on from dealing with this man (except at an occasional get-together), but then something very strange happened to me one day when I was right in the middle of our adoption of our daughter Claire.  Even though I was about to become a mom and was super busy getting ready for our new baby, I kept sensing that the Lord wanted me to reach out to this man, and tell him that I had forgiven him.


As you can imagine, I flatly refused for several days.  But this weight, this nudge, kept getting stronger and stronger. I can’t stand the feeling of not being completely set free, so I finally raised up my hands in frustration and said “Fine Lord. I will call him. But you have to give me the words to say.”

So I dialed the phone and he must’ve had that same rotary phone 🙂 because he picked up right away.  I don’t remember word for word what I said to him, but I told him that I forgave him for what he did to me as a child.  I told him the reason I forgave him is that God has forgiven me of all of my sins, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God’s own son. And then, drumroll please….I told him that I loved him.


The line was silent on the other end of that rotary phone for several moments.  In a very quiet voice, and a somewhat broken and contrite voice, he apologized (in so many ways) and he said something to the effect that he was so thankful for my forgiveness and for me calling him and that he felt bad and that someday “he would tell me what was going on during that time.”

I know what you are thinking because I thought the same thing: “Ummm, no. There is never any good reason for abusing an innocent kid.”  Honestly, he never told me the “reason” for his behavior and I never asked him. I think that was the way he was trying to tell me that he had changed and he would never do that again.  I’m not sure. 

But then one more interesting thing happened, and this is the end of the story (or the beginning of a new story, really).  We started talking about Jesus, and God, and forgiveness in more depth.  I shared the gospel with him.  In a nutshell, I told him that God loved him and wanted a relationship with him, and then told him how to become a follower of Jesus Christ. That same “nudge” that had been bugging me all along grew super strong in that moment so I tentatively asked him: “would you be interested in having God forgive you of all your sins and asking Jesus to come live inside of you so you can  be forgiven and have a relationship with God the Father?” 

To my astonishment he said, “Yes!!”

And then I guided him in a prayer of repentance, forgiveness, and new life.  This man received Jesus Christ as his savior and Lord.

When I got off the phone I was beaming and ran to tell Erik, my husband.
From then on, we had a much better relationship. I can’t even believe I’m going to tell you this, but it’s true: I felt so much freedom that I actually had genuine feelings of affection (and even a little bit of care and compassion and yes, even love) towards this man for the first time in my life. I even started to give him real hugs when I saw him.  Before, I would avoid him whenever I came back to my hometown, but now I tried to see him almost every time I came home.

Years later, when he was much older and nearing death, my husband and I reiterated the gospel to him and he once again prayed a prayer to ask Jesus to forgive him and come into his heart.  He was still open to it many years later.  I was even able to be with him a few days before he passed away. I prayed for him, looked directly into his eyes, told him I loved him, and then said goodbye.

I will end on this: apparently one in six men are molested as boys, and one in four girls.  The stats vary, but if those numbers are even close to accurate, they are staggering!! The effects of sexual abuse are very deep and wounding and damaging and broad-ranging.  But the same God who healed me and set me free is available to anyone who needs healing.

Let me add one final qualifier: I realize that not everyone can reconcile with their abuser, and I’m not saying that is even possible or healthy most of the time. Forgiveness is both a process and mostly a matter of the will, not of the emotions.  And forgiveness in no way condones the evil of what those two men did to me.  

Before I close I want to encourage anyone reading who has been abused as a child: if you have not shared your story, share it! Share it with me if you want to.  But share it.  And then begin the process of healing and freedom, whatever that looks like for you.  I have shared a few resources in the P.S. section for your perusal.

I will close with the following very powerful statement from 18 year-old Brandt Jean, who had recently lost his brother Botham Jean. Botham had been murdered by a police officer in his own apartment and Brandt spoke at the female officer’s sentencing hearing.  His statement essentially summarizes my mindset when I reached out to and forgave the man who abused me. (I have summarized his quote for ease of reading.)

“I know that I can speak for myself: I forgive you.  And I know if you go to God and ask Him, He will forgive you.  And I love you just like anyone else.  And, I’m not going to say ‘I hope you rot and die just like my brother did’ but I, personally, want the best for you.  And I wasn’t going to ever say this in front of my family or anyone, but I don’t even want you to go to jail.  I want the best for you. And the best would be to give your life to Christ. I think giving your life to Christ would be the best thing that Botham would want you to do.  I love you.”

I couldn’t have said it any better myself.  

______________________________________________________________________________
For a short summary of just some of the effects of sexual abuse, click here:  https://www.nctsn.org/what-is-child-trauma/trauma-types/sexual-abuse/effects

For statistics on child sexual abuse,  including my 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys stat, click here:  https://www.nsvrc.org/sites/default/files/publications_nsvrc_factsheet_media-packet_statistics-about-sexual-violence_0.pdf

Here is another article with different stats on the numbers: https://victimsofcrime.org/media/reporting-on-child-sexual-abuse/child-sexual-abuse-statistics

Wikipedia (with again, different stats on numbers): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_abuse

Steps towards healing: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/ptsd-trauma/recovering-from-rape-and-sexual-trauma.htm

To look into healing from a faith perspective: https://www.focusonthefamily.ca/content/sexual-abuse-the-healing-journey

Many great articles on healing found here: https://www.biblicalcounselingcoalition.org/2019/02/15/sexual-abuse-prevention-and-sexual-abuse-healing-and-hope-in-christ/

There is also www.rainn.org which is a hotline and resource center.

Would you like to jog to Janie’s Got a Gun?  Click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RqQn2ADZE1A

And finally, special thanks to the Oprah Winfrey show about the sexual abuse of men (and then subsequently she interviewed the molesters) that helped me to be able to share this story here.  I still get teary-eyed every time I see it:http://www.oprah.com/own-oprahshow/full-episode-200-adult-men-who-were-molested-come-forward-video

The last tuck-in

When I tuck-in my son tonight, it will be his last tuck-in as a ten year-old little boy.

Many moms and dads know the feeling.  A few days before your child’s birthday, you start thinking thoughts like the following:

“Wow, this is the last week she will be five.”

“In a few days he will turn seven.”

“I can’t believe she is almost done with her first year of preschool.”

“Wow, this is the last night I will tuck him in as a ten year-old boy.”

Maybe you don’t have kids, but you are astonished at how rapidly your niece and nephew have grown since the last time you saw them.  

I believe that children are one of the biggest markers of time that God uses to grab our attention and to let us know that we are all rapidly hurtling towards eternity.  But regret, time-management, and getting ready for eternity is the topic of the post found here: https://permission2speakfreely.com/2018/05/24/time-flowing-like-a-river-to-the-sea-timely-thoughts-about-life-regret-eternity-and-benjamin-button/

The post that you are reading is about one line in a poem that has stuck with me since my son was a baby.  Here is a portion of the poem, with the velcro-line in bold.  

To My Grown-Up Son – by Alice E. Chase

My hands were busy through the day,

I didn’t have much time to play

The little games you asked me to,

I didn’t have much time for you.

I’d wash your clothes; I’d sew and cook,

But when you’d bring your picture book

And ask me, please, to share your fun,

I’d say, “A little later, son.”

I’d tuck you in all safe at night,

And hear your prayers, turn out the light,

Then tiptoe softly to the door,

I wish I’d stayed a minute more.

I wish I’d stayed a minute more.

That’s the line that stayed with me so many nights when I was bone tired, and my husband was traveling, but Logan asked me to please read him another book.

That’s the line that lingered when I felt like ending the tuck-in early so I could go downstairs and binge-watch my favorite TV show.

That’s the line that haunted me after I was already downstairs watching said TV program and Logan would call to me in his sweet little boy voice and ask if I could give him another tuck-in.

“Fine,” I would say in a grumpy way.  But then that line would flash though my mind, and I would get my lazy butt off the couch and go give my kid some extra love.

Time is flying my friends, and there is very little you can do about it except enjoy each moment, take in certain details, and spend those extra moments soaking in the inconvenience of it all because it’s worth it in the end.

How is it worth it?  Because you will have no regrets.  You will always know you spent that extra few minutes with your kids throughout the course of their growing up years.

Honestly, that feeling of regret is probably the biggest reason I made a deliberate decision to be a stay at home parent.  I had a wonderful and “important” career on Capitol Hill that I gave up in order to stay home and shape my kids.

Do I regret it? No.  But sometimes I get a little jealous of my working mom friends, because they seem to have it all.  But then I know that I am right where God wants me: shaping and loving my three kids as a stay at home mom for the few short years I have them.

Time is flying!  And we are all getting older. Before you know it, your kids will be out of the house.  Take the time to spend with your kids right here, right now, tonight – before it’s too late.  Even if they are already teenagers or 20- somethings.

They still want you and need you, even when they are all grown up,

Don’t be like this Alice B. Chase lady who has deep regrets.  Pull a Benjamin Button on yourself and figure out what you might regret not doing with (and for) your kids, and for the love of so many things: do it!  

DO IT NOW.

In closing, a few quick ideas to get your started on that whole quality time love language thing:

Go visit your kids at school (during their lunch is a great time). 

Try to make it to all of their baseball/hockey/soccer/football games.  Be their biggest fan!

Take them with you when you run your errands. 

If they ask you to play with them, PLAY WITH THEM ON THEIR LEVEL. 

Read to them.  Take walks with them.  Bake and cook with them. 

Let them sit on your lap.  Look into their eyes.  

Tell them you love them!

When you tuck them in at night, give them an extra long tuck-in, because tomorrow they are turning 11.

Kids spell the word love: T I M E.  So give them that time that they need and deserve!  You will never regret it.  

My three beautiful kids, many moons ago. But I remember this moment like it was yesterday.

In closing, the poem in it’s entirety:

My hands were busy through the day,

I didn’t have much time to play

The little games you asked me to,

I didn’t have much time for you.

I’d wash your clothes; I’d sew and cook,

But when you’d bring your picture book

And ask me, please, to share your fun,

I’d say, “A little later, son.”

I’d tuck you in all safe at night,

And hear your prayers, turn out the light,

Then tiptoe softly to the door,

I wish I’d stayed a minute more.

For life is short, and years rush past,

A little boy grows up so fast,

No longer is he at your side,

His precious secrets to confide.

The picture books are put away,

There are no children’s games to play,

No goodnight kiss, no prayers to hear,

That all belongs to yesteryear.

My hands once busy, now lie still,

The days are long and hard to fill,

I wish I might go back and do,

The little things you asked me to.

Orphan hosting (and hosting to adopt) – Ten Things You Need to Know

“Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.” – Andy Stanley

Our family is planning to host an eight year old orphan from the Ukraine this summer.  If all goes well, we are open to adopting him.  This will be our fourth experience hosting orphans using three different hosting agencies.

In the following post, I want to tell you why we continue to host orphans, share briefly about the seven kids we have hosted over the years, and then provide you with the Top Ten Things you need to know about orphan hosting.  It is my hope that by the end of this post, your heart will be more inclined to maybe consider hosting for yourself and your family. 

The reason our family continues to host orphans is because God has given us a heart for children that are without loving families and kids that have been rejected.  I have been rejected many times over during the course of my life, especially during my childhood, and God has since healed me. And now I’d like to give back and be an instrument of love and change in a child’s life.  My desire is to show these kids without a family that God loves them, we love them, and they have inherent worth as human beings despite the difficulties and hurt they have faced in their young lives.  The other reason is that we are hoping to host to adopt.  More on that in a moment.  

Another reason we host is because we believe it pleases God and accomplishes his purposes. To start, God Himself is their Father: “Father of the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God is his holy dwelling.” (Psalm 68:5) And the Bible commands his followers to look after them: “religion that our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their time of distress, and keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27) If caring for the orphan is important to God, I feel like it should be important to me and my family, too.

Our Brady Bunch Christmas: We hosted three kids from Latvia this past Christmas (2018) and it was a great experience! It was fun and busy to have three extra kids in the house!

I wanted to take a moment to tell you about all the kiddos we have hosted over the years.  All of these very brief stories will give you a well-rounded picture of what orphan hosting may be like if you decide to do it.  

Dennis: “Dennis the Menace” had behavior issues and would blow right past the boundaries I set for him. He was also sneaky and foolhardy. Dennis had been hosted before and knew the words “Waterpark” and “Rollercoaster” quite well and immediately asked if we could go do both of them.  One time Claire caught Dennis literally one second from killing all the fish in her fish tank when she walked into her own bedroom and saw him, with an evil grin on his face, right before he dumped a whole tub of liquid detergent into the fish tank. 😱 Another time we found Dennis pouring water down the kiddie slide at the park and making a huge mud puddle at the bottom of the slide while all the three year olds and their parents watched in horror. 😶 When Dennis wasn’t being difficult, he was a fun kid to have around, got along great with my son Logan (Logan cried his guts out when he left), he played well with the neighborhood kids, he could be sweet and affectionate with host mom, he was quite funny, and one night he received Jesus Christ as his savior.  Even for just that one event, it was worth it to host Dennis. When we drove him to the airport so he could go back to Latvia, he cried. At that moment I realized that we meant more to him than I realized.

Khloe, Logan, and Dennis catching fireflies! Hosting doesn’t have to be complicated. Catching fireflies is free. 🙂

Sasha: Sasha had special needs that became evident within the first few moments of hosting him.  My heart sank when I saw him flapping his arms and jumping up and down in the corner of our living room within ten minutes of him coming into our home.  The description we had of him beforehand turned out to be inaccurate.  BUT…we loved him anyway and I tried to take care of him the best I could.  I talked to him, prayed for him, took him on fun family outings, fed him, smiled a ton at him, and gave him a super fun week in our home (he was then transferred into a family who had experience with special needs). Sasha taught me that all children have worth and that God loves them too.  Note: it is very unusual for a child’s hosting description to be so incorrect. I guess God just had a plan for us to host him.

Sasha loved to go out on fun outings with our family!

Misha and Masha: This sibling group was a busy small force of energy and activity.  The girl, Masha (we had fun calling out Masha! Masha! Masha!) was very easy and independent and played by herself all day long. She loved to watch Frozen and would sing “Let it Go” all day and night in our home!  Her brother Misha was a handsome boy with a huge heart and competitive drive, but he was foolhardy and didn’t always listen to me.  Although Misha did struggle with behavior issues, he was also very sweet. He loved to bake with me, play with Logan, and he was sweet and affectionate with Erik. It was so cool to see Erik giving him the fatherly love he was longing for.  We told both of them about God’s love for them demonstrated the love of a family to them.  

Misha needed love from a dad. It was so cool to see him get it!
Masha loved to bake! And to sing “Let it Go!” all day long!

Lasma, Samantha, and Daniel.  So this past winter I really went for it!  I decided to host three kids at the same time, right during a major kitchen remodel, with no local family support.  Oh, and we had just moved to a new state!  And I’m so glad I did because this past winter (2018) was by far the best hosting experience we have ever experienced!  In the fall when I began perusing hosting websites looking at adorable kiddos, I intended to only host potentially adoptable kids.  After a lot of internal wrestling and prayer, I settled on two kids in a guardian situation who were potentially adoptable. But I also kept going back to an older girl, age 17, who seemed different and special.  There was something about that kept drawing me back.  So I prayed and decided to host her too. And I’m so glad I did!  Lasma was an amazing addition to our family and was a complete joy to have around.  She literally helped me around the house multiple times a day with cooking and cleaning (of her own accord – no pressure from me). Here was a typical conversation:

Lasma: “Hea-der. I only helped you three times today.  I help you seven more times.”

Me: “Lasma, hon.  You are here to relax and be in my family.  I love you. You don’t have to work for me.  You already helped me three times.  Relax.”

Lasma: “No, I help you. Give me broom.  Broom is my friend.”   

And then little Samantha would come up to me while Lasma was sweeping and say: “help you?”  In fact, “help you” was the first two English words Samantha learned on her own. The two girls would almost compete with each other to help me and they actually wanted to (unlike other humans I know who live with me who shall remain nameless….). The three of us girls had a great time preparing meals in my recently remodeled kitchen.  For several nights Lasma cooked me dinner while I drank wine and relaxed. These three host kids were all good kids, well behaved, listened to host mom, got along great with my own kids, and it was so fun to have six kids all playing happily together screen free in different pockets of our new house.  

Lasma on a “boring day” playing a card game! Our kitty liked boring days too!
On a “fun day” we went to the lake, a park, and McDonalds. Total cost: about ten dollars!
Samantha loved to do crafts! I was glad to finally find a kid in my house who was still into it and used my art supplies!
Khloe is great at hair-styling! Check out Daniel’s new do!!
Here’s an example of a “major outing.” I took the kids into Chicago to the top of the Willis Tower! Super fun! We had a scary but fun time on the overhanging glass structure! Hosting doesn’t have to be this involved but it can be what you make of it. The kids have fun doing regular things and more involved things too!
Lasma learned to ride a bike at the age of 17!!!

Lastly – this is the cutie we plan to host this summer.  We are hosting him through https://www.frontierhorizon.org.His description is encouraging.  We’ve seen videos of him and we are looking forward to hosting him!  (There are other kiddos still available for summer hosting on their website.)

Below are the Top Ten Things you need to know about orphan hosting in a Q and A format.  

1.  What is Orphan Hosting and give me some general facts:

In brief, orphan hosting is when you invite an orphan into your home for a short period of time (about four weeks, perhaps a bit more) in order to show them the love of a family.  There is a to do list of paperwork and you have to pay for the child’s flight and other expenses, and then you let the kid schlep around with you wherever you go for that four week period.  There are several hosting agencies, a few countries they work with, and two hosting seasons: Christmas and summer. For more detailed information on hosting in general click here: https://www.kidsave.org/host-a-child-mentor-a-child/

2.  Which foreign countries participate in hosting programs?

Ukraine, Latvia, Colombia, Phillipines, Kyrgystan, Nicaragua, Sierra Leone, China, and other countries.  Please use google for more information.

3.  What are the main hosting agencies? 

We have used three different hosting agencies: 

New Horizons for Children (http://nhfc.org)

Host Children (hostchildren.org)

and Frontier Horizons (https://www.frontierhorizon.org).  I have most recently hosted through Frontier Horizons and Host Children.

Here are a few I’ve heard of but have never hosted through: 

Rainbow Kids: https://www.rainbowkids.com/hosting-a-child/hosting-programs

Project 143 www.p143.org.

BB: http://www.bbinternationaladoption.com/Colombian-Child-Holiday-Hosting-Program(BB hosts kids from Colombia. They have very short programs so this might be a good one to look into.  And they claim that the children are already cleared for adoption!)

Project 143 has a great Q and A on their website about hosting in general.

I also just found out that Madison Adoption Associates participates in orphan hosting. Please google them.

4.  What are the pros and cons of hosting?

The pros are that you give an orphan the love of a family for a few weeks.  If you are a person of religious faith, you can introduce your host kid to God’s love as well.  There are other benefits such as your children seeing your example and sharing their toys and their time.  They will get a little less self-centered and more giving and flexible through hosting.  Also – all the kids (yours and the host kids) really bond and it’s honestly and truly a lot of fun to have more kids in the house.  I’m not kidding.  You will have to host to believe me on this.  Cons: it can be hard and the kids can be not what you expected.  It can be tiring for the host mom if she thinks it’s “all on her.”  It takes work and there can be frustrations. The other con is that I’ve heard that some orphanage directors are not always completely accurate or honest about America or the hosting experience (at least this is what I have heard). The kids can cry when they go, and you feel bad.

5. Can I host to adopt?  (if you are not interested in hosting to adopt, please feel free to skip to number 6.)

Absolutely!!  But it’s getting harder to do. At least in some countries. I will add that hosting to adopt is a lot easier if you are open to older kids, larger sibling groups, and kids with potential special needs.  

Let me give you a very realistic model of what will happen when you attempt to host to adopt and you want as much information on the child beforehand as possible.  First, you get on a hosting website and peruse it.  You see a bunch of super cute kids that you are drawn to.  Some are sibling groups of two and you think “cool, I’m open to siblings.”  So you make an inquiry of the hosting coordinator.  So you send an email and say: “Hey Lilia! (actual host coordinator or hostchildren.org, who is great and her story is below). Can you give me more information on B142 and whether or not he is clear for adoption?”

Below are a few ways she will answer you: (I have heard literally all of these a number of times each from several different coordinators. Below are possible responses for Latvia and Ukraine.)

  • No, the child is not available for adoption, sorry. 
  • I’m so sorry, but unfortunately, we have no information on their adoption status.  
  • Yes, they are available, but you need to know that the child has two older siblings, ages 13 and 15.  You would have to adopt them too.
  • The children are in a guardian situation, and while it’s possible to adopt from that situation, it’s tricky, and the guardian would have to sign off on it and other things would need to happen. 
  • The child is in a foster care situation and a new law was just passed stating that you cannot adopt a child in foster care. 
  • He is available for adoption but there is an issue with his sister so they would have to legally separate them for the adoption to occur. 

So while it is humanly possible to host to adopt, with changing laws and changing attitudes and foster care this and guardian that, and the uncertainty of adoption in the first place, it’s getting harder.  I also had a friend who hosted to adopt and they were all set to adopt the child, and then at the last minute he changed his mind.  Adoption is a difficult thing sometimes.  

But have many people done it?  Absolutely.  Let me briefly explain how hosting to adopt works.  First, you host the orphan and determine that “hey, I think we could adopt this kiddo.”  Hopefully, your child is indeed available for adoption. And then you just start the adoption process, and most host agencies are streamlined to set you right up with an agency.  International adoption can take a decent amount of time and is a lot of work (and money). Each country is a bit different but once you settle on an adoption agency, they will walk you through the process. And for the sake of brevity, that’s all I will say on this topic.

6. Can I just host just to host, with no adoption interest?

100 percent yes!  In fact, I would say that this is a great way to host. Just think of it as a four week investment for both you, your family, and the host kid. Give them love. And have fun!

7.  What if we both (host mom and host dad) work full time.  Can we still host?

Yes! It’s much easier to do if you have local family support OR paid, consistent reliable child care support, and if you and your husband can each work from home every other week or have a flexible work schedule, etc.  Some hosting agencies allow you to place your child in a licensed day camp.  You would need to identify those hosting agencies and host through them.  So yes, whatever you are doing during the day with your other kids, theoretically you could do with your host kids.  I would just say though that the more time that the host kiddo can get with you and your family within the context of you home, the better.  And the more flexible and less intense your own work schedule can be, the better.

8.  Can I put the child in a summer camp if I need to?

Yes.  I must say that I have never once used a summer camp while I hosted because I thought “I should be here with the child 24/7.”  But honestly, I just learned that I can do this (some hosting agencies allow this) and I plan to put our host kid in a day camp or two with my other kids (I am talking one or two weeks out of four or five).  I can say that if you do not use a day camp ever, you will feel like it’s all on you and it can be tiring to feel like you have to entertain them all day long (but you don’t, see the next question).  If you choose a summer camp, work carefully with the camp staff as the child will likely speak limited English and may not even be able to swim. 

9.  What do you do with the host kids all day long?

The short answer is whatever you are normally doing with your own kids.  You don’t have kids?  Then whatever is in your capacity to do with some emphasis on what you think they would like to do.  I used to think I had to entertain them continually but after Dennis left and it took me a week to recover, I knew I had to find a better way.  Now, I take the pressure off and use a “one boring day, one more fun day” model.  On “boring days” we stay home, I get stuff done (including working part time), we play games like UNO and other simple games, they play outside, etc.  The host kids are perfectly fine on boring days and I often find them doing their own thing quite happily with no adult intervention.  🙂 On “more fun” days we go out and do stuff.  Sometimes it’s super simple and cheap things like going to a (free) park and getting a $1 McDonald’s vanilla ice cream cone. Anyone reading this blog post I think can handle that.  🙂 Other days we do more involved activities like go to a pool, or go on a major outing like a theme park or ice skating or camping or the beach.  You live on a farm?  Have the host kiddo help you with farm chores.  You live in the city?  Take your kiddo to a free museum.  Have a pond with small fish in your neighborhood?  Give them some worms and a rod and a little snack and let them fish. Taking your own kid to his soccer game or swim meet? Take the host kid too. Stuff like that. Don’t go crazy.  The pressure is off.  Just love them. And have fun!  But it doesn’t have to be super fancy stuff.

10.  What if the kids have behavioral issues?

So I would be lying to say that there are no behavior issues, but lot of times they are not super major and can be handled.  Ask yourself (if you are a parent) “do my own kids sometimes have behavior issues?” If they answer is yes, then imagine how hard and strange it is (yet exciting and rewarding) it would be to come to a new country and only speak limited English and try to fit into an already existing family? Most issues can be easily resolved with loving boundaries and google translate.  You can also call the chaperone.  Or, you can be like me and host an awesome older kiddo who speaks the language fluently and can whip the younger kids into shape.  Seriously though, the bottom line is that the hosting coordinator or chaperone is a call away, a face time away, or a What’s Ap away and can definitely deal with the kiddos.  

Important point: the orphanage directors and the in-country hosting staff do their very best to select the kids who have the best chance of doing well during the hosting season.  If they have severe behavior issues where they currently live then they are not a good candidate for hosting.

One last thing: only two kids out of seven we have hosted had behavior issues. The three girls were all a complete joy with no issues.  One boy had complaining and pouting issues but again we used google translate and the chaperone to help us.  The issues were resolved.

11.  (bonus) How do I communicate with my host kid? (if they don’t speak English)

It’s much easier than you think using Google translate (an Ap), charades, gestures, and using common words like toilet, pizza, host mom, host dad, yes and no, etc. They study a little English, you study a little ______.  Call the chaperone and tell them what’s going on; he/she will translate for you. You develop a groove and you end up speaking Spanglish (or the appropriate country derivative) and they end up speaking Russ-glish, Ukraine-glish, or Chinese-glish.  It’s all good.  You will be ok.  Trust me, this is the last thing you need to worry about.  

12. Last Question: What is the best thing about hosting?

For me personally, it’s knowing that I can impact one person for good.  I can make one small difference in a child’s life.  I can possibly even change the trajectory of that child’s life by my sacrifice and time and energy.  God blesses me back every time I host.  He gives me the grace and strength to do it.  I love knowing that the kids all learn about God and His love in our home.  My kids are better for it, and so is my husband.  And so am I! It takes a leap of faith I know…but it’s well worth it.  You feel good knowing you are giving a wounded kiddo a loving home for a short period of time. And you really end up liking and loving the kids.  It’s truly a self-sacrificial win-win. 

I am closing this post with an email I received from my winter host coordinator named Lilia.  I had no idea she had once been hosted many years ago!  And her story sums up the entire point of hosting: you never know how one act of love can be used to completely change the trajectory of a child’s entire life.  And that’s the bottom line of why we continue to host.  😊

Heather –

Every time I greet our host children and families at the arrival airport, my mind is momentarily taken back to the time I was hosted myself. A long time has passed since I was hosted, but my recollection of the  experience is still very fresh in my mind.

I was so honored and grateful to have been hosted together with my sister, who is a year and a half older than me. Two teen girls are not likely candidates to get hosted, we thought. How pleasantly surprised were we when the director of our orphanage shared the exciting news with us that a family in America wants to host us!

For the first time in my life I got to celebrate my birthday with an actual birthday party that my host family organized just for me. Our host mom invited family and friends, had special decorations and cake in my honor, but I do not think that she realized just how much that meant to me. Was I really important to someone, I thought? Important enough to have them put together this wonderful birthday party? Did someone genuinely care about me even though they just met me? I will never forget that day and I will always be grateful for the wonderful host experience my sister and I had.

My sister and I were fortunate enough to be adopted and we are grateful beyond words. My sister has a degree in International Business and works at a law firm. I am a Host Program Director and have the privilege of organizing and running host programs for orphaned children around the world. I am a mother to an amazing son and am thankful every day for the way our lives turned out.

Hosting goes beyond a memorable vacation for the children. It is the feelings of belonging, of being cared and loved that serve as validation of their worth, which they so deeply need and desire. Please consider hosting a child this summer. Not only will you provide the children with an unforgettable experience, but you will also change their life and give them hope for their future. Thank you for reading my story,

Lilia

PS: to just take a peek at the kids available for hosting, go to any of the websites listed above and/or also visit Host Children (hostchildren.org) and Frontier Horizons (https://www.frontierhorizon.org)

PSS: if you would like to read a post about the power of doing good to one person at a time, please read this: https://permission2speakfreely.com/2017/05/14/small-things-with-great-love/

Thanks for reading!! And if you have any questions about hosting, please feel free to leave them in the comment section. 😊


These girls were always competing with each other in a good natured way to help me in the kitchen even before my kitchen was even finished!
Terrible picture of me (host mom Heather). Samantha (for whatever reason) didn’t wash her hair when she showered. 😳 So I just took her to my bathroom and did it for her!
Lasma got her FIRST hair cut in her ENTIRE LIFE at the age of 17. Can you believe it?
The night before they left, the kids wrote us the sweetest note and Lasma choreographed an entire dance routine for us!
Misha loved to bake!
Dennis! Having fun with my kiddos. He could be a super fun boy when he was being good!
Christmas!

The Gift of Fear

Fear can be a gift if you can get to the roots and then grow some wings…

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Everybody is afraid of something.

Maybe you are a happily married mom whose husband travels frequently, and you find yourself checking his flight status constantly because you are secretly afraid that you will become a widow long before your time.

Perhaps you are like my husband, who works extremely hard because he subconsciously wonders whether or not we will have enough money when we eventually retire.

Or maybe you are like me and you fear major change.  Our family moved several months ago and I struggled with the fear of the unknown.

No matter how big and strong you are, everybody is afraid of something.

Many years ago I read an excellent book called the “Gift of Fear” by Gavin de Beker, a book that educates readers on how to trust their gut instincts in order to reduce their chances of becoming the victim of a violent crime.  Many of the principles I learned have stayed with me over the years and I have used the “if your gut thinks something is off, it probably is” concept many times.

In this post, I will highlight several fears I have struggled with throughout my life and how I have found freedom and healing from many of them. I can summarize my approach to handling fear using two simple words:

Roots and Wings

Roots: I had to learn to get to the root of the fear and be able to summarize it in simple terms, and then thrust that fear into the light. 

Wings: I imperfectly rise above the fear with God’s help and strength. 

Think of fear as being an indicator light in your car, letting you know that something is wrong and needs to be fixed.  The “gift” of fear is that sense of freedom and healing I received once the root was identified, brought into the light, and burned away.

I have struggled with many fears including a deep fear of rejection, the fear of moving (which is really the fear of the unknown), and the fear of missing out.  In the following post, I will dig deep into just a few of my fears and how I have found freedom and healing from almost all of them.

Fear of ghosts, demons, and bad guys:  

Many nights as Erik and I were trying to fall asleep, we would hear what sounded like many squirrels were up in the attic, scurrying around.  We were lazy and tired so we let it go for months (I’m embarrassed to admit this). One day, Erik’s brother Ed came for a visit and Erik and Ed ended up working in the attic.  While they were up there, I asked them to look for any evidence of squirrels (like nests, droppings, etc) and report back.  They came down later and said “nothing. No squirrels.”  

That night as we were in bed trying to fall asleep, the racket started up again.  I looked at Erik and said “those stupid squirrels!”  Right then a thought popped into my head: ‘those are not squirrels.”  Oh my!  At first, I was filled with fear as I thought: what can that possibly be?  Is that a demon up there? So in that moment, without even consciously realizing it, I figured out the roots (fear of the unknown, and fear of harm).  I had already learned about the authority I had through Jesus Christ to make demons go away. I looked up toward the attic and prayed (wings) that the demon(s) leave my attic in Jesus’ name. Right at the moment I finished praying, there was a very loud BOOM that filled up our entire bedroom!!  It was as if something was pissed and hit the side of the attic wall with angry force.  It was so loud that Erik and I jumped out of our bed in alarm!  After that huge boom there was complete and utter silence.  

And then the attic was as quiet as a mouse for the next nine years we lived there.

Fear of getting married: It’s not that I didn’t want to marry Erik (my husband) because I most certainly did! He was and still is a wonderful man. But I was extremely terrified that he would change after marriage.  I’m not sure where the root of that fear came from, but it may have been from my deep distrust of men and their potential to hurt me or reject me, or maybe I had watched too many LifeTime movies. Not sure.  🙂

Anyway, I remember listening to the old Elton John song “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” while I studied for Masters degree at his apartment.  I remember writing a school paper on Erik’s computer while quietly singing the famous lines of the song under my breath (because Erik was within ear-shot): 

“You nearly had me roped and tied.  Altar bound, hypnotized, sweet freedom whispered in my ear.  You’re a butterfly, and butterflies are free to fly.”   

I would then look over at Erik and secretly wonder if he was tricking me this whole time and secretly waiting to turn into a psycho after marriage.  Looking back, this fear was silly and irrational, but at the time, it had a hold on me.

Roots: Fear of death (maybe not physical death, but the death of a dream of a happy marriage), fear of being fooled, fear of rejection (of course), and finally, the worst one for me: the fear of being trapped in a bad marriage.  I am a very free-spirited person who likes to make very careful and wise decisions. I didn’t want to mess up the biggest decision of my life!

Wings: I turned to the Lord and prayed about it, and told Him all of my fears. I prayed that if Erik was not the man that God had intended for me, could God please communicate that to me in a way I could understand.  

But then here its the kicker, because God does not always shield us and protect us in every situation.  I prayed that God’s will would be done, and that, whatever He allowed for me, as good or as bad as it might be, that He would give me the strength and the wisdom to withstand the trial and be ok with whatever happened.  I trusted His plan for my life and trusted that He would bring good from it.  And I believed that He would never leave me or forsake me even if my husband did.  I basically prayed the Prayer of Relinquishment, which models Jesus’ prayer in the Garden, before He was led away to death.  He prayed several times that the Lord would find another way for Him to make atonement for the sins of mankind, but God said no, it had to be the cross.  Finally, Jesus ended up praying: “Nevertheless, not my will, but your will be done.”  Jesus went to the cross and died for the sins of the world, and was resurrected on the third day.  He accomplished what He came to do.

After I prayed God’s will for my life and marriage, I had a peace to go forward with the wedding.  It was like a burden lifted from my shoulders and I felt free!  Erik and I had a beautiful wedding day and (thank God) we still have a happy marriage to this day.

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Fear of moving.

Roots: The number one root was the fear of death of all of my carefully built up relationships, fear of not making good friends, fear of the unknown, fear of change, fear that my kids would not thrive, fear of making a huge mistake, and me not finding my purpose here in our new state.

Wings: I prayed to God to help me to find new friends, help my kids to adjust, help my Maryland friends to still love me and pursue me even if I moved away, and to trust that God was allowing or even orchestrating this move.  Update: it’s been seven months since we moved, and although our new neighborhood is super quiet (compared to the AWESOME hood we have just lived in) my neighbors are very nice, we’ve made a few friends, and my Alderman lives here and I received a part-time job working to help her reelection.  We found a great school for the kids, Khloe is thriving academically and socially, and the girls did great on their varsity basketball team.  Additionally, we remodeled our kitchen and I love it! My Maryland friends still love me. The local area is cool. The weather sucks.

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Logan loved playing on his new hockey team!  For this, I’m glad we moved.

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Another great thing about moving: exploring all the new and exciting this to do in our new city – Chicago!  I took our host kids there to see the awesome (and scary!) views this winter.  So fun!

In closing….I don’t want to leave you with the impression that I have my whole life put together in a neat bow…so here are two last fears that I am still working on: first, the fear of losing my husband and children. Second, fear of the “life’s little things” involving my family and my home (and my little job).  

First, losing my husband and kids: the only way I have personally developed a peace about this is to entrust my family and the timing of their life on earth into the hands of the Lord. The illustration I heard about this that helped to set me free is that on the back of every gift you have (in this case, my husband and children) exists an expiration date that the Lord himself put there. The expiration date is hidden to us.  The expiration date could be tomorrow, 5 years from now, or 100 years from now.  But, an expiration date exists indeed.  I don’t think this analogy completely eradicates this fear for me, but it puts it into perspective: my husband and children are a gift from God. He is in control of all aspects of life and death and it’s ultimately up to Him as to how long my greatest gifts exist on this earth.  And the root of this fear is being alone and lonely for the rest of my life and just simply enduring the loss of those I love the most in this world.

Fear of little things that cause me stress:  Stress, for me, is an indication of a small fear that I am not dealing with straight on.  Stress indicates that I am trying to control something that is too hard to completely control.  Lots of times it involves my kids: stress about how my son is doing in school, stress about my daughter’s constant headaches, or stress about getting behind with household or administrative tasks (dumb, but true).  I still need to bring these “smaller fears” into the light by using the roots and wings model. Sadly, I often let these little fears continue on, causing me to become cranky and more controlling with my husband and children.  Not good.

Even this morning my son (who is struggling a little bit in school) said to me: “mom, don’t stress, but my teacher said that we might have all of our tests today because so many people are leaving for Spring Break.”

Because I’m in the midst of writing this post, I calmly said to him: “It’s ok Logan. I trust God.”  But then I added, “but if you want, you can still study on the drive to school.”  🙂

Before I close, I need to reiterate a major qualifier.  God does not always promise us that our greatest fears will not come to pass. I know many people who have lost their battle with cancer, lost a husband or wife, lost a child, have never been married (yet), had to move to a different state or make a major life change, had a friendship change or die, or be trapped in a horrible marriage!  Many good men, women, and children had their greatest fears come to life.  So what do I do with that?

For me, there are two things about God that take the edge off this reality.

First, I know that no matter what I go through, God promises to go with me and will never leave me:

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6

Second, God promises to make all things work together for good. 

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” Romans 8:28.

To summarize this verse, to me it means that God promises to take any bad circumstance and bring good from it, and in the process, God will make me more like his Son, meaning I will have more peace and calm when facing whatever trial God allows for me.  He will also shave off sin and adjust other areas of my life that need major improvement. And, I need to add that God is a loving God who carefully considers every trial He sends my way.  There are no mistakes in God’s design.  Sometimes God will allow hard things for me, but He promises to be with me and help me and make something good come from it.  

In conclusion, it is only through God’s strength that I have been able to overcome my many fears.  Fear eventually turns into a gift of perspective and it no longer has control over me in the same way.  The true gift that fear can eventually give me is the gift of freedom and healing.  No longer will that fear have control or power over me.  

In summary, the gift of freedom and healing makes it worth facing down my greatest fears!

“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:31

We Are Hosting Three Orphans Over Christmas!!

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Things are going to be a lot busier around our house for Christmas this year! Why?  We are hosting three orphans from Latvia over the Christmas holiday! I am both excited and nervous at the same time. Their plane arrives tonight!

Two of the kids are a sibling group – brother and sister, ages 10 and 8, respectively.  The other girl is 17, and in fact she will celebrate her 18th birthday while she is here with us. 

So why are we hosting over Christmas?  Especially since we just moved this summer and we are in the midst of a kitchen remodel?

Since I like bullet points, here you go:

  • First, we are hosting to potentially adopt.  The two younger kids are orphans living with a non-relative caregiver and could eventually be eligible for adoption, but there are a few barriers/qualifiers.  First and foremost, in order to adopt, there has to be a connection with these kids.  I love kids, and kids are great, but I don’t want to adopt all the kids of the world into my family.  There has to be that special spark and/or that special nudge from God in order to move forward with an adoption.  Secondly, they live with a non-relative guardian and we have heard that it is very hard to adopt from that situation. Honesty, we do not have our hopes up that this hosting experience will lead to an adoption and in fact have accepted that it probably will not.
  • (Quick fact: hosting to adopt is a huge category in the international adoption space.  We have tried this twice in the past and, while it was worthwhile for many reasons, it has not led to an adoption.  Although we are adoption ready in the country of Latvia, things have dramatically changed in that country due to new laws (more Latvian kids are going into foster care rather than being adopted by foreigners), changing attitudes (Latvians wanting their own kids to stay in Latvia), and changing staff (there are only two ladies who run the adoption program in the whole country, and both are out on maternity leave).  These realities have left us in the “Adoption Waiting Room” for over two years now, which is very hard and frustrating.  I will leave one thought on waiting at the end of this post.)
  • Secondly, we decided to host because I kept sensing that God wanted me to leave my comfort zone and welcome one of “the least of these” into our new home.  We have a huge extra room upstairs and I kept thinking that we should use it for something.
  • Third, we are hosting because it is good for our kids.  Our kids are typical American kids who are used to the comforts and  conveniences of American life.  It’s good for our kids to have to share their Christmas and to have to be inconvenienced for other children that have less than they do. 
  • Fourth, it’s good for Erik and me.  Serving is a huge category for us that we don’t do as much as maybe we could or should.  My prayer is that these kids will feel the love and acceptance of God while they are here. 
  • Fifth, it’s good for the kids we are hosting.  We have heard numerous testimonies that hosting can change the trajectory of the lives of these kids in some amazing ways!  I am especially excited to hear the story of the 17 year old we are hosting (who is not adoption eligible due to her age), as she was never adopted and is about to turn 18.  It is my prayer that Lasma will feel the love while she is here with us.  
  • And finally, we are hosting because God has blessed us so very much, and we want to give back.  I have a heart for these kids because I, too, have struggled with feelings of rejection.  I want these kids to feel love and acceptance from a family and especially from God.

Confession: I am already tired thinking about hosting three kids.  Logan (my son) just threw up right before he went to bed just now (I’m not kidding).  Our kitchen is in the midst of a remodel.  We just moved and I have no family close by (we do have one niece who lives one hour away, hi Lauren!) and barely any friends in our new area.  Sometimes I think I’m crazy for doing this.  But I know I kept feeling nudged to take a leap of faith, and I prayed a lot, so here we go.

I keep thinking that where God guides, He provides.  I’m hoping and praying He will provide the grace for this adventure.

Final deep thought: waiting is hard and waiting for an adoption to take place is really hard.  Hosting gives us an opportunity to do something while we wait.  

I have been especially encouraged by two verses of Scripture about waiting and trusting:

Isaiah 49:23 “And they that wait for the Lord shall not disappointed.” 

And “I am still confident of this, I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”  Psalm 27:13.  

I am trusting in the Lord and His timing (and his will in general) for our adoption. It’s hard and frustrating though.  And honestly, I don’t know if Latvia will work out for us.  We might have to go to a Plan B. 

But for now, we are hosting these three kids over Christmas.  

Please pray for us!

Merry Christmas!

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’  Matthew 25.

 

Christian College Student by Day, Southern Cocktail Waitress by Night -Part II – Tips from a Waitress

By Sandie Brown, guest blogger

I will always remember working my first shift on the Lounge side at the Ground Round restaurant in Lynchburg, VA, where I was working my way through college in the early 1990’s.  I was only 19 years old and this was my first job in the restaurant business.  Every time I walked past by a set of booths, some guy was cat-calling me (“hey cutie, how ya doing?”), which left his girlfriend threatening me to assault me (“girl, I’m going to beat the sh*&^%$t out of you”), all because I was doing my job and seating people.  I began to cry and went to my amazing boss Stan and told him that I didn’t think this job was for me. He calmly reassured me this was no typical night. 

I managed to suck it up and lasted a few years more at the Dirt Circle, as the staff called it, moving through the ranks of hostess, waitress, and assistant manager. I had no business being a manager as I had no idea what I was doing!  I thought my main job was to count the money and run the reports (and study for my classes at school). The staff would often play jokes on me, and there were many nights I closed the restaurant by myself, walking out in complete darkness at 2 in the morning.

Working almost 30 hours a week and taking a full class load was not for the faint of heart, but waitressing my way through college taught me many valuable life lessons, and below are just a few of them, mostly using the phrases of the business that Heather used in her previous post, found here.

1. Waitressing can be a real “meet” market, in a good way. During my 8 years of waiting tables, the best thing I learned is that it is very possible to make some great friendships with coworkers and regular customers – and those relationships can last a lifetime.  I met Heather when we were 19 years old, and we are still best friends to this day!

Sometimes you get regular customers and the regulars are placed in your life for a purpose. It was during my time at the Ground Round that I was working to pay my way through Central Virginia Community College (CVCC). I had been waiting on an elderly gentlemen, Jimmy Sales, regularly for a few years and we had become good friends. He asked me what I would do to further my education now that my years at CVCC were up.  I said I had not idea but I knew I still want to pursue teaching. I don’t recall the timeline of that conversation but it became the catalyst for what happened later that summer.  At some point after one of our regular weekly lunches, he left me an unexpected tip.   It was a check typed out to Liberty University for $1,200.00.  I remember staring at him slack jawed. He told me that God had put it on his heart to help me transition to a new college.

For the next 3 years I continued to waitress and Mr. Sale would always ask each semester, “how much do you owe?” He would never pay the whole amount but always gave me a generous contribution to help me through.  When I graduated I asked him later how I could ever pay him back. His reply?

“Don’t bother-just pay it forward when you can.” 

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Jimmy Sale with Heather and me.  He was always so generous and never expected anything in return. He helped me financially through college by leaving me huge tips in the form of checks written out to my school!  I have been paying it forward ever since.

I had a lot of regular customers who were big tippers and none of them ever wanted anything in return. There was “The Cookie Man” named John who tipped with amazing homemade cookies and breads, the General Manager of a local baseball team named Ronnie who gave me a Bible, and a local car salesman, Eddie, who gave me a cowboy hat and boots as a Christmas gift.  No strings were attached to any of these gifts; just kind, genuine people placed in my life.  With the exception of Eddie, these regulars are still in my life to this day. 

I believe there are people on earth with the gift of generosity and tipping a server is a place for them to use their gift.  You never know how God might bless someone with your tip. It might be a standard 20% tip or it may be something a little more surprising like Mr. Sales’ gift of $1200.

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That’s me in the middle, bartending at the Rio Grande, and amazing Tex Mex in Virginia.  I made a lot of great friends in the restaurant business.

2. “I have Campers!” The aim for all waitresses is to get as many customers to rotate through your station during your shift in order to make the most amount of tip money possible because servers do not receive a paycheck.  In the 1990’s, the hourly rate was $2.15 per hour, but when you claim your tips on your tax return, you never actually received anything other than the tips you earned – you usually received a zeroed out check stub.  The worst was when a table came into your section and continued to sit long after their food was eaten. If you were lucky, that camping table would tip you big by end of night, but most of the time, they didn’t.

But in life, you do want campers – the people who stay by you through thick and thin. I have been blessed with a few campers. Campers don’t give up on your when you are at your low points and they don’t allow others to keep you down either. Instead they cheer you on and they encourage you to be your best.  Campers are the ones that have staying power. They accept you for who you are. They give you grace when needed and have the guts to speak honestly to you. I have been blessed with some amazing campers in my life.  At this point in my life my campers all live miles apart from me. But I know I have a handful of amazing campers who have my back. 

3. “Oh no! They did the Dine and dash!” The worst shifts happened when a table decides to eat and then run off without paying the check.  It may not seem like such a huge deal in the grand scheme of life, but it sure makes for a crappy night of tips.  That happened to me once at the Rio Grande in Reston, VA. But when the staff heard there was a dine and dash table, other servers chipped in so that the monetary loss was shared by all and the impact on me was minimized.

Just as in most restaurants the dashers leave and the server is left to pay for the cost, I think this is true about life in general with the words people say and the choices they make. They dump on us then leave.  It could be a reckless word or a hapless deed.  It can be intentional or unintentional.  Most of the time we are left wondering ‘where did that come from’ and ‘why am I left cleaning up the pieces?’ 

I have learned through many hurtful times that although someone may dine and dash emotionally on me, I don’t have to accept their bad behavior.  It’s okay to feel the impact, but then I choose not to be offended.  I have a saying of recent that is my manta: always consider the source.  It isn’t necessarily something they did as much as why they did it, and usually people do things from a place of brokenness.  Of recent I am in a place that forces me to put up with a lot of dashing.  It is temporary and I have had to remind myself that I am not responsible for fixing someone else’s baggage. I do have a response to be loving, be a light, and at times even be bold and draw necessary boundary lines.  We sometimes find ourselves in these hard places but the good news is we don’t have to choose to stay in them forever.

4. “86 that!” When you are in the restaurant business you know what these two numbers mean.  An 86’d item is one that is out; take if off the menu- it is no longer available.  I hated informing a customer that we were out of the item they desired to order because it would usually be followed up by disappointment. There are things in life that we have to consider 86-ing.  Of recent my family and I moved across 5 states to be closer to family.  On leaving I had to 86 some things in Missouri that were a part of my life for the past 5 years.  Deep friendships, a church that felt like family, an amazing book club and a beautiful neighborhood where my kids thrived and had an idyllic childhood (Heather’s note: we just did this too, and it is very hard.) In making the decision to leave Missouri, my husband and I began purging a year before we even sold our home. When moving across state lines, the moving company charges you by weight. We begin to process what is truly needed.  I had phone calls with an organizational coach that helped me sort through the why behind the what. Why do we want the stuff? What do we do with the stuff?  In that process, many things were sold, donated or gifted out.  We wanted to travel light with only the necessary things.

In life, there are times you need to go through your stuff and 86 the things that weigh you down.  I learned a long time ago to minimize. Before moving to Missouri, I had a similar purge where there were just some items I had a hard time releasing.  One in particular was a beautiful jacket I had purchased that I had spent a fair amount of money on. It no longer fit and yet I knew what I had paid for it. I have a knack for frugality. I tend to know what can resale and what is not worth the time.  This I knew would sell if I stayed persistent and kept reposting it.  But time was running out and I had to decide to pack it or donate it.  It never sold and I had a hard time just giving it away. I begin to think of verse in the Bible that says “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every hindrance that so easily entangles us…” This jacket was hindering me from joy. I would look at it and regret not fitting into it any longer. I would spend time posting and reposting it on Facebook buy-sell-trade groups. But at the end of the day, it was a waste of time and energy. Once I donated it, I didn’t even think of that jacket again until writing this post.  Bottom line?  Be ok to let some things go.

5. “Behind you!” Oh how I still use this even at home and sometimes get mad at my husband in our “one butt kitchen” for bumping into me when he should be communicating “behind you.” I can’t stay mad at him because he has never waited tables.  But as a waitress, if you don’t speak up and say “behind you!” you will end up with all kinds of spills and mishaps.  My worst was once at the Rio Grande where I was balancing a hot sizzling fajita platter on my shoulder and was bumped from behind. The hot plate burned the nape of my neck as it slid off the tray. I bear the scar of that hot plate still today.  It is important to keep communication lines open and don’t assume people know how you feel.

Always state the obvious even when you think someone knows what you are thinking. Speak it out loud.  To the spouse who needs to hear it say “I love you.” To the dad who hurt you long ago say “I forgive you.” To the coworker or child who needs recognition say “I see you.” And always to your friends who live in these challenging times we live in say “Behind You!”

6. “I’m stuck in the the 111’s” I had to throw this term in myself. It was specific to those who waited tables at The Rio Grande.  It was last sat, least desirable section and it was mine for a solid 8 or more weeks until some unfortunate newby was hired and I moved up in seniority.  It was a row of tables that separated the smoking and the non-smoking section in the restaurant.  Why was it so horrid? Because that section was the separation.  It was a row of tables adjacent to the row of smoking tables with a view of the bus boy station.   Mostly customers seated there were either “first available” on the wait list or where customers sat when all other sections were filled. It was the last sat and first emptied out. The 111s was the section you DID NOT want to be assigned to.  But I was in a tight place. I had just moved to the DC area and needed money.  My friend Heather was making money hand over fist at this restaurant but I must have arrived at a time they were fully staffed and I was the last hired in a place that assigned sections according to seniority.

Sometimes you find yourself in a tight place.  TD Jakes describes a tight place is a place where you are not there yet. You are closer than you were but you are not there yet.  You are closer than you were but you are not sure you have the push to get to the next place. Sometimes in life you are assigned to the 111’s.  You will move out of it but for the time you are in it, it’s humbling, it’s hard, and you have to grit your teeth til, something gives.  I’ve been in the 111’s since this summer. My husband and I stepped out in faith to leave Missouri and return to Virginia so that we could be closer to family.  Things have not YET worked out as we had thought.  I know they will eventually sort out and we will look back and know there was a reason for this season in our lives- but we are not there yet.  To listen to a 7 minute video of TD Jakes describing a Tight Place, click here: A Tight Place.

There have been days that I feel like I’m in the least desirable section.  I wake up, I muster up enthusiasm and joy, choosing to see things through a long-term lens and trusting our faith will be rewarded, but for now things remain the same.

What about you?  Are you stuck in the 111’s? Well pull up a seat and sit at the table with me because I have learned it’s just a matter of time until we are assigned a new section. I hope, like me, you will have a story to tell and we can look back and know that God was with us in our tight place.  We need only trust his plan and be patient in the waiting.  The reason for my faith is that I know that God is my manager, and He will only keep me in the 111s for as long as it’s needed for something He is seeking to accomplish in me. And then He will move me on!

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We would often go hang out after our shift and relax.

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More fun on Halloween!

When Heather invited me to write this waitressing blog post with her, we had fun reminiscing about past memories and people. Some memories made us laugh and some made us cringe, but we both agreed that they provided strong life lessons.  Later when I moved to Northern VA, we reconnected at Rio Grande Restaurant and saw that the same lessons apply in the waitressing world no matter where the restaurant. I am amazed that waitressing terms learned from almost 20 years ago have influenced me in a positive way throughout the years.  Waitressing is hard work indeed, but anything worthwhile is.

And those are my best tips from a waitress, learned the long and hard way.  I hope some of my tips and lessons can be yours as well.

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Heather’s closing note: I will always remember meeting Sandie for the first time at the Ground Round.  She was a hostess with bright and beautiful blue/green eyes.  She was super sweet and kinda blunt and we became fast friends.  She showed me the ropes of the Lounge as she was from the South and was able to understand the clientele better than I could.  I had been praying for a best friend as I was lonely at a new college, and God sent me Sandie.  Years later we both worked at the Rio Grande in Reston, VA together.  The tables were turned and I then “showed her the ropes” there.  I will always remember lamenting the dine and dashers, the campers, the weird customers, and the strict or nice managers with Sandie, but also enjoying the many good things about the business: the money and the relationships being at the top of the list.  All in all the restaurant business brought us together and we are forever grateful for all the life lessons and life-time relationships it gave to us.

After waitressing, Sandie and I both worked professionally for a number of years and then became stay at home parents.  Sandie is now working part-time again while I sit on my butt and occasionally write blog posts. 😀

We are both forever grateful for the many tips we received (both financial and otherwise) in the restaurant business!!

PS: if you missed Part I of this short series where I share my own perspective of working in the restaurant business through college, you can find it here: Christian College Student by Day, Southern Cocktail Waitress by Night – Part I.

Thanks for reading!

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Heather and me, back in the day.  We graduated from college and worked professionally for many years.  We have never forgotten the life lessons we learned through waitressing!

Christian College Student by Day, Southern Cocktail Waitress by Night – Part I

My best friend and I share what we learned by waitressing our way through college

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Sandie and me (Heather) working one of our many, many shifts at the Ground Round in Lynchburg, VA in the early 90s.

I’ll never forget waitressing at the Ground Round restaurant in Lynchburg, VA where I worked my way through college at Liberty University in the early 90’s.  

The Ground Round (we called it the Dirt Circle) served two personalities.  The clientele of the Dining Room tended to be a combination of families, college students, church folks (Lynchburg has a plethora of evangelical churches in addition to Liberty) and other “regular” folks from town who would come in for the free popcorn and the famous Ground Round Platter, which was their signature dish consisting of a juicy burger, french fries, and a side salad. 

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For whatever reason, I kept a menu from the early 90s.  Here it is!  You should see the prices inside!

The clientele who were attracted to the Lounge side were the usual range of adults of drinking age: businessmen, groups of friends who came in for happy hour, and what I would respectfully call “very Southern folks.”  Others, being less respectful, might refer to them as Rednecks. But that was not for me to judge.  I just wanted to make a good tip at every table. 

I will always remember the free popcorn (and at some Ground Round restaurants, the free peanuts) that the Dirt Circle was known for.  The popcorn maker would run day and night and popcorn was usually scattered all over the floor.  I usually worked the Dining Room side and tried to avoid the Lounge as much as possible, as the Lounge had somewhat of a Biker Bar feel.  There was this pervading “let’s all order a lot of alcohol and sit around and get drunk” party atmosphere, which frankly intimidated me, especially because from time to time I would peek in at some of the clientele and honestly, some of them looked like they were… 

…running from the law.  

Especially the loner men in dark sunglasses who were very quiet, serious, and would sit drinking their own pitcher of Bud light, always facing the front of the restaurant and checking everyone who walked through the front door. 

Or sometimes, when passing through the Lounge, perverted men would look at me like I was a piece of meat (one guy even asked me if I wouldn’t mind dancing on the table for him!!), and then they would flag me down and start flirting with me.  However, as soon as I opened up my mouth and they heard my Northern accent, that was usually enough to turn them off, especially when I forgot to use “ya’ll” when addressing them (whoops) and instead used “you guys.”  (That’s a cardinal sin for a server in a Southern family-style restaurant, FYI.) 

The bottom line is that I avoided the Biker Bar Lounge and told the management that I would prefer to work in the Dining Room.  

But one day they must have been short staffed in the Lounge because that’s exactly where I found myself.  I remember confronting Stan, my favorite manager, about this.  He kindly said to me:  “Sorry Heather.  We need strong waitresses in the Lounge. Just give it it a try.”  

A few moments later I got my first table.

“Hello!  Welcome to the Ground Round!  How are you guys doing today?” I said to the older couple with my very best Northern accent.

They looked at me curiously and said something with a very strong southern drawl, which I had trouble understanding.  I then asked them if I could take their drink order.

“Yeah,” the petite woman said.  “I’ll have a Maaaaaaahhhh Taaaaaaaaahh.”  She drawled.  

Each word lasted about five complete seconds.

The guy ordered a drink that sounded very sexual (something about “sax” and “bay-ch”) but I didn’t recognize the drink itself.  

After I took their order, I ran to the back room to look at the infamous Drink Menu on the Wall.  

You need to understand that the Drink Menu On the Wall was a huge construction paper board with every alcoholic concoction on it you can think of written with a black sharpie.  It was an 90’s mixologists’ dream come true because it was so incredibly thorough.  Parts of it were seriously pornographic in nature and went from bad to worse.  Here are the names of just a few of the drinks I can still remember to this day:

  • Sex on the Beach
  • Slow comfortable F#@%$
  • Slow comfortable F%$#@ up against the wall 
  • Slippery Nipple
  • Blow J*&^%b
  • Orgas&^%$m

After I figured out that the guy wanted a Sex on the Beach, I still had no idea what the heck a Maaaa Taaa was so I went strait to the bartender, Shiela.  Shiela was great!!  Very nice and very good with the Biker Bar crowd, and also good with Northern Christian waitresses.  

“Sheila,” I said with stress in my voice.  “The woman ordered a ‘Maaaaaaaaaa Taaaaaaaaaaaa’, and I don’t know what that is!” I cried out.

Not missing a beat, she chortled: “Oh Heather, it’s a Mai Tai, honey!” She went on to say: “Now remember, sweetie, the lady can only have up to three Mai Tai’s before you have to cut her off, as it’ a five shot drink.”  

Yeeks.  Let’s hope petite Southern woman is not hoping to drink more than 15 shots today (she actually ended up having three drinks that night but thankfully did not request a fourth!).  And that’s probably the first lesson I learned working in the Lounge – that many of my clientele seriously wanted to get drunk.  It was my job to skillfully manage their alcohol consumption in such a way so that I would not have to cut them off, thus killing my tip, and yet still have them perceive that they were having a good time and receiving an adequate amount of beverage.  

And that’s how I officially became the following (drum roll please)….

Good Christian Northern College Student by day, and Wild Southern Cocktail Waitress by night.  

Because from then on, for whatever reason, I got stuck in the Lounge, usually section 1 (the worst section) about half of the time!  The Lounge could definitely be a wild place to work: a drunk man once fell through the full-length plate glass window, shattering it into a million pieces; there was also a shooting in the back parking lot, due to a sordid love-triage; and finally, a woman would come in with a see through white dress on, and there was literally nothing left to anyone’s imagination.

I tried to make the best of my time in the lounge: I perfected my Southern accent, learned how to relate to the Biker Bar crowd (most of them were very nice but you needed to be fun but firm with them) and tried to make the best tips I could.

And when I say Wild Southern Cocktail Waitress by Night, I mean NIGHT!  Last Call was at 12:30 am and Light’s Up (when the bar officially closed) was at 1 am.  I remember many nights working until 1:20 am, driving back to campus, parking WAY far away from my dorm, walking through the dark, all the while wondering if I was going to get snatched by a Serial Killer.  It always took me at least an hour to “settle down” enough to fall asleep, only to wake up at 7:15 am for my 8:00 class the next morning.

Honestly, working so much (sometimes 32 hours per week) and so late, on top of taking so many classes (usually 18 credits every semester) was very challenging and exhausting, and looking back, I regret working so much and taking so many classes during that time.  I joked to my friends that my experience at the Ground Round (as well as other restaurants) put “hair on my chest” and made me into a stronger person.  I often struggled with jealousy when my college friends would come in to visit me, as they had much more of a “normal” college experience.  I loved seeing them, but I struggled with having to work so hard just to afford college.  It didn’t seem fair.

The Ground Round was just one of the restaurants I was employed by through high school, college, and post-college.  In high school I worked at Friendly’s and Ponderosa (we called it Ponder-gross-a).  In college I worked for the Wharf and Appleby’s in addition to the Ground Round (I also worked at a Ground Round in Fayetteville, NY during the summer and college breaks).  After college I raked in my best tips ever at Uncle Julio’s Rio Grande Cafe in Reston, VA.  

All in all, the Ground Round was a great place to work through college.  I made decent tips, learned some valuable lessons, and made some lifelong friends to boot (more on that in a moment). 

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That’s me (above) with some of my male server buddies.  And yes, there was a lot of shenanigans that went on behind the scenes in the restaurant business. Try not to be offended at the guy who is pretending to squeeze my booty.  This was before the #me-too movement. 😵 Below, Stan, my favorite manager (and me) inside the actual bar of the Lounge, with a TON of booze behind us! Cuz it was the Lounge.

Before I get into lessons learned, here are a few phrases from the restaurant business that I still remember to this day:

  • “I have Campers!” (customers who sit and and sit in your booth and never leave – preventing any turnover and thus preventing any tips) 
  • “Oh no! They did the Dine and dash!” (customers that order, eat, and sneak out without paying) 
  • “86 that!” (when the restaurant was out of something)
  • “Behind you!” (what we all said to each other so as to not cause a tray/food/dish collision)
  • “If you can’t afford to tip, then don’t go out to eat!” (what all the servers said to each other after we had gotten stiffed by a table)

and finally….

  • “I’ve been quadruple-sat!” (when a hostess seats our entire section all at once!)

In addition to the phrases that are still with me, the many lessons are as well. I can honestly say that I learned a lot about people, life, and myself while waitressing and was able to pay for almost my entire undergrad and graduate degrees throughout my nine years in the business.  

Below is a list of the top 5 things I learned as a waitress that I still remember to this day…

1. Never judge a table.

I honestly think this was my very first lesson.  I must admit that I did judge certain tables in the beginning, but quickly learned that some of my best tippers didn’t look like they would tip me well, and sometimes the nicest, most well-dressed, most put together people completely stiffed me or left me a cheap tip!  On a similar vein, a good waitress has to learn how to read a table.  There is a delicate dance with every table.  Sometimes customers are chatty and engaging, other times they are more serious and private.  If you don’t have good people skills when you start your serving career, you will surely develop them as time goes by. 

Sometimes people were strange or rude though, and it made it hard for me to not judge them.  One time a couple came in and the guy ordered a T-bone steak medium well, and happily consumed the whole entire thing. However, at the end of the meal he flagged me down to show me a patch of bright red blood on his empty plate.  Huh? He demanded that I comp his meal (give it to him for free) because he said his steak was rare, and pointed to the blood on his plate.  I went and got my manager Lisa and she went to investigate.  She thought something was fishy so she refused to comply with his request.  He was pissed and left the restaurant without tipping me.  Later, Lisa found several wadded up kleenexes shoved into the side of the booth with bright red blood on them!  We both surmised that this guy actually cut himself open and dripped his own blood onto the plate, just to try to get a free meal.  What a weirdo!  I definitely had several customers over the years that did some strange, creepy, rude, or disrespectful things to me.  I had to learn to deal with some seriously abnormal human behavior, all with a smile on my face!

2. Be generous and respectful.

I am almost embarrassed to admit this but I used to be very, very cheap.  I mean, so cheap that, as a teen and out with my friends, I wouldn’t order any food but would instead pick leftovers off of my friends’ plates.  I also wouldn’t leave a tip. Waitressing adjusted that for me big-time.  Why?  Because, once I became a waitress, it felt awesome to get a great tip, and it felt terrible to get a cheap one.  

I will always tip waiters and waitresses at least 20 percent or more because I know how it feels to be in their shoes.  Sometimes my husband and I receive bad service at a restaurant and our conversation goes something like this.  Erik: “hon, the service is slow.”  Me: “yes, I know.  Maybe the kitchen is slow tonight.  Maybe they are short-staffed.  It’s probably not the waiters’ fault.”  Then later, Erik: “Babe, our waiter is not very friendly and he sucks. I am not going to leave him 20%.”  Me: “Hon, you can’t do that!  Maybe he’s a single father, or maybe he’s had a bad day.  C’mon, cut him some slack.”  Erik generally relents and still gives a generous tip because he’s a good guy and because he married a former waitress. God has blessed us generously and I want to give back.  To read my earlier post about my childhood, money and generosity, click here: Blue Collar Girl Trapped in a White Collar Marriage.

One day I was working at Uncle Julio’s Rio Grande Cafe when I walked past a table of three men with a water pitcher in my hand.  One of the three men (nicely dressed, wealthy looking)  waved at me frantically, calling over to me: “Water girl!  Oh, water girl!  Give me some more water!”  I looked at the two younger men next to him and they both looked very embarrassed.  I stopped at his table and said politely but firmly: “Sir, I am much more than a water girl, but I would be happy to refill your water.”  

Since having been treated like a mere water girl with nothing to offer the world (not to mention a dumb blond and a piece of meat), I have always tried to respect everyone regardless of their station in life.  I try to never look down on anyone, ever, because we are all in this thing called life together.  We should try to get along and be kind and respectful to each other, no matter what.

3. Organize your life as if you are triple-sat.  

This is probably one of the coolest lessons I learned.  From time to time I was triple or quadruple sat.  I had to figure out a way to meet the needs of the entire group of people but not take too long doing it.  I didn’t have the luxury of going up to one table, doing a perfect job, and then getting another table a few minutes later. I had to learn to prioritize and meet the needs of my entire section.  Honestly, that meant some people had to wait longer to get their drinks or their check, etc.  I learned to handle the big rocks first, and put them into my jar (so to speak), and then after that I could get the smaller rocks in, too.  This caused me to be a more efficient and productive waitress and then later, an efficient and productive career woman.  I had to learn how to achieve my main priorities while not losing focus, and still have time for the smaller ones. Here is a slightly cheesy YouTube video that explains this concept in detail: here.  Bottom line?  I still approach my to-do list with the larger picture in mind, put my top priorities first, and not get distracted by the little things until my top priorities are met.

4. Be steady, but not slammed.

There were times I was extremely busy (we called it being “slammed”), which consisted of me running around like a chicken with my head cut off, trying to frantically keep up with my tables.  I don’t think I did a very good job for my customers when I was slammed.  There were other times when I was what we called “steady,” where I was busy enough but still had time to do a good job with each table. I usually made much better tips when I was steady vs. being slammed.  To this day, I work very hard to remain steady with my obligations and priorities, while trying hard to not take on too much on, thus becoming slammed. Why?  Because my peace and joy go away when I’m slammed and it’s not like I’m doing that great of a job with juggling so many different priorities anyway.  One quick qualifier: sometimes you are just very busy and that’s the way life goes. I just try not to stay in that place forever.

One last comment on this point: you are also capable to do more than you realize sometimes.  A waiter named Whit challenged me to stop writing down all of my orders but instead memorize them in my head.  I thought “no way!” but I started with a two top, then went up to three top, then four, etc.  And then I never wrote down another order in my remaining years of serving.  My record was a party of 15 – Whit’s was about 30!  I couldn’t believe watching him do this, but I saw it with my own eyes.  Lesson: I was capable of more than I realized.  And I am glad I stopped writing down my orders. Honestly, once you get into a rhythm of it, it’s not all that difficult.  (I promise.)

5. If you pray before you eat, you had better leave a good tip.

As a waitress, I would always try to Never Judge a Table (see point number one) but on Sunday during the lunch shift – I admit – I judged.  Why?  Because that’s when the Church Crowd came in.  They were all very nice, of course.  The trouble was that they were usually really cheap! They often left me a Christian tract (a tract is a little pamphlet which explains the gospel message) and a ONE dollar tip.  I wasn’t the only one they did this to – all of the servers complained about it as well.  What a horrible testimony of what it means to be a true Christian! So, I decided to do something about it. I wrote a note to Jerry Falwell (The Chancellor of Liberty) and left it on his car windshield (a lot of students back in the day would do this) and told him all about this strange phenomena called Christians Who Are Crap Tippers.’ Jerry was a super cool guy (don’t believe what you may have heard about him in the press) and I had waited on him and his wife a few times before.  He was always very nice and always left a 20 percent or more tip.  Anyway, he actually read my letter to his huge church and told them that if they didn’t leave “at least 20 percent tip, then don’t bother to leave a tract.” (He may have even said “oh, and if you can’t afford to leave a tip, then don’t bother to go out to eat,” as well, but I can’t be sure… 😂 )  He went on to tell them that they needed to be a better witness to the town of Lynchburg and to stop being so cheap!  Go Jerry!

The bottom line is that if you are a person of religious faith, my suggestion to you is that you be a good example and leave a good tip.  ‘Nuff said.

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Sharing the gospel with someone in an appropriate way: good.  Giving a server a super cheap tip with a tract: not good.

Before I close, I want to give a shout out to Uncle Julio’s in Reston, VA.  We called it “The Rio” and it was a very busy restaurant that served some really good Tex Mex food.  The clientele tended to be young professionals and young-ish families and they generally tipped very well.  Although it was the most strictest restaurant I ever worked for (they used to line us up and inspect our uniforms, making sure our shirts were professionally dry-cleaned with extra starch), I ended my waitressing career on a high note as I truly made the very best tips of my life in that restaurant.  I also made some great friends and made some great memories to boot.

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I have a ton of photos from my years at Uncle Julio’s (that I can’t find right now) but here is just one of them – we are doing an event at the Reston Town Center. Sandie’s post will have more!

This leads me to the last life lesson I learned through serving.  One of the best things about being in the restaurant industry is the relationships you develop with other servers and managers.  We partied, went to bars after work (and left huge tips – the best tippers are servers!) went on ski trips together, dated each other, did Bible studies and went to church together, and opened up our lives to each other. We became like family.  We got into each others’ business and supported each others’ dreams.  We joked around together, ate free food together, and had deep talks together. I’m still Facebook (and real life!) friends with a number of server friends many years later.  I met Sandie, my best friend since college, at the Dirt Circle and we are still “together” to this day!!

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The staff had a great time on Halloween night!

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There are still things I miss about serving.  I miss the camaraderie and friendships.  I miss the movement and life of a busy restaurant.  I miss the free food.  I especially miss the huge wad of cash in my apron pocket at the end of my shift.  I tell Erik that if he ever loses his job, I might go back to serving.

In the very next post, Sandie will share her perspective on waitressing and what she learned over her eight years of serving and bartending. Sandie and I shared MANY great times together at the Dirt Circle and later at the Rio Grande cafe. She’s also a true Southerner, so be sure to read her story, too.

In closing, as Sandie and I brainstormed topics for this post, we realized that waitressing bonded our friendship together almost more than anything else.  In fact, between the lessons learned, money made, relationships formed, and the fact that Sandie are still  best friends to this day, those were the best and longest-lasting tips that the business ever gave to us!  

And for that, we are forever grateful.  

Be sure to check out Sandie’s story, coming shortly!

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Sandie and I worked our butts off so we could achieve this bottom line: we both graduated from college!

PS: feel free to comment about lessons learned or anything I missed about working as a server!