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!
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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 thorough 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!

 

Missing Cats, Dogs, People (and Socks). Where do they go? Do they ever come home?

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This is the flyer that went into 100 mail boxes in our neighborhood. Lila is still missing. I learned that most missing cats stay close to home, while dogs can roam farther away.

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Our family went to San Diego on vacation in August.  We saw this missing person sign.  So sad what happened to Mollie.  Most missing person stories have a happy ending, but Mollie did not.

Recently, my beautiful calico cat Lila went missing from my home, and I think it’s all my fault. You see, we had just moved into our new home in Illinois and we were in the process unpacking all of our boxes, which meant a house strewn with lots of boxes and packaging paper that needed to be put out for recycling.

Thursday, August 2 was recycling day, and I remember that fateful moment when my hands were too full with broken down boxes and debris to shut the front door. I had a brief thought that I needed to hurry back and shut the door lest one of my kitties slip out. So right after I put out the boxes I hurried back to my house and shut the door.

It was either in that moment, or another moment when one of the painters may have left a door ajar, but that day Lila decided that she wanted to have an adventure.

And as of the time of this writing, she is still missing!

I quickly set out to do all of the things you are supposed to do in order to find a missing pet. There is a fairly long part-time job list of things you need to do, mostly focused on getting the word out (we distributed about 200 flyers and email blasted our new neighbors) calling all of the appropriate people (like animal shelters, local police non-emergency numbers, etc.), and looking for them in certain places and at certain times.  I personally knocked on about 30 doors in my new hood and asked if I could poke around their back yards or look under their decks.  Still no Lila.

One night at 1am I woke up and something told me to go look on my front porch where we had left food and water for Lila. I crept up to the window and slowly peered around it, only to see a cat that looked very similar to Lila, eating the dry cat food!! Her back was to me so I didn’t have a good look. When I slowly opened up the front door the cat ran into my super thick bushes. About a week later we actually humanely trapped a kitty who looked similar to Lila.

So was it Lila I saw that one night, or this other stray cat? I’m not sure, but this story has a happy ending: after we trapped this other cat, it was quickly adopted by another family in our neighborhood. 🙂 I’m glad I could help out this other stray kitty and give her a loving home.

God works in mysterious ways sometimes.

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This is the stray kitty we humanely trapped.  She was adopted by a family in my neighborhood!

On an interesting note, as I’ve been leaving cat food and water out at night, we’ve also attracted some other interesting creatures.  For several night in a row we saw an Opossum on our porch, happily eating dry cat food.  And then another night we saw the biggest raccoon I had ever seen eating Lila’s cat food with both paws.  Erik (husband) says it’s time to stop feeding the marsupials and small mammals in our neighborhood.  🙂

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This Opossum visited us several times, looking for the cat food we left out for Lila.

All of this got me thinking….where do cats that go missing actually go? And what percentage of them actually come back? And because I am a very curious person, I expanded my list to dogs too. And while I was on the topic of dogs, I thought it was only fair to figure out what the deal is with missing people. And I threw in missing socks for good measure because that affects every person on the entire planet and drives us all to drink!

Below is an Internet-based search as to all things that go missing.  I must confess that I thought that tons of people go missing every year (they do, but wait…) and tons of cats and dogs disappear and never return.  What I found in my research surprised the heck out of me, and I hope it surprises you as well.  So let’s get going.

Let me start with those darn missing socks, since that’s much more simple, short and sweet.

Missing socks: apparently, there is a secret trap door in certain washers and tumble dryers where missing socks actually end up. The other best places to look are different drawers other than the sock drawer, under the bed, and in between (or under or behind) the washer and dryer. Missing socks can also end up mingled in other clean laundry (like fitted bed sheets).

If missing socks rankle you, try having a “missing sock bin” and put stray socks in there. I have done this myself for several years with about a 50 percent success rate, but it does build up over time and you have to determine to make time to go through it. I have found that most of my missing socks are just separated socks…and I have to look in my kids’ drawers thoroughly.  If you are a missing sock geek, I will put two helpful posts in my P.S. for additional googling.

The first thing that surprised me in researching missing things is that, at least in my humble estimation, socks have the lowest successful return rate of all the other categories!

Now let’s move on to missing cats, which the whole reason I started this post.

Missing cats: for starters, missing cats generally stay relatively close to home. That’s great news for me!! From a helpful post:

“If he (or she) is not used to being out, or doesn’t know the area, he will likely be within 300 to 500 feet of where he was lost, if he can find a place to hide. Most lost cats who have always lived indoors will not go far from home. Many are discovered hiding just a few doors away or even a few feet from the front door. Start by looking under nearby porches, in basements and garages, in bushes, and even under cars.” Source: here.

Even outdoor cats have a relatively smallish area where they hunt and roam around.  Lila is hopefully hiding somewhere in my hood, under a deck, under a porch, in a shed, or in a little crevice. She may come out at night to look for food and water. I have looked high and low and have been very un-shy about knocking on neighbors’ doors to ask for help. The one cool thing about having a missing cat is that I have really gotten to know my neighbors faster and better than I otherwise would have.

Bottom line of missing cats: with persistence, they can (usually) be found (unless they are hit by a car or attacked by a predator or taken in by a new family), but get the word out right away. They are usually somewhere relatively close to home (though some stray farther, you must put up flyers in other neighborhoods and feel free to call local farms…) and come out at night. Get a flashlight, rattle some food, call his or her name, set a humane trap on your front porch, put out their litter box or favorite blanket (the scent travels far), and hope for the best.

Quick note on the humane trap: You have to know what you are doing with one of these, and keep an eye on them, as you could trap another animal like a raccoon, which you most certainly do not want to do. But humane traps can work like a charm when trying to pin down a skittish cat (and most even sweet cats become skittish if they are lost).

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Logan with my other cat, Quinny-Chi.

Missing dogs: dogs actually travel much farther than cats from home (from one to five miles away in some cases, depending on age, health, and breed), and while some are hit by cars, and some are hiding somewhere in survival mode, and some are just hanging out waiting to be helped out, many of them are picked up by good samaritans and kept as a “new pet” for their family. While semi-understandable, this practice is not good on many levels and is illegal in all states. Some people think that might be killed by a wolf or coyote. However, that scenario usually does not happen nation-wide but could happen in certain areas (for example, I live near a forest preserve where coyotes are commonly seen).

Sadly, many dogs (and some purebred cats) are actually STOLEN. I couldn’t believe it until I was perusing a lost cat and dog Facebook page (yes, you start really taking an interest in something when it happens to you) and I actually saw a dude, on a surveillance camera, actually steal a puppy from someone’s front yard! Apparently, there is a market for stolen dogs, and two million pets are stolen each year, mostly for re-sale purposes, breeding for dog mills, and dog-fighting. A great article is found here: stolen pets.

Bottom line of missing dogs: many are picked up by a good Samaritan, some are hiding, some are hanging out, and some are stolen. Most come home eventually but it takes time and effort to get them back with the aid of flyers, social media, calling shelters, uploading your dogs’ photo to social media sites and shelters, and persistence (do all of this with cats, too). You can’t be lazy and just hope your dog will just show up because they tend to travel a bit farther than cats. They might show up naturally, but they might not. Get off the couch and do something. (more info here.)

And now for my second surprise.  My question was this: do lost cats and dogs eventually come home? The answer is usually yes!

The ASPCA conducted a study in 2012 on missing pets: 93 percent of dogs and 75 percent of cats reported lost were returned safely to their homes.

Another surprise: only 6 percent of dog owners and 2 percent of cat owners found their lost pets at shelters. (more info here,)

Last point on missing pets: get them chipped at your local vets’ office before they go missing!

Missing People: why and how people go missing and if they are found could easily be a whole series of blog posts and this post will only be a skim and a summary.  And there are lots of variables which make it hard to pin down a neat and clean answer, two prominent variables being that it completely depends on if the person go missing voluntary or involuntarily, as well as whether they are an adult or a child/teen. But what I found on this topic actually surprised the heck out of me. I hope you find it interesting as well. And of course I will use bullets, as I love them and they help me.

  • Missing people big picture: on average, approximately 750,000 missing person cases are filed each year (stat from the NCIC database). (Source here.)
  • Missing people in general: On average, 90,000 people are missing in the USA at any given time, according to Todd Matthews from the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, or NamUs, a national database for missing people. And more than 600,000 missing persons were reported in 2013. (Source: here.)
  • Missing kids/teens in general: Missing Children can be missing for a wide variety of reasons (e.g., runaway, throwaway, lost, injured, etc.) other than abduction and can be abducted for a wide variety of motivations (profit, ransom, custodial disputes, crazy sicko, etc.)  (Source: here.)
  • Missing juvies in general: half of the 800,000 missing juvenile cases reported each year are runaways. One quarter of missing children cases are abductions committed by family members (think custody issues). Approximately 100 are kidnapping by strangers (but wait, there is another stat on this coming up). In the case of family abductions, 46% are returned within a week and 21% are returned within a month.
  • Watch out for this: many kids are being lured away from home via technology, so parents be mindful! 
  • One other stat on kids/teens: Of the children under age 18, a total of 4,883 reports were classified as “missing under circumstances indicating that the disappearance may not have been voluntary, i.e., abduction or kidnapping” (9,572 under age 21) (Source: wikipedia.)
  • Bottom line on why adults go missing: those with alcohol/drug addiction, psychiatric issues, and the elderly suffering from degenerative brain disorders, make up the bulk of missing adult cases (but as I’ve said, some just choose to disappear for other reasons). (Source: here.)

I would add that a person’s chances of going missing increase if that person becomes homeless and they are not doing well psychologically and do not get intervention. I would also add that if you need help finding a missing person you should consider hiring a private investigator.

Here is another stat that surprised me: according to an interview with Todd Mathews with the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System:

“You know, the missing touches everybody, I think. In 2012, we had 661,000 cases of missing persons; and that’s just from that one year. Very quickly, 659,000 of those were canceled. So that means those persons either come back; in some cases, located as deceased persons, maybe never an unidentified person; or just a total misunderstanding. So at the end of 2012, of those 661,000 minus the canceled, we had 2,079 cases that remained at the end of the year as unresolved….In my personal experience, I’ve seen the missing numbers recorded nationally drop. There’s not as many as were listed before.  (Source: here.)

Did you catch that?

A majority of missing persons cases each year are resolved. And the numbers are actually down. I had no idea.

The bottom line of missing people: hard to pin down but here’s my best guess and I am way over-generalizing here: if it’s a runaway teen, they usually return (unless something bad happens to them – drugs, trafficking, wrong crowd, murdered, or if they just choose to remain a runaway). The best way to prevent your teen from running away is to have a good relationship with him or her, and a good line of communication as well.  If it’s a family abduction, the kids are usually returned. Adults go missing due to foul play, accidents, health issues, age issues, suicide, or by choice. If an adult or teen does not want to be found, they may never be found. But the bottom line is that most cases of missing persons do resolve over time, or the family in waiting receives some type of closure.

It is very hard to pin down where missing people who leave voluntarily actually end up going to (physically – location wise).  I googled this and here is what I found (mixed in with my own thoughts): some missing people go where they will not be noticed or can received government services (such as big cities) or to find a job, if they are a teen or adult.  They might run away to warmer climates, or to a friend’s or family’s house in another location.  We recently went to San Diego, CA and, to be honest, it seemed to be a perfect place for someone to blend in and disappear, especially a young person.  Unfortunately, many kids end up being lured away from home by a sveeky 40 year old in his pajamas, where they end up at his house: article on this.

In addition to loving bullet points, I also love qualifiers, so here is a big one:

With everything that goes missing, there exists a huge element of mystery. Not everyone receives any type of closure, and not everything wraps up with a neat bow.  

Case in point: two kids went missing back in the fall of 2014 from the D.C. area where I used to live. I am good friends with their aunt Raelane and we searched high and low for Sarah and Jacob.  Sadly, this case has not yet resolved either way for the family and Sarah and Jacob are still missing. I interviewed Raelane who gives some very interesting inside scoop here: What happened to Sarah and Jacob? A conversation with their aunt – Raelane Turner.

Sometimes missing person situations wrap up neatly and quickly.  I actually have a missing person story (of sorts, more a paragraph rather than a story) involving my grandfather who was visiting me while we lived in D.C. One day I drove my two young kids and my grandfather down to D.C. to visit a museum, where we promptly were separated. I looked for over an hour for my grandpa Art and was stressed to the max. I suddenly remembered that I had forgotten to pray, so I did. I asked God to help me find my grandpa. God immediately sent an Angel from Heaven (I’m not kidding) to help me find him. Here’s the really cool story: here.

I believe prevention is the best way to avoid being kidnapped by a stranger who wishes to do you harm, and I wrote a whole series about how to avoid and deal with serial killers and other bad guys, with a whole list of things you can do to prevent bad guys from taking you or your kids, found here: The Top Ten Ways we can protect our kids from serial killers and other bad guys — Part II.

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Another missing person sign we saw while were in San Diego.  This city was filled with young, free spirited people and lots of homeless people.  It would be easy to disappear in a city like this.  I am praying that Wesley makes it safely back home to his family who obviously love him very much or they wouldn’t have bothered to put up this sign or offer this reward. I can’t even imagine having one of my children, even as a young adult, go missing.

Quick deep thoughts about all things missing: does God even care about my missing cat? The answer is, in my mind, a resounding yes! The Bible is replete with references to God’s care and concern for animals. God knows when a “sparrow falls to the ground” and Jesus himself gave three riveting parables in row about missing items. The first one is the “parable of the lost sheep” and it describes how God the Father will actually leave the 99 sheep and go after the one lost sheep, and rejoices when it is safely back home. Jesus went on to say that “there is more rejoicing in heaven when one sinner repents than there is with the 99 who feel that they don’t actually need to repent.”

I have been fervently praying for Lila’s safe return, and actively looking and doing things for her to come home. I have called her name all over the place, rattled food, looked all over for her, left food out at night, set up a humane trap, gotten the word out, etc. But, besides that one sighting that could have been her, we haven’t heard a peep. The way I have been pursuing Lila, who is very much lost, is very similar to the way that God pursues people. God wants them to come into this family and will stop at nothing to seek them out, constantly showing his protection, love and care for them, even if they have no idea He is doing that.

I need to let you in on a little secret: Lila is a reclusive and difficult cat. She has a history of urine spraying and sometimes acts aggressively. She and my other kitty don’t get along that well. However, as with all things difficult, there is always a bright spot: Lila can be very sweet, loves to cuddle me and my husband in our bed at night, and has beautiful green eyes! What I have discovered is that, even though she is a difficult fur baby at times, she is still a part of our family. I love her and I won’t give up on her!

The bottom line of this post is this: missing cats, dogs and people are usually found; they usually come home. This gives me great hope for Lila and for other missing people, too.

I will close with a super short story that drives home this last point.  A friend of mine had a beloved cat that went missing for over a month and not a peep, not a sighting, nothing!  Sadly, my friend had to move to a different home and was in the process of doing that.  However, one day she felt the Lord prompt her to go back to her old home (where her cat went missing) one last time and just “check and see” if her cat was there.  My friend Ragan pulled up to the front porch and lo and behold, there was her missing cat, just sitting on her front porch!!

Sometimes you need a little help from above to have that missing loved-one return home to you.

Sometimes you need God to give you closure, even if it’s hard.

And other times you just have to give up on finding all those darn missing socks. 🙂

And finally, while I have you, would you mind saying a quick prayer for my cat Lila?

Thanks, and with all thing that go missing – keep the faith!

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I’m still praying that Lila will come home safely!

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For further googling:

Missing socks: The best article I found on missing socks is here: https://www.wisebread.com/where-to-find-missing-socks. And this is the secret trap door in the dryer: https://www.countryliving.com/uk/homes-interiors/interiors/news/a3508/lost-socks-secret-tumble-dryer-compartment/.

Missing pets: According to that same ASPCA study, only 15 percent of pet guardians reported a lost dog or cat in the past five years, percentages of lost dogs versus lost cats were nearly identical: 14 percent for dogs and 15 percent for cats, 15 percent of dogs were found because they were sporting identification tags or microchips. (Source:The ASPCA conducted a survey of 1,015 pet households, and the findings of its five-year effort are published in the June 2012 issue of the journal Animals.)“They (lost dogs) will defer to a larger predator.  Lost dogs simply want to survive – so they need to do three things – they will hide from predators (including man) and they will spend their time sleeping and travelling between their food sources and hiding places.   If a dog is killed by a larger predator – the body will usually be found. Predators do not tend to eat other predators and all members of the canine family are predators.”

 

One last sobering stat: there are 40,000 unidentified human remains in this nation.

 

 

Time – flowing like a river, to the sea…(timely thoughts on life, regret, eternity, and Benjamin Button)

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The famous words of the incredibly depressing (yet very pretty) 1980’s hit song “Time” by the Alan Parson’s Project flows melodically over the easy listening channels, while you busily go about your life, doing your same routine day after day, year after year.  All the while, time goes faster, your kids become tweenagers, and you attend funerals for grandparents and great uncles.

Your babysitter grows up, graduates college, and gets married!

All too soon, your kids are off to college.

Your once good looks begin to fade and you are left with your personality (if you have one).  You put on a little weight.

More time goes by, and then (gasp!) your parents begin to pass away.  Your beloved pets pass away, too.

Before you know it, you are approaching retirement, slowing down, and becoming bald, wrinkled and gray.

You are devastated when your beloved spouse passes away. You attend many funerals for close friends. All of you who remain in your social circle exchange knowing looks, secretly wondering who will be next.

And to make it even more depressing, you lose physical and mental abilities you once took for granted as you begin the long, slow, slide towards death.

Every night you lay awake in bed and think about what should have been.  You struggle with deep regret.  Maybe you do something about it.  Maybe you don’t.

More time goes by.  It passes very slowly as you stare out your tiny apartment window at the Senior Living Facility.  A visitor is a ray of sunshine in your otherwise lonely days.

Seasons pass.  One day, you’re not feeling that well.  A diagnosis comes. Time slows down.  You begin to sleep.  A lot. Your body begins to shut down.

As you lay on your deathbed, your entire life passes before your eyes.

Your final thought registers like a blip on a radar screen:

“It went by so quickly!!”

And just like that – everything, everything goes dark as you close your eyes one last time and exhale your final breath.

Time…flowing like a river…to the sea…where it’s gone forever.

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Ah!  If that’s not a depressing way to start a blog post about our journey through time, I’m not sure what is.  I promise you some good news on this topic, however, so hang with me.

I have been feeling very melancholy lately for one huge reason: we are about to uproot our whole entire lives and move half-way across the country.  My husband Erik received an amazing new job in the Chicago suburbs and we will be moving there this summer.

With the move looming before me, I have become very introspective and have been pondering the passage of time, and why it seems to have gone much slower when I was a young girl and how it seems so incredibly fast now.  I feel like Erik and I just moved into our current home and neighborhood which we absolutely love – even though it’s been almost five years ago.  And now we are moving again!

This blog post is the result of much internal wrestling and melancholy moments as well as researching the concept of the passage of time (and how to manage it well).

In this post, I hope to answer the following three questions:

  • Why does time seem to fly? 
  • How can we make it slow down a little bit?  
  • And finally, how should we approach the concept of the passage of time in a way that we can find rewarding, fulfilling, and peaceful (with little end of life regret)?

So without further delay, here is my best guess as to all things related to the passage of time and how we can approach it with peace.

Why Does Time Seem to Fly?

There are a few reasons, but I will focus on two:

  • First, our brain encodes new experiences only (not boring, routine ones), and over-represents new experiences, making them seem longer.
  • Secondly, our brains are built for efficiency, so once your brain figures out how to do something, and neuro – pathways are established, the brain runs more quickly and efficiently, making time seem to speed up (and most of what we do every day your brain has pretty much figured out).

Here is a bit more detail on the first reason: (skip to the bold if you don’t like research mumbo-jumbo)

Our brain encodes new experiences, but not familiar ones, into memory, and our retrospective judgment of time is based on how many new memories we create over a certain period. In other words, the more new memories we build on a weekend getaway, the longer that trip will seem in hindsight. This phenomenon, which Hammond has dubbed the holiday paradox, seems to present one of the best clues as to why, in retrospect, time seems to pass more quickly the older we get. From childhood to early adulthood, we have many fresh experiences and learn countless new skills. As adults, though, our lives become more routine, and we experience fewer unfamiliar moments. As a result, our early years tend to be relatively overrepresented in our autobiographical memory and, on reflection, seem to have lasted longer. (Source: here.)

The second reason time seems to be flying (as touched on above) is because your brain is built for efficiency, and once your brain figures out how to do something, time seems to go faster. Two articles on this topic are found here and here.  I will go into this point a bit more in a moment (See Three, do new and hard things.)

The bottom line on why time seems to fly has something to do with the way our brains processes information. If something is novel, time seems to slow down.  If something is routine, time seems to speed up.

The only problem is that most of us have relatively routine lives, which leads my to my second point…

What can we do to make time go slower?

I have three ideas that can make time go slower take the edge off of how rapidly time is flying.

First, pay attention.

From another article: “Eagleman’s research supports the idea that taking time to be mindful and focusing fully on the present moment — in other words, actively noticing new things — can actually slow down our brain’s perception of time.” (Source: here.)

The way I approach “living in the present moment,” (which is much harder than it sounds), is:

  • I take very small steps throughout my day to really focus on the details around me, including people, and try to find something pleasant about that one moment in time.
  • I take walks and look (and listen) for birds. There are SO many out there and each of their songs are distinct. I focus on the beauty of nature all around me such as blooming flowers, mature trees, sunsets, mountains, and beaches.
  • I try to notice the color of people’s eyes (the eyes are the window of the soul).  For example my son Logan has beautiful bright blue eyes with a really cool yellow ring around his pupils.  I often will just stare and stare into them and just soak up routine moments with him (and my other kiddos).

Second, spend more time with people that are important than you.

Consider the quote from recently-passed First Lady Barbara Bush: “At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a friend, a child, or a parent.”

I am extremely proactive about spending time with my immediate and extended family.  Here are a few tips that I have done over the years:

  • I’ve pushed my kids on the on the baby swing for several minutes longer than I planned to, all the while relishing their giggles and the joy on their faces!
  • Giving each of my kids extra long and meaningful tuck-ins every night before bed. I must confess that this has adjusted since two of my kids are now young teenagers, but in their cases I often just sit in their room and hang with them, talking about their day.  Would I prefer to be plopped in front of the TV, just vegetating?  Probably.  But I try to steal several minutes more, just savoring the time with them.
  • I try to get back to my hometown, (Syracuse, NY) about twice a year, and sometimes more if there are events (like graduations, weddings, and funerals).  I try to be as intentional as I can be with my extended family, even planning multiple visits on the same day in an effort to fit everyone in.

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Spending quality time with my family. Definitely the way I want to spend my time.

 

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I love my family from Syracuse! I always try to fit everyone in while I’m there!

Third, do new and hard things.

For me, the greatest example of this is our upcoming move to Chicago.  Strangely, I look forward to not knowing my way around town, and discovering new things.  This is hard work for my brain and will break up my routine, slowing down my perception of time.  

According to one article: “all you need to do is regularly inject a little novelty into it (your day to day routine). Think about the last time you went on a great, action-packed vacation. Dimes to donuts, at the end of the trip, you said something like, “We were only here a week, but I feel like we’ve been gone forever.” All that new adventure slowed down your perception of time. Even as we get older, we can still seek out new horizons and new “firsts.”

And in a similar vein: “this means we can also slow time down later in life. We can alter our perceptions by keeping our brain active, continually learning skills and ideas, and exploring new places.” (source: here.)

Here are a few ideas for doing new and hard things:

  • Start a new hobby.  I started blogging two years ago and time did seem to go a tad bit slower in the beginning when I was trying to figure things out (I am still trying to figure things out…)
  • Do something you are afraid of (within reason).  For example, do you fear public speaking?  Take a Toast-Masters class.
  • Take a class at a Community college in a subject that interests you.  Or, if that is too much, read a book that is hard for your brain.  I recently read a book about the history of Europe and predictions for that region in the years to come.  I had to read it very slowly and re-read several sections because it was above my mental pay-grade.  (The book was Flashpoints by George Friedman. Another hard book I read was Durable Peace by Benjamin Netanyahu.)

For more on ideas on how to slow down time: good article.

Now, I want to transition this post on ways you can approach the passage of time that will could bring you peace and fulfillment.

First, look backward before you look forward (to minimize regret)

Think of the movie about the man who aged backwards (the Curious Case of Benjamin Button) and approach your life as though you are working backwards with the remaining time you have left, and then prioritize what it is you want to invest in and live for.  And what it is that you don’t want to regret later. Figure out what you think you will regret when you are on your deathbed.  I know that seems depressing, but at the end of the day, those regrets will be impossible to get out of your brain.  You will lie awake at night and think about them.

Did you want to get married and you never did?  You will think about that.  Did you want to have kids and never did?  You will think about that, too. (I am not talking to single women who would love to get married but for some reason are not.) Did you want to reconcile with your father before he died and then never did?  Were you true to yourself or did you live up to others’ expectations of you?  Did you not spend as much time with your kiddos because you were very focused on your career?  You had better believe you will have a lot of time to think about these regrets and many others when you are old and gray, so why not minimize those regrets right now while you still have the chance?  

Here are a few things I believe I would regret not having accomplished when I am old and gray:

  1. Not getting married or having kids
  2. Not spending enough time my husband and kids because I was too focused on myself or something else (like a time-consuming career)
  3. Not pushing myself in school or my career and/or not running for political office one day (that is still pending)
  4. Not being true to (and not working hard towards) my Christian faith
  5. Not being willing to take risks or do new and hard things
  6. Not cultivating deep friendships
  7. A bunch of other small regrets like not reconciling with someone before they passed, or having a funky or estranged relationship with someone important to me

Do you have a Benjamin Button-type list?  There’s no time like the present to make one. When I am about to make a big or small decision, I try to ask myself: “If I don’t do this now, will I regret it later?”  If I answer “yes,” I try to go and do it, even if it’s a few years later than I said I would.

At the time of this writing, House Speaker Paul Ryan just decided to step down as Speaker of the House at the peak of his career.  This is what he told Gail King in a recent interview:

“If I am here for one more term, my kids will only have ever known me as a weekend dad. I just can’t let that happen. I’ve had so many people in their 50s and 60s come up and tell me: “I wish I had spent more time with my kids when they were younger.”

Ryan lost his own dad at 16 so I’m sure that thought is in the back of his mind with this decision (and I’m sure other reasons are as well – like potentially losing the House, etc.). Ryan is looking backward before he looks forward. He is attempting, in his own way, to minimize his regrets later in life.

Second, consider the possibility of eternity

If you believe that there is more to this life than just to live and to die, you’re in good company. But maybe you think that this is all were are here for — to live one life on earth, and then we die and go into the ground.

I would just like to gently challenge you to be open to the thought that there could be an eternity, and put forth some time and effort researching that concept.  Just in case.

Consider all the top religions in the world and look into them.  Some of them have no eternal life component. Some have incremental eternity; you can achieve eternal life in an incremental fashion. Christianity offers immediate eternal life in Heaven, with God, through faith in Jesus Christ (and through repentance and forgiveness of sins).  I believe in this.  Many others do as well.  Don’t know where to start?  Start by reading the book of John in the Bible. It will take your about an hour.

(For a brief overview of what various religions believe about the afterlife, click here.)

If you spend time researching healthy recipes or which essential oils to use when your child has the sniffles, or which 401K plan is better for your retirement, then maybe consider looking into the concept of eternal life (and how to achieve it) before you time is up, just to be on the safe side.

I believe that when my time is up, I am going to heaven. I hope to live until I’m 103, but last year when my childhood best friend Hillary passed away from two forms of deadly cancer at 44, I learned that sometimes your number is called much sooner than you would like it to be.

Third, there is no spoon 

In the hit movie series The Matrix, the main character Neo discovers that what he thought was real life is really fake — that all of mankind is being controlled by machines that use the energy of human life to provide energy for themselves (the machines).  Basically, the machines rule the world and they control our brains and put us into our very own, specially-formulated reality TV show.

Neo breaks free of the Matrix (the fake life) and discovers that he is the chosen one — the one to set the humans free from the grip of the machines.  In one telling scene, he meets with a woman prophet and sees a young boy attempting to move a spoon with his mind.  The boy is successful.  Neo tries to bend the spoon and is eventually successful.  But then the boy says something that resonates with my above point about eternity:

The boy: “Do not try to bend the spoon. That’s impossible.  Instead, only try to realize the truth.”

Neo: “What truth?”

Boy: “There is no spoon.  Then you will see it is not the spoon that bends, but only yourself.”

The point is that if there is an afterlife, we make a mistake if we spend all our time focusing on what we can see at the expense of the reality we do not.

As I look backward in order to look forward, I am trying to keep in mind that there is no spoon, or rather, there is a spoon, but there’s also a fork and a knife too, and this whole other world that I am heading to when I go. And then I (imperfectly) try to live my life here on earth with that other reality in mind.

Instead of bending the spoon, I hope to bend myself.

If you have one minute and 11 seconds, watch this.

A couple of other quick thoughts on this last point. I have read a few books about end of life experiences.  Trudy Harris, a hospice nurse, relayed that many of her patients who had a faith in God died very peacefully, and many described seeing angels in their room right before they passed.

Billy Graham stated the following about his own grandmother: “When my grandmother was dying she sat up in her bed, smiled, and said, ‘I see Jesus, and He has His hand outstretched to me. And there’s Ben and he has both of his eyes and both of his legs!’ (His grandfather had lost one leg and one eye in Gettysburg. Source: here.)

Similarly, years ago I read a book series about American history.  According to many accounts, slaveowners would often feel extreme guilt on their deathbeds and call their slaves to their bed-side to say they were very sorry for what they had done/how they had treated them.

One slaveowner’s own account is very chilling:

“Oh the blackness of darkness!  The dark imps! I see them all about me – take them away!” (source, From Sea to Shining Sea, Peter Marshall, page 279.)

Seems like this slaveowner had a glimpse of what was waiting for him when he crossed to the other side. Only — what he saw scared the hell out of him.

The bottom line of this entire post is this: time is flying, but there are a few things you can do to slow it down (think doing new and hard things) and there are ways to approach it that can be helpful (think end of life regret and working backwards).  And consider eternity, which really helps you to process aging and death with hope and peace.

In closing….

A few deep quotes about the passage of time and the possibility of something more:

“Teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.”  (Psalm 90:12)

“Show me, Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days, let me know how fleeting my life is.  You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is nothing before you.  Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure.  Surely everyone goes around like a mere phantom; in vain they rush about, heaping up wealth without knowing whose it will finally be.  But now, Lord, what do I look for?  My hope is in you.” (Psalm 39)

“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.” –Mother Theresa

“I would love to believe that when I die I will live again, that some thinking, feeling, remembering part of me will continue. But as much as I want to believe that, and despite the ancient and worldwide cultural traditions that assert an afterlife, I know of nothing to suggest that it is more than wishful thinking.” – Carl Sagan

And then the one day you find — ten years have got behind you. No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun. And you run and you run to catch up with the sun
but it’s sinking. Racing around to come up behind you again. The sun is the same
in a relative way but you’re older. Shorter of breath, and one day closer to death.  Every year is getting shorter; never seem to find the time. Plans that either come to naught, or half a page of scribbled lines. Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way.  The time is gone.  The song is over.  Thought I’d something more to say.  – Pink Floyd (Time)

“For what it’s worth, it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be.  There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want.  You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing.  We can make the best or the worst of it.  I hope you will make the best of it.  And I hope you see things that startle you.  I hope you feel things that you never felt before.  I hope you meet people with a different point of view.  I hope you live a life you’re proud of.  If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.” – Benjamin Button 

And finally, I believe these last two quotes sum up this post:

“The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.” – Michael Altshuler

“Endings are not always bad. Most times they’re just beginnings in disguise.” -Kim Harrison

 

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What happened to Sarah and Jacob? A conversation with their aunt – Raelane Turner

Sarah and Jacob Hoggle disappeared four years ago from Montgomery County, MD.  They were last seen with their mother, Catherine. What happened to them?  Sarah and Jacob have an awesome Aunt Raelane, who is intimately connected to this story and will never stop looking for them.  Below is Raelane’s perspective of the case.

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One of the many paper announcements that were handed out in the fall of 2014 in the Montgomery County, Maryland area.  This one now sits on the dashboard of Raelane’s van.  Sarah and Jacob are still missing.

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Raelane in front her her van with a prominent sign, reminding all of us that they are still out there.

Raelane Turner and I have been close friends for eleven years, so when she called me in a panic four years ago, telling me that her niece and nephew had gone missing and that their mother, Catherine Hoggle, was the prime suspect in their disappearance, and could I please help her search the nearby wooded areas, I jumped in to help.  Raelane and I probably went on a dozen searches together over the next few weeks and months, and she continued on with dozens more, and I did a few on my own.  To this day, Sarah and Jacob are still missing while Catherine, their mother, is being held in a mental health facility. Their story has received national media attention and was featured in People magazine and on Dr. Oz.  

In the following interview, I get Raelane’s perspective on the case. Raelane is Troy Turner’s sister and had a very close relationship with Sarah and Jacob.  She is intimately connected to the case.  I, myself, had the privilege of meeting Sarah and Jacob one day at the church we attended together. 

Below is Raelane’s story and her perspective on what happened to Sarah and Jacob.  

But before I get to her interview, I think it would be helpful if I summarize the events surrounding the disappearance of Sarah and Jacob.  I will put the order of events in bullet form because I find bullets to be helpful for my brain.  (Timeline provided by Raelane.)

  • Sunday evening September 7, 2014, Troy Turner took Catherine and all three of their children to Catherine’s mother’s home in Darnestown, MD. After Troy left, Catherine told her father, Randy, that she wanted to take Jacob out for pizza and be right back. Bear in mind, Catherine was not allowed to drive a vehicle and not allowed to be alone with her children because of prior unstable behavior around her kids.  For whatever reason, her father allowed Catherine to leave with Jacob, with Catherine driving his vehicle.  Three hours later, Catherine returned without Jacob.  She told her father that Jacob was now at a play date instead.
  • Later that evening, with Randy driving, the four of them (Randy, Catherine, Sarah, and Troy and Catherine’s eldest son) went back to Troy’s home in Clarksburg, MD.
  • Troy came home later that night from work and went straight to bed, although typically Troy would kiss his three kids goodnight first (on this particular night, however, he got home later than usual as Catherine had kept him late out running errands for her).
  • The next morning, Troy was awakened by his eldest son who asked him where Sarah and Jacob were.  Troy quickly did a search of their home, and sure enough, no Catherine, and no kids. Troy proceeded to get his eldest son ready for school and headed to the bus stop with him.
  • Awhile later, Catherine returns to Troy’s house (with Troy’s vehicle that she wasn’t supposed to be driving) and Troy asks her where Sarah and Jacob are.  She tells him that the kids are at a new daycare center and that she needed to be taken to her class.  Troy drove her to her class and then picked her up later.  After her class, Troy picked her up.  When Catherine got into his car, he asked to be taken to Sarah and Jacob at the daycare facility.  Over the course of that afternoon, Catherine leads him on a wild goose chase looking for this made-up daycare center.
  • Once Troy realizes that Catherine is not being forthright about the kids, he became very angry and asked Catherine repeatedly to tell him where they were.  When she refused, he told her they were going to the police station straight away.
  • There was a fast food restaurant adjacent to the police station which Catherine saw, and asked to stop there. Troy went in with her and waited for her to receive her order, and then escorted her back to his car.  At the last moment, Catherine requested to run back into the restaurant and then gave Troy the slip.  She escaped out of the back door of the restaurant.
  • She spent the next four days hiding out in the Germantown, MD area until she was finally caught and questioned by the police.  The police interrogated Catherine for many hours on the day she was apprehended. She is now being held in the Perkins Hospital Center, a psychiatric facility, in Jessup, MD and has recently been charged with two counts of murder in the disappearance of her children.
  • Three and a half years later, Sarah and Jacob are still missing and Catherine is the only one who knows where the are (at least, from what we know).  The problem is, she is not telling anyone where they are or what she did with them.

From Raelane….

Can you tell me the two prevailing theories of what happened to the children?

First, Catherine passed them off to someone else.  But then there is a fork in the road after that. The question is: did she give them to a family member or did she give them to someone she didn’t know?  Catherine’s mother (Lindsey Hoggle) brought up the theory that she thought Catherine was into Scientology.  But we just don’t know who she would’ve given them to because Catherine didn’t really talk to people. Or, did she pass them to a possible family member?

The other thing that has come up with the case has to do with Randy, her father.  Because oddly enough, the next day, while his grandkids were missing, he took a trip to PA.  So a lot of people are asking “how do you go out of town when your daughter and two grandchildren are missing?”  So that would be the other thing; if he helped out or something.

Of course, the other theory is that she murdered our Sarah and Jacob and took them away from us forever.  It’s one fact we don’t want to come across but we have always tried to consider both sides.

What do you, personally, think happened to Sarah and Jacob?

If I am stepping back and looking outside of my family, then I would say that I think she murdered them.  Just looking at the case; her actions and the things she said. We all had major concerns about how Catherine interacted with the kids, and CPS was already involved at one time, as some members of her family had seen Catherine display unstable behavior towards the kids.

But then again, I hope she gave the kids to someone and that they would be found, like other children that have gone missing, and be returned home to us and to my brother.

Tell me about the man with the tattoo on his wrist and what happened that day at the bus stop.

Here is something that gave me hope early on: there were people at the bus stop the morning that Sarah and Jacob disappeared who witnessed Catherine pacing near my brother’s van while she was waiting for (presumably) her eldest son to come to the bus stop.  Inside Troy’s van they saw a man sitting in the drivers seat with his left arm resting on the door with the window open, and he had a very prominent tattoo on or around his left wrist.  Witnesses say he had longish blond hair.  To this day, we don’t know who this man is, why he was sitting in my brother’s car, and why Catherine was pacing, as if she was nervously waiting for something to happen.  So people wonder if she was waiting to grab her eldest child before he got on the bus, as he would often walk to the bus stop on his own.  This time, however, Troy was with him.

So you believe that she wanted to take their eldest son?

I have no idea, but there are many other people who believe that yes, she wanted to take him as well but didn’t have the opportunity to do so.  For example, as I said, witnesses say she was pacing near my brother’s van while she waited for him to come to the bus stop. Why would she be pacing, up there, near his bus stop when she wasn’t even the one to bring him there herself?

What is the status of the court case as of right now?

Two murder charges have been filed against Catherine. And the last time we went to court, they declared her to still not be competent to stand trial. She will be reevaluated in a year.

Why would Catherine either pass off her children to someone else, or murder her own children?

I have no idea.  I couldn’t even think of why a mother would want to get rid of her children in any way, shape, or form.  I know she didn’t want her mother to raise the kids, she didn’t want me to raise the kids, and she didn’t want Troy to raise the kids.  Unfortunately she was not able to raise them herself.  Maybe she would want someone else to raise them so she gave them to someone else.  That theory is giving me a glimmer of hope.  Some people have said that it seems like Catherine lacks a soul and a conscience.

What would you say to Catherine if she ever read this interview?

A lot of people are saying “It’s all about Sarah and Jacob, let’s stop talking about Catherine,” but I say instead: Catherine is the key to finding Sarah and Jacob.  That’s where the answer lies.

Only she knows what really happened that Sunday and Monday.  The only thing I would say to her is I hope that she will tell the truth, and either way, if the kids are with us or they’re in heaven, that she would repent of her sins as we all should do and turn her life over to the Lord.   I would also tell her that she can always pray and ask God for help with the things she doesn’t know how to handle, and that she can contact me anytime.

Do you believe she is being treated fairly (or too fairly) by our justice system?  Is she competent to stand trial?

I believe she IS competent.  Both sides of the family believe this and even her mother has made statements to this effect.  I think the justice system needs to be revamped because a lot of things have changed and a lot of things are classified as mental illness vs. someone who is violent and uncaring; someone who knows exactly what they are doing.  There has to be a way to differentiate between that. The changes need to be made through the people and the politicians.  There is no uniform standard and you can easily hide under it.  And it depends on where you live as laws vary state to state and jurisdiction to jurisdiction.  We have talked to many police officers and attorneys and private investigators both in state and out of state who say the case would have been handled differently had it been in their jurisdiction. The criminals are protected more than the victims.

Do you think the Montgomery County police department has done a good job with this investigation?

(dead silence for several moments……)

From the beginning I think the investigators felt 100 percent that she murdered her kids and they geared the investigation toward that.  And I don’t see how they heard or saw everything that they should have, in my opinion.  To this day, I have never been interviewed by anyone and there are many other people who are close to the case who have never been interviewed.  So I don’t see how that’s really a thorough investigation, or a complete picture.  For example, I’m not sure if they ever spoke to anyone about the man with the tattoo on his wrist.  They even told Lindsey, Catherine’s mom, to “check your home for us, and check your home computer that Catherine used, and see if you find anything that can help in this case.”  They didn’t even do it themselves.  I know that if I were investigating this case, I would have sent law enforcement agents in to do that search.  Thank goodness my mother mentioned to law enforcement that they should be checking Lindsey’s home computer, and then they did.   And when Randy (Catherine’s father)  traveled to PA, it seems like they would’ve called law enforcement in PA to stop him and check his vehicle, since it crossed state lines.  They asked Randy, himself, to “please bring the vehicle to them so they could check it.”  Again, I certainly would not have done that.  Had my mom not been assertive, I wonder if they would have checked his vehicle at all.

So because they had a firm belief in the fact that the Sarah and Jacob were no longer with us, was every avenue covered?  And should Randy been charged with allowing Catherine to drive the vehicle that she wasn’t supposed to be driving and to take my little Jacob with her when she wasn’t supposed to be alone with the kids?  It makes no sense to me and it’s sickening.

What is her official mental health diagnosis?

Paranoid schitzophrenia but also severe psychosis and a plethora of other things from what I know. But from what I’ve seen from her, she is fully capable of comprehending what is going on around her.  Some people may think that she is sitting there, zoned-out and not functioning.  But that’s not true.  She can talk just like we are talking.  She is very intelligent.  She has just used everything in the wrong way.

Do you think the truth will eventually come out?

I do.  But I am hoping Catherine will tell us sooner rather than later what happened. The truth will come out if and when God decides it’s time.

Tell me about the searches?  What were they like?  How many did you participate in?

I can’t even describe what it’s like to be searching for my niece and nephew, who had already become like my own children to me because I had spent so much time with them over the years.  They were dearly loved, sweet children. It’s gut-wrenching; and that phrase doesn’t even do it justice.  In the beginning I went out there often with the hopes of finding them, and I was screaming their names, hoping I would hear a tiny peep.  I had to be out there; and even though I often felt nauseous, I also felt compelled to look until I found them. But then after several days, it just turned into looking, and looking, and I couldn’t stop looking, and I had to get everyone else to look too. And then that turned to organizing and strategizing more, and making sure we were searching in the proper areas.

Have you seen good support from the local community for your searches and other aspects of the case?

Yes.  In the beginning we had 500 people come out. But then it trickled off because these aren’t their kids, and people have their own lives to lead.  Our search leaders still call me and text me, and they still want to go out and look. We are like family.  A lot of people are still asking what they can do to help.  It warms my heart to know that many other people out there are concerned about Sarah and Jacob and want to help find them or to bring closure in some other way.

How are your brother and your family holding up?

Even though it’s been more than three years, I still feel right in the midst of this.  I still feel the need to keep up on things, that I need to keep doing things to find them.  I can’t imagine what it’s like for my brother.  Everything is hard.  Holidays are hard.  I don’t even want to shop for my own kids and not shop for Sarah and Jacob too.  It’s still hard.  I still cry.  I still have nightmares.

How has your faith in God impacted you during this difficult time? 

It’s what has gotten me through.  You can’t have anger.  I have forgiven Catherine because I realize IT is not Catherine.  God’s carried me through everything and I am in the palm of his hand, knowing that He is taking care of things.  And even if the kids are gone, God is taking care of them; they are with him in heaven.  They are not suffering or in pain.  I think that people who are not believers don’t understand that there is a purpose.  God is a God of good and of love, and whatever plan He has, I welcome that in my life.  We have to look down the road to our eternal salvation and what is to come.  We are going to go through hard things in this world.  I don’t have a right to say that I shouldn’t go through some hard things.

You have four kids yourself.  How has the disappearance of their cousins impacted them?  

All of them were like brothers and sisters.  Sometimes Sarah and Jacob and my older nephew would stay with us for weeks or a month at a time, then we would all kind of tag team to take them out.  We would go to bed together and get up together.  The kids are really hurting.  They are growing up not with one hole, but two holes in their heart.

If you were a police officer or an investigator with unlimited resources, what would you do to solve this case?

Finish with the searches; we do have maps that Klauss kids has helped us to generate.  If you don’t find anything you can at least say you cleared that.  Investigate the angle that they were alive and taken to another location.  Figure out where Catherine had family and look there, but I’m sure law enforcement has already considered doing that… or at least I would hope.

Please tell me a little about Sarah and Jacob. 

They were such sweet kids.  Sarah was our tough little football player.  Even looking at her from the back, she looked like a boy with her broad shoulders.  She was very strong-willed personality.  But she was also girly, and had a purse that she would stuff everything into.  The purse still sits on my dining room table in my home.  Jacob was my little smiley-face; he was friendly with everyone he met.  Jacob and I would stay up all night; he was my night owl and I would just sing to him all night long, carrying him around.  I would sing “You are my sunshine” to try to get him to sleep.  I still miss that and tear up when I sing that song to my grandkids.

How would you summarize the disappearance of your niece and nephew?  

A lot of people use the phrase “emotional roller-coaster”, but the only thing I can think of everyday is that a train hits you, and you are barely out of the way before another train hits you.  But even through these ongoing train wrecks, and even through all the hurt and pain, and through the tears, I can still feel the peace of the Lord.  And God still has his hands on me.  And one day, very soon, I will be reunited with Sarah and Jacob.  If not here, then in Heaven for all eternity.

For more information and to stay updated with this case, please visit this page and hit ‘like’: https://www.facebook.com/JusticeforSarahJacob/

To read a recent article of this case, click here.

Visit this website for more information: here.

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Raelane and me at a recent get together. 🙂

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Closing note from Heather:

I will always remember searching the woods.  From my perspective as her friend, you do feel compelled to help, because you imagine it’s your own children.  And I didn’t want Raelane to have to search alone.  (What kind of friend lets her friend do that?) Searching for missing kids is a very surreal and emotional experience.  You want to find them, but you don’t.  You are afraid to find them because of exactly what you may find.  But you really want to help, and you want the family to have closure.  You want the truth to come out.  

After I was done with the searches, I would always come home and hug my kids a little tighter.  

I wrote this post for three reasons: first, to show my support for my dear friend Raelane.  Secondly, because I felt like Raelane should finally be able to share her story; she always told me such interesting information about the case and I thought other people should know about it, too.  Finally, and most importantly, my hope and prayer is that this article would be helpful in solving the mystery and bringing Sarah and Jacob home.  

After my conversation with Raelane, I still have questions about the man with the tattoo around his wrist, and the lapse in judgement (or worse?) from Catherine’s father.  And what about Catherine: will she ever be competent to stand trial?  Will she ever confess to what she did?  And did the local police search every possible angle or did they focus in too much on their one prevailing theory?  Many questions remain.

So what do I think happened to the kids? I go back and forth between believing that Catherine killed them and placed their bodies somewhere in two wooded areas around Montgomery county MD, OR that they are still alive and well with other people (there were details shared with me privately that give me hope that they are still alive somewhere else).  So if I can have a sliver of faith and hope, then you can too!  

If you would like to help with this case — first pray!  Secondly, feel free to share this post.  Leave a comment if you think you have any information that can help!  And feel free to like the Facebook page that I linked above.  And if you have any information, feel free to contact the Montgomery County Police Department. 

In closing, I am praying that Sarah and Jacob will be found alive some day; in essence, for a miracle.  But either way, I pray for justice for Sarah and Jacob.  I pray that God will squeeze Catherine so hard that the truth will finally seep out of her.  I pray for closure for the entire family.  And I pray for healing for my dear friend Raelane, who is still deeply grieving for her niece and nephew.

Thank you for your interest in this case and for reading!

I needed this one thing to happen before I could find love

As I looked around at the thousands of students who filled the huge astro-dome during chapel at Liberty University (a Christian college) where I attended, I sighed loudly as Dr. Jerry Falwell (the Chancellor) exclaimed, once again:

“All you students, look around!  Find your husband or wife here at Liberty!  There are many opportunities to get to know other young people here!  Look around and start dating!  Young men, find your wives here! Young women, find your husbands here!  Take advantage of this time!”

I scowled and looked around.  I was half way through my senior year, and I could feel the pressure mounting to “find my husband.”  Seated next to me were my college besties: all beautiful young women, happily dating, all well on their way to marrying their boyfriends soon after college.  I kept looking around and noticed several good-looking young men that were certainly date-able material, some of whom I knew personally. The only problem was that they were not asking me out.

I looked around some more, and spotted the guy I had my heart set on.  When our eyes met he averted my gaze, which painfully reminded me that he was still not moving past the “let’s hang out all the time and I will take all the same classes as you and be study partners and great friends with you, and come over to your house all the time and study until midnight with our knees touching under the table” phase of our relationship.

“But what if I am not meant to find my husband at college?” I whispered, probably too loudly, to one of my friends. “What if I am supposed to meet him later?”

“I don’t know Heather,” my friend said kindly. “But I know God has someone for you.”

I had asked one version or another of this question since I became teenager, and had been subconsciously asking it for several years now. The question that constantly churned deep down in the pit of my soul, was this:

Will there ever be someone for me?

Before I tell you how my time at college ended and whether or not I “found my husband at Liberty,”  (spoiler alert: I did not), I need to briefly tell you my back story as it relates to dating and men.

And trust me, it will be brief.

Did you know that the way a girl dates a boy ties directly back to the relationship she has with her father?  Yep, it does.  Unfortunately for me, I did not have a very close relationship with my dad and had also been sexually abused by two other men (one a member of my own family) which left me with the following reality:

I struggled with low-level feelings of rejection as it related to men and also distrusted them on many levels (and also had a low-level anger thing going on as well), thus creating “walls” and a “guardedness” with most men I encountered (except for older, fatherly men with kind eyes).  I was also very insecure inside (but hid it skillfully) and was hyper-vigilant about finding a boyfriend. And to top it off, I depended heavily on the approval of others to make me feel good about myself.  

Another negative contributing factor in all of this was that I was (and still am) a natural born tom-boy with a low voice (think Lauren Becall) and I have a very blunt, direct personality (that has tamed a bit since I’ve matured).  I am also very tall.

So between my internal issues of rejection/walls combined with my lovely external masculine vibe, I didn’t get asked out very much, either in high school or all through college.

Many of my girlfriends would encourage me with the following: “Heather, you’re very pretty and you have a really cool personality, but all the guys are intimidated by you! And they’re shorter than you, too.”

So that’s what I told myself through high school when I never had a flower delivered to my desk when they were passing out carnations for various holidays (like Valentine’s Day) or school fundraisers. That’s what I told myself when my date for the prom rejected me two days before the actual prom and lied and said he couldn’t attend, but then I saw him later that night with a group of friends, driving around.  That’s what I told myself and all the way up through my senior year in college as one by one, my friends all met their husbands and began planning out the rest of their lives. That’s the reason, I reassured myself, that the guy I was majorly crushing my senior year was keeping me squarely in the friend zone.

“He’s intimidated by me.  I’m too much of a woman for him,” I justified to myself many times.

But underneath the whole “will there ever be anyone for me” question was a much deeper query the sat like a hot potato on top of that one.  The question was this:

What’s wrong with me, that nobody ever chooses me?

That question stayed with me as I moved to the DC area to “start my whole career thing” after college (you can read about it here).  I was waitressing at the time, and for reasons I cannot explain, things started to shift in the atmosphere for me with the opposite sex, in a good way.

Suddenly, it was like a light turned on and all the guys began to notice me.

Many of the men I worked with (fellow waiters) started to crush me, ask me out, or just make innocent comments. One day I noticed two of them chatting and staring at me.  One them said dreamily “everyday!” while looking directly at me.  I asked him what “everyday” meant.  The other one chimed in with a goofy smile and said: “we both agreed that you get more beautiful everyday, Heather.”

Yeeks.  Male customers would even make comments and told me many times that I looked like Madonna or Sharon Stone (or a combination thereof). I found it funny when men would look at me quizzically and say “you look like someone, a movie star, but I can’t place it.”  I would say bluntly (because, remember, I’m blunt):

“I look like a younger combination of Madonna and Sharon Stone.” And they would say excitedly: “Yes!  That’s it!”

Even the men I worked with at GOPAC (as an intern) in DC started to notice me and ask me out. So while something changed and all of the sudden I began to be noticed and yes, even asked out on dates, I was not super excited about the guys who were asking me out. I would often remark to my friends: “Why can’t I meet a good, cute, nice, smart Christian guy who will ask me out?”  They didn’t understand it and neither did I.  The other challenge was that although I must have been changing on the outside because I could see the evidence of it, I was the same insecure girl on the inside who feared rejection and put up walls of distrust around men.

I was in a bind.  What to do?

How do you change a girl from deep within? How do you take a deeply insecure girl who fears rejection and turn her into a confident woman who doesn’t need the approval of anyone to feel good about herself? How do you change a girl who thinks she needs a boyfriend to complete herself or to prove that she is worthy to be loved?

And how does this same girl ever find a good guy?  Someone maybe she can marry?

These were the questions that I took into my mid twenties.  So, I took these questions to the only Person I knew who could actually answer them.  I took them to God.

God began to answer them with His gift of deep inner healing, but like all good things, it was was a process that took some time.

First, God started a healing work in my mind. I listened to a bunch of cassette tapes by Dr. Charles Stanley about rejection.  The basic gist is that many people are rejected as children (think funky family or absent/abusive father/parent) or adults (think divorce, affairs) and it changes them in bad ways. He explained that rejected people have a whole slew of issues that they need to be healed and set free from. Not only that, they have a “rejection vibe” that can negatively impact other people.

I listened with rapt attention to all of his cassette tapes.  It was like he was describing me to a freaking TEE while he lobbed one truth-bomb after another into my brain. The bottom line, he said, is that we need to get our identity (the core of who we are, the core of how we feel about ourselves) NOT from anyone else in this world, but from GOD.  And that we need to truly believe what HE says about us in this written word, the Scriptures.

So what does God have to say about me?  God says I am chosen, dearly loved, bought with a price, his beloved daughter, his creation, I have a purpose, he is with me, he loves me, and my eternity is secure in him.  He will never leave me, never forsake me, and will always love me. He loves me so much he sent his Son to die on the cross to effectively pay for my sin.  And he is in control of all aspects of my life, including whether I meet a man to marry (or not).  Once those truths started to sink in, I began to be more set free in my mind and in my way of thinking.

After my mind began to transform, God promptly set out to heal my heart.

Ironically, it started with a phone conversation with my mother.  I was telling her about an upcoming Christian weekend retreat I was about to go on.  Sadly, because of all of my issues, I often combined my spiritual growth and development with the hope of finding a boyfriend at these events.  As I was musing about the retreat, I wondered aloud to her: “I wonder if I will meet a good guy on this retreat?”

She said the following to me: “Heather, I believe you are too dependent on finding a boyfriend.  You are looking to a boyfriend to make you feel complete, and worthy to be loved.  I think you need deep inner healing.  I will pray that God heals you this weekend.”

Drop the mic.

I was stunned for a moment as her words landed like a missile in my soul.  I said goodbye to her and sat quietly on my bed.

“Fine,” I said with a bit of an attitude (I forgot to mention that I also had a snarky attitude back in those days).  “Fine.  Ok Lord.  If my mom is right, and I need to be healed, then fine, heal me.  Amen.”

I went on the retreat, and to make a long story short, there was a time when the Pastor prayed for healing and for the Lord to do a work among us.  As I sat there singing “Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on me,” the weirdest thing happened.  It was like there was a HUGE tear drop hovering above my head, filled with gallons and gallons of water (from years of supressed hurt and pain) and all the sudden, it was like God took a little pin to it, POPPED it, and it completely burst all over me and spilled into the room.

I started crying, and I couldn’t stop.

I was so embarrassed. 

Now if you know me, you know that I am one strong girl.

I am like Margaret Thatcher strong.  I do not cry and I barely get misty-eyed, especially back in those days.

Well, all of my “I am so strong” b.s. was flushed down the toilet in that moment as I sat slobbering all over the ground. I hastily left the room found an empty stairwell outside and cried my guts out for about 40 minutes.  I cried for my lost relationship with my father.  That experience alone I can only describe as supernatural.  It was like my life was flashing before me as it pertained to my dad, and all of the hurt and disappointment I had suppressed over the years came out in a flood.

I cried for the abuse I’d received at the hands of two men. I cried for all the rejection I had ever felt from men (and women). I cried for never being chosen.

I cried a very, very ugly cry.  It was not attractive.

I was a hot mess.

After I settled down, I got up and went to bed.

The next day, I felt FREE.

All I can say to you, My Dear Reader, is that for whatever reason I was completely healed from all the hurt and pain I had experienced up until that point.

I felt happy, confident, set free, sure of myself, deeply loved by God, and fulfilled.

It was amazing!!  God had answered my prayer (and my mom’s prayer).  I was healed!

Well, pretty much at least.  I have come to learn that if you are born and raised in an environment where you experience ongoing feelings of rejection, it’s pretty hard to get 100% healed.  I still walk with a limp.  But I’m about 95% there.

Back to the story.

I headed into my 25th birthday still very much a single young lady. Sadly, back in those days I thought 25 was old (it’s not) and I began to feel that pressure mounting once again.

So on the night of my birthday I prayed a simple prayer, and here it is, word for word:

“Dear Lord.  Today is my birthday.  I am now 25 years old.  Honestly, Lord…from 0 to 25 has been pretty shitty.  Can you please make it better from here on out. Please, Lord? In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

(Yes, I used a bad word in my prayer. What can I say?  And hindsight is 20/20 and I had a lot of great things happen to me from 0-25, and it wasn’t all that bad, and some parts were very good.  But I was having a hard time turning 25, so that was the prayer I prayed that night.)

Well, for whatever reason unknown to mankind, God decided to say a resounding YES to that simple, eloquent prayer. Because not three weeks later I was talking to a girlfriend who told me that she had a GREAT guy she thought I should meet.

I asked her to describe him to me and everything she said clicked with the “list” I had developed in my head (and on paper too. Yes, I made a very long list of things I wanted in a husband, which I will briefly talk about later.)  She told me he already had a great job as a statistician, he was super nice, a God-fearing man, deep, and kind.

“What is a statician?” I asked her with confusion, not even knowing how to properly pronounce the title of his job.

“You know…statistics.  He is super smart and has his PhD in statistics.  And He’s cute too!  He has the most beautiful green eyes!”

She asked if I wanted to meet up with him on blind date and I found myself saying yes!

So a few days later this same guy named Erik called me up one night and we talked easily for about an hour.  I noticed right away he was a great conversationalist, was funny, and had a sexy phone voice.  But what I loved most about him was that he seemed to be a completely normal guy.  He asked me out on a date and…drum roll please…we went!

So here we are on our first official (blind) date and I found myself doing the “check list” thing.  You know the check list thing.  Is he polite to the waitress and not oogling her and does he leave her a good tip or is he a cheap bastard (cuz there ain’t no way I’m marrying a guy who isn’t a good tipper as a waitress myself)?

Thank God, Erik passed all of those “checks.”

Here’s another one: does he look directly into my eyes and do the ping pong thing with conversation or does he only talk about himself?  Thank goodness he was a great conversationalist and kept the conversation mostly on me.

And the list went on. And honestly, he was passing “my list test” with flying colors.

About mid way through the meal I began to think that, although he seemed like a great guy, and a solid Christian, and had his stuff together, that he wasn’t my “type.”  And that maybe we could be great friends.  Maybe a best friend, big-brother type of thing.

But then something weird happened.  I asked him an innocent question.  I asked:  “So, do you think you will get married one day?”

And he looked straight at me, straight into my soul actually, with his kind and beautiful green eyes, and said with such conviction and confidence:

“Absolutely.  I’m built for marriage.”

We just stared into each other’s eyes for a moment.  That’s when it happened: a tiny little spark of attraction tingled in my heart and formed a brand new synapse in my brain.

We had a great first date and went out on our second date.  But then while we were driving he said the following to me:

“Heather.  I want to tell you something.  If I ever, ever say anything that hurts your feelings or is rude or unkind, I want you to tell me,  because I want to apologize to you, and I want to make it right with you.  So please always be honest with me.”

I immediately looked out the window and mouthed “Oh My God” silently out the window.

I turned to him accusingly and said: “how did you know to say that?  Have you been listening to Focus on the Family?  Did you read a book about what to say?’

He looked at me strangely.  “Ummmmmm, no.  I don’t listen to James Dobson but I hear he’s great.  And no, I didn’t read a book.  It’s just the way I am.  Because it’s normal and the right way to be.”

So that’s how our relationship started. As I began to get to know Erik, I began to see what an overall great guy he really was.  And he kept saying and doing all the right things.  Things that were very kind, generous, and good.  Things that healed my heart some more and started to renew my confidence in the male species.

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One of our very first dates, and the first photo we ever took together.  Erik took me hiking, of course!

Case in point: I took Erik home to meet my parents for Christmas. He hit it off with everyone and was great with my entire family.  My little brother Joe (who was nine or ten at the time) asked him to please come into the basement with him to play laser tag, and sure enough, 40 minutes later, Erik was still in our unfinished musty basement playing with my little brother.  Finally they came up all sweaty and tired and plopped on the couch.  My little brother sat on his lap and hugged him with his legs opened up in a long bear hug.  Erik hugged him right back.

Joe then said something so sweet:  “Erik —  I love you!!”

My little sister was within earshot and hotly retorted: “Josiah, you have only known him for three days.”

“I know.”  Joe said simply.  “Even though it’s only been three days, it feels like love.”

And… that pretty much sums up my dating relationship with Erik.

It felt like love. 

He showed me love when he paid off the rest of my school loan after we had only been dating a short time. (I had worked my butt off through school and paid for the whole thing all by myself, but he paid off the last chunk.)

He showed me love when he bought me a car because he was sick of me driving around old “crap cars” that weren’t safe.

He showed me love by supporting my career on Capitol Hill and telling me things like: “Heather whatever you want to be later, if you ever want to run for Congress, I will support you!”

He showed me love by paying for all of the dates we ever went on and taking me fun places that I never could afford or would even consider had I not known him.

He showed me love by hearing my rejection stories and accepting me and healing all of the wounds that weren’t quite healed.  Although God laid the foundation and put up the beams of healing in the home of my heart, I felt like Erik was the drywall and paint and decor.  God used an imperfect tool, Erik, to continue the healing work that God wanted to complete through a human agent.

And then one hot and sunny Saturday in May, with all of our friends and family surrounding us, he showed me love by making a commitment to spend the rest of his life with me.

We were married on May 6, 2000 and we will celebrate 18 years together this coming year!

And Erik still continues to show me love.

First, he is an amazing dad. This was something I deeply wanted in a husband and had to have.  I told the Lord many times to “not bother” sending me a husband unless he was also going to be a fantastic father.  And Erik is a fantastic father!  Sometimes I actually have a feeling of relief wash over me I see him interact with our kids.

As he loves our kids, he is also loving me.

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Erik is a great dad. He spends a lot of time planning great hiking trips for our family! And…he does all the cooking on the trips, which mom loves!

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He continues to show me love by being ridiculously generous with me. Once a year he sends me away on a “mommy vacation.”  And he doesn’t send me to a Motel 6 in a random place.  He sends me to the Caribbean.  He sends me to Colorado to go skiing. He sends me to Vegas to see all of the sights.  He goes a little cray cray in the area of generosity.  Sometimes I feel like it’s God’s lavish, Kingly, outlandish love that he shows me through Erik.  It doesn’t seem fair.  I feel bad and never put that stuff on Facebook because I don’t want to seem like a braggart or make others feel bad.  But he is very generous with me and always has been.

And finally, he continues to show me love by being the same man I married years ago.  He never changed into what I feared the guy I married would change into: a psycho.  He is the same good, laid-back, kind, steady, loving, smart, God-fearing man I married 18 years ago.  He only gets better.  A bit more soft around the middle perhaps, 🙂 but he is the same great guy I met over 20 years ago.

Do you remember how I told you I had made a long list of things I wanted in a spouse? Years after marrying Erik, I was digging through old papers and came across the list.  As I read through the list my first thought was how anal and weird I was back then to have to write such an exhaustive list of “what I had to have in a husband.”

I also laughed at some of the things that were on the list.  Things such as “He can’t be cheap, or be a cheap tipper.”  And “he can’t be a perv.”

But then, as I read through the list in its entirety, I sat there in stunned silence.  Literally 95% of that list described Erik.  Erik made all of the “Top 10 Most Important Things” portion of the list, and had none of the “25 things he can’t be” portion of the list.  And he made 50 out of 55 of the other things on the list too!  (I told you I had issues back in the day.)

As I looked at the list, and then looked at Erik as he played with my daughter Claire on the floor one day, I started to cry.  I thanked the Good Lord in Heaven for providing me with a wonderful husband and father in Erik.  And yes, Erik is like a father to me too. In fact, he is a father to almost everyone he meets.  He is just built like that.

So the one thing that needed to happen before I could find love is that I had to be healed of my fear of rejection. That fear consciously and subconsciously blocked me from finding love.  The most awesome part about this story, though, is that through my journey of deep inner healing I was able to receive not one, but two kinds of love: the genuine, kind, steady, generous love of a good man.  And the rock-solid, never changing, unconditional, sacrificial, all-encompassing love of God.

I am thankful beyond words to have received both kinds of love.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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A bit more wrinkly around the eyes, but happily married after 20 years of hanging out!

Closing note: one of the reasons I write, and am so open about all of my issues, is to help other people.  If you think you might struggle with feelings of rejection, here is a Youtube video which is a summary of Dr. Stanley’s series on overcoming feelings of rejection: here. Also, here is the Father’s Love Letter.  It really helped me to process through some of my feelings of rejection and to believe the truth about myself.  Thanks for reading!

What the Star of Bethlehem Tells Me About Our Upcoming Adoption

It’s been over two years since my husband and I began all the hard work associated with adopting a little boy from Latvia.  The first step was obtaining Erik’s (husbands’) Latvian Citizenship as we learned that Latvian citizens who reside in the U.S. could receive a referral of a relatively healthy child of any age range (see my previous post for more details here We are adopting (again!).  After about a year of collecting/filling out paperwork, last November (of 2016) Erik and I were finally able to put our names in the hat for one boy, ages 4-7, with moderate health issues, from Latvia.  We were told by our agency that we would be presented with up to three referrals and would most likely be able to travel during the spring or the summer of this year (2017).  I was so excited with the idea of traveling as a family this summer and finally giving Logan a little brother.  And, for the most part, finally completing  our family.  This is a big deal for me as we have been in the process of building and completing our family since I turned 30. I’m now in my mid-40s.

That’s fifteen years and counting, people.

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Just a portion of all the paperwork we did (and are re-doing) for our upcoming adoption.

Spring came around, so I emailed/bugged my coordinator for an update.  Still no word.

Then early summer came, and I emailed/bugged my coordinator again.  Should I start switching bedrooms and buying clothes?  Can I be doing anything to get ready? My coordinator said to hold off, as there was still no word.

The fall came, still no word.

Late fall came and I received an email which was very discouraging.

I will get to the email in just a moment, but I want to first tell you about a documentary called The Star of Bethlehem, as it relates to our adoption situation.

Here is the gist of this Christmas documentary:

A lawyer/researcher/computer nerd named Rick Larson conducted research to figure out the mystery of the Bethlehem star, and whether it was a true, astronomical event which announced the birth of Jesus Christ, the Jewish King. From Wikipedia:

As a lawyer,[9] Larson examined the text of Matthew, finding nine pieces of evidence in the nativity passage.[10] Using astronomy software to return to the skies over Judea[17] by using Johannes Kepler’s math to calculate positions of celestial objects, Larson thinks he found all nine elements found in the book of Matthew.[10] He also believes that the Star of Bethlehem, is Jupiter, a wandering star,[18] and it stopped over Bethlehem during its retrograde motion on December 25, 2 BC.[19][20] 

But here is the coolest part of the documentary (and why people are really watching it). So apparently, a triple conjunction of planets and stars occurs not once, but twice during the time of Jesus’ conception and birth.  The first one (at his conception) occurred when three stars/planets aligned:

  • Jupiter (the King planet)
  • Regulus (the King star, connected to the Leo the Lion constellation – Jesus is from the tribe of Judah, which is associated with the Lion of Judah)
  • Virgo (the Virgin planet).

Do you see all the connections with the Christmas story?

Nine months later, at Jesus’ birth, another amazing and extremely rare triple conjunction occurred:

  • Jupiter (the King planet)
  • Regulus (the King star, connected to the Lion constellation)
  • Venus (the Mother planet)

How cool is that? No wonder the Magi, those who studied many prophecies and  predictions using the stars, came running to Bethlehem to check out the “one who is to be born King of the Jews.”

For the skeptics out there, let me fill in a bit of historical context. Back during this time in history, most people depended on the stars in the sky for navigation and predictions (and even magic: think astrology).  The whole entire shipping and nautical industry depended on the stars for direction and navigation.  Later, the Sextant was invented to help sailors to navigate using the stars. (Many years ago I read a really cool book about this called Carry On Mr. Bowdich.)

Apparently, this Bethlehem triple-conjunction-star was a HUGE deal back in the day; think of a widely noticed phenomenon, much like the solar eclipse that just occurred this summer (of 2017).

Rick Larson says:

This conjunction was so close and so bright that it is today displayed in hundreds of planetaria around the world by scientists who may know nothing of Messiah. They do it because what Jupiter did makes such a great planetarium show. Jupiter appeared to join Venus. The planets could not be distinguished with the naked eye. If our magus (Wise Men) had had a telescope, he could have seen that the planets sat one atop the other, like a figure eight. Each contributed its full brightness to what became the most brilliant star man had ever seen.

So here is the bad news we had received about our adoption:  our coordinator told us that more and more Latvians are adopting older children, and that what we are looking for seems be “more popular” with Latvian citizens (which is great; I’m so happy more kids are being adopted).  But here is where the news broke down: we are “number 13 in line” for getting one boy, ages 4-7, and that she didn’t think we would get a referral “anytime soon.” I also found out later that we can be bumped by a Latvian family at any time.  She also said that we should consider changing our home study to allow for either an older child, a sibling group, or a child or children with moderate special needs.  And here was the kicker:

“Oh, and by the way, you should start to update your home study (in other words, re-do a bunch of your paper-work) sooner than later because everything expires soon.”

I was discouraged with this news.  It put me in a foul mood about this adoption specifically and adoption in general. Erik and I talked about it and decided that we are now open to raising the age range, possibly adding a moderate special need, and here is the kicker: allowing for a sibling group of a boy and a girl.

I can’t even imagine going from three kids to five, but I’m just not sure how long we will wait for a referral if we don’t adjust our home study to reflect reality.

So how does our adoption relate to the Bethlehem star?

1. God is all about timing.  

Timing is important to God.  He had to line up two planets and one star (and not just any planets, very special planets with specific meanings) in order to announce the birth of his Son, not once, but twice.  Timing is really important to God, not just with the ‘big things’ but with the little things, too. I can safely say that it must not have been God’s timing to adopt up until this point in time.

2. God’s timing seems slow.

I have often wondered about the slowness of God’s timing and have grown impatient with it numerous times.  But think about how slowly those stars and planets seemed to move to the naked eye.  Each day they were a bit closer to each other, but only barely discernible.  However, stars and planets actually move very fast in space.  So really what seems slow to us, at the naked eye level, may actually be the speed of light in space.  This really messes with me, but the bottom line is that even if it seems slow to me, it really may not be slow.  It may just be that it seems slow to me.

3.  God’s timing is perfect.  

Everything had to line up perfectly in order to have a big miraculous splash to announce the birth of Jesus.  God had to send Gabriel at just the right time to announce to Mary that she would be the Mother of Jesus. God made Elizabeth pregnant at just the right time so that John could be the fore-runner of Jesus. Mary and Joseph left their home at just the right time to travel to Bethlehem for the census, so that Jesus could be born in a manger, in Bethlehem, in order to fulfill prophecy, as well as to the be at the precise place where the triple conjunction seemed to “stand still.” God even had to allow some “back up” time to get everything and everyone aligned perfectly, including the start-time of the Magi, the location of the Shepherds, and the alignment of the stars in the night sky.  So with all of that being true, I can safely assume….

If God is in control of the timing and events of the birth of his own Son, then surely I can trust Him to be in control of the timing of our adoption.

4. God will usually give you just enough information to help you to walk in faith and believe that His timing is perfect.

He did this to me just two nights ago with a devotional we read at dinner time.  I will put a portion of that devotional in my closing paragraph.

Before I close, just a little Christmas confession: I have found that I am more frustrated and impatient with this adoption than I was with the previous other three!  I guess I’m tired of all the B.S. that’s associated with adoption.  From the waiting, to the paperwork, to the re-doing of paperwork, to the back and forth, to the issues with the kids that you have to think about and pray through first, and then deal with secondly…I’m just kinda sick of all of it.  Deep in my heart, I’m starting to think that this may be our last adoption, at least our last “on purpose” adoption.  I am still open to orphan hosting down the road, and if that leads to another adoption…great!  But I am in my mid 40s and don’t feel like doing this over and over again. Adoption is just plain hard.  Is it worth it? Of course!  I have my three beautiful kids to show for it and I would’t trade them for the world.

But adoption is really hard.  And there is always a wait built into the process.  At least there has been for us.

And we are smack in the middle of our wait.

In closing, Khloe (our daughter) read a devotional at dinner just two nights ago that really spoke to me and reassured me that God’s timing is perfect and He is completely in control of our adoption.  Here is a portion:

December 21: (This is God speaking, by the way)

I have a perfect plan for your life.  But I don’t show it to you all at once. It is like a road that you must travel one step at a time.

Sometimes the road feels blocked, or it opens up so slowly that you feel frustrated.  But then, when the timing is right, the way before you suddenly clears.  All that you have longed for and worked for is given to you freely – as a gift.  And that is when you catch a glimpse of my power and my glory.

Just keep walking along the path I have prepared for you, depending on my strength to keep you going.  Expect to see some miracles – and you will. Not everyone can see my miracles, but those who live by faith can see them clearly.  When you walk by faith going step by step with me, you are able to see my glory.

— Jesus Calling, by Sarah Young

This adoption has been a huge step of faith, but at some point, “when the timing is right, the way before you suddenly clears. And all that you have longed for and worked for is given to you freely – as a gift.”

I can’t wait for that day to occur!  Lord, help me to wait patiently and purposefully.

Merry Christmas!

P.S. For those who believe in the power of prayer, we would appreciate your prayers that the Lord would allow us to adopt one or two children in His timing. But I pray that the timing would be sooner rather than later. :). Because it’s already been two years. Please pray that the child or children would be a wonderful fit for our family, and that Logan would especially click with his new younger brother. And, if possible, that we could all travel as a family to Latvia to adopt.  Thank you so much!!

PSS: For those who are interested: The Biblical data points of the star are as follows: it signified birth, it signified kingship, it was related to the Jewish nation, and it “rose in the East”;[11] it was not known to King Herod;[12] it appeared at a specific time;[13] it endured over time;[14] it was before the Magi as they traveled south to Bethlehem from Jerusalem,[15] and then [16] it stopped over the city of Bethlehem.[6]. (source, wikipedia)

PSS: all research for this post was used by googling “The Star of Bethlehem”, watching portions of the documentary, plus Wikipedia.  You can find Rick Larson’s website at www.thestarofbethlehem.org.