Trailing spouse – there is hope for you

Moving is hard, but things will get better

About a year after we moved halfway across the country for my husband’s job from DC to the Chicago area, I was having coffee with my real estate agent in our newly remodeled kitchen. We were discussing the move and how hard it was for me, and how I was still completely focused on helping my kids adjust and very busy getting our house remodeled.  I confessed I was still struggling to find my purpose here and lamented that it was difficult to make kindred-spirit friendships.  In a moment of self-pity, I said the following:

“I feel like there is nothing in this move for me.”  

I waited, wondering if she would come back with a corrective/judgmental  comment. Instead, she looked at me with sympathy in her eyes and said the following:

“Yes, it’s always harder for the trailing spouse.”

“What – or who – is the trailing spouse?” I asked her, not realizing that someone in my shoes had an official title.

She explained it this way: “Well, it’s usually the wife, to be honest.  And she is trailing after her spouse.  Usually she moves because her husband got a new job in a new area.  And after they move into the new home she is socially isolated and has no real friends.  And she is trying super hard to help her kids adjust and be a cheerleader for her husband, and to handle all the details of the move and potential remodeling and everything else, but she ignores her own needs to support her family. It’s very hard for her, but she keeps it hidden.  She is still grieving the loss of the move, and there are many losses.” 

Her statement was spot-on for me.

The trailing spouse is defined this way from an article I found: 

Trailing spouses, usually women, end up doing a vast amount of emotional labour, not just for their households and their children, if they have them (helping teenagers adapt to new countries or dealing with toddler jet-lag), but for themselves. In the rest of my life, I’m used to being independent, interesting. I have hobbies. This trip, I’m the addendum, the afterthought.

So yes, moving can be very hard for the trailing spouse, especially if she didn’t want to move in the first place (like me). However, there are many benefits to moving, and my goal for this post is to give hope to those who are faced with an upcoming move, or have recently relocated and are still hating it. In order to write a better post, I read one really good book on moving, conducted some internet research, and consulted with two of my very best friends, Ragan and Sandie, who themselves have moved several times and have experienced the pros and cons of moving, many times over.

I also need to add a qualifier, because not every move is an unwanted move. Many people may be excited to move because they are….

  • Moving to a better home in the same general area,
  • Moving to be closer to loved ones (family, friends), 
  • Moving to a warmer weather climate from a colder one,
  • Moving to a welcoming built-in community (think church, military, or school community with casseroles and deep friendships upon arrival)
  • Moving as a person who loves new adventures or thrives on change

And one more qualifier: I realize that trailing spouses can also be men, and there are a lot of single men and women who also may face an unwanted move. Although I wrote this article for wives who are trailing after their husband’s jobs, please hang with me as I believe there will be something in this blog post for you, too.

So let’s dig into the why…why moving is it so hard for the trailing spouse (and for everyone else, frankly), and then we will discuss the eventual benefits of moving.  

Ah, this moment…when the moving truck arrived. It all suddenly felt very real.

I am going to highlight just three bullet points on the difficulties related to moving, as there is already much written on the topic of why moving is so hard for everyone on the planet.  

First, moving is one of the most stressful life events, on par with divorce:

From the decluttering to the packing to often being a single parent for months before the move (as in our case), you will feel like it’s all on you,  because honestly and sadly, much of it is.  You will have to hold down the fort at your current home, pack it up, put it on the market and keep it perfect, all while you look frantically on-line for a new one. 

One article had this to say:

“Research has shown that moving is more stressful than divorce. Personally, as someone who has moved 17 times in 15 years, I can agree with this 100 percent. Studies have consistently reported that moving is one of the most stressful life events because the amount of tiny details involved in moving to a new home makes a lot of people feel hella bajiggity. British energy company E.ON conducted a survey of 2,000 people, and six out of 10 people cited moving as the most stressful life event with divorce or a break up coming in second.” (source: https://www.bustle.com/p/moving-is-one-of-the-most-stressful-life-events-a-new-study-says-but-here-are-7-ways-to-make-it-suck-less-11832166)

While I am not here to debate the stress level of moving vs. divorce, let’s just agree that moving is incredibly stressful.  

Second, moving is a grieving process with many external and internal losses:

For starters, there is saying goodbye to your family, friends, home, and your neighborhood. It’s also the loss of identity and potential job for the trailing spouse,  loss of a beloved church or house of worship, and loss of all familiar things. It’s like walking away from the warmth and comfort of a warm blanket into a blinding blizzard without a coat.  It’s dealing with fear and anxiety but lacking the regular resources and comforts of coping that you are familiar with.

And this brings me to grieving. Our American society is not very good at this, but in order to effectively move, and then restart your life in a new area, grieving is an important component of our human development and eventual healing. There are five stages, and all of them need to be felt and dealt with properly (and not stuffed deep inside, because you are strong).

Thirdly, moving  is overwhelming (before, during, and after the move):

From Sandie, as she discusses just one aspect of her to-do list: Every state has its own set of rules and protocols, visits to the DMV, driver’s license renewals, and in some cases professional license renewals.  To continue my teaching career, I had to apply for licensure in each state. It took time, money, classes, and patience.  It can be a daunting task to reestablish yourself professionally.  Not to mention navigating where to shop and find the best deals near you.  

Although moving is super stressful, hard, and expensive, there is always a silver lining to every dark cloud.  Below are just a few of the upsides of moving that I have discovered over the last almost two years:

Moving is a clean-slate for your schedule:

I honestly enjoyed this small benefit right away: after the boxes were unpacked, I had almost nothing to do except drive my kids around and figure out design choices with respect to our remodeling projects. I enjoyed not having the usual demands on my time and decided to be very careful and deliberate about what commitments I added back in.

From Sandie: We live in busy times.  Life’s demands pull for our time and our attention.  Usually we have too many commitments on our schedule to manage, but moving gives us a chance to reprioritize. Without restraints on our time, it allows us to be in the moment, to slow down to savor that cup of coffee, read that book, or just take time in the solitude to mediate.  Busyness can rob us of joy.  A clean slate allows us to choose our paths of joy.  Tired of having to run somewhere every night of the week to a commitment? Then don’t, just say no.  I’m reminded that saying no to the good things allows you to say yes to the best things.

Time will go slower because everything is brand new:

Did you know that time moves more slowly when your brain is trying to figure out new things like a new area or a new job?  It sure does.  That’s because your brain encodes new experiences only, not boring and routine ones, and over-represents new experiences, thus making them seem longer.  In essence, when you move, everything is brand new and time slows down.  Here is a post I wrote about this topic.

I strangely enjoyed not having everything figured out already, and I savored all of the many new experiences, sights, smells, and tastes of our new home and area.

It’s a clean slate for your friendships:

After you move away, that change alone will clarify your true friendships and weed out the ones who were not meant for you long-term. As far as making new friends, I was able to decide who I wanted to be friends with in my new area. I was forced to go out of my comfort zone and pursue and invite women into my life, which I have definitely tried to do, as I am a very relational person.

Another blogger summed up another angle of friendships and moving this way: “Focus on the reality that you are not leaving friends and neighbors behind, merely extending your friendship group as you meet new people and develop new relationships in the community.”  (source: https://www.movingmindsets.com.au/emotional-impact-moving-sarah-godfrey/)

And technology helps tremendously with keeping in touch with old friends, and especially for my teen girls who can very easily keep in touch with all of their old friends from DC.

You may find better career (or ministry) options in your new area:

Sometimes moving gives you career options that you never would have where you currently live. As for me, I have always been interested in a career in law enforcement but went another direction in college. After we moved, I started to re-imagine my career as a Private Investigator.  A few months ago, I was connected with a wonderful Christian PI who helped me to navigate the complexity of breaking into the PI world. A couple of months ago, I was able to get a part-time entry level job in the PI field (with his help), conducting residency checks and surveillance for local school districts. I don’t think I could have done this work in the DC area.  In addition, running for Congress or another government position has always been in the back of mind.  DC is saturated with go-getter-government-types, and I believe it would be very hard to win a government seat in that area.

Moving builds character and personal development in many areas:

Moving forces you to broaden new horizons, face fears, be a pursuer, wait patiently, soul-search, look at the agenda going on inside of yourself, mourn losses, deal with loneliness, reach out to new people, and heal.  Moving is much like a much-needed workout.  It might be painful in some ways, and you hate doing it, but it’s super good for you in the long-run.  

And it’s true; I have definitely grown as a person after this move.

Moving builds spiritual development:

Again, this is much needed for most of us. An excellent book on the topic of moving had this to say:

What is God trying to teach me through all of this?

Security does not come from a house (or any other thing, for that matter).

Real security comes only from trusting God.

To grow as a person, you need to move beyond your comfort zone.

Spiritual growth comes in learning to depend on God to meet your needs.

People, places, and things should not be held too tightly. They can keep you from embracing what God has planned for you.

(Source: After the Boxes are Unpacked, Susan Miller, page 17.)

I would say that for me the above rang true, and I would add: moving strips me of things I find security in and helps me to focus more on the two most important relationships in my life: God, and my family. Every single time I moved, much good has come from it, both personally, and professionally.

And spiritually!

Moving is good for your kids:

Dear mama, this will be one of the hardest parts of the move and therefore I will not even attempt to sugarcoat it.  Here is my advice to you: as hard as it is, try to stay calm and positive and point your kids in the direction of “seeing the good” in the move.  Tell them you will go back and let them visit their old friends (and then do it!).  Tell them they will be able to keep in close touch with their friends through technology.  You can be honest with them and let them know that you understand how hard this is for them, but try to keep your kids on the same team as your husband and you.  

I know it’s very hard to watch your kids struggle and face difficulties during the move, but like a butterfly coming out of its cocoon, your kids need some difficulties in life to develop them in well-rounded ways. Moving teaches them (and you, mom) how to make new friends, be flexible, learn new social skills, embrace change, and be open to new adventures. I know that some kids really struggle with moving, and I encourage you to dig into ways you can help your kids to adjust to a new home, school, and life. Technology is a huge help! Our kids regularly keep in touch with many of their old friends through various Apps and video games, and my kids are all doing much better almost two years into this move.

You get to explore a brand new area:

Lastly, you will (most-likely, unless you are moving to Siberia) greatly enjoy exploring your new area. We have loved visiting the Ocean (Lake Michigan), and Chicago is an amazing city with so much to do! Wisconsin (within driving distance) has lots of lakes and, believe it or not, boasts the Water Park Capital of the World (or at least the US).

Chicago has an amazing aquarium!!
My parents came to visit us last fall! We did the famous architectural boat tour (highly recommend).

I want to close this post with two current challenges (for me).

First, I am still struggling with the move in the area of making deep friendships.  Yes, I have made a couple of good friends, but I am praying and hoping to make more.  Second, I am still working on being content, joyful (happy) and grateful for moving and in every area of my life.  The move has forced me to turn to the Lord and develop a deeper relationship with Him and my family.  God has tested me in the area of contentment and trust.  I am clinging to Romans 8:28, where God promises to work “all things together for the good” in my own life, and for His glory. “All things” includes this move. God allowed it and He will work it for my good.

In closing, I am happy to report that almost two years into the move, things are going much better and my “winter of discontent” is now over. I am starting to “see the good” in the move, both for me and my family and especially my husband, as his former company (the one we left and moved away from) is now completely dismantled. There are many good things about the Chicago area (sans the weather) and all of us have made a few friends and are enjoying the area and all it has to offer. I definitely have less commitments so therefore I have more time, and I love my new PI job that I never would have been able to land in the DC area.

I will end this post with some advice given to me from my dear friend Ragan, a military spouse, who has moved eight times in 15 years:

There is no doubt that moving is a pain (and honestly, I hope I have many years to come before I have to do it again), but I also know that attitude and perspective are critical. The motto of the U.S. Marine Corps is Semper Fidelis meaning “always faithful.” The motto of the U.S. Marine Corps spouse is Semper Gumby—“always flexible.” We have no choice but to be flexible as we know we are “likely” posted in a duty station for two to three years. I try to jump in with both feet immediately. Our first goal was always to find a church and get involved as quickly as possible rather than visit several over periods of months to find the “perfect” one.  I went to events and did my best to connect with other wives in my husband’s command.

I made memories, and most importantly, I made life-long friendships. I toured other countries, hosted many friends and family members, and lived as if I were going to be there forever. Sometimes we can be short-sighted or feel sadness at always having to uproot and so we guard and protect our hearts. I trust there is a time for this, and I know that it is natural for us to do so as well. But I also know the joy of going all in and reaping the benefits of vulnerability and effort.

As Heather shared, I too am a trailing spouse, and I never trail alone. I bring family with me. I bring friends with me. And most of all, God is with me. I hope to keep growing in maturity all the time, and the pressure cooker of a move sure is a good way to test that.

Amen! May we all (including myself) grow in the area of flexibility, being deeply rooted no matter what, being open to change and adventure, and being content and joyful in every area of life, including a move!

So trailing spouse, there is hope for you!

Because you never trail alone.

_______________________________________________________

PS: Below, check out the pics of all the wonderful friends and family (in no particular order) who have come to visit us since we have moved (including my parents pictured above)!

Our great friends Erin and Caleb and their kiddos came to visit! Chicago is such a great city!!
One of my very best friends Ragan and her son came to visit! I have known Ragan for 21 years!!
My awesome sister Jessie came to visit!! It was so great to have her!
My wonderful friends Amy, Amy, and Jonalee came for a visit! Check out the Ocean View in the background!!
We have enjoyed having a few neighborhood friends over and have actually become good friends with the ones pictured! Great peeps in our new hood!
Erik’s family came to visit us for Thanksgiving!!
Erik’s (my husband’s) brother Ed was our very first visitor!!!
We have really enjoyed our new kitchen and have been able to do a bunch of orphan hosting in our new house cuz we have lots of room!
My two nieces (Lauren and Kristen!) came to visit, plus some other good friends for Erik’s surprise birthday party!
As soon as we moved, we checked out the new area. Here we are up in Kenosha, WI, enjoying the awesome view. Moving meant a lot of good, quality time with my kids.
We went to our very first CUBS game with some new friends! Ryan was the contractor who remodeled our kitchen and basement. He saw me every morning – gross and without make-up -for a year!! So we naturally became friends with him. 🙂

For further reading: https://www.mymovingreviews.com/move/why-moving-is-hard/

Excellent book on this topic: After the Boxes are Unpacked by Susan Miller. Here is an amazon link (just a link; not an affiliate link): https://www.amazon.com/After-Boxes-Unpacked-Susan-Miller-ebook/dp/B012P62Z5Y/ref=sr_1_1?crid=1ZWJ0YIPZGCTJ&dchild=1&keywords=after+the+boxes+are+unpacked+by+susan+miller&qid=1587505536&sprefix=After+the+Boxes+are+u%2Caps%2C318&sr=8-1

Are Ouija Boards a Doorway to Communicate with (evil) Spirits? My Ouija Board story

A Stranger Things Ouija board, available on Amazon. If you decide to play with a Ouija board, just be prepared that stranger things may indeed happen to you! (PC: Amazon)

Did you ever play with the Ouija board as a teenager at a slumber party? Or find one in your grandma’s attic and give it a try? Or did you walk past a Stranger Things version of the board at Target and pick one up out of curiosity? How about making one from scratch using a pen, paper, and deodorant cap and then seeing if it would work at a Christian summer camp?

Before I start this post, I need to add a qualifier:

My Ouija board story is not that compelling.  Rather, it is interesting – as are most stories about the paranormal.  

Also – this blog post is divided up into five quick parts.  First, my story.  Second, the short history of Ouija boards.  Third, a question: are Ouija boards innocent board games or sinister gateways to spirits?  Fourth, the bottom line on evil spirits.  Finally, closing thoughts and advice to parents.

My Ouija board story:

When I was 13 or 14 years old and in the beginning of my teenage rebellious stage, my parents sent me to a weeklong Christian summer camp in upstate New York called Delta Lake Youth Camp.  One afternoon, a few (also rebellious) friends and I were were huddled together in our cabin, staring down at a hastily assembled Ouija board made with a sheet of paper and an upside down deodorant cap.  I had quickly written out the alphabet and then put “YES” in one corner and “NO” in the other one.  

We were good to go. 

One girl, Paula, stood to the side with a frown on her face.  She was the oddball sincere Christian girl stuck with a bunch of not-as-good girls in a small cabin.  

And although I had been warned that Ouija boards were a doorway for the devil himself, my curiosity got the best of me and I found myself across from a friend with the planchette (aka deodorant cap) between us, asking innocent teenager questions. 

“Does Derick like me?”  I asked the board.  Derick was a blond-haired, blue-eyed boy at camp that I had a crush on.

I had two fingers on one side of the deodorant cap, and my friend had two fingers on the other side.  For a moment, nothing happened.  Then slowly, the cap between us moved to YES.

“Did you move it?”  I asked my friend who was playing with me.  She nodded no, with wide eyes.

We asked it more questions, with the board moving on its own each time.

“See, it works!” I told my friend Melanie, a skeptic.

I then asked it another question: “who do you want to play?”  (Meaning, who of us girls – and there were about six of us – would the Ouija want to interact with?)

Immediately the board sprung to life and spelled out P – A – U – L – A.  The cap moved so quickly and with such force – completely on its own.  

We all turned to look at Paula, who turned as white as a sheet and then abruptly left the cabin.  After that, we felt compelled to stop the game, as we were all thoroughly freaked out.  Later, both Melanie and I regretted our decision to interact with the board and never touched it again.

Quick history on Ouija Boards:

Ouija boards started out as Talking Boards, as a way for grieving families to communicate with their dead loved ones.  According to Wikipedia:

As a part of the spiritualist movement, mediums began to employ various means for communication with the dead. Following the American Civil War in the United States, mediums did significant business in presumably allowing survivors to contact lost relatives. The ouija itself was created and named in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1890, but the use of talking boards was so common by 1886 that news reported the phenomenon taking over the spiritualists’ camps in Ohio.[12]

Science debunks the Ouija board and credits it to involuntary movement (with studies to back this up), however there is much anecdotal evidence and witness testimony to support the claims that Ouija boards are a tool to communicate with spirits.  

Are Ouija boards innocent or sinister?

Before I give my personal thoughts, below are two opinions from men who regularly interact with the paranormal and have heard hundreds of Ouija board stories.  To my knowledge, these men are not overly religious and are only forming their opinions based on stories they have heard firsthand, or their own direct knowledge.  

Tony Brueski, the popular podcaster of Real Ghost Stories Online (I am a subscriber!), was asked his opinion of Ouija boards during a facebook live webcast, and he said the following: “No- don’t go for it. It’s one of the those things where things could go horribly wrong very quickly, and it’s hard to know what may actually end up happening with your situation. So I would never suggest using it.” (October 20, 2017 Facebook Live, 18 minute mark.) Tony has heard close to 200 Ouija board stories on his thousands of podcasts.  He stated in another podcast that only 1 in 200 Ouija board stories he has heard are beneficial to the participant. (To hear a very compelling Ouija board story from Tony’s podcast, click here:  http://www.thegravetalks.com/the-devils-board/)

Another popular ghost hunter who has his own TV show (Ghost Hunters), Jason Hawes, had this to say about the Ouija board: “You’re asking something to enter you, and you’re opening yourself up to a world of trouble.  You’re asking something to use you as a puppet. I would never open myself to it.”  (source: https://kslnewsradio.com/1913712/ghost-hunters-biggest-fear-has-nothing-to-do-with-ghosts/)

Below are three (legitimate) Amazon reviews of Ouija boards for your consideration:

Okay so I bought this because I don’t believe in all that spirit or ghost talk type of junk. But I can honestly say so many crazy things was happening in my house after we open it up, we didn’t even play with it!! THINGS DISAPPEARED AND REAPPEARED more than once my husband thought I was lying until he dropped his lighter outside and couldn’t find, followed by the next day his lighter was sitting on the kitchen table! Wtf!!!! (Key Martin, Reviewed in the United States on December 9, 2018.)

Listen, I bought this thinking I could use it to talk to my grandma. Instead, I made contact with a demon that openly admitted to wanting to hurt me. Since purchasing and using the board, the span of less than one week, I have been scratched twice, my sister and I have both heard knocking, I heard breathing, tapping, and knocking tonight alone. Also, my sister left for college and obviously turned her light off but I saw when I left my room that it was still on, 12 hours later. This thing worked but is no joke. Also, DO NOT PLAY ALONE!!! This allows easier manipulation and possible possession.  (ExoticShawol reviewed a product · Aug 5, 2017.)

And just to be fair and balanced, here is one five star review:  I was a skeptic to be honest. But with just a little practice my daughter and I were able to speak with dead relatives in no time. Knowing that those who have passed are still around and we have a way to contact them has been amazing. Just be careful, sometimes bored spirits will try and pass themselves off as people you know just to mess with you. If that happens, just know that you will likely have to move to a new house, and in some cases they may follow you and you may need to seek out a professional to help with their removal.  (DavidDoesReviews Reviewed in the United States on July 29, 2018.). (Heather’s note: ummm – and this was a five star review?)

My opinion: I believe that Ouija boards can be/are definitely doorways for an evil spirit to communicate with you.  I truly believe that we were interacting with a demon that day many years ago at our Christian camp.  

“But what about using the board to communicate with dead relatives?” one may ask.  There is a very long answer to this question, but the short one is this: I do not believe you are communicating with your dead relative, but rather with an evil spirit who is purporting to be your dead relative.  I think there is a small place for human spirits to come down from heaven for a specific reason (at God’s command and for God’s purposes), but interacting with you through a Ouija Board is not one of those reasons.  More on this in a future post.

The Bottom line on demons/evil spirits:

I have been a committed Christian since my teen years and have studied this topic extensively. Here is what I have learned about evil spirits: 

Evil spirits cause fear, distract, destroy, divert, discourage and overall deceive a person so they will never have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  Evil spirits/demons are underlings of Satan and do his work, and they can oppress both Christians and those who do not have a Christian faith.

Anything you do to open up a doorway to them is a very bad thing that you should overall avoid.  If you open up a door to them, there is a remedy to close that door, and no, it’s not pointing the planchette to “goodbye” and other ways people say is the proper way to rid yourself of the spirit.  Here it is: first, try prayer.  God is a very loving and merciful God.  Ask God to help you to get rid of the evil spirits you have let into your home and into your life.  You can also consider repenting of your sin of interacting with demons and receive God’s forgiveness.  Then pray that God will make the evil spirits leave you, in Jesus’ name.  If you are already a believer in Jesus Christ, God gives you the authority to make the demons leave you in Jesus’ name.  Luke 10:19 says this: “I give unto you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and to overcome all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means harm you.”  

The bottom line of ridding your life of evil spirits after playing the board?  Pray to God to help you to get rid of them.  Then get rid of the board.   

Closing thoughts and advice to parents:

I do believe that interacting with a Ouija board opens a doorway of some kind for evil spirits to not only interact with you, but then potentially lead you down some path either towards more paranormal involvement, or – worst case – the spirit will think he has the right to set up shop in your bedroom at night and harass and terrify you.

If your teenager asks you what you think of the Ouija board, tell him or her to run for the hills.  If you find out they have been playing with it, ask them how they are doing with that, and ask if they have sensed any changes in themselves or in the home since they began playing with it.  If they say yes (or no!), walk them through the above steps.  And then help them to stop.

Remember, evil spirits want to cause fear, or distract/discourage someone away from turning to God (or turn someone from more closely following God).  By contrast, remember Jesus’ words: “The thief (Satan and his evil spirits) comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life – and and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

If you are looking to interact with a spirit, why don’t you consider interacting with the Holy Spirit through prayer?  Ask God to come into your life and reveal Himself to you, speak to you, and fill your life with His goodness and love. Read the book of Mark in the Bible.  It’s short, sweet, and to the point; it gives the bottom line of Jesus’ earthly ministry.  

So leave that sinister Ouija board at the Amazon facility (or Target) where it belongs, and warn your kids not to play with it at their friends’ slumber parties – or at Christian summer camps.  

You will all be much happier and safer for it.

__________________________________________________________

PS: this video shows objects moving on their own and many other scary things – all because people chose to use the board!! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lszt7kmEDNw

PSS: do you have a Ouija Board story?  I’m sure yours is way more interesting than mine.  Feel free to share it below!!!

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

Stalled.

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

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

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

Stop or cause to stop making progress.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe Logan is not ready.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look around

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

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

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

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

Look Back:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE: 

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

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

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

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

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

Lineage matters. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By saving him, she saved the eventual Messiah.  

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

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

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

Two closing points: 

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas!

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

Dairy Farmers are in Crisis – Find out why

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

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

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

I was right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are farmers heavily subsidized?

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

Describe other ways that farmers can make money.

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

What do you think of President Trumps policies towards farmers? 

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

Why is the biggest misconception about farmers or farming?

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

Will there ever be a food shortage?  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think of Hemp Farms and marijuana farms?

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

What is running a dairy farm like?

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

What do you dislike about farming?

The fact it’s so weather dependent. 

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

Please tell me about your girls.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The last tuck-in

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

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

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

“In a few days he will turn seven.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

My hands were busy through the day,

I didn’t have much time to play

The little games you asked me to,

I didn’t have much time for you.

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

But when you’d bring your picture book

And ask me, please, to share your fun,

I’d say, “A little later, son.”

I’d tuck you in all safe at night,

And hear your prayers, turn out the light,

Then tiptoe softly to the door,

I wish I’d stayed a minute more.

I wish I’d stayed a minute more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DO IT NOW.

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

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

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

Take them with you when you run your errands. 

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

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

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

Tell them you love them!

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

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

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

In closing, the poem in it’s entirety:

My hands were busy through the day,

I didn’t have much time to play

The little games you asked me to,

I didn’t have much time for you.

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

But when you’d bring your picture book

And ask me, please, to share your fun,

I’d say, “A little later, son.”

I’d tuck you in all safe at night,

And hear your prayers, turn out the light,

Then tiptoe softly to the door,

I wish I’d stayed a minute more.

For life is short, and years rush past,

A little boy grows up so fast,

No longer is he at your side,

His precious secrets to confide.

The picture books are put away,

There are no children’s games to play,

No goodnight kiss, no prayers to hear,

That all belongs to yesteryear.

My hands once busy, now lie still,

The days are long and hard to fill,

I wish I might go back and do,

The little things you asked me to.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2.  Which foreign countries participate in hosting programs?

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

3.  What are the main hosting agencies? 

We have used three different hosting agencies: 

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

Host Children (hostchildren.org)

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

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

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

Project 143 www.p143.org.

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

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

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

4.  What are the pros and cons of hosting?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10.  What if the kids have behavioral issues?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heather –

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

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

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

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

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

Lilia

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

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

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


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

We Are Hosting Three Orphans Over Christmas!!

IMG_9265

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

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

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

Since I like bullet points, here you go:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please pray for us!

Merry Christmas!

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

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

 

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

By Sandie Brown, guest blogger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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More fun on Halloween!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…running from the law.  

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

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

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

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

A few moments later I got my first table.

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

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

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

Each word lasted about five complete seconds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and finally….

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

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

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

1. Never judge a table.

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

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

2. Be generous and respectful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Be steady, but not slammed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The staff had a great time on Halloween night!

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

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

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

And for that, we are forever grateful.  

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

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

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