“I know not why God’s wondrous grace to me He has made known, nor
why unworthy, Christ in love redeemed me for His own”. These words
are taken from a hymn I learned in Samachique. It is amazing to me how
God called me to be in a love relationship with Him, that He chose me to
be one of His own.
I grew up in an upper-middle class neighborhood in Northern California. I
was adopted as a baby and my parents divorced when I was around eight.
Both my parents were busy working as I went through the school-age years
and both parents remarried soon after the divorce. My parents left us
alone a lot and when I was around six my older brother began to be
sexually abusive. It is amazing how incest can change a person. Before
that I remember feeling carefree and happy and after I felt ugly and self-
conscious. In addition to the sorrow of our family breaking apart, I began
to carry a heavy load of shame and guilt.
My best friend invited me to her Baptist church when I was in 6 th grade. It
was my first time going to a Sunday school class. I remember the others
around me at the table thumbing through their Bibles to look up verses. I
had never held a Bible before and I felt awkward and self-conscious. I
didn’t know what any of those little numbers meant and didn’t know how
to look up verses. I was also painfully aware of the shame I carried, feeling
very different from those kids that sat around the table from me. I felt
corrupted inside and knew I didn’t belong there. I didn’t want to go back,
Life at home was challenging. My parents fought a lot and battled
depression. My brother moved in with my dad because of problems he
was having. I turned to food for comfort, which later turned into an eating
disorder. The shame I already felt about myself was compounded by this
secret struggle. It felt like things had broken down within myself and
within our family. We were all experiencing the bitter fruit of life without
In college, I tried to succeed in my classes. For the first time I felt like I
could be in control of my life. It felt so freeing to be away from my
family’s problems and I lived very selfishly. I remember sleeping little,
working hard, and getting involved in all sorts of different college
activities. I still felt a sense of anxiety in not being good enough, in not
being like others, and not feeling very close to anybody. I was very
confused about what life was about and didn’t know what I believed. I felt
an intense need to hide who I really was from people and to keep them
from knowing just how messed up I really was.
At the end of my sophomore year of college I first heard the gospel. One
day I casually asked a guy I knew from the dorms about his summer plans.
He told me that he was going to go to Mexico to help build a church there.
I couldn’t believe it. This cool, fashionable film student was going to build
a church on his vacation? I had always thought Christians were nerdy and
weird. Now I was curious. I asked him if he would meet with me and
tell me more about his beliefs.
We met at the on campus pizza parlor and I bombarded him with
questions. I don’t recall much of that conversation, just he really believed
in what he was doing and that his life was very different from mine. He
had direction, purpose and peace. He asked me if I would like to pray to
receive Christ and I said “sure,” not realizing the significance of my
answer. I was just hoping that becoming a Christian would change me
and take away my struggles.
It didn’t work that way, of course. As a new Christian, I thought my life
would just instantly be fixed and my struggles would vanish. I didn’t
have a Bible, I didn’t know any Christians except the one who went off to
Mexico, and I didn’t know what to do differently. I still had all the same
bondage, too. If anything, things were getting worse. At the end of that
summer, I was so discouraged I was ready to give up. In desperation I
took off a quarter from school to move in with my step-dad who was living
in Northern CA at the time. This was a turning point for me. I went and
bought a study Bible and began to read whenever I could. I also began
attending a good, solid Bible-teaching church.
The first service I attended was powerful. I heard Isaiah chapter six for the
first time and was curiously struck by the words. “Holy, holy, holy is the
Lord Almighty, the whole earth is full of his glory” Those words
resonated within me long after the service.
I returned to school a few months later and attended my first Intervarsity
Christian Fellowship meeting. I walked into the lecture hall amazed.
This academic setting with algebra formulas still on the front board had
been transformed into a church by the beautiful choruses. I was so blessed
by the worship as we sang praise songs to the Lord. I never knew
something like this existed at our university! Getting involved in
Intervarsity really made a difference in my life. I learned about Inductive
Bible study and also the importance of fellowship (and also in the process
met my wonderful husband Ivan!).
At the end of my senior year, I really wanted to serve and do something for
the Lord. I remember thinking, “I've been a Christian almost two years
now, it's time to get busy and serve.” I had been helping with the
children’s ministry at my church, but really wanted to devote my summer
to service. The opportunity opened up for me to go to an Indian
reservation in Northern California for the summer. I helped with Vacation
Bible schools and spent time building relationships with the young girls
there. It was a stretching time for me and I don't know how much I was
able to contribute, but I learned a lot. It was the first time I had really seen
poverty up close.
It was a year and a half later that Ivan and I were married. The first 7 years
of our marriage were really difficult. In many ways we were still carnal
Christians and both of us brought a lot of emotional baggage into our
marriage. I was teaching full time and to be honest, I cared more about
my class and my work than my marriage. I loved teaching and wanted to
do my best but it was too high a priority in my life and I based my identity
I didn’t plan meals or make it a priority to cook. We usually threw things
together at the last minute and then ate on the couch. I didn’t care for my
body, I let myself put on a lot of weight, and I didn’t make our home a
warm inviting place. I was often depressed and felt very inadequate. I
wasn’t submitted to Ivan’s leadership and didn’t trust him to lead us…
And it certainly wasn’t my goal to serve him. The word helpmate wasn’t a
part of my vocabulary.
1 Peter 3 tells wives to “have purity and reverence, and the unfading
beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.
For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God
used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own
husbands, did what is right, and did not give way to fear.”
God knew I needed to learn from women displaying these traits and
teaching by example. He has blessed me to meet wonderful women both
in Juneau and in Rio Rancho who show me how to live this way. These
wise women live out these verses in 1 Peter and their lives are beautiful.
They have purity, reverence, and gentle, quiet spirits. For years I
worshipped the world’s definition of beauty and tried so hard to attain this
illusion. So much more valuable and lasting is the kind of beauty these
character traits embody. I have learned a lot from the women I know. So
many of you spur me on just through how you live and serve others in
For several years Ivan and I were not using any birth control method but
still I wasn’t getting pregnant. Finally, I went up to the front of the church
for prayer and just two months after, with joy and amazement, I watched
two little lines show up on the pregnancy test. I cannot describe the
elation of realizing there was a new gift of life inside me. I went up to the
front of our large church during the testimony time to share what God had
done. Then, about two weeks later, the bleeding started. Being my first
miscarriage, I had no idea what was happening or why. The nurses told
me just to wait it out and still I begged the Lord to spare this baby. This
precious little life that I had longed for was taken away. I remember
listening to a worship song, The Ancient of Days, over and over for comfort
and strength. This grief was like nothing I had ever faced. It was our first
year in Alaska. We had no close friends yet besides each other. I felt
betrayed by the Lord and I longed for the child I would never hold. I
remember being told, “What’s the big deal? Can’t you just have another
one?” I didn’t know if I could. This uncertainty intensified after a second
miscarriage the next year. Going through these miscarriages confirmed in
me the value of life, that a baby I had never met could be missed so much.
After a deep time of grieving, we began to accept that we might not be
parents. Then the Lord surprised us with another pregnancy. Almost 11
years ago, Ellie was born. Even before she was born, I began pleading
with the Lord for more children. Then in the back of my Bible I wrote
down four names, thinking how wonderful it would be if the Lord would
give us four children (which at that time seemed like a ridiculously grand
request). I forgot all about that list of names and began using a different
Bible. Years later I came across the list again and was amazed at how
those names were each a part of the names of our four oldest children.
God even gave above and beyond what I had hoped for with our fifth
addition, Timothy. Truly He is the giver of good gifts!
It was around this time the Lord began to work on me about ministering to
my husband. It has been a process of learning to serve him and build him
up. The Lord is still convicting me when I get into a critical spirit, but I also
see how the Lord has changed my attitudes and my actions as a wife.
Instead of trying to point out his sin, now I am working on just bringing it
before the Lord. Now I want to bring him comfort and relief from the
trials he faces when he walks out the door. I want to make our home a
peaceful place for him.
Just about eight years ago the Lord began something new in us that would
dramatically change our lives. At this point we were living in Juneau,
Alaska with our two children as Ivan pursued his career as a fisheries
biologist. On this unusually bright summer afternoon we went on a walk
and began talking about the book of James and the teaching about how
true religion is caring for widows and orphans. We discussed how we
could live this out and so we explored different options, including
adoption. We began to pray about it. Soon we were taking the steps to
adopt two children from Liberia, West Africa, a country torn apart by
twenty years of civil war.
Also during that time, my widowed grandmother in Albuquerque was
needing a little more help. We prayed and felt the Lord wanted us to
move down from Alaska to help her. We had a few garage sales and
packed our belongings to be ferried down to the lower 48. We were
learning to trust more in the Lord and live by faith. God had blessed us
with a four-plex apartment, and when we sold the apartment, along with
some money Ivan’s parents shared with us, we were able to purchase a
home without a loan, which later enabled me to stay home with our kids
when Ivan went through Physician Assistant School. This was just one of
many times God had shown us His faithfulness. I am sure you have stories
like this too, of God’s faithfulness in your lives. Sometimes we don’t even
notice the many times God shows Himself faithful on our behalf.
When we had adoption expenses, a big chunk of our adoption savings
went towards unexpected expenses: a major roof repair…then a car
repair…then dental work . We watched dismayed as our savings
dwindled. Yet, just like with Gideon, God stripped us down of our own
resources and showed us that our adequacy came not from ourselves but
from Him alone. He provided all the money we needed for the adoption
at just the right times. We never needed to ask anyone for help with the
expenses, He just made it work in creative ways. We stepped out in faith
and He always showed Himself faithful.
We planned on arriving in Albuquerque just about a month before our kids
would arrive from Africa. We bought a house that we picked out on the
internet and moved without a job lined up for Ivan. It seemed a bit crazy,
but we prayed through each decision and sought the Lord. I figured that
if we were adding two children to our family from across the world,
buying a house unseen seemed small in comparison. The kids had not had
any testing or bloodwork done before they came home to us, so AIDS or
other illnesses were possibilities. Yet, the more we get stretched, the more
we see God’s faithfulness. Looking back, we can see how He was busy
weaving the tapestry of our lives while we were still waiting in the
darkness of uncertainty.
After about a month, God provided a good job for Ivan managing the
microbiology lab at UNM. The Lord was making a way for us. The job
would pay for continuing education at UNM and even allow him time off
work to attend one class a semester. He could get prerequisites completed
for the PA program during work hours and at no cost to us. Again, the
Lord showed us His kindness and love.
It took longer than expected for Joelle and Jackson’s visas to get processed,
but finally, December 20 of 2004, we drove to the airport full of excitement
and anticipation. When we first saw them pushed in a double stroller by
their escort, they were terrified. I think we were too! Both were covered
in an airplane blanket, just their sandaled feet poking through. Joelle wore
a sleeveless blue sundress and I immediately thought of our brisk
December air. Their home was tropical year-round…how would these
toddlers acclimate to this new climate, not to mention these strangers that
were their new family. It felt so odd – these hesitant, fearful faces looking
at us with such uncertainty and silence. They were now our children.
Jackson’s malnutrition was severe. His birth father had died in Ivory
Coast and his mother was unable to feed him. The first picture of Jackson
showed him with a glazed expression, dull eyes, and his hair orange from
malnutrition. His stick-like arms and legs made his feet seem so oversized
for the rest of his body. Joelle’s village had been attacked by rebels and
everyone slaughtered except for the few that managed to escape. Both her
parents died but she amazingly survived. Apparently another survivor
from the village cared for her in the jungle until bringing her to an aunty,
who couldn’t care for her either. Somehow the Lord orchestrated for this
little wounded girl to be brought into our family.
At the time of the adoption, we thought Joelle was two, but when she came
she looked more like a three year old. It turned out she was a six year old,
but we didn’t know it until almost four years later. A week after her 6 th
birthday, an endocrinologist let us know she was actually 10.
Serving God is messy work. You know that relationships are not easy.
Adoption, like marriage, has brought out a lot of dross in both Ivan and
me. It is painfully ugly at times to see our selfishness and we have gone to
the Lord together out of desperation for deliverance from ourselves so that
we can serve our family and others.
There have also been breakthroughs. I remember in those early years
holding Joelle, who has struggled with forming attachments to us, and
thinking how amazing it was that I could be sitting there with this broken
child from the other side of the world and that God appointed me to be her
mommy. Progress and growth can be so gradual sometimes we don’t
notice. Just the other day she wrote a note to me saying, “I love mommy
and daddy even when I am mad.” She used to push us away, physically
and emotionally – avoiding contact with us as much as possible.
The Lord has been highlighting to me the importance of my ministry to my
children . I am honored and blessed being able to serve the Tarahumaran
people, but my more pressing ministry is doing my part to prepare these
five young souls for eternity.
The fruit of self control is something I have often requested of the Lord,
especially in the area of eating. It was after many years of praying for this
fruit, God showed me self-control is like a muscle. It grows as you use it.
The Lord didn’t make things easier like I wanted. Instead, He gives
opportunities to practice self-control and say no to myself in order grow
stronger – just like strong winds force a tree to grow deep, strong roots .
Times of victory have come from yielding to the Holy Spirit and obeying
God’s word in Romans which says to “make NO provision for the flesh.”
He also has been showing me that guilt, anxiety, fear and unforgiveness
are breeding grounds for me to give into temptation. If I am harboring
these things in my heart, it is much easier to run to food for comfort and
escape. I must add… there are still times when I slip back into old ways
and let my old nature be in charge, so your prayers would be a blessing to
We have a compost pile in our yard. It looks terrible – rotting eggshells,
coffee grounds, cow patties, and vegetable peels. Yet what a gift that rich
composted soil can be to the garden! I am so thankful for the Lord’s
transforming power – that He takes us and transforms us and uses our
lives to provide nourishment for others. God is so amazingly faithful to
use the struggles, the garbage and what seems like a waste to us and
transform it into something rich, useful and life-giving.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,
because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.
Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and
complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4
When we lived in Alaska, for a few years I was really in bondage to
overeating. Out of desperation, Ivan and I purposed to pray every
morning and every evening together. That habit of praying together every
morning and every evening began because of my struggle with sin. Those
prayers have continued for the past ten years and have grown into rich
times of seeking the Lord together and interceding for others. My struggle
was like the waste that God made into compost and I can picture our daily
prayers as new life growing forth from it.
It was three years ago when the Lord nudged both Ivan and me about full-
time service to the poor and needy. We were both reading in Proverbs in
our own personal devotions and it was as if the Holy Spirit was shining a
spotlight on all the verses about helping the poor. We couldn’t seem to get
away from those verses. Soon those verses peppered our conversations
and guided our prayers.
We thought we should go to Africa, it seemed logical. About this time
Jeremy Grafman approached us and asked if we knew Dr. Kenny, a
missionary doctor working in Northern Mexico. He said he felt the Lord
wanted him to connect us with Dr. Kenny, and Jeremy wrote him an email
to introduce us. We thanked him, but didn’t think much of it because we
felt no particular draw to Mexico.
It seemed far too ordinary to me, too close to home, not nearly as dramatic
and appealing as Africa. Yet, Mexico kept coming up in conversations
with leaders at church. Also, the Lord kept closing doors to work in
Africa. After several closed doors to what WE thought we should do in
Africa, we found the Mexico Medical Missions website and planned a visit
to the Sierra Madre. Ivan also organized a month-long clinic rotation with
none other than Dr. Kenny. We made our plans but the Lord directed
our steps. The Lord not only opened and closed doors, He poured His
compassion and mercy into our hearts for the Tarahumaran people.
Before we told our parents about our call to full-time missions, I prayed for
months about telling them, knowing it would be hard for them to accept. I
also had concerns and questions dangling in my mind. Very early one
November morning, I made a list of each of them and then offered it to the
Lord. I sat in prayer and He did something I have never had happen
before. In my mind came several scripture references. I didn’t know the
verses so I wrote down the reference and then looked up the verses. Each
one was a very obvious answer to my questions and concerns. I sat
amazed and convinced that yes, this was the Lord’s will. How gracious of
Him to provide such clear and personal confirmation.
As Christian women we all need to find ways to get recharged with the
Lord. For me, morning walks are such a sweet time of fellowship with
Him. First, just like for the past twenty years, I have my morning Bible
and prayer time and do a little journaling. This truly is my daily strength
and nourishment. My journals are filled with prayers seeking comfort,
strength and wisdom from the Lord. When I am heavy-laden, I cast my
cares on the Lord as a list and then ask Him to take them. The cares are
usually pretty silly, but nothing is too small or too great to cast on the Lord.
I also like to keep prayer lists so I can lift others up before the Lord. I feel
like a child helping out her papa when I pray for people – that happy joyful
feeling of being included in papa’s tasks. Then, when I see Him answer
my prayers I feel so special and important, just like a child getting to
“help” her daddy while he works. He is so gracious to include us in what
He is doing in this world.
Ivan had a different perspective on my intercession and God’s answers to
prayer when I shared this with him. He thinks of it as a warrior in battle
wielding a blow to the enemy. It’s fun to think of myself as a warrior
It’s a good thing we have the weapon of prayer, too. Our faith is tested in
Mexico in ways it wasn’t in the States. When Ivan is late from the village,
the kids ask questions like, “What would you do tonight if Daddy didn’t’
come home? What if Daddy gets shot by evil people?” They are asking
specific questions about drug-runners, and for a while were fearing that
men with guns would come to our house. Most of the time things are
pretty calm but occasionally there is news of a murder or battle between
drug cartels which raises concerns.
We pray the Lord will keep us in Mexico only as long as He wants us there,
because the saying is true, “there’s no safer place to be than in the center of
God’s will.” I believe it was the Lord that told me after a major incident in
our village, as we were seeking His will, “I can use you there if you are
willing.” No matter what happens, we pray His will be done, and we
trust He is faithful, whether He keeps us from harm or not.
God isn't limited by our limitations. He is limited by our lack of faith.
When a Tarahumaran neighbor comes over, I see time and time again that
His grace to love comes not before I answer the door or as I walk, often
hesitantly to the door, but AS I greet them with a smile. That is when the
grace comes! His grace comes when we need it, not a moment before. If I
just trust Him and step out in willingness, I watch amazed at how His
Spirit will take over. He gives us the opportunity to serve and then equips
us to serve, even when we feel totally bankrupt. It is not easy or
convenient but is so much richer than my self-centered life. Proverbs 11:25
often comes to my mind: “He who refreshes others will himself be
It’s been six years since we adopted and four years since having a baby, so
I suppose the Lord saw fit for another round of humbling. Trying to learn
a new language and culture is extremely humbling! Talking like a two-
year-old, not being able to say what you want to, often making mistakes …
it can be discouraging. Not only that, but life for the Tarahumaran is such
a harsh and sometimes cruel existence. There are some serious
strongholds of darkness there.
Last week a young teen single mom who visits often was sitting on our
porch in tears. Neither of us speak Spanish well enough for deep
conversations, so our friendship is somewhat limited. Yet, she told me
that she had just been in a fight with another woman on the trail to our
home. The blood on her jacket and on her hand and the swollen eye spoke
as loudly as her words. The kids and I had just been laughing and singing,
coming back from feeding our chickens. Our happy lives are such a
contrast to the trials these people face, often because of consequences of sin.
What I can contribute feels like just a drop in the bucket, at least for now.
Maybe in time the Lord will enable me to do more. There is such a need
for discipleship. That day I gave her a baggie of Tylenol, read out of
Matthew about forgiveness and about not fighting back (since the blood on
her jacket didn’t appear to be hers). I prayed a heartfelt prayer and sat
heavy-hearted with her while she cried.
Adapting to the Tarahumaran culture, the Mennonite culture of some of
the other missionaries and the Mexican culture can be both intriguing and
challenging – there is so much I don’t understand yet. We are still
outsiders. At times I feel very out of place and awkward, especially when I
go to the Wednesday night Bible study at the hospital. Some nights I am
able to follow a fair amount, but not always. One Wednesday I left very
discouraged. After I stepped outside, the Lord opened up the opportunity
to share His love and His Word with a few Tarahumarans from the village
of Pamachi, where Ivan holds clinic. I had noticed a young boy walking
barefoot earlier in the day so I offered a pair of shoes to his father. His
mother was in the hospital, seriously ill. The shoes opened the door to
reading about Jesus and then sharing about Him. My discouragement was
replaced with joy as I walked back home, celebrating the seeds the Lord
planted and praying for those seeds to grow.
I never expected our nice house would be such a challenge for me! Our
neighbors and friends live in homes that are probably about 200 square
feet. Ours is 1600 square feet. This inequity drives me crazy sometimes.
It is a challenge I haven’t yet resolved. We have so much and they have so
little. I have had Tarahumaran friends ask for a tour of our home. I had
one friend ask if she and her family could have their picture taken in the
boys’ room. It is a blessing to live so comfortably, yet it is embarrassing
having and needing so much. It concerns me, too, that our wealth might
stir up jealousy and contention. Yet God knows what we can handle and
what is best for our family. Perhaps we’ll be stretched more in the future
regarding our comforts and our home.
In surprising ways, God shows us that in our weakness He is strong. I
thought that having a large family would limit our ministry in Mexico and
that having African children might be a stumbling block for some
Tarahumarans. Actually, our children have opened many doors for
building relationships. People are more open when they see me with the
children and are absolutely fascinated by Joelle and Jackson because they
have never seen black people before. When Tara children are adopted by
extended family, they are treated as servants and are not given equal
status. For Tara people to see us loving EACH of our children is one way
we can testify to how God has adopted us as His children and how His
love shows no partiality.
1 John 3:1 reads “How great is the love that the Father has lavished on us,
that we should be called children of God!”
I recently went for a walk on a beautiful sunny morning and as I returned
home, my children caught my eye. They were playing in the little creek by
our home. My four-year old Timmy called eagerly, “Mom, do you want to
see my special rocks?” We began the search for his special rocks. Up and
down the creek we walked together, eyes on the ground, as he searched
intently. He couldn’t remember where he put his special pile.
There are some beautiful quartz rocks there and the kids have discovered
unique and beautiful rocks. Finally he found his little pile. “Here are my
special rocks Mom!” He said excitedly. I looked in surprise at his little
pile. These rocks were no different than the thousands of other rocks I saw
in the sandy creek bed – a little dirty, average brown color, average shape,
“So, Timmy, what makes these rocks special?” I asked.
His answer surprised me, “Because I CALLED them special.” Nothing
about the rocks made them special – it was only the fact that they were
chosen. He had taken each one and decided it would be special.
James 1:18 tells us, “He chose to give birth to us by giving us His true
word. And we, out of all creation, became His prized possession.”
There was nothing beautiful or majestic about Christ to draw people to
Himself Isaiah 53 tells us. How much more am I just an ordinary rock! Yet
God is chiseling me and using me in the construction of His church, of
which Christ is the cornerstone.
“As you come to Him, the living Stone-rejected by men but chosen by God
and precious to Him, you also, like living stones are being built into a
spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices
acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 2:4-5
To wrap things up, I want to share that lately I have had a growing desire
to see Jesus face to face and to be in His Presence. It is an overwhelming
thought – frightening in some ways but also so powerfully drawing at my
soul. I never missed Him before like I have recently. It feels like having a
long-distance courtship sometimes. I hate it when I sin and am out of
fellowship with the Lord. No matter where I am or what I am doing,
nothing should be more important than abiding in Him. Whether we are
living in New Mexico or Mexico or anywhere else, I just want to be close to
Here’s the chorus of the hymn I began with – it is taken from 2 Timothy
1:12 “For I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able
to keep that which I have committed unto Him until that day.” I can
hardly wait for that day!