Archive for September, 2010

My testimony so far….

Someone recently surprised me by telling me they thought I had a compelling testimony. Now while I am humbled and excited by what God has done in my life and the doors he has opened for me and my family to serve him, I have never figured it to be much of an interest or inspiration to other people.

I was asked if I would be interested in speaking to a group of men about my testimony. I still have trouble seeing if my testimony would be interesting and compelling to strangers. Whether this specific speaking opportunity becomes real or not, it got me thinking. And in an effort to be “prepared in season and out of season” (2Tim 4:2), I thought I would collect my thoughts.

I am a born again, blood bought, sanctified, Bible believing, man of God. So what is my exciting testimony? When I was younger, I never felt my testimony was up to “snuff”. It was rather boring and un-inspiring. I was born into a Christian home. My parents did not divorce. I was not abused. I did not have a dysfunctional family. I have never been drunk. I have never smoked. I have never experimented or used any form of illegal drugs. I did not run wild in high school. I don’t have a dramatic event in my life that caused me to run to God. I have been in church my entire life. I asked Jesus into my heart on Easter when I was 8. I have never been able to even remember a time without God. The only girl I have kissed, I married. I have never had an affair. My best friend remains my wife of 30+ years. Now having said the above, I fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23) every single day. I am a sinner saved by grace, thru faith and not by anything I have done (Eph 2:8). I personally realized long ago that I should not be ashamed of my testimony. But the above is not the usual testimony we hear from the pulpit, books, or shout “amen” to.

This is just my life. I am just walking the journey. But my journey with God has been exciting. There are several main themes that God has been working in my life. They are adoption, being prepared for service, and trusting in him. While these are meaningful to me, I will also trust that it will speak to strangers. I also believe my journey continues, thus this is “my testimony so far…”

In my teen age years, the home I grew up in was next to a park. As such, our house was the neighbor hangout for all the neighborhood kids. Thus there was a wide age range of kids that hung out at our house. Not all of them were close friends or even in the same grade as I, but we were the neighborhood “gang” and friends and we played basketball in our drive way and tackle football in the park. Somewhere probably around 10th grade (around 1976) one of these friends who was several years younger than me, invited several of us over to his house to see his new baby sister. When I entered his house I saw the strangest thing I had ever seen. His baby sister was Asian!! My friend and his family were black. That was simply weird. When I got back home, I asked my mom what the heck was up with that. My mom seemed to know all about it, and explained that my friend’s mom had told her something along the lines “They wanted to make a difference in the life of a child. Since they were a minority family, they thought it important to reach out and adopt a different minority that may be struggling even harder than they.” WOW. Although, I really did not realize it at the time, but that was a defining God moment. At age 16, with literally thousands of paths in front to chose from, those statements, those sediments, those actions of a family trying to make a difference, confirmed God’s word (James 1:27) and wrote it on my heart. I had chosen a life path that would lead me to where I am today. This was Christian love in action and made a big impact on my life.

Several years later at age 19, I met my wife while we were working summer jobs at an amusement park. And how cool was this, she was in Bible College studying to become a Minister. That above all, spoke to my heart she was the one. She asked me out, and I went on my very first date. We got married a year later at age 20 (1980). Before we got married we talked about family planning and decided that we would have 3 kids. Two biological and adopt one. We also decided that we wanted to truly make a difference and would adopt children who may have trouble finding homes.

Couple of years later, in 1982, Jenny graduated Bible College and then shortly after gave birth to our first child, Daniel. After several more years we realized that we would never be able to afford 3 children, so we decided to adopt our 2nd child and call it good. We added Andrew in 1987. We adopted him from South Korea at age 2. We met him at the San Francisco airport and he was a beautiful little boy. While trying to help another couple adopt, several years later in 1991 we added Cyndi to our family at age 18 months. She was a domestic adoption and was Mexican-Indian. Cyndi was a “drug baby” and at the time there was no guarantee that she would be “normal”.

Now over these years we were just “odd”. We simply did not fit any of the acceptable molds. The world did not get us. The Christian community did not get us. Jenny was a youth minister. I was an aerospace engineer. Our family had three shades of kids. What’s up with all of that? If the woman was a minister, it was expected her husband was also. So although our denomination tried to think outside the box and held “Minister’s spouse events” (as opposed to just calling them “Minister’s wives events”), I got endless invites to minister spouse events, like woman fashion shows, beauty tips, etc. I often wonder what would happen if I attended one of those. Whether the world or the Christian community, the “stuffed shirts” just did not get it. While generally supportive, our families did not really get us. We ministered as a team, but I was not called to preach. I was not called to be a minister. I married a woman of God, with a call of God on her to life who I was and remain hugely proud of. Going out with the kids, people would simply stare. We were simply “odd”.

We ministered to the youth in and around the Silicon Valley area of California. We were comfortable. I had an excellent job. We were in ministry. With my job, it allowed us to ministry as God called us, with little worry of money. We had wonderful kids and a perfect sized family. We were comfortable.

About the same time, God start speaking to us about debt. We did not have a huge debt load, but we did have a credit card balance and car loans. God clearly told us how can I use you if you are weighed down by debt? It limits my options; it limits the doors you can respond to. So we started working on becoming debt free. Almost as soon as we were about debt free, God called us to Africa as missionaries. We were definitely not comfortable anymore. We were stretched.

The entire miraculous story of how God put together the Africa mission is captured in detail in our Journal “Lord, Are You Sure You Meant ME?” written by Jenny and me. This captures the entire story of our two years in Africa and can be found on our web page: www.young-home.com , click on the Africa link.

However, in summary, God called us to Africa in 1991 as missionaries to the youth of the country of Namibia. I quit my $70,000 per year Aerospace job. I cashed out my 401K plan and we (Jenny and our three kids) moved to Africa. We came over as “tent makers”, in other words I got a job at the University ($17,000 /year) to pay the bills and Jenny became the Youth Pastor of a local church. This was a powerful time in our lives and we were blessed by God in many ways. God open the door to adopt a child from Angola. Thru some missionary friends we were put in contact with the head of the Angolan Social Services for the province of Huila. At the invitation of the government of Angola, we were to fly into Lubango, Angola in the middle of a civil war to adopt a little girl. The US Embassy in Namibia recommended that we not go because it was too dangerous. So we decided that only I would fly in so that our current kids would still have one parent if something went wrong. The plane I flew in on was a single prop job run by a missionary organization. Before we left Namibia, they faxed both sides of the civil war, filing flight plans with both to avoid being shot down. Two days later, I returned to Namibia with a little girl AND a little boy and official paperwork granting what we would call fost-adopt. Boy was Jenny surprised, she was expecting one and I came home with two. Now with a family of 5 kids of literally every hue, we literally stopped traffic in Namibia. The little girl was Dianara and was 3 years old. The little boy was Paulo and he was 5 year old. They were not biologically related. We did not intend to ever come back to the USA, however, when we adopted our two Angolan children, the only way to complete the adoption to the satisfaction of the USA was to move back to the USA.

What can I say to summarize our time in Africa? Namibia was a beautiful and wonderful place of wild open fields and an occasional tree, where you can see wild animals along the side of the main roads between towns. It is a country of contrasts. Modern Windhoek and 15 minutes away people live in tin shacks with no running water or toilet facilities. It is a country of deep traditions and great hurt, who blames most of its social, economical, racism, and poverty problems on past colonial occupation by South Africa and it’s apartheid policies. Some of these would just cut you to your heart. What do you tell youth who tell you with frank “honesty” that they are ugly, they are cursed, that God can NOT love them… because of the color of their skin. Although Namibia had just gained their freedom from South Africa a year earlier, this apartheid racist philosophy was not just law, it had been taught by the main line churches for many years. It would just break your heart as you would explain how that did not line up with the God I knew or the God of the Bible. However, it was just inspiring to see the hunger of the youth for the written Word and their open and receptive spirit for Jesus.

We as a family grew spiritually. The sincerity of the Christians and the hunger for the Gospel of the people made a big impact on our lives. We came to change Africa, but Africa changed us. The home we had bought in Africa had not sold by the time it came to leave. We gave it to a Namibian Christian ministry. We arrived by in the USA around October 1993 after about 2 years in Africa. God opened a way to get my old job back.

After about a year an opportunity opened to move to Huntsville, Alabama. Due to real estate prices in the Silicon Valley we had no real expectation of ever owning a home. The move to Alabama would make owning a home possible. However, my opinion of the south was poor, I had no desire to move to Alabama just to have a cross burn on my front lawn. A friend who was in Huntsville and was trying to convince me to move put me in touch with some black engineers at work where I asked some pointed questions. In the end we moved to Alabama and closed on our new home the day we drove into town. In general our experience in Huntsville has been very positive but it does not take much to find racism. It is always “interesting” what people say in front of you because you are white. One day Jenny had stopped at a road side fruit stand to get some produce. I guess the lady noticed Jenny was buying a lot and asked Jenny how many kids she had. Jenny responded she had five, and the lady said “That’s good, we white people need to have more kids, otherwise they (blacks, non-whites) will take over” If the lady only knew the color our kids…. As in Africa, what can you do about deep seated racism? You can talk, you can preach, but only God can change a heart. But you can also lead by example.

Over our many years of marriage, we have had literally hundreds upon hundreds of people (friends, co-workers, pastors, church members, and strangers) come up to us and talk to us about adoption. These conversations generally start with praising us and telling us what a good work we are doing and a blessing to the kids. While we appreciate the kind words, we are the ones being blessed not the children. Then the conversation generally turns into how they are not called to do it or they will do it in the future. I have an entire message on this topic but let me summarize my thoughts and challenge you. And it is us men that need to really capture this.

James 1:27 tells us to take care of the orphans. So yes, I believe you are called to do it. We are called to witness, but we would never claim that because I give to the church or Christian organization, now I don’t have to witness. Why is it different with orphans? Why do we feel our obligation is satisfied by supporting orphanages thru churches or Christian organizations? I don’t have a special call on my life. God is calling everyone to take care of the orphans. Are you doing your part?

Of the people who told us they wanted to adopt in the future, almost none have. This is largely the fault of the husbands. They don’t have the vision and have numerous excuses; including popping out biological kids until there simply is no room or finances for one more kid. Kids are perishing because of lack of vision. Make adoption part of your family planning. While it is never too late, for most of the people reading this, choices have probably already been made. But it is the teenagers who need to capture this vision and show God’s love in actions. Are you doing your part?

Over the following years, we adopted three more children. God again continued to challenge us and we opened our hearts to special needs children. We adopted Monique in 1995 at age 5. She was African American and had Spina Bifida, which meant she walked with a crutches and used a wheel chair. We adopted Jacoby in 1997 at age 5. Jacoby is African American. He weighed 12oz at birth and is deaf. We adopted Shawna in 1999 at age 7. Shawna is Yupik Eskimo (Alaskan Native) and has CP and is severely disabled.

Our family was complete. A quick summary of my kids: Daniel (biological) is a book worm and a geek. It was a struggle to get him to remember to turn in his homework, but he would read the text book from cover to cover. Andrew (Korean) is the cool kid and has a ton of friends. Image is important to Andrew, but he had a compassion for missions and paid for his own mission trips. Paul (Angolan) is the class clown and is friends with everyone. There simply is no one that Paul does not like or can’t start a conversation with. Cyndi (Mexican-Indian) is quirky, does her own thing and never heard of peer pressure. She dressed up in full costume to attend the opening nights of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. Dianara (Angolan) is the baker/cook. She shared her bedroom with Shawna and passionately looked after her. Monique (African-American) was just silly. She had an infectious laugh and loved music. Jacoby (African-American) is still a teenager and is trying to be cool, which means pretending that it is not mom who is interpreting. While severely disabled, Shawna (Yupik Eskimo) is often smarter than people expect. And actually both Shawna and Monique enjoy running over people with their wheelchairs.

While we carried no debt other than our mortgage, God reminded us again of the need to be debt free. So we started to work paying off our 30 year mortgage in 11 years. As our kids grew up, during their last years in high school, we tried to instill missions in them. We sent them on month long mission trips during the summer over several years. Daniel went to Africa. Andrew went to Africa, Peru, and Thailand. Paul went to Thailand. Cyndi went to Mexico and Panama. Dianara went to Mexico and Panama. Monique (wheelchair and all) went to Costa Rica.

It is now 2009. Having paid off the mortgage in 2006 we are again completely debt free. Jacoby will be finishing up high school in a couple of years. Shawn being severely disabled will be with us for life. But our other kids are grown. We are looking to the future and the next phase in our life that God has for us.

So in the beginning of August 2009, our family was “perfect”. We had raised most of our kids, we had done the best we knew, and in spite of us they all turned out ok. Daniel served four years in the Marines and was now out and working for TSA at the airport. Andrew was in the Army Reserve, and when not deployed he worked security for NASA and was going to college. Paulo was in the Army and decided to re-enlist. Dianara was working as a special educational aid for the school district and was engaged to be married in May 2010. Monique was out of school and working a part time job. Jacoby is still in high school and Shawna is just Shawna.

But the exciting news in the family was Cyndi. She was also working as a Special Education Aid and was going to college. Cyndi had gotten married at the beginning of Feb 2009 and was pregnant we were expecting our first grandchild in October. Life was a buzz with baby stuff.

We had ultra sound pictures of our first grandchild. Baby showers seemed to be happening every weekend as Cyndi’s endless groups of friends and family were throwing parties. Cyndi was a glow and focused on pre-natal care of her baby. Being a “drug baby” herself, she was absolutely obsessive about what she ate and what medicines she took. Cyndi had just celebrated her 20th birthday and was just soo excited about becoming a mommy.

Her husband worked swing shift and got home around midnight every night. At various times they would call us around 12:30 or 1:00 in the morning and ask Jenny and I if we wanted to join them at iHoP for a late night snack. On August 22, 2009 around 12:30 am, Cyndi called us. Jenny answered the phone. Cyndi wanted to know if we wanted to join them for a late night snack. We were already in bed and elected not to join them and Jenny told Cyndi she loved her as she hung up. At around 3:30 am I answered a phone call, and it is someone from Huntsville Hospital calling and asking if we are the parents of Cyndi. They told us she had been in a serious accident. It was an extended extraction from the car and we need to get to the hospital. They were vague on answers other than Cyndi was in critical condition.

In reality my grandson was already dead, and Cyndi had died several times and she was struggling for life as they had to continually revive her.

After Cyndi had called us they headed to iHoP, according to the accident report, they were traveling 22MPH and got T-Boned by a car that failed to stop at a flashing red light going 45MPH, about 2 miles from their home. The car plowed into the passenger side of the car where Cyndi was. Cyndi’s husband and the teenagers in the other car, walked away from the accident.

We arrived at the Hospital. They told us they had done an emergency c-section. They informed us they were unable to save the baby. They wanted to know if we wanted to see him. They had our first grandson wrapped in blankets and he looked like he was sleeping. They gave him to Jenny to hold. Jenny got to hold her first grandson, he was a beautiful. Then they ushered us to the trauma section. The surgeon came out and told us that Cyndi was in very critical condition. She had been revived many times, and was unlikely to live. Some minutes later they came and got us and took us back to see Cyndi. It was clear, the purpose was so we could see her and say goodbye while she was still alive. We got to spend about 5 minutes with her (she of course was unconscious and on all sorts of machines) A while later they informed she had died. In a span of three hours my world went from a joyous expectation of new life…. to death. My first grandson is dead. My daughter is dead. My world was wrong.

It was the day the world went wrong, I screamed til my voice was gone

And watched through the tears, As everything came crashing down

Slowly panic turns to pain, As we awake to what remains

and sift through the ashes that are left behind

So now starts the infinite trap of “what if”. How much would the timeline have to change to allow the 2 cars to past each other safely? What if we had said yes, we would meet them at iHoP. Would that have changed the timing enough or would that have just left us at iHoP wondering where Cyndi was and the hospital unable to reach us. What if we had tried to convince them it was too late for them to go out. What if we had made the conversation shorter? What if we had made the conversation longer? What if we had not answered the phone? What if, what if, what if…

Why God? Cyndi loved God! We loved God. We all believed in the power of God. Why God? This is not the time for cute sayings. And no, God did not need another angel so he took Cyndi. God did not cause Cyndi’s death. God wants nothing but good for us. But we live in a fallen world, where people make wrong choices. It was the teenager’s choice to drive recklessly. Not God’s. It rains on the just and unjust. God did not need a new angel in heaven. God did not want a teenager to screw up his life by killing two people and getting charged as an adult for murder. But because of reckless choices of a driver, August 22, 2009 was a very sad day for several families. Our family lost a daughter and a grandson that will never be replaced on this earth. Another family has to live with the results of his actions and have to watch as he got arrested and charged with murder. The world went wrong on August 22, 2009.

But buried deep beneath, All our broken dreams, we have this hope:

Out of these ashes… beauty will rise

and we will dance among the ruins, We will see Him with our own eyes

Out of these ashes… beauty will rise

For we know, joy is coming in the morning…in the morning, beauty will rise

Cyndi was in extremely bad shape. Her internal organs severally damaged. I do believe it was God’s mercy that he decided to welcome Cyndi and Keshon home. For those of us who know Christ, to be absent from the body is to be present with God. We believe God has shown us some of his Will in all of this. We will not fully understand until we are face to face, but we are at peace. What God has shown us is personal and I won’t share, but I do know that I look forward to a glorious reunion with her in Heaven someday.

So August 2009 was a rough month. Cyndi had just been killed. We were in the middle of a frantic week of trying to organize burial arrangements and plan a memorial service for Cyndi. During that week Monique was just not acting herself. Her asthma was acting up and appeared to be generally under the weather, but nothing particularly wrong. During that frantic week, Jenny took Monique to the doctor twice to see what was up. Both times the doctor did a flu test, which was negative both times. She could find nothing to treat, so Jenny just kept up with the usual asthma treatments. Cyndi was killed on Saturday 8/22. Her memorial service was Friday 8/28. Three days later on Monday 8/31, Monique still was not acting herself and still appeared generally under the weather. She did not really want to do much other than lay in bed. So Jenny took her back to the doctor that morning. Again the doctor repeated the flu test which came back negative. The doctor suggested that perhaps it was more emotional and Monique was depressed regarding Cyndi’s death and that Jenny should be more “forceful” in requiring her to move around and get out of bed. That same afternoon, three days after Cyndi’s Memorial service, Monique collapsed in the bathroom. While conscious, Jenny had to literally carry her out to the car and rush her to the hospital.

I get a call at work that Jenny was rushing Monique to the hospital. By the time I get the hospital, they have her admitted and the medical staff is busy working on her. They determine she is simply not getting enough oxygen. They repeat the flu test, and determine that perhaps the test may actually be positive. Given what was happening in 2009, they also make the assumption that it is H1N1 (Swine) flu but they send a sample off to the CDC for confirmation. Monique was in bad shape.

They admitted her to ICU. They put her on oxygen, and the doctor thought perhaps they caught it in time and they would not have to put her on a ventilator. Jenny stayed with Monique that night. Monique was scared, and Jenny held her hand the entire night. The next morning, Jenny’s mom (Monique’s Grandmother) relived her for two hours so Jenny could run home make arrangements for care of our other children. As it turned out, that morning was the last time we would ever talk to Monique on this earth. By the time Jenny got back, things had taken a turn for the worst. The doctors decided she still was not getting enough oxygen and need to be put on a ventilator. They had already induced a comma and had her on a ventilator.

I’m trying hard not to think you unkind

But Heavenly Father

If you know my heart

Surely you can read my mind

Good people underneath the sea of grief

Some get up and walk away

Some will find ultimate relief

For the next 13 days, Jenny and I took turns staying with Monique. Jenny stayed with her during the days, after work I relieved her and stayed with Monique during the night. When Jenny relived me in the morning, I went to work. During these 13 days there were ups and downs. Things would get better and they would try to reduce the reliance on the ventilator, and then she would get worst. It was very much a roller coaster.

The Army had flown both Andrew and Paul home from overseas because of Cyndi’s death. After about day 6 of Monique’s hospital stay, it was time for the boys to return to their stations overseas. It was about this time that the CDC confirmed that Monique had the H1N1 virus (Swine flu).

Out in the corridors we pray for life

A mother for her baby, A husband for his wife

Sometimes the good die young

It’s sad but true

And while we pray for one more heartbeat

The real comfort is with you

It was very much a roller coaster. The only way for them to ensure Monique was getting enough oxygen was to have the ventilator turned “way up”. As soon as they turned it down, she lost ground. So the ventilator was actually causing damage to her lungs due to the high settings they had to use. Due to the damage being done, they had to insert drainage tubes first on one side of the chest and then a couple of days later on the other side. This was to relieve the pressure in the chest cavity. Around day 10, the doctor informed us, that it was unlikely she was going to pull thru. He told us we should get the family together, she was unlikely to live another week. So Jenny again contacted the Army and requested emergency leave for the boys. In fact, Andrew had just arrived back in Iraq, when they told him to pack up and return home.

Day 13, Sunday, Sept 13, she actually was looking pretty good. We were actually thinking that the doctor might have been wrong. But it was over before Jenny really even knew something serious was happening. Jenny had relieved me. The nurses and doctor were in doing their routine adjustments of all the various machines and monitoring equipment they had on Monique. During these times the Ventilator would always raise alarms as it tried to resync after all the movement. However, this time it would just not reset properly. With a rush of activity they realized it was not a machine problem, and it was over in less than a minute. Monique’s heart had stopped.

Home Free, eventually

At the ultimate healing we will be Home Free

Home Free, oh I’ve got a feeling

At the ultimate healing

We will be Home Free

Andrew had just landed in the US and was waiting for his transfer flight to Huntsville when he got my facebook post: “R.I.P. Monique”. His resulting post to his wall pretty much captured our family’s feeling: “what a shitty year. my other sister just passed away in the hospital…please pray for strength for our family. thanks…”

We had just barely processed Cyndi’s death and here we are facing similar questions. Why God? Monique loved God! We loved God. We all believed in the power of God. Why God? And then the “what ifs” start again. What if this? What if that? Endless possible alternative paths. The world went wrong AGAIN, on September 13, 2009.

But in the end, God is God and I am not. We had to search our souls and answer the question, do we trust God? The answer is YES! I will trust him, for all things work to his glory. We again believe God has shown us some of his Will in all of this. We will not fully understand until we are face to face, but we are at peace and I look forward to a glorious reunion with her in Heaven someday, where she will no longer need her wheelchair or crutches. (and daddy gets the first dance)

So in a span of three weeks we lost 2 children and a grandson.

You’re in a better place, I’ve heard a thousand times

And at least a thousand times I’ve rejoiced for you

But the reason why I’m broken, the reason why I cry

Is how long must I wait to be with you

I close my eyes and I see your face

If home’s where my heart is then I’m out of place

Lord, won’t you give me strength to make it through somehow

I’ve never been more homesick than now

It is hard to not think about my little girls. About what might have been. About what should have been. But it is my over whelming joy to know that she is with God, with no more tears or sorrows. We are at peace and above all thankful. Thankful that God allowed us to parent two wonderful children.

Oh God, I know, it’s so much more than I can dream

It’s far beyond anything I can conceive

So God, You know I’ll trust in You until I see

Heaven in the face of my little girls

So it is the end of 2009, what’s the plan now God? Our plans our expectations were shaken. But the call of God on our lives has not changed. We are still called to reach the broken hearted, sometimes we are surprised to find out that is ourselves.

It is now 2010. I have been married for 30 years now to Jenny. She is still my lover and best friend. We are partners in love, ministry, and life. We are still waiting expectantly to see what new things God has for us. In our mind that will be after Jacoby graduates High School in a couple of years. But God’s plan seldom matches our plans. All jenny and I know is “It has always been my ambition to preach the Gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation” Romans 15:20

My future testimony remains yet to be written!

Song Lyrics from: Wayne Watson, Mercy Me and Steven Curtis Chapma

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