Summer Unaccomplishments

Things I eagerly ponder and plan in May and June, but by the first week of July I have already abandoned:

  1. Teaching my children how to weed, vacuum, dust, fold, mop, wipe down, scrub the right waySince during the school year I mostly just do it myself or let them make lazy efforts, thinking, “When we’re home together in July I’ll really buckle down on this.”
  2. Handwriting practice for Jack. Need I say more? image
  3. Encouraging my children to read copious quantities of “quality literature” carefully selected from multicultural/award-winning/vocabulary-rich/justice-loving book lists gleaned from a myriad of sources online and from books about books that I have actually purchased that sit hardly cracked on my bedside table. Instead: are they really still checking out Geronimo Stilton at the library? Yes.
  4. Listening to Ellie diligently master “Can You Hear the People Sing” from the also newly purchased “Les Misérables” piano book so we can awe her piano teacher in September. Instead, my family is listening to me diligently pluck out “Stars” until John says something like, “I think I can recognize that song now!”
  5. Touching each and every item in my house to determine if it “sparks joy” a la Marie Kondo, simplifying and purging until my heart and soul are light and free, and so that when the Foster Care Licensor comes to inspect our home, things won’t fall on top of her when she opens cupboards and doors.
  6. Re-reading “Les Misérables” by Victor Hugo. Oh, the Foster Care archetypes I now recognize amongst its characters!

Adjusted Summer Goals:

  1. Sacrificially acquiesce to my mother-in-law’s suggestion of having Ellie to come over to her house once a week where she would teach Ellie how to clean her house and pay her for her efforts. Daughter getting paid to learn valuable life skills by a better teacher than myself = Win.
  2. Let 3rd grade teacher deal with Jack’s handwriting. Focus on teaching my nearly EIGHT-YEAR-OLD how to freaking tie his own shoes.
  3. Listen to quality literature via OverDrive and OneClickdigital library apps any time we’re in the car, which will be in copious quantities during our upcoming 3-week road trip. Already finished and highly recommend: “The Key to Extraordinary” by Natalie Lloyd, and “From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” by E. L. Konigsburg.
  4. Remind them to practice an old piano song once a day (or at least 3 times a week), if I remember, and if we aren’t having too much fun with other stuff.
  5. Handle, watching for joyful sparks, every item in my kitchen, closet, and MAYBE my bedroom. Procrastinate as long as possible, since Foster Care home inspection is likely still months weeks away.
  6. Watch “Les Misérables” with Hugh Jackman, taking no foster parenting tips from the Thenardiers. We will love like Valjean, forgive like the bishop, follow the WAC like Javert, and fight for the rights of our children like Marius! Jean Valjean

Already accomplished:

√  Go camping
√  Go to the beach
√  Play at the river at every opportunity
√  Eat dinner outside while listening to multicultural mixes on Spotify unless over 90 degrees or raining
√  Finish the library summer reading program
√  Bonfire with friends and cousins
√  Say “no” to all Sunday School volunteer opportunities

Also this:

√  Educational Opportunity at Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in Ilwaco, in which we discover that Lewis and Clark spent about a week at the mouth of the Washougal River (Cottonwood Beach), exploring up and down, hunting and catching fish. Upon our return home, we looked up their detailed journals from March 31, 1806 and found that yes, indeed, they did paddle up past our very spot of beach on the Washougal (named “Seal River” by the intrepid explorers)! Perhaps they stopped for lunch at our very idyllic pebbly shore! If the waters were low enough, maybe they stood upon our very stately jumping rock and did a little fishing!

imageriver

Yep, we’re pretty much killing it at summer.

Teach, Pray, Love: A Week in Peru

It has been well over a month since Ellie, Sandi and I returned from our week in Trujillo, Peru. Enough time to recalibrate to North American schedules, people, problems and routines. But thankfully, any time I travel outside my “normal”, normal gets redefined, and that is a good thing.

Something I’ve learned about life (now that I’m solidly in my late thirties) is that things that matter the most are in the context of a relationship. A week is a short time to spend in another country, yet our week in Peru was meaningful because of the threads of relationships that brought us there and were strengthened.

I told you how Sandi, Ellie, and I were invited to come to Peru to train staff at an orphanage about educating children with special needs. I typed that story into cyberspace and our people responded. Within 24 hours an entire Amazon.com wishlist of Spanish books and games were ordered by you to fill our suitcases. The principal at the school where I work, Sandi’s son’s 2nd grade teacher, childhood friends, aunts and uncles, and many others responded. My college roommate’s dad donated a laptop in a shiny new case for Alex, the orphanage director. Glenwood Community Church  generously supported us financially. Evergreen Public Schools equipped us with quality, current information for some of our training sessions. Dozens more of you called, texted, emailed, prayed, and encouraged us. All of you sent us to Peru for Spring Break.

Here is who you impacted by your kindness to us and our Peruvian friends:

My daughter. Oh, Ellie. You exceeded all my expectations of how a nine-year-old girl going to a foreign country with a distracted mama would respond. Hours and hours spent on airplanes and airport benches. Dozens of not-like-home meals. Many, many happy voices and questions (some in Spanish) surrounding your introverted self 14 hours a day.

scooters

You flew your little kite outside at the orphanage, and when one of the children accidentally tore off the strings, you just wrapped up what was left and tucked it in your backpack without a word. With head held high, you tried the cow heart kabob and the ceviche nestled in an octopus broth. You didn’t forgot to put the toilet paper in the waste basket or rinse your toothbrush with bottled water. You held strong in the Lima airport until our 2:00am flight with only the tiniest of meltdowns at 10:30, followed by a cheerful second wind. You didn’t whine or complain, and you never demanded my attention. You went with the flow until mid-week when you saw that I could finally look up from our piles of notes and PowerPoints, then quietly asked if the two of us could spend some time together. I was so proud of you.

My teammate, Sandi. If I liked Sandi before Peru, I consider her a dear sister now. Sandi’s quiet, thoughtful observations were so timely and helpful. When she opened her mouth to speak, it was with wisdom and love. She delighted in having a nine-year-old companion as part of our team and watched out for Ellie like a mama bird (even more so than Ellie’s actual mother did).

Sandi is that rare combination of exemplary competence with humility and flexibility. She is a natural leader who took the co-pilot or the passenger seat without a fuss. She listened more than she talked. She remained unflappable when plans changed or were not announced until moments before an event. She generously poured out encouragement on me. She made a room full of exhausted workers cry from her empathetic stories of working with adolescents with special needs. She broke a toilet seat our first day in Pablo and Sarah’s home. And admitted it.

Sandi and CT girls

The whole Cenepo-Torres family. Every minute we spent in this family’s presence was life-giving. So much laughter, love, and steadfast, faithful living. Pablo and Sarah wear many hats and serve, give, and pray without ceasing. The word “yes” is almost always on their lips. They open their home to visitors from Peru and around the world every month. Just a week before our arrival, they hosted 14 children from the orphanage for an extended Easter holiday weekend.

dinner table

Our trip overlapped by a few days with our now-North Dakotan friend, Brian Martin

Sarah seamlessly manages a myriad of practical details when hosting visitors, and somehow attends to each person individually. After watching Ellie quietly acquiesce to every appointment of our full week, Sarah made sure we squeezed in a trip to the ocean. She was so right – boogie boarding with the girls on the South American side of the Pacific Ocean was Ellie’s absolute highlight of the week.

boogie boardingbeach - hannah gabriella ellie

The four Cenepo-Torres daughters are delightfully unique and flourishing under their parents’ love, education, and discipleship. I LOVE these six Peruvian-Americans and am grateful for their presence in Peru and their friendship with my family.

see saws

Alex, Nancy, Paola, and all of the faithful, hardworking staff at Hogar de Esperanza, the orphanage I visited four years ago and have been supporting through prayer and email conversations. Alex initiated and organized this whole endeavor. He reached out to workers from other local orphanages, and for the first time a large group of workers from multiple institutions came together for two days of trainings while we were in the country.

HdE - alex

These people may have different titles, but every one of them has a heart like Jesus – broken and swollen with compassion for hurting, abused children. The kids they care for are not easy. Yes, they are cute, but the trauma they experienced left them with lasting damage that presents in developmental delays, emotional and behavioral struggles, and learning problems. This can also be true for vulnerable children here in the US, but in Peru, they don’t have the social services and educational supports families here can access.

These workers are in the thick of dark, hopeless stories, yet they persevere because of the love they have for the children and the strengthening love of God. They were eager to learn new strategies to help their children make progress physically, emotionally, academically, and spiritually.

HdE workers

What we actually did during our week in Peru was in the context of these relationships, which is important, because our Peruvian friends are the ones who will actually be carrying on the work and applying the skills we taught to their context.

HdE - CTs and kids

The week skipped along, with Pablo as our guide and interpreter.

Two days we spent at a local orphanage where Alex had gathered representative workers from the various orphanages to come and share their experiences and learn new skills. The participants included caregivers, tutors, social workers, psychologists, and directors.

group shot

Sandi and I presented a trauma-informed approach to caring for and teaching children in their settings. We talked about developmental milestones, making observations, and determining measurable goals for the children in their care. We gave them ideas for teaching academics, social skills, and communication to children with special needs. We filled their notebooks with positive behavioral strategies. They shared their struggles and we listened and cried.

teaching

The next two days we spent at Hogar de Esperanza. Sandi and I enjoyed meeting with a rotation of one or two caregivers at a time, and helped them apply their learning from the previous days to their actual reality with the children they care for.

The orphanage staff we talked to described their children with deep affection. Many have worked with the same kids for years, yet the problems that brought the children to the home and cycles of trauma and confusion that continue impact their functioning. It was a privilege to hear their hearts, offer strategies when we could, and join them in prayer.

We gave them a huge suitcase filled with books and games in Spanish and the laptop, all donated by YOU, our friends and family. Thank you for giving these children quality materials that will be used to enhance their learning and social skills.

gifts

Finally, Sandi and I met with a couple families from the area who have children with special needs. In one family’s home, we gathered close and demonstrated some ways the parents could increase the communication of their nonverbal son who has autism.

family

Pablo and Steve were our fearless interpreters. These two guys are missionary-pastors and we stretched their brains and language skills with all of our special education jargon. Pablo gained a new appreciation for his amazing wife who, he came to realize, educates and parents their daughters using many of the evidence-based, effective techniques Sandi and I shared with our audiences. You rock, Sarah!

pablo and sandi

We left Trujillo on the day of Peru’s presidential election, going our separate ways. Sandi headed to the mountains, where she met her husband and son for sightseeing in and around Machu Picchu. Ellie and I flew home to our grateful boys.

jack and jenae

At home, I slowly eased back into life with my little family. I returned to my job in a bright, modern elementary school filled with highly trained teachers and staff, and multiple levels of support for children with special needs. I filled out our licensing paperwork for foster care, thankful that even though this system isn’t perfect, at least it is something. I opened the same Bible that was read by the Cenepo-Torres family in Peru and prayed to the same Father who hears our prayers and knows what we need even before we ask Him.

I continue to teach, pray, and love those God has placed in my life. I believe these are things He created me to do. I am grateful for the days Sandi and I did so together, with our friends in Peru.

sarah jenae sandi


Epilogue:

A couple days after we got home, I spent an evening with Jack, and John spent the evening with Ellie. I asked Jack what he wanted to do during our special time together. After a quick stop at McDonalds for a Happy Meal, he asked, “Could we go to a gas station, get a treat, then sit on a park bench together and hug?” So we did.

park bench

From Bystander to Responder: An Invitation


heidi and familyThis is a guest post written by my friend Heidi Kellar. Heidi and I have been working with a team of friends to raise awareness about the largest humanitarian crisis in our world right now. Read her thoughtful words about her journey from ignorance to action. Then join us on June 4th for a family-friendly, interactive experience about the Syrian refugee crisis


That would be me, right?

Ever since the fourth grade, my mind has been intrigued by what some might say is a strange topic: the Holocaust. I read any book I could find, studied it in college, and even made a special visit to the world-renowned Holocaust Exhibition at the Imperial War Museum in London.

I am equally appalled and enthralled. Appalled, obviously, by the extent of the atrocities committed by ordinary men against the Jewish people.

Enthralled by the heroics of those committed to rescuing those in need.

In college, a professor assigned the book Conscience and Courage by Dr. Eva Fogelman. In this book, the author, a psychologist, researches and reports on the lives and motivations of those who rescued Jews during the Holocaust. She draws conclusions more holistically about what it takes for people to stop being a bystander during tragic events. If any book spoke to my heart and mind at that formative stage of life, it was this book.

Conscience and Courage

Here are a few of the quotes that I underlined in 2002 about the individuals and the types of people who responded during the Holocaust (all emphasis mine).

“[The rescuer’s] humanitarian response was derived from an inner core of religious values…She asked… “What if this was my child, my mother, or me needing shelter? What would Christ have done?” (p. 173).

“Similar to their World War II predecessors, today’s rescuers are not larger-than-life heroes, but ordinary people who see inhumanity and feel a personal responsibility to address it.” (p. 314)

“Modern-day models of moral courage display a willingness to see what others choose not to notice. There is a determination, some would say a stubbornness, to pursue truth no matter where it leads.” (p. 317)

My young college self read these lines and brazenly thought, “I would have been a rescuer. I would not have sat by and let my fellow man be treated so terribly. I would have pursued truth no matter where it led, darn it!”

That would have been me. Right?

Reality

Fast forward about fifteen years. I am no longer that dreamy-eyed college student. Three young children, a part-time job, church leadership responsibilities, a Mt. Everest laundry pile in my living room, a never-finished sink full of dishes. You get the idea.

Plus, when I do get a chance to relax and sit down with the paper on Sunday morning, I am more interested in the sports page and the grocery sales. The World News page is just not that interesting, okay?

This is why it took me four years. Four years to notice the largest humanitarian crisis in our world right now. In fact, the largest number of refugees in human history are right now struggling to escape to safety, struggling to wake up in a place where they do not fear death daily.

It took the image of a little boy washed up on a beach to wake me from my apathy.

refugee boy picture

A little boy who looks so much like one of my own. A little boy whose family were desperately trying to escape violence to travel to their relatives in Canada. A little boy whose father gave a heart-breaking message to the world at Christmas.

I wept. I wrote a passionate Facebook post. I sat on the bathroom floor on the phone with a friend, praying for an hour one Saturday morning. We sat with other friends over dinner to ask and pray. What can we do? What can we do?

Would we see inhumanity and feel a personal responsibility to address it?

Would we display a willingness to see what others choose not to notice and pursue truth no matter where it leads?

 Would we ask, what would Christ have done?

In the meantime, life marched on. Dishes and laundry piled. Children argued. Every-day duties summoned. Still vaguely sad and convicted about the Syrian Refugee Crisis, I felt my lens zoom back in to my own “problems”. This would still likely be true if God had not intervened, using some fellow ragamuffins like myself to compel me to action.

Loaves and Fishes

Courtney, another busy mom in our area, also felt heartbroken and drawn towards action. And at six months pregnant with her fourth child, she had even more of a reason to keep her head in the sand.

But Courtney felt a personal responsibility and bravely called a meeting in January. A half dozen of us met late one night to begin the process of asking, what can we do?

Nobody present had much money. Or time. Or resources. Or connections. But we each had a little bit. Could it be used to help somehow? We didn’t know.

Do you remember the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand hungry people with only two small loaves of bread and five fish? Do you remember who gave him those fish? A young boy. It was his lunch and it would have been so easy for him to take that lunch and feed himself with it. It wasn’t enough for more people anyway.

But, thankfully he didn’t. Instead, he gave it to Jesus. And Jesus – the Provider, the Bread of Life, the one who could have ordered that bread shower down from heaven to feed everyone (after all, God had done that before!) – took that little boy’s lunch. He gave thanks. And he multiplied it to feed all of the hungry people with plenty of leftovers.

The six of us didn’t have much more than our lunch to give, but we decided to gingerly offer it up. Offer it up to the One who multiplies.

And it worked! Through teamwork, prayer, meetings and effort, we eventually decided to host an event for families.

The purpose is, first of all, to help others see the inhumanity behind the Syrian Refugee Crisis.

Second, we hope to help people feel a personal responsibility to address the needs.

Third, we want to invite people to offer up a small loaf or fish so that together we can watch it multiply. 

Are you willing to see what others choose not to notice?

Will you pursue the truth no matter where it leads?

After all, today’s rescuers are not larger-than-life heroes, just ordinary people offering up the little they have to the One who provides.

If you are interested in joining us, please consider attending our Syrian Refugee Awareness Night next Saturday from 4-6 at Compass Church. Please read the invitation below and invite friends!

Syrian Refugee Night Info Sheet

Want to know more, but can’t attend on June 4th? Check out the website my sister-in-law, Heidi Dryden created with loads of information, videos, and interactive websites you can view with your family: Syrian Refugee Awareness Night.

Expecting

I finally put a package of tissues in my purse because I kept finding myself with a dripping nose and rivulets leaking from my eyes with nothing to catch the stream. I used the last of the package on Easter morning during the sermon, after I had used the second-to-last in the car on the way to church. And I couldn’t keep blaming allergies.

“It’s like you’re pregnant,” said John, as I reached for the Kleenex box at our kitchen table a few hours later over a cup of coffee with my love.

“It IS like I’m pregnant,” I wept.

Only I’m not pregnant, I’m just expecting. John and I are in the process of becoming licensed foster parents and there is a beating heart out there that will likely join our family within the next nine months.

When I carried my own two children in my body, I imagined their faces and their personalities. Now I am wondering what this new child will be like. Unlike my two pregnancies, I am also wondering how many days we will get to shelter and love this child.

There will be no ultrasound, no quickening. Labor pains will begin with a phone call with the basic stats of gender and birthdate and maybe some additional information. My water and heart will break, I am most sure, and I’ll reach for the box of tissues.

When I was pregnant, I prayed for my daughter and son’s health and development and safety. But really, the odds were enormously good that my babies would be just fine, and they were.

lorrie marilyn ellie

I am praying again. Only this time I am 100% guaranteed that this next child is not fine. The fact that the child will be with us at all means that his or her health, development, and safety are threatened – perhaps this very moment, even, which is terrifying in my expectant state.

So, I pray. I pray for this child’s mama and daddy. For an aunt or uncle or grandparent or neighbor to love and protect this child as best as they possibly can. I pray that addictions may be lessened, that doors will stay closed, that harmful words, images and actions will be quelled. That the child will know love, even if imperfectly.

And I cry. I hear a song, read a story, watch a video, and the dam bursts again. During Passion Week, I understand the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection with fresh ears and heart. The Friday abandonment of his Papa, the Saturday carrying of all the sin and ugliness of the world – sin that usually (and deceptively) looks pretty sterile in my comfortable bubble, but rears ugly and gut-wrenching in the world of foster care. The women waiting outside the tomb – mama hearts breaking from the injustice applied to the guiltless Son.

And finally, Sunday’s Resurrection. The snake crushed, life restored, hope eternal. Jesus, our brother; adoption as sons and daughters of the King. The Gospel is good, good news to a broken world. Jesus saved us in our brokenness and sends us out to find the broken. Jesus brought us back into relationship with our Father so we could be restorers of relationships.

And so we find what is broken, and offer our life and that which is most precious – our family, to mend and restore.

We are expecting, and we wait and wonder. With heavier hearts this time around, but with the same cloud of support (and then some) who buoyed us up when Ellie and Jack were born. Our parents, grandparents, siblings, aunties, uncles, cousins, and friends, who are cheering for us, praying for us, and ready to love a new child, perhaps even more fiercely, because of what came before and what is at stake.

family

We anticipate both pain and joy – but isn’t that always the case with an expectant mother?

…Teach us how to weep while we wait,
and how to hope while we weep,
and how to care while we hope.
– Walter Brueggemann

Three Amigas go to Peru

Lately I’ve been hearing Dora the Explorer in my head, flashbacks from when my daughter was small and she shouted to the television screen which item from Dora’s backpack was needed on her altruistic Latin American mission of the day. Dora was such a helpful girl, and she was always so well prepared with her carry-on luggage.

This time Ellie is rehearsing Spanish words and phrases for her own adventure. In April, she and I will be traveling to Peru with my friend Sandi. We are visiting dear friends of ours, the Cenepo-Torres family, and spending our days at an orphanage where Sandi and I will provide training for the staff about children with special needs.

Like most things in my life lately, it all came about rather unexpectedly.

Our family traveled to Peru in 2012 and stayed with our friends. We strengthened our relationship with Pablo and Sarah Cenepo-Torres and their four daughters, met many of their friends, and became acquainted with their ministries in Trujillo.

C-T car

Traveling Peruvian-style

We got to know Alex, Pablo’s brother, and visited the orphanage where he was the director. Shortly after we came home, I became more involved with the orphanage through updates via email and Skype conversations with the board.

Over the last four years, it has been encouraging to see how God continues to meet their needs, and to see the staff and administrators persevere and undertake the mission of caring for the children amidst many barriers and difficult circumstances.

HdE

A few months ago, Alex reached out to us asking for advice about educating and caring for children at their institution who have special needs. He explained that these children were receiving very little through the public school system in Peru. By spending individualized time with one of the young men, he recognized the boy’s untapped potential. He rightly ascertained that these children could learn and make progress, if they were given the right opportunities and specialized training and attention. Alex rightly saw these children as image-bearers of God, highly esteemed and loved by their creator. He wanted to do more for them, but didn’t know how.

Alex was singing my song. Having just gone to Kenya earlier in the year to provide training and awareness to teachers and parents on the same topic, I asked my Peruvian friends if they would be interested in something similar. The suggestion was warmly received and we began making plans.

I wanted to go with at least one other team member and started having conversations with some of my special education friends. One evening in January, I sent a text to one of my favorite Speech-Language Pathologists, Sandi Taylor.

texts

Sandi came to York Elementary to share the full-time caseload of students with me when I went part-time after having my first baby. Sandi and I worked together about six years before she moved on to a high school in the district. She is incredibly smart and responsible, a warm and loyal friend, and is a phenomenal SLP. She lived in Africa a couple years before becoming an SLP, and has a tremendous heart for vulnerable children, and a keen sensitivity to other cultures.

I was thrilled when Sandi replied to my text within minutes. After our phone conversation a few hours later, I had my second team member.

By the end of January, we added my daughter Ellie to our team at John’s suggestion. Ellie thoughtfully considered the invitation, asked a few insightful questions, and the next morning she said that she wanted to go – to help the children at the orphanage in any way she could, to get to see her Cenepo-Torres friends again, and to travel with me and Sandi on a special trip just for girls.

Ellie Abi Hannah

Ellie with her friends Abigail and Hannah during a Cenepo-Torres visit to the US in 2008

Abi Ellie

Abigail and Ellie in Peru 2012

C-Ts Drydens

Cenepo-Torres family and some Drydens in Washougal 2015

As emails fly back and forth across the continents, once again, I am surprised and grateful for this opportunity to use my professional expertise in a context that is so close to my heart. I also have to laugh at God’s creativity in bringing the three of us amigas together for this trip. These two special ladies came into my life at nearly the exact moment, almost 10 years ago: I began working with Sandi because of the birth of my daughter Ellie.

Like Dora the Explorer, Sandi, Ellie and I are preparing for our South American adventure and want to pack wisely. We asked our Peruvian friends if there were some items we could bring to help the orphanage staff in their efforts to support the education of the children. They responded that they are always in need of books, flashcards or other teaching materials, and games. The language difference makes it a little more difficult to find some items, but I put together a list on Amazon.com with some ideas.

If you are inclined, we would love your help in packing our backpacks! We leave on April 2nd and would like to bring some quality books and games for our friends. If you’d like to add an item to our luggage, you can order from this link, and ship to my address or ship to yourself and pass it on to me or Sandi by the end of March:

Amazon.com Wish List Peru

Alex, the orphanage director, also needs a new-used laptop. His current one is nearing the end of its life. If you have a used laptop you are no longer using that we can bring down to him, our luggage will happily accommodate.

Pablo airport

Finally, please pray for us, that our words and actions would bless, empower, and impact a group of caregivers and educators who carry heavy burdens with few resources. The name of the orphanage is Hogar de Esperanza, “Home of Hope”. Our desire is to fill their hearts with hope by giving them tools and information to make a difference for a challenging group of children in their care.

HdE wall

¡Gracias!

Love, The Three Amigas