An Impossible Prayer


I feel like we spend much of our lives waiting for the spring. We keep hoping and praying for that miracle, for stubborn problems in our lives to resolve, for relationships to change, and for our losses to be restored. But we still see bare branches against a cold sky. 

Then it happens, almost imperceptible at first. The grey twig forms a small bud. Hope flickers cautiously, as we contemplate this tiny resurrection, hovering between wonder and doubt. But then there is no doubt, as life explodes triumphantly from its cocoon. 

Our winter times teach us in paradox; that despair is the illusion, and even the most barren looking branches may blossom again.  

We can not really know what resurrection life awaits unseen.

My husband and I have walked a long journey that is familiar to many others, of pregnancy loss and twelve years of infertility. We have experienced God’s redemption in our family through adoption, as He graced us with three gifts; each with their own hard but beautiful story. They are a sign that He hears, that He feels the pain of our loss, and that His plan is always working despite our circumstances and feelings. He is the only one who can take broken things and make them into a beautiful new whole. I felt at peace with fact that I was in my early 40’s and would never experience a full pregnancy, childbirth or have a biological child. But the ache was still there, and I accepted that it always would be. There are some griefs that will never be fully healed in this life. There were small sparks that kept that tiny flame of hope flickering. Random comments about people that adopted several children and then got pregnant. Miraculous pregnancy stories in scripture that moved me in surprising ways. A few friends with miracle pregnancies after a decade of waiting. But nothing that would make me risk real hope again. 

Our journey to China and our time there was a faith building one. Many times I saw God do things I had considered impossible. I learned how to take the risk of an impossible prayer, hold onto it tenaciously and wait. That helped my faith to grow. And suddenly, I felt God giving back to me a prayer I had stopped praying years ago. I felt like He wanted me to ask Him again to help me get pregnant. Despite my age, my medical history, and our graveyard of losses, I asked again, and after the past two years I did believe He could, but I didn’t have much hope. 

A week before my 42nd birthday, and 1 month before we left China, I discovered I was pregnant. I still struggled with old fears and anxieties, but this time was different. I felt like God was giving me the courage to hope again. He was doing a new thing for His glory, and He had resurrected a prayer I had stopped praying. I went in for my first ultrasound, at our busy local hospital. I had never had a normal OB ultrasound, as they had always been ectopic pregnancies. I knew that if this one was bad, I would face both the language barrier and impersonal bedside manner that is standard there. I felt that it would be unbearable. But the day before my test I had a prayer time with my teammate, and the image of Peter walking on the water to Jesus came before me. He was able to do the impossible, because he was doing what Christ had called him to do. It felt just as impossible that my ultrasound would be normal after so many failures, but I resolved to believe that it would. And miraculously, it showed an intrauterine pregnancy with a heartbeat. We have had many ultrasounds since, including our 20 week diagnostic, and praise God, they have all been normal. I am 24 weeks pregnant with a little boy, and feel that I am living inside of a miracle every day. While pregnancy is not easy (especially at 42!), I am thankful that I can experience all of it, from the months of nausea and fatigue to the wonder of a baby kicking inside of me. 

I am sharing so much of our story, because I hope it will encourage others who are in a winter season of their lives. We also faced years of hopelessness and despair, when our prayers seemed to bounce off the ceiling and it felt like nothing would ever change. When we are in those painful times we can’t imagine that God is still working. But He is. Our circumstances may distort our view of Him, but He remains the one who suffers with us, the one who always has a redemption plan, and the one who continues to work on our impossible prayers, even when we have given up on them. 





Children.These fierce, transcendent little beings, that bleed my strength and coil my muscles. Turn my ordered life into a sleepless marathon.
Scribbling and unraveling my tidy plans.
I crave moments of escape- my coffee, workouts and phone. I find myself chronically irritated, because they’ve taken everything. What is left that’s mine?
I’m fighting for real estate in my own life!
But today was a good day.
I watched them feed the zoo animals in Chiangmai. Gentle yet unafraid. Today we were young together exploring a new country. My youngest son, and biggest challenge lately- the one with anger and emotional escalation issues- stopped mid track in his mockery of little sister, and split his cookie instead. I sat with him as he drew his little pictures of the animals, trying so hard to get them right, and grinning shyly when I guessed. His hands are still small, his round face and button nose and tight curls and baby skin perfect in the glow of the bedside lamp. He wanted to skip tv so he could play a game with me. He is a little man, impressively strong for his age, but so vulnerable, so sensitive when people hurt him. He is not the chubby happy baby he was, and I can’t have that back. Nor will I keep him five always. He is toughening. He shrugs off affection, but still begs for attention. I see in him the man I hope he will be. Sensitive not volatile. Strong not violent. A gentle hero to those weaker than him, who is patient when misunderstood. Every day whether I acknowledge it or not I face my own battles against irritability, being impatient with the hundredth mess, anger at being ignored, harsh responses to disrespectful words and sibling meanness. And I see that it matters. It matters that I control my own anger and show them patience and grace. It matters that I am present- and really see them in the present. It matters that I cherish them at each age with a firm resolve to make this time count, instead of a whining sentimentality about what I miss, or an escapist longing for them to be older. I will fail sometimes, but I must also win these battles, because it slowly makes a difference in who they will become. Some days I’m just surviving them. Some days I’m just trying to control them. Some days I really see them. Some days I’m not trying hard enough.
But how? How do I mother wholeheartedly when exhausted? There have been times in my life where I had margin to recharge, but this isn’t one of them. In reading Philippians 4, the author said that he had learned a “secret” of being content under any circumstances. He suggests a source of joy and love that you can draw from even in the midst of great stress. I think I need to admit that I don’t have the energy, patience and self-sacrifice needed to be the best mother for these kids. But I can choose joy and contentment in this moment. Just this moment- I can’t promise about later! That choice releases a new power, a power that comes from God but is available to us. I feel my reality click into a better gear. I’m still exhausted and marginless, but have found the freeze button on my life. I can see what I have been given, if only for a little while. The frustrations and difficulties don’t go away, but they are counterbalanced by delight, and even wonder. And that makes me a better mom. Maybe I could do this every day, or most days? Maybe I could look back on this experience called motherhood and know I gave it my best.


We say miracles are holy
Rare and unlikely,
Stop hoping as we live
Stars lose their power to elevate
Mysteries that beckoned are explained
Joy in great and small things
Gradually erode as body contours change
We must mature and anticipate
The exchange of magic for technology
Wonder becomes control
At first we notice
We can’t hear it anymore
And then forget we ever did
Forget that we are children always
Bearing the Imago Dei
Truth and beauty seeking
Longing spirits on this human journey
But hoping is too hard
The matrix holds us as machines asleep
Deadened to wonder and pain
In cages staring at a sky obscured
Breathing poisoned air of cynic’s doubt
What have we forgotten?
A miracle is holy
Not because it’s out of reach
But for how it comes to us
Teaches us to hear and feel again
Relentless as the light
It finds us



It has been 2 months since my family moved to China. I am writing from the back porch of my first floor apartment, admiring the tiny but tidy garden cage I was quick to cultivate. Most of the sky is blocked by 30 story apartment buildings, and I can see faint blurs of color through the hedges as residents stride purposefully home. If I were to go outside I would smell fumes,cigarettes, faint sewage and sometimes rain, oil, garlic, and meat. The air is hot and heavy here, and if you stand in one place the mosquitoes find you and bite quickly. The foliage is lush and diverse, and thrives without much care. Lakes and rivers are ubiquitous, and provide visual respite from the high rise apartments that crowd the skyline. The sky is often cloudy, but when it comes out the sun pierces my face, and I have taken up the parasol habit of fair skinned Chinese ladies.

My husband has said that China seems more civilized than the U.S. There are several contrasts you might find interesting. They are mostly a cashless society, and pay for bills, groceries, even pay back friends through the WeChat or Alipay apps on their phones. They buy their groceries, order dinner, and other necessities online so that one could live here for a long time without even leaving her home. And all these services are cheap or free. Good Chinese food is also cheap- half or less than US prices. Labor is too- our ayi (househelper) works 10 hours a week for $50. This is the rate she requested and is standard here. We do need some extra help without a dishwasher and only an economy sized washer/dryer! So it is possible to have a higher standard of living on less money. The Chinese people are tolerant of discomfort and inconvenience. I got onto a bus when it was 100 degrees outside, and the driver wasn’t running the AC. In the US 5 people would have asked him to TURN IT ON!, but no one said anything. My kids are loud, messy, and frequently run in front of, block or slow down other pedestrians. No one has complained or shown annoyance. Many times people have run to get the door or gate for us, and stood there patiently while we walk our bike (and trailer) through. This is an insider culture, and friendliness to strangers isn’t valued. Most people I pass on the street don’t make eye contact. Many smile back when I initiate. Some stare without smiling. I haven’t seen anyone yet who can resist  my 2 year old’s “Ni hao!”. We feel safer here. In the US the risk of violent crime hung over us like a high altitude but potential storm cloud. People don’t seem to worry at all about being attacked, at least in the areas we’ve been. They caution us to watch for thieves, but we have left our (nice) bikes barely secured many times and had no problems. Most people don’t have cars, and don’t miss them. Buses, subways and taxis are ubiquitous and convenient. It took us about a week to learn the routes to our common places, even though we can’t read Chinese.

We have felt some stress adjusting to our new land. The hardest thing for me is being constantly immersed in an urban jungle. There is an unconscious weight of the thousands of souls living above and all around me. We all share the same air, and there is no private space outside our small apartment. Even within there is minimal privacy when you have 3 young children. So there really isn’t anywhere I can go to get away from  people. In the past I have been most able to feel God’s presence out in nature, and I haven’t found a nearby place to escape to here. Communication and illiteracy are another stress. I studied Mandarin for several years before moving here, so I have enough language to accomplish many survival tasks. (I would add that I highly recommend studying ahead if you are planning to move abroad!) But I can’t communicate effortlessly, and every conversation adds the stress of unknown words and not knowing how to respond. Many of the online conveniences are off limits to us, since we can’t read the characters. We have several Chinese friends who have helped, but of course as Americans we feel a bit off depending on others to shop for us. Grocery shopping has become a lot more complicated without my minivan. I kept overfilling my cart and getting through checkout only to remember I actually had to carry this stuff for 20 minutes plus take the bus. We are here to work and be good stewards of what was invested in us, so we have volunteered for many outreach opportunities and filled our schedules quickly. But we also have the goal of Chinese fluency, so we have to study at night when the kids are (finally) in bed. We need to memorize thousands of words and the tones that accompany them in order to make meaningful conversation. We realized that we have run out of time in our day to talk to each other or just decompress. So life feels more hectic here, with less margin.

Our kids seem pretty happy, I think because we spend more time together as a family. They dislike the long (10 minute) walks to the bus stop, but they love riding the bus and going up and down the escalator at the subway. Our apartment grounds are nicer than our neighborhood in the US, with many winding trails, columns, gardens and playgrounds. There is plenty of exploration for the young imagination. We have renamed the route to our bus stop the “secret garden way” because it winds through manicured cobblestone trails and past ornate rotundas. I can see their minds expanding past the cozy places of our Midwest town. In time, our previous life in America will be forgotten, and this will be the first home Nick and Noel remember. Those precious first memories will happen here. For years I invited a tutor and tried to interest them in Chinese without effect. But now they really want to learn and are repeating phrases and asking what things mean. They have realized that there is a real world this language is useful in; and they just might need it to make friends and survive at school. They find some of our annoyances exciting, and thrill over cold showers and de-icing our dysfunctional freezer. Bob and I both lived abroad in our 20’s, and were able to fully immerse ourselves in language and cultural experiences. It is different now, with so much energy spent surviving. But there is a whole new dimension to this experience being on adventure as a family. We laugh at our Mandarin goof ups and cheer for each other when we accomplish a simple task without embarrassment. We have had to leave the comforts of our old world and search for new ones together. We need to be a team more than ever before to build a new life together. Our struggles and delights have become more intertwined. Our kids sometimes see us weak and vulnerable and not knowing things. We have a common mission and vision: our life is not just about giving them what they want. Our next step is to take them to the harder places and allow them to see poverty and suffering, so that they can have a right perspective on their own blessings and hardships.

I genuinely feel transplanted after two months of life in China. My roots still sting from places they were broken, and they miss the soil of certain deep friendships in the U.S. The ground here is both exotic and exciting and strangely uncomfortable. I think we’ve hit some culture shock, and probably there is more to come. I got bronchitis this week, and realized how fatigue and illness changes your lens. I suddenly lost my desire to go anywhere and interact with China; I wanted to insulate myself at home. But other times I have felt deep satisfaction and even exuberant joy just walking down the street. We are really here! After years of waiting and preparation this has really happened. I feel a carpe diem urgency to make the most of every day, to know that I have given this my best. I know many others who have wanted to go and it hasn’t worked out for them. Most days I feel God’s hand in bringing us here and don’t want to take it for granted. And some days I long for my native land where living and communicating took less effort and I had time of my own. We have received sunshine and storms here as we did before. We try to have simple hearts, release expectations, and receive the provision that comes to us, sending our roots deeper and enlarging our branches towards this intriguing new world.




China Birds


I have been trying to move to China for half a decade. My husband and I traveled here in 2013 with two toddlers to explore work and ministry opportunities. The trip confirmed several things for me: I still loved Asian culture, and there was meaningful work happening there that I could be a part of. After we returned, we encountered several obstacles that stood between us and our goal. My longing for a baby and infertility surfaced again, as I pictured us overseas and unable to fulfill that. We began our third adoption. My cousin’s husband got cancer and passed away at 34, leaving her with five young children. I wasn’t sure if we should leave her a widow. We had to raise a large amount of monthly support, an amount that seemed humanly impossible. There were so many times that this decision was almost undone- my husband having second thoughts, our adoption taking longer than we expected, family obligations, lack of response from fundraising. But slowly, month by month, we felt momentum, circumstances nudging us steadily closer to the precipice. At last our adoption was complete, we were free of family obligations, and our support was raised. Yet more mountains loomed ahead: our son, adopted from Taiwan, was told he could not get a Chinese visa. We had a house to show and sell, with three young children living in it. We had to reduce thirteen years of accumulated possessions to a 10×10 storage unit, which is what we could afford on our new budget. Somehow our most important belongings must fit in our airplane luggage; the process of whittling down thousands of objects and making decisions on each one was exhausting.

And then there were the goodbyes. We were taught in our training that it is healthiest to allow yourself to grieve them, because then you will be able to let go. The people who had shared our lives for 9 years- the ones who felt our pain of infertility and loss, and rejoiced with us as we added 3 children to our families. Book club, cooking club, church, play dates, work colleagues. Hundreds of memories with people we will probably never share a city with again. Our friendships will not be the same, the chapter is closed, and that must be properly mourned. We said goodbye to two jobs that were very important to us. My husband left his successful practice he had worked hard to build. I left a faculty position that was my first serious job after residency- my affiliation with this organization touched a deep place in my identity. I felt a literal ache in my chest when I turned in my pager. I cried when we drove away from our house for the last time. The three tree swings had been taken down. I could still see the sign stretched across our garage welcoming our first son home. I saw our boys learning to walk, and then as toddlers running wildly down the halls. Climbing the bush in the back yard. I pictured them making Christmas cookies at our scratched up table, as Salvation army hauled it away. I touched their rocking chair one more time before it was hauled onto the truck, the chair where I rocked each baby I had been so desperately afraid I would never have. We threw away so much stuff that was full of memories, though worthless to anyone else. Shutting down a life is hard. Loss of identity, possessions and friendships was emotionally and physically painful. I grieved them strongly for a month. Sometimes after I wake up I remember that I have a new life, and miss my old one. Some days if I was given the chance to go back to the security of that life I would take it.

I don’t share all this just to complain. Many people consider a move overseas, and most of us know someone who has done this. It is exciting, a dream fulfilled. We faced many obstacles to make this move, and I believe we prevailed because we were meant to do this and we didn’t give up. I rejoice in that- it is a privilege to finally be here. But to romanticize this journey is to cheapen it- it was exponentially harder than we imagined. It was a sacrifice, a death to self, just to get to this place where we are called to serve. It was a test of faith, a painful stretching process. Perhaps that was for a reason.

We flew out from Denver 2 weeks ago. Things went pretty smoothly regarding luggage, the kids on the plane. We weren’t 500 pounds overweight and nobody threw up. We have not had our own home for 2 months. We are living on the 6th floor of a temporary apartment with no elevator. Our stuff is in storage because no one wants to carry it up the stairs. Our son starts school in 3 days, and I have no idea what he needs for uniforms or school supplies. We found out we have to pay federal taxes on our support, as well as a year’s rent and tuition in advance, bleeding our (previously) comfortable support fund to…basically zero. And we are finding this out right before I was going to start shopping for the basic stuff we need to restart our life.

But you know what? After the last several years, I have a new perspective on these problems. I feel peace that it will be ok. There were so many times that China could have fallen off our life map- but it didn’t. There were so many times I threw up my hands and said “If you want us there, you’re going to have to fix this problem”. And He did. There are so many beautiful and hard differences about the way people live here, but this post is getting long, so I will save it for the next one. This has not been a romantic journey, and at times it has felt really raw. There is no guarantee that we will see or accomplish the things we hope for. I renamed our blog “China Birds on a Wire” because I now see how fragile and full of failure we are. If we are passive and live to impress others we will miss the purpose of our lives. I am so thankful to be here, and believe that this is where we’re meant to be. I feel God’s presence and purpose here as I did in the other places. Yet a new life has begun. And I plan to live every day believing that we are here for a reason.

Letting go


Everything that comes to us will mar

Perfection an ideal

Resigned, we live without

When precious careful things

Get scarred and chipped with time

Life tests and breaks and shatters

But secret dreams remain enshrined

Hallowed cherishings of youth

Transcendent sparks, calling divine

Images of who we might become

First pure, distort under a grasp too tight

The thing we can control, protect

Yet in perfection they remain unreal

Translucent shadows that obey too well

We each may craft our gods and fantasies at will

Sequester in our matrix games and private worlds

They shimmer in the fog we have become

And sparkle in soul’s lamplight, but we cringe

To bring them forth, in case their tarnish shows

And even we are found unglorious when all have seen

But here’s the cobbled space on which our destinies are spread

Where we may risk, and grow

Hold flickering spark to wind and watch it flame or die

It’s here that God meets man

Holds out a hand, receives our flimsy glory now

Then lets it fall, while horrified we watch

Perfection splinter, shards drop to the earth

We wait in loss…accept

The risk we take to make it real




The Halls of Wisdom

elderly woman
(On my experience working in a nursing home)


Every youth should walk these dank halls for a day

Hearing Help and staring into dead eyes

Slurred stories swirl and blend

Reimagining the past

Fermented beauty like aged wine

Translucent skin and liquid eyes

Skeleton once hidden now emerges proud

Body that has weathered ninety years

Can boast it’s strength, while youth can just presume

Pictures on walls speak

You see us here, just like you

Our minds intact, vocations strong

Our futures full of hope

A strange regression happens at the end of life

Hobbling in their second infancy

Obsessed with bowels

Clutching a toy cat or doll

The need for warmth

Sensation becomes primary

Scream for no reason, toddler’s rant

Anxiety and agitation, we write, and call for pills

But maybe they’re just trying to go back

Back to the coiled repose of a neonate

Because the end comes too fast

For others not fast enough

There is a reason will to live is lost

Body,mind, potential gone

Gone are dreams of what might be

Past is best, and savors safe

For being here is not enough

In doing we find meaning

Yet all is not futile

And meaning can be sought and found here

Some have found the joy in dying

Exist by being loved when memory fades

Some are content with life lived well

Avoid regrets, and can accept

They find a faith for what comes next

I cringe and seek retreat

By contrast being busy, being needed is a gift

Reminded now to cherish, but not fear

Yet know the day will come when I become them