Thursday, December 19, 2013

Decking the Halls ~ Korean Style

 "You will never believe my afternoon," I told Corbin one evening a couple of weeks ago. He raised an eyebrow and continued making lunches as I cleaned the dinner dishes and ushered kids upstairs for bed. It had been a looonnnng day, and even with the bizarre proposal I needed to put before my husband, the conversation needed to wait. It was too much to discuss with both of us running on fumes at the end of a full, exhausting day.

The next morning after a good night's sleep and with fresh perspective, I relayed to Corbin the previous day's events: I'd answered our front door to a young, grinning Korean pastor. He introduced himself, made the connection of a mutual friend, and asked to speak with me for a minute. I led him with curious hesitation to the kitchen counter, where he poured out his vision of bringing a dozen Korean teenagers - orphans - to the states for a month-long visit. So as we sat at our kitchen counter with Basden doing homework and Esther scaling up and down the hallway door frame like a monkey, Pastor Daniel shared his vision of partnering with a Korean church in selecting a dozen orphans for this month long "Vision Camp" in America, specifically in Fort Worth.

Not masking his anticipation and excitement, Daniel said that as he prayed and pondered lodging for the students, our pool house came to mind.  About a year ago our mutual friends, a Korean seminary family who we know from school - their son is in school with Hudson - stayed with us for two weeks as they were between apartments. Evidently Daniel came and visited them in the pool house during their stay, though we never met at the time.

Now keep in mind, this unexpected kitchen conversation fell on a Wednesday afternoon. And the students would be arriving in Texas the following Friday, one week later. Daniel's request was for six girls to stay here for a month. Over Christmas.

Believe it or not, we seriously considered his request, and even got a little excited about the opportunity. But after talking, praying and making phone calls to others who might have more information on the whole thing, we called Pastor Daniel back and declined his request for the month-long lodging, but offered to host a dinner instead.

Pastor Daniel took us up on the dinner offer, so last night we readied our home and a meal - and our hearts - for this surprise, bizarre gift of hosting a dozen orphans and their Korean chaperones in our home. The adults spoke English, the students did not.

At 6:30 the entire group - about 25 in all - tumbled through our front door bringing with them loud giggles and "HI's!" and huge grins and hugs. Our home is not typically quiet, but this was a whole new level of vitality. The group meandered through the foyer, into our den, and then immediately into the backyard, where the kids put their hands over their mouths in awe of the swimming pool. One girl with very limited inhibitions bounced with full force on the diving board, and I was just sure that by the end of the evening we'd be scrambling to get her dry clothes. Miraculously, the cold pool remained void of teenagers.

We gathered around the buffet table to pray and introduce each other, and the kids shared their names and ages. Most could say their age in English. After polishing off Trader's "chicken parmesan on a stick" appetizers, the kids devoured a true Texas meal of BBQ pulled pork and sausage, baked potatoes, and all the fixins. 

Corbin making sure everyone has everything they need. This crew could eat - made all the prep worthwhile!

 For the next couple of hours we ate, visited, played piano and sang, played ping pong and basketball, and just spent time together. And somehow all of this without speaking the same language - and I could hardly tell (helpful that the adult mentors could translate here and there!)

Check out sweet, shy Basden in the background
A few memories I hope to hold on to:
- The students' fascination with Basden and Esther. They caressed Basden's hair all evening, and followed them like paparazzi. Honestly, every time Esther turned her head, kids were taking pictures of her with their phones, cameras, or even tablets. She came to me a couple of times, uncomfortable with the attention, but when we explained that it was from a genuine curiosity, she settled into trying to tolerate it. One of the adult women told us that the students had never seen little American girls in their life, that they equated them with movie stars.
- I couldn't believe that they ate so much. Oh my gosh - just like American teens - I wanted to snap a picture of some of the kids' plates, but couldn't bring myself to be that rude - though I don't think they would've cared. And they cleaned their plates, too.
- Two of the teens picking up Hud's rubik's cube and trying to solve it. They tried a few unsuccesful turns, and I motioned for Hudson to go over and show them. Within seconds he had the cube solved, and they gasped in amazement (thanks, Alex, for getting Hud hooked on this new pastime!)

- One of the boys leaving a thank you note scrawled on a napkin, describing our home as "cozy."
- Our kids fully engaging with the students and young mentors ~ all four jumped right into the middle of things. About ten minutes after the kids arrived, I glanced over to the pool house sofa, where a boy had his arms casually draped across Esther's shoulders as if he'd known her for years.
- The Hwuan family joining us - made all the difference to have our mutual friends there.
- Sung Mi's gifts and letter. 
- Candy bars at all the place settings. We brainstormed all week on gifts for all of the students, but we were out of ideas and time. On his way home from work last night, Corbin stopped at the Dollar Store and bought a ton of candy bars and those shiny, ready-made bows to decorate them with - thank goodness! He got home just minutes before the group arrived, Bran and Basden quickly assembled the "gifts" and placed them at each plate, and it was the highlight of the dinner. Never mind that we had two cakes and cupcakes for dessert, it was all about Jr Mints, Reese's PB cups, Kit Kat, Hot Tamales, and Sour Gummy Worms. The students tore into the boxes and ate the candy right along with their dinner, sharing and passing the boxes among each other, laughing at the spicy and sour flavors. A win!

With Peter, who we all fell in love with. From  Korea, came here to Fort Worth for seminary, and living back in Korea now. He partnered with the pastor in Korea to bring fly with the students here and mentor them for the month.
The moment the Korean crew descended, blowing kisses and waving until out of sight, we closed the front door and bypassed the messy tables and kitchen for a family pow-wow in the living room. We read James 1:27 and talked about God's deep heart for orphans and the reality of not having parents. It was hard to believe that about these kids, they were so full of joy - we really couldn't wrap our minds around it. All six of us felt dejected thinking about them going right back in a few weeks to orphanages, and being at the end of their teen years (most were 15-17) with no families to support them into adulthood.

We asked our children about their thoughts and observations - Branson hit the nail on the head when he said, "It surprised me that they felt right at home here from the second they walked in." Other comments revolved around how funny and engaging the teens were, how they made Peace signs in every photo (??!!), and each of our children seemed to have a favorite new friend.

As with most anytime we serve, our family was the winner in all of this. We were the ones who came away "filled." These faces and smiles won't fade from our memories anytime soon. I don't know what all will come of it, but at present, it has sparked some new interest for our kiddos. 

With the house all put back together our kiddos tucked into bed, Corbin and I trekked upstairs about midnight. I checked on the girls, both sound asleep and snuggled tight, then on the boys. Entering the darkened room, I could tell Bran was sound asleep all sprawled across his too-small twin bed, but Hud's comforter looked like a 3-foot pylon. With a glowing light from underneath.

"Hudson! What in the world?! You need to be asleep!" He threw his comforter off from over his head, pulled out his earbuds, and asked,
"Mom, you want to hear all the Korean phrases I can say?"
And then he started whispering jibber jabber that I'd never heard in my life.
"Hud - yes, I do want to hear, but not at midnight. Go to bed!"

Hud back at it this morning during breakfast - learning the Korean alphabet
As he hopped out of the car this morning, Hudson told me he was looking forward to greeting his friend Sung Yu today with, "Good morning! I can speak a little Korean." That boy!

Merry Christmas, new friends ~ until next time!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Wednesday Wonder - Mama's Miracle

Yesterday I witnessed a miracle. A real, live, medical miracle.
I wrote about my mother-in-love's bravery a month ago as she endured Biometric neurostimulator brain implant surgery for a familial tremor. For the past month as Jamie has been resting and healing from that surgery, yesterday marked the neurosurgery appointment to be "turned on."

As we sat in the neurologist's waiting room yesterday morning, Mama's phone continued to beep from friends sending quick texts and emails of love and support. The messages intermittently scrolled across her phone, and Mama spoke of the outpouring of love she'd felt through this process. As I said in my previous post, Mama and Papa so often get to be on the giving side of things, it's far different - and both humbling and comforting - to be on the receiving side of such lavish love. From her daughter Cameron coming to care for her the week post-surgery, to a couple of dear friends who made a secret pact of holding her up in prayer, to college roommates coming to be with her, and family and friends from Rockwall, Dallas, and literally across the globe offering their prayers and support. It's been a lot to digest.

So yesterday, after four weeks of recovering from a quite barbaric surgery, we waited to see if this thing WORKED. The nurse took Mama's vitals and the blood pressure cuff belied Mama's calm demeanor as her blood pressure skyrocketed about normal from nerves and anticipation.

Once seated in the exam room, the neurologist entered with a kind smile and asked, "Now, you're all healed, you look great. That was all worth it, right?"

Mama returned a half-hearted smile, and as recent images of Mama's head full of staples and the still not-yet-healed incisions across her chest circulated in my mind's eye, I suggested from the back corner, "Well, we'll all see in a few minutes."

Her neurologist sat down across from Jamie, drew a spiral on a piece of paper, then passed it to Jamie and asked her to do the same. Here's is Jamie's first attempt, before turning the unit on.
The doctor's spiral on the left, followed by Jamie's first and second attempts

She then asked Jamie to write, "Today is a nice day."

The doctor then pulled out a tablet and stylus and pushed a small button on a remote control to turn on Jamie's apparatus. She checked to make sure all the connectors were working, and then proceeded to fine tune the stimulator connected to the left side of Jamie's brain, which controlled the right side of her body - all with that little tablet and stylus. Jamie could feel nothing out of the ordinary - no electrical impulses or stimulation.

But when asked again to draw a spiral, here was Jamie's result:

And then the sentence.

It was at this point that Jamie began to cry.
And Papa and I needed tissues right along with her.

After more than thirty years of physical challenges with her tremor, Mama could again write a sentence - in her beautiful, familiar cursive handwriting.

The neurologist gave her a fifteen-minute break before firing up the other side. As she stepped out of the room I went to hug Mama, and Papa was just as quickly out of his chair with his arm around Mama's shoulders, immediately offering words of thanksgiving to our generous Heavenly Father who truly gave us more than we expected or imagined.

We dried our tears and pulled ourselves together before the neurologist walked back in to turn on the right-side neurostimulator. Again, the same process - a clear, clean spiral, a beautifully-written sentence (even left-handed), but this time, a stronger voice as well.
At the onset of this surgery, the physicians almost guaranteed that the neurostimlators would help the shaking in Jamie's hands and head. But they would not say the same for her voice. Only 2% of patients see a difference in their voice. All along, we've been saying we see every reason for Mama to be in that 2%.

As the neurologist continued to test Jamie's ability to put a cup to her mouth and drink, and then pour water from one cup to another (again, tasks she has not been able to do for years) the doctor told her, "I don't hear a tremor in your voice at all. It is gone. But you are still speaking slowly."

If only Clinton could have been in the room to answer that one.

The reality is, as Jamie gets comfortable with her ability to speak, her words will likely speed up. Or maybe not. She has spoken slowly and deliberately since I've known her. But with the tremor gone, it will take far less energy and exertion for her to communicate what she wants to say.
We were all kind of in disbelief driving away from that office yesterday. Jamie called Corbin from the car and his first words were, "Mom! You sound twenty years younger!"
Lifting a cup to her lips and drinking with steady hands (and - Go Bears!)
A few photos from last month, the day of Mama's surgery. Glimpses of the massive support she and Papa have felt throughout this process:
Morning waiting room crew (but pastor Steve Stroope beat us all) - God's great comfort through the love of others
Mama made Papa promise we'd pray in the actual hospital chapel, not just the waiting room. Proof.
As the day grew on, so did Jamie's fan base
Aunt Kay and Lori greeting Corbin (who showed up with several Campisi's pizzas for all)
Curtis and Shirley from east Texas - a joy to visit with
Corbin giving an update after seeing Mama for the first post-surgery visit
Oh happy day!
There's still a bit more tweaking of the neurostimulators and physical healing to come, but we are truly in awe of this entire process. I am still touched with Mama's bravery. Yesterday, through tears, she said that ten little grandchildren are responsible for that bravery - she would have never been motivated otherwise.
Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Eph 3:20-21

I love writing these "Wednesday Wonder" posts, because when I see amazing people doing extraordinary things, I want to shout it from the rooftops. Or at least from my little blog!  The people I highlight here are "Wonders" in my eyes because I see God's work in and through them - His work transforming the ordinary to extraordinary. But it typically takes a willing heart, some risk, and an offering of "yes" for Him to transform.

Friday, November 15, 2013

My Little Joy - Double Digits

"Basden Joy, would you rather do gymnastics or horse lessons this fall? Or volleyball?"
She looked thoughtful as she helped me pull her duvet cover and sheets to the top of her bed, aligning the pillows as we straightened her bed that morning.
"Well, do they have mommy lessons? Is there somewhere I can learn how to be a Mommy?"

I could stop right there.
Right there, without any more description, you'd have a pretty good idea of the way my daughter's heart is shaped.

Precious girl.
Mommy lessons?!
Basden Joy, that's when you know you were born with a nurturing heart. You never have to wonder. If in the years to come the Lord calls you His service of caring for orphans in a distant land, you never, ever have to question if He made you for this. Or when you are climbing out of a warm bed into a cold night to - again - calm your infant babe, or wiping applesauce for the hundreth time from your toddler's chubby chin, or keeping your friend's rambunctious children as she recovers from surgery... you don't have to wonder if you're up for the task.

I will never forget you holding little Esther, your feisty newborn sister. You were only two and a half, a little cherub with golden hair perched on a sofa cushion or the floor, or wherever your baby sister was. You would cradle her in your arms as best you could, her little fists grabbing for your face and hair, and as she literally pulled tufts of blonde hair from your head, you would gently lean your face towards hers and whisper, "Now Essie, don't do that, Essie. Don't pull hair, sweet girl."
Goodness gracious.
Daboo and I didn't know whether to scold Esther or hug you - or both!

You emulate leadership and like to organize things, and you seem to know when to back down on something unimportant. But - if it's important to you - watch out. As Daboo reminded me years ago, it's a good thing that you're strong. The last thing we would want is for you to let people run over you, to be a follower. Especially as a girl, I'm so grateful you know when to stand your ground. That will be a necessity in the growing up process.

Sometimes I'm surprised with your desire to be on stage - whether in the choir for Music Camp, or with school plays. Last year you played the Narrator in A Christmas Carol, and I was again taken aback at your comfort on stage, delivering lines, and ad libbing when the microphones didn't work.

I see you make choices in your classroom to be a leader, to make hard choices that you know are right, rather than following a popular lead. You play with friends when they don't have any, you're careful not to gossip about others, and you seem to care more about learning than about what social element might be going on in the classroom.

I love, love, love getting to be your mom. I'm so thankful for the very unique and specific role you play in our family. You are truly a joy, Basden Joy.



Happy 10th, Basden Joy!