Monday, March 30, 2015

Tender Spot

Last week I was at Bible Study with my dear friends. We’ve been meeting together since Jack’s death, wrestling with faith and holding each other up in the hard times. We couldn’t meet until 9 pm, which is pretty late for a weeknight. I didn’t plan to stay too long because I wanted to tuck Margaret in bed and possibly watch The Americans with Tim after that. 

At 10 o’clock, I stood up and said I had to go. It seemed like a decent stopping point between the sharing and the Bible study. 

On my short drive home, I got a text from my friend Allie that said, “I’m sorry. XOXO” I texted back, “I’m fine. Love you.” And I truly thought I was. But in an attempt to be more open, something I’ve been working on, I began to wonder if there was something more. Something Allie had picked up on at our meeting that I hadn’t. So, I added a while later, “Home now. Sometimes I have to leave to protect myself from extra pain. XO.”

Woah. Where did THAT come from? 

I truly had planned on leaving at 10. My friends were talking about high school sporting events, and prom, and dating, and cell phone use, but there was nothing new there. It’s what moms talk about. So why did I add that bit about ‘extra pain’ to my text? 

Crap! I’m sure it made my friends feel bad, and these friends are some of the very ones who have stood by me every step of the way, embracing and including me when it would be so much easier not to. 

Now, my friends would probably beat themselves up, second-guessing the whole conversation, wondering which topics should be off-limits around me, even after all this time. There would be apologies. And awkward conversations. Oh boy.

In my attempt to be transparent, I was making things much worse, and maybe even hurting those closest to me, all because in my response to Allie's concerned text, I had led her to believe that something about the conversation that night was taboo. 

I realize now, that in my weird response, I was trying to protect Allie and my closest friends from something much worse: The truth. 

The terrible truth is that our gathering that night didn’t hurt worse than any other night. They all hurt. To be best friends with Jennie means to remember that her sweet daughter Alexis was playing in the rain with my kids that terrible day, but mercifully was called inside 5 minutes before the accident. To be friends with Jane is to remember that she was the one who watched Jack while I was at the hospital giving birth to Margaret, and that we fumbled and found our legs as mothers together in those exhausting, innocent early years, sharing family dinners, planning egg hunts, and fretting. So many memories. And to hear about the sons in the group, whether it's their sports schedules or tentative forays into dating, is to miss Jack even more. So, I immediately knew what Allie must be alluding to when she typed, “I’m sorry. XOXO.” I guess I just didn’t want her to know, how it goes way beyond that one conversation. How much it still hurts every day-- how I am still living life on two tracks after all this time. Darn.

Being around people hurts. Yet to try to avoid pain is to avoid people and avoid living and loving, and that is not acceptable to me. Living in community is not perfect, but it’s absolutely worth it. 

Friendship requires sensitivity and acknowledgment, for sure. But while shortly after Jack’s death I hoped friends would spare me the details of their children’s lives, I do not want that any longer. I want to be a true friend who knows what’s going on in my friends’ lives and their children’s lives, too. I don’t want our relationships to be one-sided. I can’t NOT know about my beloved nephew’s driver’s license, new truck, or date to the prom, even though it stings mightily to hear it. 

I want to share others’ joy and pain with them, as they do for me, and if that means keeping the second track under wraps a lot of the time, then it's worth it. 

And we all make mistakes.  I know I do! How callous it is for me to complain about something Tim does that bugs me, when Heather’s husband starts chemo this week. Or to forget in the 27 years I’ve lived without my mom, that the pain of mother-loss looms so fresh for Allie at every holiday and family gathering. I'm glad my friends show me grace when I fail them.

I’m grateful for Allie’s text, and in a way I’m even grateful for my messy and muddled response to it. Because it reminds me that in general I am making it through my days in a way that doesn't scream “pain!” and “brokenness!” at first glance any more. In fact, I think my life sometimes manages to whisper "hope" and "joy" and "friendship." So that's something.

And the text also reminds me what a privilege it is to love each other through the messiness: mine, my dear Bible study friends' and yours.

When We Dared To Love

Today I'd like to introduce Noelle Juday. Like me, Noelle believes in the beauty and power in sharing our stories. Noelle blogs regularly at NBrynn, where you will find everything from her daughter's gorgeous ballerina birthday party to insight about marriage, parenting, and orphan care. Please welcome Noelle as she shares part of her story with us today.


This is one of the only things I know for sure: That you have a story to tell. And so do I. I have found myself saying these words over and over again this year, increasingly convinced of the power of sharing our soulful stories with one another. In fact, my being alive today is a walking testimony to a story's power. And so it is with great gratitude that I offer a piece of my own tale to you today.

Almost seven years ago, my husband and I boarded a plane bound for Chiang Mai, Thailand. We were young, enthusiastic and, like most youth, idealistic. After years of missions work, Christian leadership training and prayer, we were being sent by our church to work with a local Thai group who had a vision for starting bilingual elementary schools. We had traveled to work with this group many times before, building a friendship that spanned almost a decade. We were eager to begin our lives overseas.

But no sooner had we unpacked the four suitcases that held all that we owned in the world, than did we watch with horror as all our well-laid plans began to unravel.  All too soon we found ourselves in the wake of broken friendships, cultural isolation and spiritual confusion. 

It was in this wake of pain and confusion that we found ourselves taking a bold leap into the world of foster care. We had always had a passion for orphans and intended to build our family solely through adoption some day, so in many ways this was a logical leap. But we also had serious apprehensions in our hearts about fostering, all very valid and logical fears. 

"What if we end up with a child with special needs that we cannot deal with?"
"I've never been a mom, can I handle this responsibility?" 
"What if I don't love the child?" 
"What if I fall in love and lose him?"

Despite these risk and apprehensions, my mindset increasingly became, "These children deserve to be loved and I will love them with all that I am, even if it breaks me."  How could I be in a world with hundreds of thousands of orphans and children being sold into slavery and all sorts of other atrocities and not do something tangible, albeit risky, to help? And besides, there we were, halfway around the world, with no other Plan B. What better way to fill my empty days than to care for an abandoned child? 

And so, with the assistance of an acquaintance, I drove to the local orphanage in Chiang Mai one day and registered to be a foster mom. Within weeks I was answering a phone call about our first placement! 

I can vividly remember the Thai social workers dropping off a blank-faced, chubby 8-month-old baby boy who had only ever known life in a large orphanage. The orphanage staff had named him "Makham" after finding him a few days after birth. Makham complacently sat in my lap while I did my best to have an in-depth conversation in Thai about his schedule, eating habits and general routine. With only a few bits of information in hand, Makham and I watched as the social workers got into their pickup truck and drove away. I remember the strangest whirl of emotions washing over me as I found myself alone in a house, in a foreign land, with my new foster son. Now what?

We figured it out, with only a few bumps and sleepless nights along the way. We watched as Makham's expressionless face became a face of exuberant joy and life. We watched him squirm the first time he was buckled into a carseat and squeal as he learned the game of peekaboo. We watched as he got his first haircut, celebrated his first Christmas and took his first steps. We were the ones to throw his first birthday party and the ones to take him on his first vacation. We fell in love with this playful, joyful little life. 

Throughout the months of our time with Makham, many conversations with the orphanage staff, government officials and Thai friends were taking place, all with one goal in mind: making Makham our forever son. These conversations took us on one roller coaster ride after another, weeks filled with way too many twists and turns, ups and downs, "yes's" and "no's", uncertainty and lots of waiting. Finally, after several months, Thai friends came to our house for what we fully expected to be an announcement that the adoption had finally been approved. We had a pen ready to sign on the dotted line: Our baby would legally be ours!

I cannot put into words what happened next. 
..   ..   ..   ..   ..

My heart shattered. 

My dreams vanished. 

I couldn't breathe. 

My son was being taken away from me. 
We were given about a week's notice. We got to visit with Makham's new foster family once before having to drop him off for good. It still puts a lump in my throat and makes me sick to my stomach to think about that day. Unloading all his clothes and toys. Showing him fun things about his new house. Trying to be pleasant and positive so that he wouldn't be too scared. Then walking to the car, Makham reaching out for "mama", crying that I wouldn't take him...and driving away. We were silent the whole ride home. 

In many ways, I was silent for the next three years. 

How do you talk about loss like that? 
How do you live life and recover from such devastation? 
How do you explain the emotion, the struggle, the breaking?

We tried to figure it out. We talked, reached out for help and cried a lot. I grappled for a balance of keeping a living memory of him with me at all times and then just wanting to forget because the pain of not having him anymore was too overwhelming. I found myself - days passing by - stuck in grief. I couldn't bear the pretty answers and neat bows that people tried to fit our story into. I despised the silver-linings and chose instead to call a loss a loss, injustice a tragedy. 

Deep in our grief, I conceived our first son, Kyler, something we never thought could or would ever happen. Then the following summer, his sister, Havyn, was conceived, yet another surprise! Despite these two miracles, the loss of Makham remained a constant burden, nagging at the back of my throat whenever the topic came up. His memory remained alive in my heart - sometimes vividly, sometimes distantly - but always, always there. 

And then, three years almost to the day of losing Makham, an email popped up in my inbox. It was from Makham's forever mom. At first I stood in disbelief, made myself re-read the lines a few times through to make sure I was placing her words in the right context. Wait, this was our Makham?! From Thailand?? As I read, I learned that Makham had been adopted the previous summer by a Canadian couple. He had remained in foster care for another two years with the family in Chaing Mai where we had experienced our tragic goodbye, and then had joined his forever family in Canada, where he was renamed Joel Makham.

Joel Makham's mama had tried to connect with me shortly after their adoption was finalized, using the email address I had left in the baby book I had kept for Makham during our time with him. Since I had not responded, she assumed I was not ready or interested in talking, when really I had never even seen her email.  But now, here we were, sharing stories of this little boy that had completely changed both of our lives. 

Joel Makham's mama sent photographs to me, raving about how wonderful her little boy is, like any proud mother would. How he loved to swim and was starting his first season of hockey. How he had immediately bonded with the family dog and was as adorable as ever. 

My heart skipped a beat when I opened the first image and saw what Joel Makham was holding: Almost unrecognizable from wear and washes, there was our sweet Makham, now four-years-old, still clutching the baby blanket we had made and given to him on that fateful first day

I have struggled so often to find meaning in the pain and chaos of fostering Joel Makham, and then losing him. It has been hard for me to feel any joy about getting to be a part of his life in light of all the heartache that followed, and harder still to know how to put into words the sort of loss we felt. We dared to love and were broken to pieces because of it, and for a long, long time, it all seemed absolutely meaningless. 

But when I opened that image and saw a smiling little boy and his blanket, I knew we had dared greatly and I knew it had mattered. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

10 Things To Buy at the Dollar Store

My love for thrift shopping is well known. On any given day, I'm wearing some new-to-me item, even if, like today, it's noon and that item is my bathrobe. You also know about my love for small, unique businesses like my friend Theresa's gorgeous store, Stifel and Capra, in Falls Church and Tiffany's Christian jewelry at Holly Lane Designs.

One place I haven't written about much is the dollar store. I was thrilled when our town got a new one last year (Dollar Tree), where everything truly is a dollar. Our other one had become more like the 1.99-2.49 store in recent years. Boo.

I know that dollar stores can be an overwhelming jumble sometimes, leaving us feeling a bit like

So, here are 
The 10 Things I Always Buy at the Dollar Store:

1) Makeup Remover Pads, Cotton Balls, Cotton Swabs. These are MUCH cheaper at the dollar store than at a drug store, Target, or the grocery. I use these every day.

2) Denture Cleaner: I don't have dentures, but I do wear a mouth guard and a retainer each night to bed. Getting a jumbo box of these fizzy tablets for a dollar? Score!

3) Disposable Pans: When I cook for others (which is not that often because I'm a terrible cook) I try to use a disposable aluminum pan so that there is no worry about returning a dish to me. Dollar stores usually have 2 or 3-packs for a dollar.

4) Advil/Tylenol: While I wouldn't feel comfortable making the dollar store my primary drugstore, I have been buying pain relievers there for years with success. Huge price difference.

5) Greeting Cards: I still think it's nice to pay for a quality hand-crafted card every now and then, but I like to stock up on greeting cards at the dollar store. Sad to say, there is always a need for sympathy cards and thinking of you cards. My Dollar Tree sells them for .50 each. Having cards already available at home makes me more likely to send them.

6) Toothbrushes: We are germaphobes here, so we need lots of extra toothbrushes on hand.

7) Baggies: I try not to use a lot of baggies, but when I do need them, I get them from the dollar store. Unless I am doing heavy-duty freezing of soups, etc, the slightly flimsy dollar store baggies suit my needs for travel, food storage, etc.

8) Padded envelopes, packing supplies, manila folders: I needed a lot of these during my book launch, and the dollar store was a great place to find them! While I wouldn't use all dollar store office supplies (hello, fake Sharpees!) I really like their paper products. This is also THE place to go for poster board.

9) Garage sale supplies: price stickers, yard signs, etc. They have these at office supply stores for much more $$.

10) Balloons and Party Supplies: At our new dollar store, mylar balloons truly are a dollar. This is much cheaper than the grocery store or party stores. Other party supplies, such as plastic ware, colorful, disposable table cloths, and theme accessories are also plentiful, as are gift bags and tissue paper.

A successful dollar store shopping trip kind of makes me feel like this:

Except that's a stock photo I bought, not really a picture of me, so we'll just use our imaginations.

What do YOU like to buy at the dollar store?

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

2 Jars of Pears

Almost all of us took pictures of the same thing: the 2 jars of wild pears that Margarita canned late last summer.

I didn't ask what they meant to my colleagues on the World Vision trip to Armenia, but I knew what they meant for me.

For the past hour we had sat in Margarita and Gegham's dark yet tidy living room, warming ourselves by the wood stove in the middle. We talked with Gegham first, as Margarita was on her way home from school with Tigran, their eldest son. Tigran suffered seizures at age two and now, at 7, has paralysis on his right side and developmental delays.

Margarita attends school with him, whenever possible, to give him extra help. He qualifies for physical therapy, but the family cannot afford the transportation costs to get them from their tiny village to a clinic, so Margarita does most of it on her own.

Margarita's dedication and determination reminded me so much of other mamas I know, who stay right there in it, at school and at home, making sure their kids get what they need as far as extra help and support.

The alphabet poster on the wall reminded me of the one that hung on my pantry door when the kids were little, and the joy it was to support them as they learned their letters.

(Tigran writes with his left hand now, b/c of paralysis on his right side)
Margarita is a regular mom, dealing with the challenges of raising two young boys, but with the additional burden of groaning debt brought on by Tigran''s 20-day hospitalization years ago and exacerbated by long harsh winters that make growing enough food extremely difficult.

Gegham is a hard-working and industrious man, and last summer he managed to rent a tractor and make enough money to sustain them for almost the entire winter. They paid the rent, grew potatoes,  and purchased firewood.

Until now.

Which leads us to the pears.

There is another room of their crumbling, communist-era home, which sits unused and unheated because of fear that the damaged roof will cave in. Margarita uses the room for cold storage, and on a small table are two jars of pears, all that remain of her canning the summer before.

Our visit is the last week in February, a long way off from the next growing season in this part of Armenia, one that lasts a scant 2-3 months. These pears are what Magarita and Gegham have left. To her disappointment, some of the other jars of fruit she had canned had gone bad and grown murky and moldy, so this was it.

And there the similarities between our lives ended.

Sure, I could tell Margarita that on the other side of the world I have a daughter who shares her name.
Yes, I had delighted in teaching my kids their letters, and I hope I had been as good an advocate as she had when my own kids faced difficulties (although I always think I could have done more). But I never once wondered if we would have enough to feed them.

I never once faced this on laundry day:

In feeling connected one mother-heart to another with Margarita, I could no longer deny the extreme differences in our situations.

Margarita will continue to work with her kids on their schooling, bake the bread, and can the fruits and vegetables. Gegham will find a way to rent a tractor again this summer.

But they need more help emerging from the precipice in which jars of spoiled fruit truly make a difference. This help will come through sponsorship of their kids with World Vision. Both boys gained sponsors while we were there, and as World Vision gets established in their community, the family will be equipped to build even better lives for themselves.

They already have the love.

There are MANY more children in this village and region awaiting sponsorship, and perhaps YOUR family can help. Here's more information about sponsorship.

(photos by Laura Reinhardt and Amy Bellgardt)

Monday, March 23, 2015

Spring Fever

This gorgeous weather means it is time to put away the St. Patrick's Day decorations and forge ahead to Easter.
It's funny how when the kids were little, I went for a more formal look (lots of white, glass and matchy-matchiness), but now I'm so very sentimental about the preschool
crafts that couldn't match anything if they tried.

And oh how I love the paper mache tombs the kids made in elementary school.
 Naturally, we need colored eggs EVERYWHERE

So today, new pansies are planted, the piles and piles of winter dog poop are gone, and somehow Easter eggs sprouted up on our bushes.
There's nothing like a little sunshine and warmth and a few unnecessary plastic items after a LONG winter to make even a Monday seem better.
What do you like best about spring?

Thursday, March 19, 2015


Can we talk?

So here’s the thing. I think Jack looks like Justin Bieber. Maybe he doesn't to you, but to me there is a breath-catching, eye-widening response every time I see The Biebs, which is fairly often.
The slender build, the way he walks (lopes) and his coloring and features are spot on. My breath catches when I see Justin on TV, jutting out his chin, because when he’s moving, the similarities are even more pronounced.

What are the chances the boy we lost would resemble someone famous, so that when we turn on a tv or, to be honest, open a trashy magazine, he could be right there staring at us?

After my mom died, I began to think of her when I saw Princess Diana on TV. The short blonde hair, the strength coupled with sensitivity, and the motherly compassion just made me want to hug her and be hugged by her.
It’s a bit of a blessing, to be able to have a way to imagine what Jack would have looked like as he aged. But it’s also a curse, because as a mama, I just want to say, “Justin, stop with the weird pants that make it look like you have inserted your spindly legs into an upside down sweatshirt. Not one person on earth needs a crotch that hangs that low. And the Malfoy hair? No, just no. Stick with the beautiful brown, please.

What about a nice checked button down? Could we try the preppy thing for a little while? And speaking of a little while, I know you have been struggling for months. People think you’re a punk. And you are at that tough place where if you try to prove you AREN’T A PUNK, it just comes out like, 'Methinks thou dost protest too much.'
I believe your mom, that you are a good person. I do. When we met you in LA, you showed us nothing but class and kindness. You didn’t have to reach out to us in our pain, but you did, and I will always be grateful. Thank you. Growing up in the spotlight can’t be easy. And all that money isn’t doing you any favors either, surrounding you with hangers-on and “Yes” people all the time. I was relieved my kids weren’t prodigies at anything because, well, that would mean a lot more driving around for me, but also because there is just too much pressure when you shine and potentially flame out so young.
Could you just step back for a while, check out, or check-in somewhere or do whatever it would take to get back on solid ground? You have potentially sixty years or so ahead of you. This rough patch could become just a blip on the way to your finding your true self and living a life full of love and meaning."

But then I think selfishly, if Justin loses the bravado, the weird clothes, the bluster, and the hair dye, he might look even more like the one I’m missing. And that might hurt just a little too much.

p.s. After I wrote this I read an article on the same topic from the folks at What's Your Grief? Have you experienced anything like this?

p.p.s. Thank you for your kind words yesterday on Jack's 16th b-day. Please visit the Huffington Post to read my interview w/Melanie Bishop for the occasion.


Wednesday, March 18, 2015


Sixteen years ago today I became a mom. It was like coming home.
Happy Birthday, Sweet Jack!
Love never dies.



Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Flashback: Siblings, One Ordinary Morning


I see them standing in the ironwood tree next to the carport, feet resting on the thick, twisted branches as they face each other. No sports or errands crowd their agenda this spring morning, when their only job is to be kids. Our yard doesn’t have the huge climbing trees of my childhood, but a flowering cherry and Japanese dogwood in the front and this one on the side are good for a short climb, and apparently, snacking and talking. I can’t see what food they took up there. Scooby Doo fruit snacks, I’m guessing.  

Are they discussing school next year, and that fact that Tim and I can’t seem to get our act together to commit to public verses private for Jack? They’re probably grateful they have each other to bemoan the fact that Tim and I can’t make a decision to save our lives.  Most likely their chat is about neighborhood  or school gossip, or Jack is telling Margaret something about his Lego video game, which she may or may not be following.

I remember when he kept the two of us in his room for  hours, coaching us on all of the weird character names from one of his games. We used mnemonic devices to remember, so we’d be ready when he quizzed us.

He always quizzed us.

Margaret and I can still recite the characters’ names: “Haikaru with hair of blue!” with an enthusiastic shout, even though it’s been years, and we had no real clue what he was talking about. Why have we always so willingly and enthusiastically fed into Jack’s interests, whether trains, legos, or word play?
Is it because eldest children set the agenda for a family?
I certainly remember wanting my older brother to include me in his world, to throw me a bone of attention, even though I wasn’t at all interested in fishing, burping,  sports, or setting things on fire. I was just interested in him.

Margaret wears an aqua tank top and shorts, a satiny blue ribbon holding back her long brown pony tail. Jack’s soft heather green t-shirt is way too big, but fortunately is long enough to cover the top of the athletic shorts he’s taken to pulling down past his butt. All his pertinent business is covered by the shirt, but it’s weird to know that if you lifted it up, his boxer shorts would show. Is this teenager-dom, come one year early? I’ve decided to let it go, except for teasing him about it occasionally. He spends most of his time tucked and belted into his uniform khakis anyway.

Both kids have a sprinkle of freckles  starting to show on their button noses. By October they’ll be faded until next year. I can’t take any credit for the provenance of those noses or the striking eyes, which lean toward amber for Margaret, and the deepest brown for Jack. Mine are blue, and my nose and face are something I had to grow into. I love how anyone who sees Jack and Margaret immediately knows they are brother and sister.

From their vantage point they can see down the long driveway, and any neighbor kids who come out of their houses will be able to spot them too. This tree perch could be a way to drum up a game of soccer in someone’s front yard, or refrigerator tag in our driveway, the wheeled trashcans serving as bases. Jack and Margaret are not phone callers or door knockers. They do not foist themselves on anyone, but wait to be approached. 
They are sociable but on the introverted side. If no one calls, they remain content to stay at home, together. I understand the desire to make certain they are wanted, because I am like this too, but it stands in contrast to the more assertive kids whom I’ve encountered over the years. “Mrs. Donaldson, can Jack come out and play?” says a child at our kitchen door. “Well, he’s doing his homework right now,” I respond, gently inching the door closed. The child remains, faced pressed against the glass, just a few feet from our kitchen table. “It doesn’t look like he’s doing homework. It looks like he’s eating a snack.” We all crack up.

Like so many sibling conversations Jack and Margaret have had, today’s stays between them. Sometimes, even though their personalities are different, it seems as if they share a brain. A single word or a look and they erupt into hysterical laughter. They don’t have to worry about figuring out social cues or sugar coating things for each other, so connected are they by genes and culture and experience and security. Margaret knows she can be super blunt with Jack and he’ll take it, whether she's telling him he has too much gel in his hair or is wearing the wrong shirt. In fact, he usually welcomes it, considering her counsel to be wise, even though she’s barely 10 years old. Jack, on the other hand, has learned to couch any advice to her in more gentle terms, so as not to put her on the attack. He always starts with, “Well, Margaret…” and although he finally found his “R’s” years ago with the help of speech therapy, he still says his sister’s name in a distinctive way.
Sometimes they talk about the girls who have crushes on Jack. It’s fun to speculate about. I love that Margaret is already getting that easy exposure to boys through Jack that my sister and I did with our big brother, John. To us, boys were not some mysterious, foreign species. We knew they were more or less like us, just with smellier feet.  

Already, Margaret is used to the pile of shoes the boys kick off when they dash into the house, heading down to video games or the basement. She has a comfortable rapport with her brother and his friends. Jack is her favorite, but it can’t be a bad thing having other boys around too, in and out all day with the slam of the kitchen door. And it goes both ways: Jack has been learning about how to understand women and their emotions ever since the day Margaret shook up his quiet life ten years ago.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Meh News, Very Good News, Great News!

It's great to be home, despite killer jet-lag conveniently coupled with Daylight Saving Time.

Tim and Margaret did very well while I was gone, and I couldn't believe my plane landed despite our most recent snowstorm.

I wanted to update you regarding Nikol. By the time we came out of the rural area and back into the city at the end of our trip, World Vision found out that Nikol had already been sponsored by someone else. It's great he is sponsored, but I was bummed, of course, because it really felt like I was meant to be in his life.

The very good news is that I quickly checked with Tim and Margaret, and we decided to try to sponsor one of Nikol's older brother's children, who live nearby and two of whom were still awaiting sponsors. We had visited Varden, Ani, and their three children immediately after leaving Nikol's house. They live in a small converted railroad car with a lean-to attached to it.

Their need is as great as Nikol's family. In fact, as we were chatting with them, Varden came in from his daily trek in search of firewood to heat their woodstove. They do not have a cow for the cow dung, and there are very few trees around, so this trek can take hours a day. The rest of the time he looks for odd jobs, occasionally working overnight at a nearby hydroelectric plant to try to keep the water from freezing.

This young family will greatly benefit from economic development opportunities when World Vision gets programs established in their region. I am excited to see how their lives and futures will improve as a result of child sponsorship and economic development.

And, I will be able to stay in touch with Nikol through his brother's family, so that feels great, too.

Meet Vahan:

Looks like he got those striking blue eyes from his grandma, Nikol's mom:

Vahan is such a sweet, sweet four year old. He did a puzzle with our team member, Addie, while we were visiting. I'm so looking forward to being in his life as he grows!

Here he is with Mom and Dad and his little sister, Mariam, who also needs a sponsor. Behind them you can see the windows into the train car where the five of them sleep. The other room is where they cook, eat, and play.
And here's Dad on his quest for firewood:
So there was some meh news (I wanted to sponsor Nikol) and some very good news (I get to sponsor Vahan AND Nikol has an awesome sponsor!) and here's some GREAT NEWS:

Remember Aida? As the week progressed, 5 of her 7 kids needed sponsors and YOU came through. Yep! An Inch of Gray readers sponsored each of the remaining children! This family will blossom with your financial, emotional, and spiritual support. THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart. Our big family is helping her family!

If you are interested in sponsoring a child, but have not had the opportunity to do so, there are many more children in need of sponsorship. Learn more here.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Warm Boots

I was excited to be able to give a World Vision worker money to provide Nikol with a new pair of boots and possibly a few other things while we were here. Nikol and the worker went shopping and Nikol proudly picked out the pair he wanted. With the extra money, he bought apples, sugar, cooking oil, and coffee for his parents. I bet his mom is going to be super happy about that coffee.

Here are some pictures taken in the World Vision office of a happy boy:

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Much More than Money

The widow opened the cabinet door, placing a colorful stack of letters on the table. Nine of us huddled under the eaves of her apartment, a make-shift space that she shared with her only child, 12 year old son Menua.

The letters were a source of pride for him and his mother, reminding them that even though they have been alone and marginalized since Menua's father's death, they are not forgotten. Menua explained that his sponsors in America encourage him through their letters.

I was humbled.

Having sponsored several children over the past 26 years, I've always thought that my monetary contributions were the most important part of the relationship. Sometimes I would receive 2 or 3 letters from my sponsor children for every one that I wrote. I would get busy and so focused on my own kids, I would forget to write.

But here was a real live boy (who loves math, is super-shy, wears glasses, and sings in the choir) whose life was made less lonely by a husband and wife from somewhere in the U.S. who send him Christmas cards, ask him about his studies, and tell him never to give up.

Another member of our team, Benjamin Corey, sums up these moments far better than I can in his latest post.

Something we've heard again and again from the kids on this trip, and I really needed this reminder, is that sponsorship is truly a relationship.

And speaking of relationships, right before this trip, remember how Tim, Margaret and I decided to sponsor a little girl named Anahit, 15 months old?

I got to meet her this week!

She is simply adorable and reminded me a lot of Margaret at that age. When I gave her a few little gifts, she was a very busy girl, carrying them around the restaurant where the sponsors, children, parents, and translators for lunch. She explored that place, all the while carrying the blue jay beanie baby I gave her, and a bunch of toddler spoons.

 Can you believe those cheeks?

I am more committed than ever to being here for her and our other sponsor kids as their "family from far away."

P.S. What should I write to a 15 month old???? If she's as active as I think she is, maybe my first letters should be encouragement for her mom!

If you want to learn more about child sponsorship, please visit World Vision

Sunday, March 1, 2015


Today is a day of rest for us, bridging the two halves of our trip.

Maybe you need rest, too, from the week you’ve had, from the day you are having, maybe even from hearing about the sad things I’ve shared on my trip to Armenia so far.
The first few days were dedicated to seeing DIRE NEED, and the next few will show us the HOPE. We just met a young professional woman who introduced herself saying, “I’m a success story!” She is a product of World Vision’s well-established program in the Gyumri region which I’ll begin to share about tomorrow.

I’m glad our trip is structured this way: first showing us the needs that will hopefully be met as WV’s new project grows (with all of our help) in Nikol’s and Aida’s region (Amasia), then showing us what years of specific, sustainable support and development have accomplished (in and around Gyumri).
It’s going to be inspiring, so hang in there!

A blog reader commented on my post about Aida, “AMother-Woman,” that, “What Aida really needs is access to birth control.” It’s true that in many cases here women do not have access to family planning education. It would not be surprising if by next year, there is another mouth to feed. So many needs.
I love that World Vision looks at specific issues a community faces, and gives support to the entire community, not just the children. Parental education and support is a big part of this! That makes me hopeful and expectant for Aida, her husband, her children, and the world!

More tomorrow…


As of today, 5 of Aida’s 7 kids are still awaiting sponsors, so if you are interested in sponsoring any one of them, just let me know ( and I can help make that connection for you.