Fostering Hope: The Princess Dress


photo courtesy of Pexels

Before Mai Ling( Losing Mai Ling), there was another little girl who might have become ours.  It happened in the spring of 2014.   A couple we knew were temporarily providing foster care to a little girl from a tough family situation.  They wondered if we would consider fostering her if the need became long-term and to maybe even adopt her.  This came completely out of the blue for us.  Having known about the roller coaster-like foster situations of other people, I never believed I would pursue anything resembling foster care.  Not even on my radar.  I was dead-set against it.  Until “Isabelle.”

When you get a call like this, having wanted a little girl as long and as much as I have, you find that your life long “No” quickly comes out of your mouth as a “Yes.”  When my husband, Mike told me about this possibility, I was lying on the bed talking on the phone with him.  It didn’t matter that we had no idea what was going to happen in Isabelle’s biological family’s situation.  I knew that I had to be open to the possibility that this might be the path God planned for us all along.

I was cautious at first.  I was so careful not to plan too much on this working out.  At first.  Listening to the sad situation of Isabelle’s birth mother, “Maria,” and what she was going through made me think Isabelle could end up with us.  Don’t get me wrong, if the biological family is able to reunify with the child in a healthy way, then by all means it should happen.  So I always knew that would be the end goal for the birth mom, social workers and the little girl herself.  As time went on, I just didn’t think that would happen. I knew little about the foster system.  And for the first several months, I figured we just did not have enough information to gauge how it would end up.  All we could do was wait.

A few months into this wait, we went to a gathering of some of the family members, including the birth mom.   I only knew whatever Mike relayed to me, so I didn’t know I was also going to meet Isabelle for the first time.  When we walked in, my eyes grew huge as I saw this little whippersnapper running around.

I tried not to get my hopes up too high as I saw her dancing around the living room.  She kept us all entertained as she put her favorite DVD, “Frozen” in the player and turned it on.  I was mesmerized by dozens of fancy twirls as her sparkly skirt spun around with her while she sung “let it go, let it goooooo!” This was a far cry from the talk of tanks and battleships that dominate our moments at home with our son.  I could surely get used to this (Disclaimer: Yes, of course I know raising a girl is more than dress up and dancing.  Sorry if that stereotype offends you).

We had a good time and enjoyed seeing our old friends again.  I had hoped, too that Maria would feel more secure in seeing us again and knowing we were still the same people we were so many years ago…that she could trust us.

After that meeting, I was browsing through a store and saw a pretty blue sparkly dress, much like you would see a little girl wear who loved to play “dress up,” or who loved Elsa from the movie, “Frozen.”  I bought it.  We were going to send it to our friend for Isabelle. But I decided to hang on to it.  “I will give it to her myself,” I reasoned.  Someday.  I hung it in my closet, still in the little garment bag, in front, right where I could see it.


In the months that followed, we didn’t hear much.  I badgered Mike from time to time to call his friend and see how things were going.  I knew that Maria had several steps to follow in order to be reunified with Isabelle.  I had no idea how this was going.  We didn’t hear anything for months at a time, and I didn’t know how hard to push.  Then we heard that Maria was following the required steps to reunify with her daughter,  such as attending parenting classes and remaining drug free.  I was impressed that she was working to be a better parent, yet I was angry too.  I wished I hadn’t gotten so wrapped up in hoping for something that never materialized.  I sort of moved on.  Like Elsa in “Frozen,” I tried to “let it go.” After awhile I just figured it was not meant to be for us.  One day, still heartbroken over the whole situation,  I put the princess dress in a drawer as tears streamed down my face.  I didn’t want to have to see that thing every time I opened my closet: Another cruel reminder of a dream dangled in front of me and then ripped away. Why bother dreaming, I wondered.

In March of 2016, right after we made the difficult decision not to adopt “Mai Ling, ” we suddenly heard that things were not as rosy as they seemed in Isabelle’s world.  Several of the steps to reunification had not been happening as previously thought.  Maria  seemed close to losing her daughter.  Once again, I wanted to make myself available to be her mom, should her home situation not work out.  I felt sad for the little girl.  What she had witnessed, what her life had been like at home was just not a good situation for her.  I would be here waiting…should she need me.  I decided to set aside my fear, anger, and all that stuff.  For her.


The problem is that we were also supposed to be in process to adopt from China.  But that got pushed to the back burner as we waited to see how this would play out.  Even as we weren’t getting any younger.  Our son wasn’t getting any younger either.  Speaking of Liu, he even got to meet Isabelle.  While our friend was fostering her, we brought Liu over for a couple of play dates.  I couldn’t believe how well the two got along.  I saw them chasing each other around and playing together, and couldn’t help but think it was a match made in heaven.  Of course, we see what we want to see.

The matter came to an abrupt end, or so it seems.  In the fall of 2016 after what seemed to us like only a few weeks of truly following the “rules,” Maria and Isabelle were fully reunified.  Their situation, from what I knew,  was still less than ideal.  But they are together and that is good.

I learned a lot during those couple of years about foster care.  And I know enough to know that my instincts were correct: I believe that I am wired more for an international adoption type situation. But, never say never.  God knows His plan for me.  I do not yet know His plan on this.  The need is great for orphans near and far. I would love a child regardless of where they are from.

Somehow, last year we got going again on the China paperwork.  One day, a few months ago I took the princess dress out of the drawer.  I reasoned that as long as there are children in the world that need a mom, maybe one of them would find their way to me.  I bet they won’t care that I’m a little older, or that my son is a little older.  For some little girl we might be just the family she has been hoping for! And just maybe they would like a sparkly blue princess dress and its accompanying tiara that I never saw before.   I took it out of the bag, and I hung it up.  Not in the front…but a few rows back.   I’m still a little afraid to dream after all that has happened, but I’m not giving up just yet.






Just As I Am


photo courtesy of Pexels

It was circa late 1970’s.  I was lying on the multi-colored shag carpet in my parents’ living room in Bloomington, Minnesota, with my head propped up on a giant floor pillow and  my eyes glued to the TV.   My beloved grandma was over at our house, too, which she often was.  To me, whenever she was there it was a special occasion even if it was just an ordinary day.  But this day, like so many others,  really was special.  We were tuned in to the “Billy Graham Crusade.”

Even at my young age, I had come to really look up to the Reverend Billy Graham.  I was introduced to the teachings of Christianity as a little one, taken to church and attended Bloomington Lutheran elementary school all the way up until eighth grade.  I accepted Jesus into my heart in Kindergarten.  I became so certain of the Truth of God’s Word at age five or six that I was determined to become a mini-evangelist in my own right, telling other kids I met in my neighborhood about God’s son Jesus, and how He loved each and every one of us!  And Billy Graham was the Evangelist par excellence! So when he came on the tube, this was serious!  He spoke the Truth.

Usually when these crusades were on TV, mom, grandma and I would gather in our living room and tune in for the entire broadcast. We would hear everything from the sermon, the music- including the low baritone voice of George Beverly Shea singing some familiar spirituals up until the final “altar call” where the reverend would invite folks to come forward, meaning they were making a declaration that they needed Jesus.  Every sermon, without fail, would come to a close as the melody of “Just As I Am” began to play and he would instruct, “Those of you in the back.  Begin making your way down front.  The buses will wait on you.”   As I watched and listened to that booming and persuasive, yet sincere voice fill our home, I would often glance back at grandma.  She would nod her head in agreement to so many of his statements.  For a girl so close to her grandma, this made a huge impression.

Grandma had faith.  She didn’t always go to church.  Although at times, when my mom was little, she would walk with her to a neighboring one.  Grandpa was raised in a Catholic Church, I believe, but in later years didn’t go.  He did not object to grandma going to a Protestant Church and taking my mom with her.  I’m so glad he didn’t.  After grandpa died when I was four years old,  grandma would come with us often to the Lutheran Church we belonged to.  One of the things she always used to say was, “You don’t have to be a member of a church to be a Christian.”  And of course that is true.  In my grandma’s case, she lived out her faith simply and quietly everyday.  Something I can say about my parents as well.

Grandma was kind.  Feisty, to be sure, but good and kind as well.  She believed in hard work, the rolling up your sleeves and getting your  hands dirty kind of work.  An avid gardener, she spent hours out in the hot unforgiving summer sun weeding and pruning her beautiful flower gardens.  She never complained, just did what was required of her day in and out as she cared for her home for the many years she outlived her husband.  She loved her family, spoke with her daughter every day even though mom had a family of her own and lots of irons in the fire. They would often talk at 10:30 each night when grandma was watching “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” on TV and rewarding herself with her nightly glass of beer after a hard days work.

I always knew grandma was on my side.  She was my biggest cheerleader.  She loved me and took great delight in watching me twirl my baton or twirl around her living room as she sat in her rocking chair.  She was the only one I was NOT too embarrassed to dance freestyle in front of.  She would choose a record to play in that gigantic console player- often the Statler Brothers, Oak Ridge Boys, or Dolly Parton were the choice du jour-and sit back in her rocker watching me go to town making up goofy dance routines.  This  would cause her to clap her hands and squeal with delight.  Usually some fresh, delicious gingerbread or sugar cookies were sure to follow.   I knew she loved me for real.  Unconditionally.  A “Just as I am” kind of love.


Me and grandma

I don’t remember her ever talking in detail or at length about her faith.  I just knew it was there.  One remark she made has stayed with me until this day.  Grandma was over at our house to watch me one time because I was sick and mom had to go somewhere.  I was sitting on our rust-colored built-in sofa that my dad had made.  Just sitting there in my pajamas reading the Bible.  She came up to me, and seeing what I was reading, remarked. “That’s the way to do it, Valerie. (although she would make my name two syllables, more like “Val-ree”. Just another endearing factoid) You just keep right on a-reading that book. Best thing you could ever do.”  I really took that to heart.

And so, watching Billy Graham was special for us.  For me, I couldn’t hear the simple message enough.  God created the world, and it was good.  The first humans, Adam and Eve sinned.  This is why we live in an imperfect, broken world.  But God, who loved us so much and had a plan for our lives,  sent his Son to the earth to die on the cross.   He took away all of our sins, died, was buried and rose again from the dead.  so that we might have eternal life.  I could never tire of hearing that God loved even me. Me! Broken and mistake-prone that I am, that we all are.  Hearing on those nights that God saved me- while sitting with mom and grandma, two faithful Christ-followers who reinforced the importance of the message-  put a fire in my little eight year old pot belly, to TELL EVERYONE about this GOOD NEWS.  And that is what I set out to do.

Over the years, the “evangelism” took the form of ministering to elderly folks in care centers as a chaplain.  I bet my grandma would clap her hands, nod, and squeal with delight if she could see that I went into ministry.   In my messages to the residents of each center, I proclaim the same basic message that they never grow tired of hearing.  He loves them just as they are.  He loves me, just as I am.

And now, after all these years (grandma passed away in 1986) grandma gets to finally meet the Reverend Billy Graham in person.  I hope she tells him how we loved to watch him on TV, and how inspiring he was for us.

Just as I am, without one plea
But that thy blood was shed for me,
and that thou bid’st me come to thee,
Oh lamb of God, I come! I come! (Verse 1)

Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot;
To thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O lamb of God, I come, I come! (Verse 2)

Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because thy promise I believe,
O lamb of God, I come, I come! (Verse 5)

Just as I Am
Charlotte Elliot, 1835
John 1:29; 6:37

Rest in Peace Reverend Billy Graham
November 7, 1918 – February 21, 2018

And, one last thing, reader: He (God) loves you, too.  And it’s that “just as you are” kind of love.  


Grandma with one of her prize-winning rag rugs made with hand-dyed strips of cloths.  Notice the big old stereo behind her.

Calming Creed (when anxiety threatens)

It has been a long time since I have added fresh content to this little blog.  It is not because I haven’t thought about it.  We have been through some recent transitions: We moved into a new home to be closer to our son, Liu’s new school.  This Fall, he made the move to middle school.


These changes seemed to have many layers of meaning for me.   Will I hear an added voice in our family within these walls? Is it “too late?”  I had always wanted small children close in age in school together.  Well…that ship has sailed.  I don’t want to be    done with the care and nurturing of small children.  Now my only little one is not so little anymore and we are getting older.  This makes me sad.



I’ve been filled with these thoughts and feelings and the normal fears that can envelope a parent’s heart when their child begins a new school.  Sometimes the fear of our future and what it will look like masquerades itself in preoccupations with “this place is a mess” and “how will I get this place set up ‘just right?'” Because, well…anxiety is sneaky like that.  When the mind doesn’t know what to do with some big, heavy life issues, it can cause you to hone in on another aspect of your life and OBSESS on it.  And, yeah, it pretty much sucks. Depression sucks. Obsessive thoughts suck.  And so does caring what everyone thinks if they know that you deal with these.  And then there is the  inevitable extra judgment I might get because I happen to also be a chaplain. But here is a news flash: Chaplains are humans, too.  Pastors, youth pastors, ministers…all humans.  And no one is immune to the possibility of mental health struggles.


Don’t get me wrong.  Most days I’m doing well.  I am in remission from full-blown depression from many years ago.  But there are so many skills I must employ to ensure my continued health.  I must watch my pattern of thoughts lest they stray back to the overly negative zone. I have to make sure I get exercise and don’t neglect self-care and activities that bring me joy or I could slide back into being depressed.  Daily devotions and prayers help me focus my thoughts on HIM.   There are  many more pieces to the puzzle which involves caring for my body, mind, and soul.

The transition of moving was hard, but it is getting easier.  The life transition…well, that is something I still grapple with.  In the toughest days when we were moving and Liu was starting school, I had a few panicky, emotional mom moments.  Not just about the “only child” issue, but about Liu in the middle school environment. I had thoughts like, “will he be okay?  Will he be a target for bullies with his special needs?”   I began making up a little poem in my mind to help calm me when I needed it.   I designed it so that much of it would be easy to memorize, and then repeat over and over and over again.  I found that it gives me great comfort.  I hope that you might find it comforting or useful, as well.  Without further ado, here it is.


It’s okay.

Remember who you are.

Remember “whose” you are.

You are God’s.  He loves you.

He made you.  He forgave you.

Even died to save you.

He is with you right now.

His Spirit lives in you.  His angels surround you.

Protecting, watching, guiding your mind toward Him.

He longs for you to be filled with peace,

with thoughts obsessed with only Him.

The chaos around you, it’s NOT WHO YOU ARE.

It is merely outside of you.  It cannot hurt you.

Not with your eyes fixed upon His beauty, His glory, and His all-encompassing love.

 It protects. It surrounds. It wraps you in safety.

 Of you, He will never let go.

You are at peace.

You are okay.

Remember who you are. Remember “whose” you are.



The Day After Good Friday

I wrote the following piece on Good Friday 2012.  Like countless other things I’ve written over the years, it was scrawled out on a tiny piece of scratch paper and buried in a box never to see the light of day! Until now.

One of the things I always treasured about my upbringing in the Lutheran Church was the Lenten Season.  I really did take it seriously even as a wee youngster.  I participated fully in several church services, especially during Holy Week.  First the Maundy Thursday Service which commemorated Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane as he contemplated what was about to happen and prayed to His Father that “this cup would pass from him (Matthew 26:39)” And then, a candlelight Good Friday Service where the seven sayings of Jesus were read aloud by the pastor,  followed by extinguishing each candle until finally every light was snuffed out.  This was a dramatic moment of silence to signify that Jesus had in fact actually died.   Following the service we were all ushered out in silence.  I took this so seriously that, if anyone dared whisper on the way out, I was sure to give them the evil eye (in the nicest way I could).  And then, the vigil…waiting for Easter.  I always wondered what that must have been like for Jesus’ followers, after his death and burial.  Their whole lives had become about following him and now he was dead and buried in the ground.  For they did not yet know what was really going to happen.  Without further ado, here is the piece.  I hope you enjoy it on this night before Easter.


“What now, Oh Lord? What Now?”

Must have been the disciples’ cry

After all their dreams had died.

Hopes shattered, trust broken, or so it seemed.

“Nothing left for us,” they cried

The day that Jesus died.


Image courtesy of Pixabay

This man they followed, giving up their lives,

Believing he was Israel’s special son.

“Now it’s all over,” they cried, “it’s done!”

They must have thought, “our beliefs were for naught…

We’ve been played for fools, all…

Where will we go?  On whom will we call?”


Image courtesy of Pixabay

With all of their sadness and hopeless hearts’ plea,

They dispersed and ran off their separate ways,

The day after Good Friday.

If you’ve ever felt this way:

Broken, lost, betrayed,

With no more hope to find,

Then we’re all the same in many ways.

Or maybe you’re in a fog waiting for light,

what’s to be your next move?

which way is right?


Image courtesy of Pixabay

If you’re like me you want to jump to the ending,

and see how those things all turn out, the ones pending…

You see one door closed, a dream’s door slammed shut.

And you wait with great hope to get out of this rut.

Still, we know, there can be no resurrection without first, a death.

And quiet. And wondering. And waiting.

So we wait together, longing….for our own Easter Sunday.

Don’t rush to an ending just be in the silence

and go on this journey with Him.




Tulips don’t care

The tulips bloom when the time is right and not before they’re ready.

They have simple lines, so unpretentious, not the least bit heady.

once opened up, their beauty rings forth as from a bell, so steady.


They are so pretty at once when they open up, no matter their surroundings.

their brilliant colors so glorious and bright, it’s really quite astounding.

And when you think about their humble start, a bulb deep in the ground

in the dark, secret place, from the dust their miracles abound.

The tulips take in the air, light and moisture, too

they grow tall and bloom and become themselves, just like me and you.

So I brought some inside in a crystal vase and arranged them to display.

At the end of a stressful week at home and a chaotic, messy day.


Now the old me would’ve had to straighten,  clean and make the table just so.

Before I was able to enjoy the view

everything but the vase of flowers would’ve had to go.

Everything just right! That was the mantra on which I based my life

The problem with that? When things aren’t perfect, your days are filled with strife!

Enough of that, I’m done with that! Let’s do what the tulips do.

They bloom wherever they’re planted,

pretty just as they are wherever they are.

In contrast to the dust from which they were born

their beauty comes shining through.


They reflect the Master Gardener in splendor, as do we.

But once they’ve bloomed and come to be,

what a sight to see!

No matter what’s around them, in dirt, or mud or storm,

or in a vase around a mess

they’ve got living down to a “t.”

They’ve got no excuses or reasons for just not being themselves,

declaring their worth from their Maker and being who He made them to be

and doing their thing and saying their peace for the world His glory to see.


If I could be a flower, A tulip, of course I would be.

Once lying dormant in the dirt and grime,

with much to say, yet all closed up, and worried all the time.

So scared to speak, afraid to shine, except when conditions seemed just right.

Who’d have thought in middle age the time would come

when this bulb would force its way up with might.

God would tell me, “Now open up and show who you really are.  Your mind and over thinking, your empathetic heart, I love it all, it’s part of you,” He came to me and said. “Now write your story, write it down, the good parts and the bad.  And live your life, don’t wait.  Don’t wait a minute longer.  One child forever, or one more, in your family, we’ll see.  But stop waiting around to live.  Try those new things, dream new dreams, celebrate the life you already have.  Be beautiful, Be you.  If things around you are ugly, still bloom.  Be like the tulips. When they’re surrounded by messy, they’re still lovely.  The tulips never care.”

And so just like that I came alive.  I hope to reflect the Glory of my Maker in all my messy splendor.  A tulip in bloom I’ve become.  This blog, or rather, my beginning to publish all my writings (some of the pieces I will share were written a long time ago) is happening as a result of God speaking to me, some of it in dreams, and some of it as thoughts in my mind.



Not Alone

Something from the archives: I wrote this poem over ten years ago, on Valentine’s Day 2007.  We were in the midst of our eighteen-months-long process of adopting our son, Liu, from China.  I had no idea when we would be through the last waiting phase and when we would be able to bring him home.  In hindsight, eighteen months was fairly fast compared to many others who have walked the same path.   I had no idea that ten years later at the age of 46 I would be in a similar “holding pattern” that’s length has already exceeded that of the first one.  I have to say the second time isn’t any easier.

We are not alone in this world.

Sometimes, yes it feels as though

there’s no one in charge

who knows what’s going on.

And we are left to wonder

How are we going to make it?

There is a great big God

Bigger than all my questions

A resting place for my weary soul

And filled with so much love for me,

that if I breathe it in,

really breathe it in,

I will have all I need to make it…and more.

If I could just remember to breathe.

Let His love permeate me,

body, mind, and soul.

I have all I need.


South Dakota Sunset: Evidence of a Great Big God



He only stood five inches tall.  Barely.  But, oh he was a looker!  Freckles on his face, bright black eyes,  his tan fur combed just so.   The little girl  could barely wait to get this little guy out of the cellophane covered box.   She had already ripped the wrapping paper off in one fell swoop, it being her birthday and all.  As soon as she saw this little guy, and he saw her…theirs was a love story for the ages.  He looked at her, she looked at him.  Through the cellophane she could see he was sucking his thumb.  So tiny, so innocent, she thought.  Suddenly his thumb came out of his mouth and  then  the shout she wasn’t expecting, “HEY! GET ME OUTTA HERE!”

Quickly she opened the box.  Her parents and brother all looked at one another with quizzical expressions.   They were not expecting this pint-sized polar bear to talk.  But they didn’t want to question it.  For sometimes things happened that couldn’t be explained.

“Hi there, little buddy!”  “Well finally someone got me OUTTA THERE!” The little girl felt sorry for him.  She seemed to know, instinctively what he had been through, first being made at the factory, then getting boxed up and made to wait on the shelf at the store.  “Well, little guy, you’re home now.  And I’m going to take really good care of you.  I already love you so.” “Good to hear.  What have you got for EATS around here?” With that, he ran into the kitchen.  The little girl’s mom thought they should call him Frederick, and everyone was agreeable, although it quickly got shortened to “Freddy.” Freddy made their house his home.  As the days went by, the two became dear to one another.  Wherever she went, he went.  Wherever he went, she went.  The two were inseparable!

Whenever the family went out for dinner, Freddy went along.  He even got his own wardrobe, and the little girl would dress him in little pants and t-shirts to go out on the town with them.  The only trouble was, as he got comfortable with his new family, he started to act up a little bit.  For instance, at the Lemon Basket Restaurant, he would run around on the table and try to kick people and mess up the table settings as he giggled.  Or he would shout out “fire! fire! Everyone out!”  He was quite a menace, sometimes. The little girl tried to get him to behave, but he was so disagreeable, she soon wondered if she could continue to bring him with her or not when they went out in public.


One day, as she was organizing his clothes and fixing his bed, she called him over.  “Freddy , I need to talk to you if I could.” He crawled over to her.  “What have I done now?”  “Oh Freddy, why have you been so naughty lately, and out of sorts? Don’t you want to live with us anymore? ”  Freddy rubbed his eyes as he started to cry.  “I’m sorry I’m naughty.  Please don’t take me back to the store.  I promise I will try to be better.  Just don’t get rid of me.”

The little girl was taken aback.  “Get rid of you?  Why would I ever get rid of you? I love you.  I only brought this up so we can work on this together.  The day you became mine, I vowed to always take care of you.  This doesn’t change just because you misbehaved sometimes.  I will always love you.  Let’s just start fresh, you and me.”  “Oh wow! You mean it? I’m yours forever?” And with that, Freddy jumped up into his tiny wooden bed and snuggled in under the covers.  “Nope.  You’re coming with me.  This small bed is just for naps.  At night-time, you can cover up next to me in my bed.  That way I can be sure to keep my eye on you.”


So the two of them, Freddy and the little girl, snuggled into bed for the night.  She was tucked in by her mom and dad, right after their nightly ritual of saying , “Night. Love you. See you in the morning.” And Freddy felt pretty special right up there in the big kid bed.   “Well, since I’m stickin’ around here, can I get a brother?”  “Go to sleep Freddy!” And such was the beginning of their lifelong friendship.

There is much more to the story about the little girl and the tiny talking bear.  Because this is my story.  I’m the little girl.