Another Last…

Warren Group Picture

I am not sure how to write this post.

It seems surreal that we find ourselves in this place.

How did we get here?  Well it was peppered with laughing, first experiences, late nights, ridiculous SnapChat videos, frustrating pictures turned videos…disagreements, frustrations, clash of culture, American experiences, traveling, broadening of horizons, eyes open to the mercy and grace of God.  It was full of trips to Wal-Mart to buy yet again, another cup with a straw and pit stop to Starbucks on the way home.  One can’t forget the rushed morning routine, getting to school with 1 minute to spare and hoping that the side door would still be open! Donut Palace.  Trinity Youth Group.  It sounded like the beep of a blue-tooth alarm clock connecting to an iPhone.  It’s the sound of an alarm sounding on a Saturday morning after she stayed the night with a friend. Music.  A beautiful transition from pop music to contemporary Christian.  Homecoming with friends.  It tastes like fried eggs and pancakes.  It’s laced with failed attempts to make Belgian waffles.  Trips to Waffle House instead.  Running around the neighborhood, trips to Snap Fitness.  Factory Connection, JCPenny’s, Rue21, Forever 21.  Prom with a new-found love.  Cheeseburgers.  Loud music with the windows down.  World Outreach Church.  Sonic Facebook friends discount.  Chocolate shakes.  Shooting stars.  Eyes and heart opened to the mysteries of God.  Insecurity turned confidence.  An entire blog post could be made with such descriptions.

July 11th, 2015 my husband and I went to Outback Steak House to celebrate our 13th wedding anniversary.  While there, we discussed the possibilities of welcoming an exchange student into our home for the 2015/2016 school year.  Life-changing.  Memorable.  Gosh those seem like such cliche words to use but it’s absolutely the truth.  We knew that we would be exposed to a different thought perspective.  We knew that we would see the world through different glasses.  We knew we’d help her do the same.  What we weren’t prepared for was for our hearts to be knit together as tightly as they have been.  We weren’t prepared for the end of the line…the list of “lasts” that we would experience and the small tears in the stitches of our heart that would happen as a result.  I was just telling her last night that our agency is really good about telling you about all the GREAT things that will happen but a description of how incredibly excruciating it would be to transition from having a daughter to being without one.  How hard the last month would be.   All of these “lasts.”  We weren’t prepared for the moment when we would be face to face with the realization that in 2 Tuesdays or 2 church services or 1 month down the road of life….it would no longer involve all 6 of us, but only 5 of us.  Part of our heart would be getting on a jet plane to go back to her home country.  The unknown span of time was quickly approaching between our, “See you later,” and “It’s SOOO good to see you again!”  The intense prayers scribbled in my prayer journal that she will stay close to Christ and lean on Him when she is faced with the Babylonian mindset and that she takes tools out of her Survival Kit when she needs them.   This past Wednesday evening, we realized it would be the last dinner at church that she would be here for.  Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, green beans and a cheesecake layered desert.  Next to dropping her off at the airport, today was one of the most final things that could happen in a homestay experience.  The last day of school.

The morning went like most others.  Wake up, make breakfast, make lunch, wait for her to get done getting beautiful (even though she could totally get out of bed and take one of those “I woke up like this!” pictures), load up in the car, squeal tires to get to the drop of line by 7:54 so she could get in the door and to the gym by 7:55.  What wasn’t the same was the fact that as I turned the last left turn to head to the school, I realized that it would be the last time we would be doing that.  The last time to rush around.  The last time to say, “Have a good day, Belgian!  Make your brain big!”  The last time to watch her walking up the sidewalk.  The last time to plan my day to get everything done before leaving the house to pick her up at 2:30….wait…I didn’t even have to do THAT today because she was going home with a friend.  Yesterday she went home with Derek….that means…Wednesday was the last day for that, too.  The whole way home I was in a fog.  Could this really be coming to an end?  Is this really it?  See, in my mind, when we started, the end would never come.  That was something that would happen WAAAAaaay in the future…as in…never.  Yet, reality set in today.  The end is nigh. The end is in 11 days.  Wow…

Here’s the crazy part.  As much as I am hurting and so sad that this is coming to an end, I realize that there’s two (sometimes three) sides to every story.  I realize my pain is someone else’s joy.  Partially Audrey’s but whole-heartedly her family’s!  They have been waiting 10 months to hold their daughter/sister/niece/granddaughter in their arms.  To hold her close. To hear about her day.  To share life with her.  My selfishness of not wanting to give her back was someone else’s generosity 10 months ago.  Her parents supported her decision to pursue a homestay, spent time, money, energy and effort to make sure she had everything she need to be successful.  My tight grip was someone else’s loose hand.  They took her to the airport and put her on a plane to somewhere they had never been with people they had only skyped with twice.

Audreys Baptism
If I look back on this year, I have to thank God for putting this whole thing in motion when Audrey was just a little girl.  I believe all things that happen in life are filtered through our Father’s hands.  Do I believe her love for the USA and for the English language happened by chance?  Nope. Do I think that she was born into a family where her father speaks English?  Nope.  Do I think that it’s by chance that she mustered up the courage to apply for and actually follow through with going to a different country when she had never even traveled alone in her life.  Not a chance.  Do I think that her finding our music interesting was coincidence?  Ha!  No way!  Do I think the stars aligned in such a way that made it possible for for her to placed in our home?  Are you Crazy?  The only explanation I can find for this last year is that God knew before the creation of this world that this year would take place. That an 18 year old girl from Belgium would need to hear the Gospel.  That she would listen and learn for 10 months and then go through a complete life change.  I believe he knew that in order for all that to happen, she would need to leave what was comfortable and go to a place where she would be show the love of Christ on a daily basis.  Perfect love?  No, we are incredibly flawed to say the least.  But…a perfectly imperfect love is what we had to offer her.  It is amazing to know that I have a daughter which I have carried in my heart this year.  She came a stranger and leaves my Sister.  Oh Lord, I am so unworthy of this gift.  Thank you for bringing her into my life and allowing me to witness a miracle in her life.  You really leave me awestruck as I think about this beautiful wanderlust of a young woman.  Lord, have your way with her life.  To you be the glory.  Amen!

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A Stroke of God’s Love

God is awesome.  Let me just say that really quick.  I just have to give Him so much praise.  Yesterday I lost count of how many times I cried overwhelmed tears due to the way God was moving in response to prayer.  I am still in awe of him and so excited  that so many have seen Him in big ways in the last week or so.  I believe the best is yet to come.  In advance, I apologize if this blog post is a bit back and forth and a bit long.  I hope I don’t miss any details.

Many of you already know that Josh and I have taken in an exchange student from Belgium.  She is such a great fit for our family.  She isn’t used to having much younger kids in the home, but she is patient and has adapted well.  Her spunk and sass is a nice addition to the male-heavy tone in our home.  🙂  She has been such a blessing to our family.  We decided to host through Cultural Homestay International (CHI), an organization I would recommend if you are interested in doing the same.  Our family will never be the same having had her in our lives.  She is such a ray of sunshine in our home.

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On August 25th, I logged into facebook to find a message from our CHI Tennessee coordinator saying the following:

Students and families please keep a 16 year old young man from China in your thoughts and prayers today. He is an exchange student with CHI in the state of Illinois. He is in critical condition after suffering a stroke yesterday while in PE class. He has a blood clot in his carotid artery. He is unconscious and on a feeding tube at this time. Please pray that his family will get here safe and quickly and that a miracle will happen for him.

Naturally my heart began to cry out to the Lord for healing and peace.  I instantly placed myself in the shoes of his host family and his natural parents.  My word.  I cannot even make myself go to either one of those places.  God impressed upon me to find a way to serve him during that time.  While our coordinator and her assistant were on their way to St. Louis to show support for that situation, I contact them and asked if I could organize a card shower for the student and host family.  They agreed.

This is what was posted on facebook.  This is still an option of you’d like to get involved:

CHI Card Shower

A. Send greeting cards of encouragement to his host family, his biological family and/or him. We are asking that you put “Host Family” “Student” or “Family” in the lower left hand corner on the back of the envelope so each card can get to the right person without the cards having to be opened first.

B. Send a prepaid debit card to be used by the biological/host family for gas, food and/or personal items associated with staying at a hospital and possibly rehab center for a little while. There’s no telling how long they will be here, but his biological family had to leave China quickly. Changes are they forgot things. We all know how expensive eating out can be and what a hit that can take on one’s finances. If you were a person who wanted to rally your Sunday school class, this would be a great option for a group support effort.

C. Send Domino’s, Jimmy John’s and/or Pizza Hut gift cards. The cafe on site is reportedly VERY expensive. There is a Pizza Hut on site so these could be used there or for delivery. All three of these places deliver. This would be another great option for Sunday schools or small groups to either purchase a variety of cards or one larger card to one place.

D. For those in Coffee, Bedford, Franklin, Cannon, Moore and Warren counties: I am collecting non-perishable foods (peanut butter crackers, fruit cups, pudding, granola bars, etc), gum, mints, small coloring/activity books, cards etc to for the family to use in the waiting area. I will be sending this box NEXT FRIDAY (the 7th) to give people enough time to gather items and meet up with me. Depending on where you are located, we may have to meet in the middle.

The last I heard, nearly $100 in prepaid VISA gift cards had been received and delivered to the family!  Thank you for helping!  That’s awesome!  Donations also came in locally of food and financial support for the care package.  That was shipped out today and should arrive Tuesday!

During the coordinator’s stay in St. Louis, they posted this update:

He has a tiny hole in his heart that has probably been there. The doctors believe that the long flight caused the blood clot to set up and it has just been floating around until it found the hole and that is where it lodged.

They have removed his breathing tube to see how he is going to do on his own. China will only allow one emergency visa so his natural father is getting that. The flight is so long so hopefully he will be here in a couple of days.

At this point many began to pray that God would work it out so that both parents could travel to be by his side during this time.  A time later, we were given this update:

Update: His family will arrive tonight at 9:15. His parents and little brother all got their Visas!!! He is conscious, but still unable to move anything on his left side. Thank you all for your prayers and support. We will be heading back later this evening.

Praise GOD!  God provided for his whole immediate family to travel to be by his side!  That’s something only God could do!  He went above the law of the land to provide for this student!

Upon their arrival, CHI hired a translator to help the family speak with doctors about decisions and to gain their whereabouts.  From what I understand, it is unclear how long this individual will be able to stay to offer his services.  Something in my heart just wanted to cry.  Having been to India, I can slightly relate with how it feels to look around and see VERY FEW people who look and sound like you do.  Here are these parents (and brother) plunged into a situation where their son is very sick, they can’t speak the language, are unfamiliar with the food, have no idea how to get around (not that they would probably want to leave their son’s side)…and the translator will only be available for a short time.  My heart just felt so bad for them.  I tried to think of people I knew in the St. Louis area and remembered one of my friends all through school lived in Missouri.  I contacted her on facebook and began to discuss the cards and then expressed my desire to find someone to reach out to them in person.  I began to look for Christian chruches in the close proximity to the hospital with not much luck.  I thought maybe I could help coordinate meals for the family and general outreach during this hard time.  Each time I found one which looked promising, there wouldn’t be contact information available.  SIDE TANGENT:  If you are in charge of a church website, PLEASE make sure there’s a phone number listed.  Your website is somewhat ineffective if someone in need can’t have access to you or your ministries by way of phone.  Looking back, I can see it was God’s plan though.  Just yesterday, September 3rd, I did yet again another  search for churches in St. Louis.  What popped up?  “St. Louis Chinese Baptist Church!”  I literally sat there with tears in my eyes.  I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  I didn’t type in anything special.  Nothing different from the other searches I had done for a week leading up to yesterday.  It was just God’s timing…and it was perfect!  And guess what?  There was a phone number so I called and left a voicemail.

After a couple of hours, I called again because I figured nobody would be in the office on Friday.  The following is a bit of a summary of our conversation:

A man answers the phone: Hello?ME:  Hi this is Andrea, I called earlier about a Chinese exchange student who is currently being treated at St. Louis Children’s Hospital…”
It was at that moment my brain realized when he answered the phone he said, “Hello” and not something along the lines of, “St. Louis Chinese Baptist Church, this is ____.  Can I help you?”
ME:  I’m sorry.  Is this St. Louis Chinese Baptist Church?
MAN:  No.  I don’t go to that church anymore.  When I did attend there anymore.  How did you get this number?
ME:  *Palm to face*  I’m thinking, great….I thought this was God’s provision.  “I searched for churches in the St. Louis area whom I thought might help reach out to a Chinese exchange student who is being treated at Children’s Hospital. Do you by chance have the phone number for that church?”
MAN:  They don’t have a lanline number that I know of.
ME:  Oh boy…ok, well…. hummm.  What about an email address?  I tried to email them but the email was returned because that email address isn’t in use anymore.
MAN:  That was also my email address.
ME:  Shoot…ok.  I am looking for a church who can reach out to a Chinese student and his parents.  He is an exchange student and suffered a stroke last week.  His parents are in from China but they don’t speak English at all.
MAN:  Do you have an email that you can send?  I will forward it to the pastor of the church I go to now.  It’s called Chinese Gospel Church.
ME:  Yes.  I will do that when we get off of the phone if I can have a good address to send it to.
MAN: *he gives it to me*
ME:  Great!  I will send it to you when we get off the phone.  Thank you!

A few hours later, I got a phone call from a number I didn’t recognize.  Normally I just let it go to voicemail, knowing if it is a sales call they won’t leave a message.  Moments later, my phone beeped with a voicemail.  Because I was making dinner I wanted to check it.  When I did, I got tears in my eyes again.  It was an elder from the Chinese Gospel Church calling to get room number and additional information about the student.  Not only was I connect with this church in a way that the world would say was “by chance” but they had follow through!  I called the gentleman back and discussed the student’s and parent’s situation.  I inquired as to when this weekend he would be traveling to the hospital to make a connection.  He said it wouldn’t be this weekend, but that very evening.  Keep in mind please it’s 9pm while we are on the phone.  We prayed before we got off of the phone and looked very much forward to hearing a report.  Later I learned that he wasn’t able to visit because visiting hours ended at while we had been talking on the phone but that he and his wife had plans to go around noon the today (the 4th).  To God be the glory!  A willing and ready servant!  You know, it’s great to see someone with the shoes of readiness firmly secured.  Praise the Lord!  Not only that, he said that they would be turning this into a local mission of sorts.

We are a homeschooling family.  While I was at Co-op today, I got a phone call from a Missouri number.  I quickly answered it and learned it was an additional elder from Chinese Gospel Church wanting to clear up some communication issues.  He also confirmed that they would be working with their fellowship this weekend to make a plan to surround this family in love and service while they are here.  I was so overwhelmed by God once again.  Currently I am waiting on a report from the meeting that was scheduled to take place today.

Where does this mission project go from here?

Because of the predicted amount of time the family will be at the hospital (they should be able to check into the Ronald McDonald Home sometime soon), I am encouraging those willing to serve somehow through this situation to consider the following in order to keep the support rolling.  Don’t forget you are welcome to rally your own church/Sunday school class to get involved.

Two flatrate boxes were sent to the family of a Chinese exchange student who suffered a stroke last week.  Thanks to God for the provisions that made this possible.

Thanks to God for the provisions that made this possible.

  • Purchasing a package of blank cards from a dollar type store, stamps for those cards and go ahead and address the cards.  When God leads you to encourage the family, host family or student, please feel free to do so.  I am also giving them out to families with whom I share his situation with who want to help.
  • I will be putting together another care package shipment to the family in October.  If you would like to help provide items for the box, financial gift to purchase things for the box or pay for shipping, you are more than welcome.
  • I learned that the host family is traveling every 3 days or so to the hospital.  Their family lives approximately 45 minutes away so they are spending a decent amount on gas each time.  I plan to send a card to them also with a prepaid VISA card in it for gas expenses.  Maybe consider doing the same?  I know if our student was the one sick, I wouldn’t be able to just stay at home.  I would be heartbroken and would want to be there, too.
  • PRAY for the student’s healing!
  • PRAY for Chinese Gospel Church and the work they will be doing for this family.
  • PRAY for the peace and comfort of Christ to be accepted by the family of this student.

As of right now, this is what I know about our support efforts. Thank you for those of you who have been a part of this outreach.

  • 4 states are represented among those who have agreed to send cards to the student, family and/or host family!
  • Close to $100 has been sent to the family by way of prepaid VISA cards!  I have been notified that more are expected to be sent as well!
  • One church in South Carolina, primarily comprised of single moms, has agreed to take up a special offering for the family and to send cards!
  • Countless churches across the United States have placed this situation on their prayer lists.
  • God heard the desire of the student’s brother to have Legos to play with.  They were purchased for the care package without even knowing of his desires.

I believe that God has something bigger in store for this student and for this family.  I just can’t wait to see what he does in their lives.  His healing power, his ability to provide comfort and peace during this time of crazy circumstance…  Only He will be able to be glorified in the end.  He has already showed His power and I don’t see Him walking away now.  He is mighty to save and worthy of praise.