She’s Finally Home! {Our Ukrainian Adoption Journey & Timeline}

TexasToUkraine

Every adoption story is beautiful, redemptive and unique. Throughout the next weeks I’ll be blogging about events and things that transpired in the years, months, weeks and moments leading to the unforgettable day our daughter finally joined our family forever. Before I do that, I wanted to share the overview of our #UkraineToTexas timeline & adoption story:

1993: Even before we married we talked of adoption and knew that someday we would bring children home who (although they weren’t biologically ours) were destined to be in our family.

1995: We celebrated a beautiful, storybook wedding in March of 1995. As a young married woman I struggled with and grieved over my infertility issues. Whether we had biological children some day or not, my husband and I never doubted that we would adopt, and continued to have conversations about what that looked like for us.

2001-2002: After seven years of marriage, many doctor visits, surgery for endometriosis and still no pregnancy, our adoption plans began in earnest, and we began to research domestic adoption agencies, with the prospects of bringing home a toddler.

2003: Adoption plans came to a halt when we were married eight years and a miracle happened. My deep desire to become a mother came to pass when I became pregnant God and gave us a beautiful and perfect daughter! She is a gift from Heaven – a delight to us and many others. As soon as she could begin to grasp the concept of adoption, we explained to her that she would have an adopted brother or sister someday.

2005: When our daughter was two, those adoption plans were dusted off and things began in earnest. We began to pray regularly, and seek God regarding His plans for our adoption.

2006: During my devotions early on the morning of June 25, 2006, I had a vision of a little girl in a blue barrel. I knew two things: she was our future daughter, and she was somewhere in Eastern Europe. We began to pray for her – that God would protect and keep her, reveal His love to her, bring people into her life to show Jesus to her, and bring her home to us some day.

2010: We visited the Together For Adoption conference in Austin, TX, with our pastor Jason Johnson, and a group of adoption minded families from our church. During that conference God confirmed to us that the girl we were praying for was in Ukraine, and we began looking at agencies who could facilitate our adoption from that country.

Adoption plans were put on hold when a close family member experienced a serious illness.

2013: We knew we had to get this adoption process back on track. We asked family and friends if they knew anyone who had adopted from Ukraine. My aunt Rachel connected us with friends of hers at Ukrainian Resource Center. We decided to host nine-year old Luba that summer, through the program they had in place. We had a life changing summer with Luba, and desperately wanted to adopt her. But she did not want to leave Ukraine, and chose to stay at the orphanage instead of coming to a new family in America. (Insert our heartbreak here.) Our family was greatly affected during Luba’s time with us, and we had a completely new understanding of this thing called “Orphan Care”.

Luba

We continued to pray for our future daughter.

2014: Our family’s adoption plans began in earnest. We decided to host another girl, but were having considerable difficulty during our family’s deliberations of who that girl should be. We were not planning to host or adopt anyone older than our biological daughter who was then ten years old, until another miraculous dream (this time from my sister in Virginia) confirmed that God had chosen (then 15 year old) Anastasia for our family. We immediately began the adoption process (even before she came to visit) and began communicating with her via a dear friend who served children at her school in Ukraine.

Our family vacation

In the summer of 2014 Anastasia came to America for a six-week hosting program trip, facilitated by Ukrainian Resource Center. Meeting her for the first time was an incredible experience. We shared a memorable summer with her, and celebrated her sixteenth birthday with family and friends. She had to go back to the orphanage in Ukraine until adoption paperwork was complete, and left in late July.

Adoption Paperwork

We finally received our notice from Ukraine’s State Department of Adoption that our appointment date was on December 15th of 2014, and we made a one week trip to Ukraine in mid-December. We returned to America to wait for our formal adoption court date.

#texastoukraine

2015: Word of our court date came in early January, and we traveled back a second time to formally adopt Anastasia on January 15, 2015, in a small courtroom inside a run down ex-Soviet government building in South East Ukraine.

Adoption Day

We arrived home with our daughter on February 7, 2015, one month before our twentieth wedding anniversary.

As for what’s happening now: We know this is just the beginning, we’re settling into our new “normal”, and we look forward to the rest of the story God has written for our family!

ukrainetotexas

Thank you for the love, prayers, financial support and countless other ways you’ve blessed and served our family over the years. You are part of this story, and it would not look the same without you.

~ Justina Dee

 

Snow Day in Kiev

This Ukrainian adoption journey has been the greatest adventure one could ever imagine. We have one last appointment at the embassy tomorrow and our nearly decade-long #ukrainetotexas mission will finally be complete

Thanks to limited and patchy wifi I’ve not had an opportunity to blog while in Ukraine. I look forward to sharing the story in its entirety with you soon. I can’t tell you how much it means to feel your prayers and love surround us. Thank you for playing such an important part in bringing our daughter home.

In the meantime, the sisters wanted to shoot some photos in the fresh snow that fell today in Kiev. These two. They are indescribable treasures from heaven. May they continue to grow in grace and beautiful love.

Snow Day in Kiev

~ Justina Dee

Phrases in Pennsylvania Dutch {Lessons from My Amish Family}

My brother & me

My brother & me

I was born into a “New Order Amish” family, and learned to speak both Pennsylvania Dutch and English as a child. The Amish people are fluent speakers of both Pennsylvania Dutch and English. They also have a reading knowledge of High German, which is used in their church services in scripture reading, preaching and worship songs.

My parents on their wedding day

My wonderful parents, on their wedding day

“Pennsylvania Dutch” is actually not “Dutch” at all, but rather, Pennsylvania Deutsch (or German). “Pennsylvania German developed in the eighteenth century as the result of the immigration of approximately 81,000 German-speakers from Central Europe, including Switzerland, to southeastern Pennsylvania. The vast majority (96 percent) of these immigrants were of the Lutheran or German Reformed faith; of the remaining 4 percent, roughly one-half were Mennonites and only a few hundred were Amish. Whatever varieties of German they spoke in Europe, the Amish assimilated to the language of the majority, Pennsylvania German, which resembles most closely the German dialects spoken in the southeastern Palatinate, near the city of Mannheim. The influence of English on Pennsylvania German is often overstated. Only 10 to 15 percent of Pennsylvania German vocabulary is English-derived; its core grammatical structures remain Palatine German.” Anabaptist Studies at Elizabethtown College

Party at Grandma's house! (That's me, on my Grandma Esh's lap.)

Party at Grandma’s house!

Although I don’t speak much Dutch these days, there are a few phrases from my childhood that I still use on a regular basis, when speaking with my daughter. Here are the phrases, for your reading enjoyment! (Note: These words are not spelled technically, but phonetically instead so that you can pronounce them as written. Many thanks to my Daddy Jacob Dienner for his help!)

Playing with my brother

Playing with my brother

Kannscht du Deitsch schvetza?Can you speak Dutch?

Gleh vennigh or gleh bissley – A little bit

Vie gehts? – How are you?

Sittsit unnah Sit down

Vas is letz? What is wrong?

Vesh die pattiesWash your hands

Tzeit for essahTime to eat

Vas denkscht? – What do you think?

Vas in der velt? – What in the world?

Gutte’ nachtGood night

and my favorite…

Ich liebe dichI love you

Tomorrow I’ll be wrapping up my 31 days of lessons from my Amish family. What a great journey this has been! Thanks so much for sharing the road with me. ~ Justina Dee

Click here to read more posts from my Amish series.

Sources:

The Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College

Links:

Pennsylvania Dutch Phrases 

You Know You’re From Lancaster When…

First video in a series of PA Dutch lessons

Summary of Thirty-One Amish Days

Buggy Ride | Photo by Julie Lea Waldron

Buggy Ride | Photo by Julie Lea Waldron

These 31 posts have been such a tremendous personal journey for me. I discovered there were many memories, experiences and stories that I had kept to myself, by tucking them away in my brain where I had never shared them with my daughter. The challenge of writing about my family for 31 days was a wonderful way to spark recollections, and be certain that the gift of my treasured heritage is not forgotten.

Amish Sunrise by Julie Lea Waldron

Lancaster County Sunrise | Photo by Julie Lea Waldron

Although no family is perfect, there are so many unique and personal experiences that are significant and meaningful to each of our family histories, and I encourage all my readers to take a similar journey if you haven’t already done so!

Scooter Ride | Photo by Julie Lea Waldron

Scooter Ride | Photo by Julie Lea Waldron

I intend to continue writing about my Amish & Mennonite heritage in the future, these 31 days are only the start! My next adventure along these lines will be sharing treasures from visits to familiar places in one of the most beautiful places on earth; Lancaster County, PA. I’m excited about doing some vlogging (video blogging) along the way.

Photo by Julie Lea Waldron

Photo by Julie Lea Waldron

My deep and sincere thanks to my dear parents Jacob & Kathryn Dienner for their contributions to this series, Julie Lea Waldron for sharing her wonderful Lancaster County street photography, Amish365 for featuring many of my posts on their site, Lehman’s for connecting with me for future projects, and to you, my amazing readers! I’m so thankful for you, and appreciate all your messages and feedback! Also – thank you for sharing these posts with your friends.

Lancaster County Sunset | Photo by Julie Lea Waldron

Lancaster County Sunset | Photo by Julie Lea Waldron

As I bring these 31 Amish Days to a close, I wanted to let you know which posts were the most visited, and which ones were most special to me:

Top posts, in order of popularity:

10 Interesting Amish Foods

7 Things Every Amish Girl Knows How To Do

The Mennonite Game

Joy In the Simple Things

Beyond Buggies & Bonnets

And my favorites, in no particular order:

Patience & Perseverance 

Working Together

The Gift of Song

Joy In the Simple Things

The Habit of Prayer

Thank you so much for sharing this walk through my family’s story with me!

~ Justina Dee

Click here to visit the 31 Days of Lessons From my Amish Family page

7 Things Every Amish Girl Knows How to Do

Amish Girls Holding Hands

Photo by Julie Lea Waldron

It wasn’t until I was about 10 years old that I realized not every girl has the privilege of learning the homemaking skills I took for granted. My Mama wanted to share the things she knew with her daughters, and she enjoyed teaching us all she could. As a grown woman, I couldn’t be more thankful for the skill set she gave me! So, with no further ado, here are 7 (of the many) things every Amish girl knows how to do.

1) Wash Dishes

When I say wash dishes, I don’t mean just rinse them and put them in the dishwasher to unload the next morning. I’m talking wash cups, dishes, silverware, serving dishes, pots, pans, bowls, containers, cooking utensils, (you get the picture)…ALL by hand. And then you rinse the dishes, dry them, and put them away. Washing dishes the old-fashioned way is much better when working as a team. In fact, when there are lots of dishes (as is usually the case in an Amish home), it’s best when there at least five people to help with the chore. One person preps the dishes, one washes, one rinses, one dries and one puts them away. My Grandma said a girl is ready to get married when she can wash dishes fast enough to keep up with at least three people drying them.

Speaking of marriage preparedness: In addition to washing dishes at break-neck speed, Grandma said you had to be able to roll out your homemade pie crust in a perfect circle. Which leads us to skill number two:

2) Bake Pies

Amish girls learn early on how to make beautiful pies of all kinds. Apple Pie, Peach Pie, Custard Pie, Crumb Pies, Pecan Pie, Cherry Pie and many more. My Grandpa’s favorite was Shoofly pie, and Grandma always had one on hand. In addition to pies, they can make lovely bread from scratch and their cookies and cakes are marvelous. Holidays are an amazing culinary experience in an Amish home!

Making Chow Chow at Grandma's House

(Yours Truly) Making Chow Chow at Grandma’s House

3) Can & Preserve 

Applesauce, peaches, pears and cherries. Apple butter, pear butter,  jellies, jams and preserves. Grape juice and grape mush. Tomatoes, pickles, relish, beets,  ketchup and chow-chow. When it comes to canning and preserving, the Amish kitchen is unmatched in experience and expertise. Families have recipes and techniques they’ve passed down for generations. Their pantries and can shelves are a beautiful sight! My great-grandmother Fannie Stoltzfus enjoyed beautifying her canning shelves with delicate edging designed from folded newspaper. 

Little Seamstress

Sewing on my Mama’s machine at six years old

4) Sew & Quilt

Because the Amish make all their clothes (including boys and mens pants and shirts!), little girls quickly gain lots of experience in sewing. In addition, they learn beautiful embroidery skills, how to quilt and often how to knit and crochet as well. As a little girl I loved the adventure of going to the fabric store with Grandma! My favorite place was the second story of “Farmer Brown’s Market”, which was filled to the brim with all varieties of material for any kind of sewing project.

Amish Family

Amish Family | Photo credit Julie Lea Waldron

5) Hospitality & Cooking for Crowds

Amish homes are some of the most hospitable and welcoming spots on the planet. They’re always ready to accommodate their guests with delicious food – and plenty of it. Amish girls don’t just know how to quickly present a hearty meal (of roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, sweet corn, homemade bread with butter & jelly, applesauce, and chocolate cake with some canned peaches for dessert), they can make this meal for a whole crowd of visitors!

Working in the Garden

Working in the Garden | Photo credit Julie Lea Waldron

6) Gardening & Yardwork

There’s something very special about working with the land, and Amish girls are talented gardeners. They grow much of their family’s food supply, then harvest and preserve it. Little girls help their mothers in the garden and learn how to plant and care for the family’s vegetable garden. In addition, many Amish girls enjoy doing yard work, and find great delight in creating a beautiful landscape for their family and friends to enjoy. Their yards are a picture of perfection.

My Grandma Esh working in her garden, in Lancaster County, PA

My Grandma Esh working in her garden, in Lancaster County, PA. We spent many happy hours helping her pick raspberries, harvest potatoes and gather asparagus. My parents now live on this property, and continue to maintain a beautiful garden!

Buggy Ride | Photo by Julie Lea Waldron

Buggy Ride | Photo by Julie Lea Waldron

7) Drive a Buggy & Care for the Farm Animals

Men aren’t the only ones who drive those familiar buggies. Amish girls can handle the reigns too! They’re also very familiar with the inside of a barn, and know how to beautifully care for their livestock, run the farmyard and help in the fields. I only pretended to drive the buggy when it was parked in Grussdaudy’s barn, but I had plenty of experience in the barn when we visited Grandpa Esh’s farm. My favorite chores were bottle feeding the calves and helping with the milking.

Photo by Julie Lea Waldron

Photo by Julie Lea Waldron

Amish girls may not be experts in pop culture, current fashion trends or fads. They may not have a clue whose songs are playing on top 40 radio, or what movies are in the theater. But I dare say the things Amish girls learn and know are far more beneficial to society (as they grow older and have influence of their own) than we give them credit for! I’m so happy I had a family who taught me these valuable skills that I use every day.

Thanks so much for following along as I share things I learned from my Amish Family here on my blog series 31 days of lessons from my Amish family! I’m having a great time reminiscing and reflecting, and it’s a joy to have you join me here.

~ Justina Dee

 

The Impact of One Teacher

One Room School House Teacher Mrs. Buchanan

One Room School House Teacher Mrs. Buchanan

Meet Mrs. Buchanan. She was my grandmother’s school teacher during the 1930’s & ’40’s, in a tiny one-room school-house on Best Road in Morgantown, PA.

The one-room schoolhouse on Best Road, where Mrs. Buchanan taught my grandmother

The one-room schoolhouse on Best Road, where Mrs. Buchanan taught my grandmother

If you’ve followed the series of blog posts I’m sharing about my Amish family, you’ve seen much mention of my amazing grandmother Lydia Esh. I’ve never met another person who influenced my life in such a powerful way when it comes to bringing joy and teamwork to everyday life. Who were the people who helped shape my grandmother’s character and gifts? Of course there were her parents, Emanuel and Fannie Stoltzfus, (known to me as “Daudy & Mummy Stoltzfus”). But there was also someone else: her teacher Mrs. Buchanan. She was a woman of great influence during my Grandma’s childhood, and Grandma often spoke of her.

Students of Mrs. Buchanan's - My grandmother is in the back row

Students of Mrs. Buchanan’s – My grandmother is in the back row

Grandma, her sister Sarah, her brother Sam & siblings were the only Old-Order Amish children who attended Mrs. Buchanan’s classroom during those years. Most of the other students were from Conestoga Mennonite Church.

My grandma Lydia and her brother, who I call "Uncle Sam"

My grandma Lydia and her brother, who I call “Uncle Sam” (At the school on Best Road)

Amish children attend a one room schoolhouse from 1st through 8th grade. I would argue that because of her incredible teacher, my grandma received more education in her 8 years of schooling than most people procure in 12 years of a typical school experience.

DSC01525

Mrs. Buchanan instilled in my grandmother a love of learning and adventure. She sparked in her a deep appreciation of poetry, history, literature and song, and taught her the value of teamwork. My grandmother gave these priceless gift to my mother. My mother joyfully passed them on to me, and now I have the delight of sharing these same gifts with my daughter.

Grandma Lydia's Schoolwork

Grandma Lydia’s Schoolwork

Grandma Lydia's Schoolwork

There’s a fun little bunny trail of this story: Grandma’s middle initial was “S” for Stoltzfus. (Many Amish children had the maiden name of their mother as their middle name.) Apparently Grandma wanted a different middle name, so she signed some of her elementary school work with “Lydia Susie Stoltzfus”.

DSC01527-1

The most significant memory my mother has of Mrs. Buchanan’s effect on my Grandma’s day-to-day parenting is the memory of Grandma reciting poems she learned in school (like the Owl & the Pussycat) while combing and braiding her hair when she was a little Amish girl.

My mother's first grade school picture

My mother’s first grade school picture

Amazingly, Mrs. Buchanan served as substitute teacher for my mother when she attended “California School”, another one-room schoolhouse which still stands on California road in Morgantown, PA. My mother especially loved the story-books Mrs. Buchanan read to her students.

Students at California School, the one room schoolhouse on California Road in Morgantown, PA

Students at California School, the one room schoolhouse on California Road in Morgantown, PA

From time to time (especially when we read and recite poetry together) I think of the stories my grandma and mother shared of Mrs. Buchanan. I don’t want the story to die, and so I share it with my daughter. More importantly, I strive to cultivate a deep love and passion for learning in her – a gift now passed down to a fourth generation of students thanks to one incredible teacher many years ago. I believe Mrs. Buchanan’s influence makes me a better mother and home school teacher today.

My mother and my daughter

My beautiful mother and daughter

What a powerful picture of the impact one teacher can have on future generations! The lesson to me is this: If a one-room school-house teacher in a tiny town in Lancaster County, PA can make such an imprint, then certainly we all have the power to sow seeds of values and joy into the children in our lives – which will grow, spread like vines, and blossom on the pages of future history.

~ Justina Dee

This is number 18 in my “31 Lessons I Learned From My Amish Family” blogging series. Click here to read more! 

 

 

 

 

Ten Unique Items Found in an Amish Household

Last week I shared some unusual foods found in Amish homes, and today I’m listing (in no particular order) some interesting items commonly found in Amish homes. Each of these items takes me on a walk down nostalgia lane!

Amish Foot Stool

Amish Foot Stool | by Amish Furniture Factory

1.  A “Mummy Schtool” is a small foot stool my grandparents kept in the general area of the kitchen. (“Mummy” is the affectionate nickname given to Grandmothers  -or “Grussmommies”.) Since grandmas often needed help reaching into high cupboards, the stool was kept nearby. Somewhere along the line of Amish history, any small stool in the kitchen was given this title.

Dutch Blitz

Dutch Blitz | Photo by Lehmans

2. Dutch Blitz is a card game often found in Amish homes. It gets so intense that chairs are taken away from around the table being used, so that players can stand up. I have great memories of playing this game with my cousins for hours on end! Be sure to click on the video link to see how the game is played.

Amish Hope Chest

Amish Hope Chest | by Amish Furniture Factory

3. A Hope Chest is given to Amish girls as they become young women. Items like handmade quilts, special dishes given as Christmas gifts, silverware, and treasured family linens are stored inside, to someday be used in their own household after they are married.

Inside Amish House

Photo by Amish Farm & House, Lancaster PA

4. Green Window Shades – My sister reminded me of this uniquely Amish household item. There were no curtains in traditional Amish houses, but instead many used green utilitarian roller shades such seen as the photo. It’s a signature sign of an Old Order Amish home.

Vintage Tupperware Tumbler | Photo from Ebay

Vintage Tupperware Tumbler | Photo from Ebay

5. Community Cup – My father came from a family of 14 children. Imagine for a moment the buildup of dirty dishes if each child used a clean cup every time they got a drink of water! Instead, Amish homes typically have a cup sitting at the kitchen sink (the one at Grussmommy’s house looked kind of like the one in the photo), and everyone shared that cup between meals. At mealtime each person had their own water-glass, but the rest of the day you simply filled up the designated cup, and then rinsed it out after use.

Good's Store, East Earl PA

Good’s Store East Earl, PA | Photo by Lancaster Online

6. Hardware or Feed Store Calendar – Some of the most interesting places to shop in Lancaster County, PA. are Amish & Mennonite general or hardware stores. One of my favorites is “Good’s Store” in East Earl. Every year these stores print calendars, usually depicting nature scenes with Bible verses. I can’t remember visiting an Amish home that didn’t have one hanging in a useful spot.

Amish Family Record

Jacob & Annie Glick Family Record | Artist David Hoke, circa 1930’s

7. Beautiful Family Records such as these are another item often found in Amish homes. As they do not have photographs, this is a special way of remembering and displaying loved ones. This photo shows my grandmother Barbara Glick’s family. (See her name right there on the bottom?)

8. The Amish people were making Scrap Books for years before the craze hit American craft stores. As children we always enjoyed going to the drawer or cupboard where our grandmothers stored them, sitting down with the scrap books and gently leafing through the pages. Their scrapbooks contained postcards, cards, newspaper clippings and other memorebelia.

Amish Drawing Salve

Amish Draw Salve | from Vermont Country Store

9. Drawing Salve was in both Grussmommy & Grandma’s medicine cabinets. When we had an insect sting, a splinter or small wound, they would first clean the area and then apply the salve. Of course it always felt much better after their TLC!

Amber Teething Necklace

Baby Teething Necklace | Photo by Amber Artisans

10. Amish babies are often seen playing with a string of colorful Beads. Recently “teething necklaces” such as the one pictured above have been making waves in the natural wellness scene. I smiled when I first saw them, when I realized that Amish mothers have used them to comfort their teething babies for generations.

If you think of something I have not put on this list, I’d love for you to take time to comment below! Thank you for following along with my Amish Family blogging project. It’s truly an honor to have you read the posts.

~ Justina Dee

This is number 16 in my “31 Lessons I Learned From My Amish Family” blogging series. Click here to read more! 

Link:

Video demonstrating a family game of Dutch Blitz

Wellness Mama’s Drawing Salve Recipe

Note: I am not affiliated in any way with companies or individuals whose links I’ve provided, and am not receiving compensation for featuring their products here, and their views may not reflect my own. 

 

The Choice to Forgive {Lessons from My Amish Family}

Dirk Willems (died 16 May 1569) (also spelled Durk Willems) was a Dutch martyred Anabaptist who is most famous for escaping from prison, turning around to rescue his pursuer—who had fallen through thin ice while chasing Willems—to then be recaptured, tortured and killed for his faith. | Wiki

Dirk Willems (died 16 May 1569) (also spelled Durk Willems) was a Dutch martyred Anabaptist who is most famous for escaping from prison, turning around to rescue his pursuer—who had fallen through thin ice while chasing Willems—to then be recaptured, tortured and killed for his faith. | Wiki

As I live in a western society that breathes, practices and preaches personal rights and justice, sometimes it’s hard for me to fathom modeling a life of forgiveness in the way Jesus commands:

“…and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Matthew 6:12

“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” Matthew 6:14

“Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Matthew 18:21-22

“And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” Mark 11:25 – (ESV)
But there’s a countercultural model in America, and it was best demonstrated after the horrific Nickel Mines shootings in a once innocent little one-room schoolhouse, where gunman Charles Carl Roberts IV took hostages and shot ten girls (aged 6–13), killing five of them. In the days, weeks, months and now years that followed, Amish families who were the very victims of the tragic shootings of those sweet little school girls not only spoke words of forgiveness, but demonstrated it, by loving the shooter’s mother, widow and children – and (gasp!) even attending his funeral as an extension of grace to his family only days after burying their own daughters.
Nickel Mines School | Image via NY Daily News

Nickel Mines School | Image via NY Daily News

Nickel Mines School | Image via NY Daily News

Nickel Mines School | Image via NY Daily News

Imagine growing up in a home, and among peers in your church, school and community where forgiveness is practiced and taught, instead of personal rights. Extending grace is the choice made instead of seeking revenge. Meekness is sought after and more highly esteemed than force. When this is the culture of a people, choosing to forgive naturally becomes their reaction in a time such as the Nickel Mines shootings, as it is a collective reflex of their trained character and nature.

“I would say the difference here with the Amish is that this is part of their cultural DNA. They aren’t individualistic like other Americans are, so the burden doesn’t fall so much on the individual to forgive, although individuals obviously are part of the process. But this is more built into the cultural rhythms and the cultural DNA of the Amish community. It’s just the way we live and the way we’re expected to respond in the face of hostility.” ~ Donald Kraybill

I saw this kind of forgiveness demonstrated in my Grandpa Esh’s life. (You can read his story by clicking here.) Instead of being angry and bitter as a result of tragedy – seeking revenge, compensation and justice for being robbed of the ability to walk and function as a normal man, he chose to forgive and move on with life.

I also experienced it in the thousand little ways my family handled things. I’ve watched typical (and great!) American parents who distract their child who is hurt by running into something such as a chair say something like, “what a horrible, bad, awful chair that is for hurting you!”. You would never hear an Amish parent say anything of the kind. Instead, they would simply make sure their child is okay, and quietly move on, placing no blame on the chair or anything else for that matter.

The manner in which the Amish people extend grace in the face of evil seems so unnatural, and could be viewed as forgiving too easily, or even a sign of inner weakness. Typically we want justice in the face of personal tragedy, and revenge when we’re treated unfairly. In the above referenced article Donald Kraybill goes on to explain, “…for the Amish, who bring their own religious resources to bear on injustice, the preferred way to live on with meaning and hope is to offer forgiveness—and offer it quickly. That offer, including the willingness to forego vengeance, does not undo the tragedy or pardon the wrong. It does, however, constitute a first step toward a future that is more hopeful, and potentially less violent, than it would otherwise be.”

In my Amish family and among the Anabaptist culture, there is a longstanding heritage of choosing to forgive. It was first modeled by Jesus as he forgave the very people who crucified Him. I grew up hearing the accounts from Martyr’s Mirror – where believers who were being tortured in horrific manners, and burned at stake for their faith, chose to forgive those men who were inflicting the unspeakable atrocities upon them.

Children walking to their new schoolhouse called "New Hope School" | image via Seattle Times

Children walking to their rebuilt schoolhouse called “New Hope School”  Image via Seattle Times

“In a world where faith often justifies and magnifies revenge, and in a nation where some Christians use scripture to fuel retaliation, the Amish response was indeed a surprise. Regardless of the details of the Nickel Mines story, one message rings clear: religion was not used to justify rage and revenge but to inspire goodness, forgiveness, and grace. And that is the big lesson for the rest of us regardless of our faith or nationality.” – Donald Kraybill

Obviously we may not all agree with the Amish and Mennonite theology on pacifism and their views on culture. But their beautiful practice of forgiveness is an undeniable beacon and shining example of grace to all of us. I consider myself incredibly blessed to learn from them, and to call them my family.

~ Justina Dee

This is a post from a series I’m sharing about my Amish family. Click here to read more.

Reference: Christianity Today’s “Amish Grace & the Rest of Us” The Amish response to the Nickel Mines shootings wasn’t just plain Christianity. Donald B. Kraybill, Steven M. Nolt, and David L. Weaver-Zercher/ SEPTEMBER 17, 2007

Links:

Nickel Mines Legacy – Forgive First | Pittsburgh Post Gazette 

The Culture of Forgiveness 

Rhinestone Jesus {Saying #YESinmyMESS}

#rhinestonejesus #yesinmymess

Throughout my life I’ve had the humbling and challenging experience of meeting some pretty incredible people.

Ordinary people who were born with no more privileges, connections, talents, resources or money than me. But there is something that set them apart from the masses.

Each of them decided to say YES when opportunity to serve others come knocking.  And because of their “YES”, the world has been impacted with Gospel, and the love of Jesus.

Today my remarkable friend Kristen Welch (writer at We Are THAT Family & founder of Mercy House Kenya) has released “Rhinestone Jesus – Saying YES to God When Sparkly, Safe Faith Is No Longer Enough“. This is her vulnerable, authentic and real story about the process of saying YES to God while living a messy life  just like the rest of us. I can’t wait for you to read it, and be challenged, inspired and encouraged to partner with God to do the things He has called you to do – right where you are. Every single “YES” matters.

Click here to watch “Rhinestone Jesus” book trailer

Click here to buy “Rhinestone Jesus” today! A portion of proceeds benefit Mercy House Kenya.

This book will make a PERFECT mother’s day gift!

I’m also giving away my personal copy of “Rhinestone Jesus”. If you would like to enter to win, simply leave a comment below.

Learning to say #YESinmyMESS right along with you my friend!

~ Justina Dee

 

The Deep Well of a Mother’s Love {A glimpse into the life of an adoptive family}

Mother and her family

 

“No language can express the power, and beauty, and heroism, and majesty of a mother’s love.  It shrinks not where man cowers, and grows stronger where man faints, and over wastes of worldly fortunes sends the radiance of its quenchless fidelity like a star.” ~Edwin Hubbell Chapin

(Is there someone from your childhood whom you haven’t seen for a very long time, but your heart still glows with love every time you think of them? My daughter, niece and I visited one of those people this weekend, and her life experiences over these past years is too beautiful and inspiring to keep to myself. On Friday afternoon we took a little road-trip under the hot Texas sun, through a few beautiful little towns, down a country road, up a long gravel lane, and finally arrived at our destination. We parked by the fenced pasture and were greeted by the family dogs.)

As we made our way to the house, the front door opened, and out walked one of the most beautiful families I’ve ever seen. First came my childhood friend (now a mother), followed by twelve of her and her husband’s thirteen children.

We embraced, then my eyes brimmed with tears at what followed. My friend’s intense love for each child was evident on her face (and even in her mannerisms and gestures) as she introduced me to every one of her blessings. Eight biological and five adoptive children (from Cambodia, Guatemala and Ukraine.) With each introduction of her precious ones, I was given another glimpse of their mother’s deep, deep love for them.

We sat down around the table in the farm-style kitchen and enjoyed a scrumptious family style meal, followed by a three-layered cake lovingly and beautifully baked by two of the girls. Sharing time with this family was an extraordinary experience. I sat across from a long bench of beautiful little ones, who sat in front of a large window through which you could see the great outdoors. The respect and courtesy these children demonstrated to us their guests, as well as to each other was a complete delight to behold (and experience).

Dinner was full of reminisce, stories and laughter. Love emanated from my friend and in turn, from each of her children. As the matter of fact, there is no denying the fact that this home is built on the strong and firm foundation of God’s love, as every square inch is filled with its grace and beauty. The picture of these children together, in their little corner of the world is such a picture of redemption that I have no words to describe it. What can one woman do to change the world? I need look no further than my friend’s kitchen table in Texas. The respect, admiration and adoration these children have for their mother is precious to behold. After all, she is a picture of Jesus to them.

Playground

After supper, everyone helped clean the kitchen, and we headed outside where twilight was just setting in. The children played, (all the older ones helping the littles), while us mommies caught up on the years that have passed by. It’s hard to believe there were fourteen children (including the two I contributed to the group) playing around us, they were so well-mannered. Such kindness and joy flowed from every member of this family! My daughter and niece had an amazing time playing, meeting the children’s animals, and then riding horseback.

Family Playground 2

As dusk set in, we took all took a walk together. It was magical. My friend shared the stories of each of her children. All I could think of is how DEEP this mother’s love is! It is like a well. Because her love is an extension of GOD’s love, it never runs dry.

Country WalkWalking along their country lane, we shared the joys and heartaches, the mountaintops and the valleys of our mothering experiences. I heard how one of her daughters was found at the orphanage doorstep, wrapped in rags. She told me about the unlikely path (full of intense sadness and ultimate joy) which led to the homecoming of two sisters from Ukraine. We talked about babies being born after their due-date. We shared struggles, current battles and the reality of living a life that looks different from those expectations we had as young women what seems so long ago.

My beautiful friend

I didn’t want this evening to end. We finished our visit with some time around the piano. (Which my friend’s children can play, as well as the violin!) As we sang “Amazing Grace” together, and the children’s clear, sweet voices rose up around me at the piano bench, I was completely overcome with emotion. These little ones understood these words far better than most of us could ever begin to do.

“Through many dangers, toils and snares

I have already come;

‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far

And grace will lead me HOME” ~ John Newton

Amazing Grace

Incredibly inspired. Massively challenged. And undeniably encouraged am I, by this dear woman’s deep well of Love. May we all die to self. Live to love others, and make an eternal difference in our world in such a way as this.

~ Justina Dee