Category: FEATURES

Written by Teresa Goodnight

At the end of January, after February went to print, the state of New York passed a law allowing women to terminate pregnancy up to and through full-term for reasons one might use to return a sweater to the mall. In celebration of what they labeled women’s rights, they lit the heralded Freedom Tower in pink.

It’s puzzling why a tower dedicated to precious Americans, who lost their lives in a horrible strike against our freedom would be the choice for a celebration of forever silencing these children. These children, who wouldn’t be given the basic right to enter independence and start their new life independent of their mothers, could now be terminated at will. 

A child with placental complications is at higher risk, as is the mother, from birth issues—some of which can be pretty severe. How God crafted the mother’s body to give a home for her baby to grow is quite fascinating. The father’s role though is equally interesting inside the womb. The sperm creates both the placenta and umbilical cord. So, it is the father who is the life connection inside the womb for the baby to grow. It’s a beautiful process involving both parents. Both parents are responsible for sustaining the baby’s life while it’s readying to enter the world as an independent little one. The father’s role is not often discussed. It’s really a beautiful collaborative event God created.

My mother was a premature baby in the 50’s, weighing in at only 4 pounds. It’s quite the miracle she’s even here—that I’m even here for that matter. However, if a baby can survive at such small sizes, in such an early delivery, it’s easy to see the line for viable, independent life is crossed quite early in the womb. Interestingly, if a child’s air were cut off while being born, it would gasp for it. On its own, it would choose life. It just does. If we’re honest, I think we all choose life when given the choice for ourselves. It’s offensive to me as a woman and a mother to see the act labeled and celebrated as a right for the mother. How can we just eliminate the part of the father living inside the mother, providing sustenance to the baby? How can we eliminate the right of the one, who is at a point in life where it would naturally choose air if it were taken away? The rights of the unborn without a voice are being suppressed by the alleged right of a mother, who was entrusted with the rights of all three. Should her “rights” come at the expense of another’s rights? 

Seeking the right to terminate a pregnancy, when the child living inside already responds to mommy and daddy’s voices, is a difficult choice to understand. Those precious curves of the baby’s foot that press out so that you can touch it on its exploratory path. The hiccups you strangely feel inside. The pressure on your ribs with that push as the baby turns in order to be ready to head out and start this new journey. That precious child growing inside, looking for care and protection, is certainly not thinking about anyone’s freedom except its own. What law will be passed for the one without a voice to be heard? What tower will we light for its rights if NOT the freedom tower? 

A Christian’s heart should not just break for the child. It should also break for the woman, who thinks she’s expressing her “right to choose.” Then, finds herself completely crushed from the weight of her irreversible decision. She might have felt trapped. This decision might have felt the easiest way out. I haven’t met a lot of people who want their missteps heralded all over town for 9 months. These women are in an incredibly difficult place. These laws offer a seemingly free and clear path of freedom. It’s impossible for any of us who haven’t been there to understand everything going on inside of that woman. Whatever it is, she doesn’t need to be met with those who don’t understand spouting off their insults or hurling things at her on her journey. She needs love, compassion, and real commitments to help. Hurling these kinds of sentiments can help her get through her situation, maybe choose adoption for her child. God offers all of us His love and mercy needed to fix a broken heart. He has it. He offers it freely. 

In Romans 3:23, He says, “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” ALL. As such, we should also ALL hold onto the grace we were so freely given by God and give it to others. As the church, we need to find new ways to make a difference. The days of hurling objects and insults (and even worse) should also be gone. They never should have existed honestly. 

So, for the lives of children who will never be born, we light this page in pink and blue, representing the little boys and girls. We light it as their voice, but we also light it for the men and women caught in this turmoil. We pray they will find groups like Mend Crisis Pregnancy, Crisis Pregnancy Outreach, Hope Pregnancy Center, Go Life Mobile Medical—all in Tulsa or the Pregnancy Resource Center in Owasso to name a few who are lighting the way with love.

Finally, we light it for those who have already gone down this path. May all who have fallen into this step find God’s love, which knows no bounds. That love that sacrificed everything for our mistakes also covers the mistakes of these lawmakers. That love extends to these mothers and fathers. That’s the kind of love we experience from our Father in Heaven. Unconditional love dripping undeservedly all over us with grace to remove sin as far as the East is from the West. May we all find His peace to choose better. 

Please join with us this month in prayer:

Lift up the leaders, who passed this law–for hearts to be broken by the weight of their decision. Pray for their change of heart. 

Lift up the ones who seek to use the power of this law to terminate the life within them. Pray that someone, somewhere will touch them with the love of Christ. Pray God will send someone to help guide them to a better place for themselves and their child through an option like adoption. 

Pray for those women broken by their “rights.” We cannot understand, but God’s forgiveness and love is right there for them, just like the rest of us.

Lift up the nation, “united under God” to remember the protection His veil affords. Pray for all of us, who as a nation allowed this to happen by remaining silent. 

Pray Christians will respond with that ridiculously amazing, unconditional love God shows us even though we’ve made bad choices—and let that love light the way back from this darkness.  

#GoDoBe. No. Really.

Devaluing human life through a “right” for women—who will be the next victim of our “rights” if we continue to just watch it all unfold? Just giving an emoji or a directional thumb is a mere whimper of support. Join groups like Focus on the Family in NYC in person for “Alive in New York.” Find ways to give financial help. Reach out to one of the many amazing pregnancy resource centers, like those mentioned in the article, to help. Reach out specifically to women caught in this battle. Reach out as your church, as THE “C”hurch. We don’t offer a moment of prayer as a substitute for further action. We pause to get direction from our mighty God to face this with His guidance, wisdom and love. 

Do more than let your voice be heard. Let your actions be seen. Let your love be shown. Go be Christ to the women and men in crisis. Go do whatever God is calling you to do (in love) to help.  Be Jesus, not throwing the first stone, but loving the lost as Christ has loved us.



Written by Teresa Goodnight

Spencer Henson is already building a legacy on and off the field at 21.  A talented first baseman and pitcher for the ORU Golden Eagles, Spencer was training just before the interview.  In just the first few minutes, I knew exactly why the coaches selected Spencer for the story.  We were looking for someone with character, building a legacy—and as you will read Spencer does NOT disappoint.

I told Spencer we wanted to highlight what he does on and off the field in creating a legacy.  I’m not even sure he took a breath before he started.  “I think the way you do things on the field trickles down into how you do things off the field and how you do things outside of baseball. On the field, growing up, you are taught not to skip reps.  Do things like no one is watching to get your training in.  Whether that’s in the weight room or on the field, you are there to make yourself better, stronger.”  Spencer continued, “I’ve always believed what you put in is what you get out. You do good things and good things will happen to you.”  Spencer emphasized, “On the baseball side, the harder you work at something the luckier you get or the readier you are for the opportunities that come up.  I just carry that over off the field as well.”  Spencer’s character of strength showed through in everything he said. 

Spencer started playing ball in Pryor, Oklahoma with honors like the Louisville Slugger All American his sophomore through senior year.  After high school, he landed firmly at ORU when it was time for college. Spencer said, “I actually played here with the summer team, the BBA Titans, from my sophomore year to my senior year. I just liked the atmosphere. I liked the coaches.  They were real and personable with really great attitudes.”  Spencer added,  “When you go to other schools, the coaches, it’s just like it’s difficult to talk to them.”   

Spencer had a lot of offers from bigger schools, but he felt being close to home in a supportive environment with the kind of coaches and team he saw at ORU was the answer.  Spencer said, “Playing at ORU is different.  The guys around here, the coaches, they will step to the side and talk to you and you can share what you’re thinking or feeling.  They’ll get on a personal level with you; you know you matter as a person. I just didn’t see that at other schools as I looked around.  It was different here.”  That kind of support and confidence building landed Spencer the Triple Crown honor for his sophomore year at ORU, along with player of the week several times from the Summit League.  It is easy to see how it’s been a part of shaping him into the confident man across the table.   

When I asked Spencer, “Any people who have guided you in how to stay on your path?” He immediately answered, “Probably my teammates.  When I first got here, it was a pretty experienced, older group. So, I tried to just absorb it all.  I didn’t get much play time freshman year, as the elders on the team had already proven themselves. So, I sat behind and watched the Matt Whatleys, the Brent Williams, Nick Rotolas and how they handled their business and how mature they were on and off the field.”  Watching these other men set such strong examples on and off the field showed Spencer true character in action.  It’s easy to see why joining a team with such committed, caring coaches and well-behaved players would “rub off” the kind of character you’d be proud to see in your child.

Spencer is also a big family guy.  It’s just a support system he’s always had. He said, “Having the family here and looking up there and seeing them in the stands, it’s also a big confidence booster and a reminder that there’s more to life than just playing baseball.”  Interestingly, Spencer actually helped start his family attending church when he was just 9 years old in Pryor.  Spencer said, “I grew up going to Southeast Baptist Church. One of my friend’s dad is a pastor there.”  Spencer was told, “You can spend the night but we’ve gotta go to church in the morning.”  He laughed because he is now pretty sure the preacher had a plan all along.  He said, “It was really cool because I think Pastor Rob knew what he was doing. He had a little parable that he talked about with me and threw me in the story.  It was a cool feeling to have.  Then, he went into how it transitioned into the Biblical side of things. Ever since then, I told my parents, ‘This is a pretty cool place.  We actually need to start going there.’  We’ve been there ever since.” 

We talked about life on the field, as it’s quite a battle in your mind sometimes.  Spencer said, “When I get down on the field, we do a lot of mental side training here. For me it’s like, say I do boot a ball, I’ll always look back at this right field foul pole at the top of it, cause there’s always a right field foul pole anywhere you play.  So, I just stare at it a few seconds, take a deep breath into my glove, and say ‘Flush it. Don’t worry about it.  You’re gonna get another ground ball.  It’s not gonna be the last one you boot.  It’s not gonna be the last one you’re gonna get.’  So I just get myself back in and ready for the next play.”  Spencer added, “I really focus to give myself confidence and a reminder that it’s not the end of the world regardless of how it felt.”

I asked Spencer to translate his life on the field into his daily life.  Spencer said, “I think you try to give like things have been given to you. You know, as an example, if somebody needs some cash you hand them a twenty and there’s some way that the kindness returns to you. Actually, funny enough it happened the other day. A guy was needing some money and I gave him $40.  Then, I was going to the store to get a meal and I was checking my bank account and it wasn’t looking too good.  Then I’m walking in the parking lot and I stepped on $40 on the ground. It was really cool.  It doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does happen, it’s just a good reassurance that you’re doing the right thing.”  I couldn’t help but think through life on a college-student budget, when every dollar counts.  Having the gracious heart to offer what you have to someone in need—not knowing what you will do to cover your own meal—that’s giving the shirt off of your back without hesitation.  That’s a guy building a legacy by example, even when noone is watching.

I asked Spencer, “If you were talking to high school students, trying to figure out what they’re going to do in life—what would you tell them?”  Spencer again didn’t hesitate with an answer. “I’d tell them to ask questions.  A lot of people, and I’m calling myself out here, just think they know things and don’t ask to learn more.”  Spencer added, “When I was in high school, I was like ‘I’m gonna do this, this and this.  Then a year later, I’m like ‘I don’t know what I’m gonna do.’  You’re still a kid when you’re in high school. If you’re curious about something don’t be afraid to ask.  The more you ask the more you learn.”  Spencer spoke with conviction of experience, “Don’t be afraid to reach out.  Don’t be afraid to try things and fail.  You won’t know if you like it or not if you don’t try it.  Even if you fail—and you don’t mind it, you should keep doing it until that drive runs out or you get better and find a passion for it.  Then, if that wasn’t the fit—go try something else.”  Spencer said, “Make a list of what you want to do, a checklist and a goal list of the things you want to try to do. If you don’t like it, check it off. Have goals and aspirations. Put them down. Ask about them.  Explore them.”  That kind of drive and learning to overcome fear of failure has set him on a path he loves at ORU and in baseball.

In closing, I asked Spencer, “What would you say to someone, if you were wanting to inspire them.  Spencer said confidently, “If I had a chance to inspire anyone—I’d say ‘JUST GO DO IT.’ You don’t know if you’re gonna like it until you try it.”  He said he’s still trying to figure out his post collegiate plans.  He’s going to be doing baseball as long as he can, in whatever capacity that may be. Spencer said, “I’d like to get back into the college level and do some hitting coordination.  Just whatever ways I can stay around the baseball field, just doing whatever makes me feel like I’m 12 still.”  Spencer may love to feel like he’s 12, but he’s certainly built a character and a legacy already of someone much older, wiser, and worth watching.

ORU baseball kicked off February 15th for the 2019 season. Check out Spencer Henson and the rest of the amazing team. Tulsa is quite fortunate to have such a set of examples on and off the field to watch. See the schedule at http://www.oruathletics.com/sports/bsb/2018-19/schedule

Written by Staff Writer

How would you react to an uncomfortable life-altering choice? For one Tulsan, it was a test of character and a call to action.

Fifteen years ago, Kelly Swan was approached by a man whose condition was painfully clear. He was dirty, disheveled and said he’d been eating from dumpsters.

Yes, Roy was homeless. Doing something about it is another matter altogether. That’s the hard part.

Roy asked Kelly point blank for help, confronting him with the proverbial fork in the road that impacted his life ever since.

“My gut reaction was to walk away,” Kelly admits. “And that’s exactly what I did.”

“But I had a serious challenge in my heart. I had been praying for God to use my life to help someone,” Kelly recounts.

“Doing nothing was the easy choice, but I knew I’d regret it. So I chose the tougher road. I retraced my steps, found Roy a few blocks back and apologized.”

Kelly talked with Roy for 15 minutes. He shook his hand, learned about his life, prayed with him and took care of his lunch.

The rest is history, or shall we say history in the making. Colossians 4:5 challenges believers to “make the most of every opportunity.” 

So after the encounter, Kelly and his friends formed a 501(c)3 nonprofit called Filling The Void to feed and minister to the homeless and needy. 

It’s an all-volunteer army that has attracted more than 1,500 helpers over the years. The ministry is heavily active in Tulsa, Denver, Dallas and Houston.

The need here still looms large. Despite successful housing programs, homelessness in Tulsa increased 7 percent over the past decade according to 2018 statistics from the Community Service Council.

“There’s always going to be desperate situations and trauma that turns lives upside down,” Kelly said. “But we bring a message of healing and redemption everywhere we go.”

In 2018, Filling The Void’s volunteers served more than 19,000 sack lunches across their four core cities and prayed with 6,000 people.

All told, they’ve served 150,000 meals since Roy. The annual budget is now up to $100,000 for 2019. 

Filling The Void was founded by Kelly Swan, Erin Bjornberg and Chris Brooks.

The sack lunches are first-rate. We’re not talking about bologna sandwiches or PB&J. Filling The Void primarily serves Arby’s or Chick-fil-A. 

Each bag also contains an envelope. There’s no money inside. Think something greater – devotionals with scripture that are designed to give hope. The organization has written hundreds of versions.

“We feed the soul. It’s a two-fold mission – addressing physical hunger and the emptiness in a person’s heart. People need to know their lives have purpose and meaning in Christ,” Kelly said. 

Filling The Void has won two national awards for public service. They’re known for their personalized approach, taking interactions beyond a surface level and working in conjunction with other agencies.

In 2011, Tulsa philanthropist Henry Zarrow penned a letter to Filling The Void thanking them for pitching in at the Day Center for the Homeless.

“We’re one part of the recovery process that spans from A to Z. Our sweet spot is in front of door A. The people we serve trust us because they know we’re genuine and we’ve been here for years,” Kelly says. 

“We learn names. We build relationships through repeated interactions. Then we can speak truth into their lives and point them to places for other help,” Kelly added.

Teams from Filling The Void hit the streets 223 times in 2018. Each outreach lasts about an hour. There are seven ways to get involved. You can see details and donate online at fillingthevoid.com

“It’s a labor of love in every sense. There’s plenty of labor but we do it because God loves people,” Kelly said. “We’re purposefully working to facilitate lasting life-change.”

When asked to give our readers advice, Kelly said this: “Don’t wait until December to start serving. Nonprofits all over town need your help right now.”

Written by Ingrid B. Skarstad Williams

I’m not really a “flower person.” I don’t garden. I never studied botany. I don’t recall yearning for bouquets. Roses didn’t send my heart fluttering. Anything beyond basic flowers or dandelions went unidentified most of my life—until a mystery bloom captured my heart and my camera on a sidewalk in South Carolina.

It wasn’t on display. Quite the opposite, actually. Spilling over someone’s concrete barrier of a back yard, the flowers seemed to be celebrating their slow-motion escape with a “Seussical” carnival suspended on vines. I could almost picture the “Whos down in Whoville” climbing on the whimsical explosion of color and taking a spin. I’m not sure how long I lingered with my lens drinking them in. But that moment marked me. 

And no one I knew could tell me what it was.

It would be 10 years, many states, and thousands of flower photos later that I would meet the curious blossom again. I was on official business—the delightful business of doing photography for a botanic garden. Had I only been looking at the displays, I would have missed the vibrant purple, raspberry, and lime green carousels beginning to open on the end posts of a bridge. Once again, they seemed almost nonchalant in their fabulous eruptions.

Now I had horticulturalists to quiz and Latin name plates to decipher. Passionflower! The discovery pleased me. I was glad they had an energetic word like “passion” in their name. No wonder I loved this flower! Wild dreams, quirky passions, and brilliant expressions have always piqued my interest. They, like this flower, might seem like a fantasy until it pops up and throws a party along the path of life.

Surprise!

One year later, an amazing thing happened. My life shifted into a new season, and I finally had both the time and energy to tame a bush gone wild in my back yard. Between the teenagers I bribed and my own vengeance unleashed, the branches began a transformation. Vines that had laced themselves into the branches (and my window screens) were unraveled and torn out. The kids wielding clippers morphed the scary bush monster into a coiffed, lopsided silhouette of Kramer’s head (yes, I do mean the character from the sitcom Seinfield).

The long-forgotten “other side” of the bush was now uncovered. More vines traveled along the house, fence, and untended (unwanted!) trees. I was determined to eradicate them all. I ripped up every trail until I realized that with each pull of the viney ropes, strange yellow and green balls were swinging from the branches of rogue trees along the fence. Hmmm! What kind of trees are these? 

Thinking I would clear the vines and get a closer look, I continued yanking the stems down. The balls came with them! I stopped to examine my growing pile of twisted green stems and leaves and saw a shriveled puff of faded purple and green. I gasped! PASSIONFLOWERS? IN MY YARD? Clinging to the same vine were the neon spheres. This must be passionfruit! Sure enough, the hidden corner of my yard was in full harvest.

I gathered and Googled—just to make sure I knew what to do with my sudden abundance. What a strange and exotic fruit! The bright yellow skin formed a miniature bowl once it was cut open. Dark, slippery seeds encased in a gel-like suits were slipping and sliding in greenish-clearish slime. The teenagers couldn’t be bribed to taste them when they saw the insides. “Alien brains,” they said. I decided to be the brave one. I slurped it up . . . FANTASTIC! Sweet! Over-the-top delicious!

An adventure like had to be shared! I immediately posted pictures on Facebook and Instagram. An international friend was shocked when she saw them! Passionfruit was common in her homeland of Singapore. She dearly missed it after moving to the U.S., and it was nowhere to be found in our stores. But it was strangely plentiful in my back yard! (Needless to say, I shared my harvest).

That summer, the passionflower vines and their delicious fruit were one of three botanical surprises. Wild chamomile visited my patio. A delicate red cypress vine mysteriously appeared in my planter. Somehow they appeared and graced me with their beauty, wonder, and adventure. I guess I am a flower person after all. 

Then again, maybe I enjoy the flowers because they are much like people—each unique with dreams full of life and possibility—when they bloom, they share their beauty, wonder, adventure, and joy with all who draw near. 

What’s Blooming in Your Back Yard?

Right now your life may feel like a tangled, overgrown mess much like my yard. But there could be hidden passions coming to life! In fact, I can almost guarantee you have seeds of dreams planted in you that no one has seen yet—maybe not even you! One day you’ll notice something new, clear the chaos, and find fruit ripe and ready for you to taste. 

“Taste ye and see, how gracious the Lord is: blessed is the man that trusteth in him” (Ps. 34:8 GNV). “I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the Lord; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope” (Jer. 29:11 CEB).

Just think what can happen if you discover those hidden passions and then set out to nurture them! Sure it will take hard work. You may have to “clear the land” and make room in your life. You may have to plant new things you want to see grow. You may have to guide and direct the natural gifts and abilities that are already there. It may take time, but if you see something sprouting up, it’s likely that now is the time for it to grow and flourish.

  1. Seeds (and dreams) are amazing.
    A seed can be seemingly dead, dormant for years, and yet when it is buried in the dirt, something amazing happens—life breaks through! An entire blueprint is in that little seed. In the right environment, the blueprint unfolds. A seed will come to life. It will grow. It will produce whatever it was designed to produce.
  2. Dirt is powerful. (PS. You’re dirt!)
    What is it about the soil that makes seeds grow? It can release that hard shell of a seed and nurture that spark of life waiting to be engaged. It makes change happen. Dirt is powerful! And you’re dirt! God made man out of dirt. (In fact, an interesting side note is that “man” and “ground” come from the same Hebrew word! Genesis 2:7 (KJV): “And the LORD God formed man [‘adam] of the dust of the ground [‘adamah].”) We’re dirt! We’re designed to make things grow.
  3. God’s design is brilliant—trust it.
    Did you know that science recently discovered a plant gene that interprets when the environment is optimal for growth and only then allows the seed to begin its transformation? It can remain dormant in the ground for years if the growing conditions are not favorable. In much the same way, God knows the seeds and dreams planted in you. He has designed your destiny to flourish. And He knows the times and seasons for each to unfold. Trust God’s design! It’s brilliant. It’s perfect.

Good Things Are Growing Now!

God has a brilliant blueprint planted in you. At the right time, with the right conditions, God’s plans will unfold and flourish. Trust that brilliance at work in you! I believe God loves to surprise His children with good things. Those good things are growing right now. Other good things are waiting with delight, knowing they will grace your life with a beautiful surprise in the future.

Don’t be discouraged if you have dreams yet to come to fruition. Maybe you’ve planted and nurtured others before yourself (which is a seed in and of itself, and you will receive the benefit of the harvest). Galatians 6:9 (TPT) says, “And don’t allow yourselves to be weary or disheartened in planting good seeds, for the season of reaping the wonderful harvest you’ve planted is coming!” 

There are seasons to move through and seasons to come. This moment you are living in right now is precious. It’s your season. Embrace it! A farmer cannot rush the seasons, but can wisely work within them. So to, as you recognize the season you’re in, you can fully embrace it and be ready for the next.

Dear reader, this I pray over you as I wind down my words: May God’s Word grow and dwell in you richly. May the dreams in your heart come to full fruition. May your words and actions be blessed in the season you are in. And may you go forward in full confidence knowing that a great harvest awaits you as you abide in Christ Jesus. 

Like that passionflower vine that captured my curiosity, maybe that “bloom” you admire in far away places is finding its way to your back yard. Maybe your hidden passions are becoming noticed. Maybe your dreams are just beginning to be uncovered to you. Or maybe you’re settling into your groove. Whatever season is in your life, I hope you run toward it—arms open wide. You were made for this!


Written by Teresa Goodnight

“We’re so very sorry. Your son won’t be going home with you. We’re setting you up with palliative care to be with him while he is here to make him comfortable. There’s nothing we can do.” 

The doctors said something like that. The exact words never really made it into their minds. Ben and Noelle just sat there. “We were in a puddle on the floor. Broken. How could this be what God had planned for us? Everything I had asked God for…everything…He just didn’t answer one single thing,” said Noelle with more strength than she felt that night. “With what felt like no faith left,” she continued, “we prayed for him, both Ben and I, together. I say I prayed, but I could barely speak the words,” said Noelle.

Ben and Noelle started their journey together long before they knew they were starting THIS journey together. Some, like Ben’s dad, knew Noelle was the one for Ben from the first time they met. Both of them had such a heart for ministering to others through song. Their hearts wanted to share songs about God, praising God, strengthening anyone who would want to worship God with them. Even at the hospital, through this nightmare, someone brought a guitar—and there in their brokenness they sang worship songs with family and friends, both old and new, gathered around them. When praising God is just who you are, it just comes out no matter what path God has you on at that exact moment it seems.

In the beginning, the couple had crossed paths many times in the worship arena. They had a host of mutual friends and acquaintances. It wasn’t until Noelle was working at a homeless shelter in Amarillo and wanted to do a lullaby album for families that they really connected.  Noelle contacted Ben through MySpace, knowing his heart for music and worship—and she wanted him to be one of the contributors on the lullaby album. However, after Ben called her and they talked for several hours, they started a journey that led them here, to this hospital in Little Rock, Arkansas trying to sort through God’s plan for their lives. How was this His plan for bringing little Pierce into their story? How was God threatening to take him in what seemed such an abrupt disruption to their well-laid plans and dreams?

Ben said, “Our first Christmas, we weren’t officially dating. After my dad passed that February, I was going to Eskimo Joe’s. I needed to go play somewhere. Stillwater seemed as good of a place as any. Dad’s passing was unexpected and really hard on me. Noelle drove there with me. We already were really boyfriend and girlfriend I think, but I asked her officially that night.  That was 11-12 years ago. This June will be 10 years since we married in Cain’s Ballroom.” 

When Ben and Noelle married, they knew they wanted children. In fact, they spent several hours on a plane after Ben proposed thinking of the names of their future children. They knew they would adopt, along with the plan to have biological children. It was always the plan. Then, they quickly found themselves in the infertility doctor’s office. Noelle said, “We knew we always wanted to adopt. We had decided when we first got married we would try to have children and just see what happens.” Noelle then said, “We were quickly told we couldn’t have children. With our makeup together, there was less than a 1% chance we could conceive naturally. So, we did IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) a couple of times.” 

The couple was headed to the Texas panhandle to work on their album at Noelle’s brother’s studio. While there, they tried IVF. When they found out they were pregnant just a few weeks later, they were elated. Then, at just 7 weeks, Ben and Noelle lost the baby in a miscarriage.  Noelle said, “It was devastating. IVF is stressful all by itself—it’s really hard. It’s hard on your relationship. It’s just hard on everything. It takes the romance out of things.”

The couple then decided they would look into adoption sooner than they had thought. Noelle said, “We didn’t want to approach adoption as our consolation prize. It’s super important to anyone adopting to pay attention to that. I don’t ever want these kids to think the dialogue of this amazing way we became a family is because we couldn’t have biological children of our own.” 

The Kilgores still weren’t sure they were ready. They needed time to process everything as they moved into this new direction. Between the IVF, the miscarriage, the stress of the situation—it’s difficult for anyone faced with so much to find a bit of peace in anything they are trying to do. It really takes some time in front of God. It takes time to let Him heal the pain, the wounds. It takes time to hear His voice to know where the path is He has for you now. 

In just a short time, Noelle said, “We had a meeting in Tulsa with Dillon, an adoption agency. We didn’t want to do a domestic adoption and certainly hadn’t wanted to do one that was open, where the birth mom remained in our lives. It just didn’t sound like the right step for us.” So, they moved to Phoenix and started the process of adopting internationally. In their first step, the couple got on the list for Ethiopia. Ben said, “Noelle completed massive amounts of paperwork trying to get everything ready. Things weren’t really moving forward for some reason. Then all of a sudden, Ethiopia shut down for adoption.” Noelle and Ben both were frustrated. They were trying to follow God in this story of their family, but they felt they kept running into walls. In times like these, you really start to search your heart and soul—just trying to make sure you are listening to Him. We’ve all been there.

“So, we thought we had a plan—then it didn’t work out,” said Ben. Then Noelle chimed in, “We had this friend out there in Arizona, who said I have an adoption lawyer who helped my brother’s girlfriend’s family or something like that.” Noelle continued, “We had already done all the paperwork for the international path. We didn’t want to go chase a bunch of stuff, but then a month later, I woke up in the middle of the night and felt I was supposed to reach out to this lawyer. So, I reached out to him.”

Ben said, “We kind of went that direction, but we didn’t even know what domestic adoption looked like.” Then, he said, “One morning, we were on our way to Scottsdale for yet another fertility appointment. On the drive, the lawyer called us and said, ‘I have a boy that’s due in September if you are interested.’” Ben and Noelle both chimed in, “We were like WHOA!” They went to the fertility appointment, but immediately called back to put their yes on the table. That yes led them to Little Rock, to the CD-ICU trying to find the faith to just breathe. That boy was little Pierce.

When Ben and Noelle first talked to the young 17-year old mom, it was via Skype. She was Marshallese (native of the Marshall Islands). Ben and Noelle learned there’s a community in Arkansas of Marshallese people due to nuclear testing on the islands, which gave the inhabitants a pass to America. The birth mom came to Arkansas to live with her aunt at about 10-12 years old and her parents remained there. Noelle said, “There was quite a language barrier at the time we talked but the next day the lawyer called. The birth mom told the lawyer she wanted us. It was so fast, but we knew it was God’s plan for the story of our family. We did all the things to prepare. It was just a dream come true.” 

Ben had travelled to New York one week, when Noelle received a disturbing call. Noelle said, “One morning, the birth mom called. She was upset but I couldn’t even understand most anything she was saying with the language barrier. I just knew it wasn’t good.” The one thing Noelle did catch was the doctors had told the birth mom something was wrong with his heart. She wasn’t sure. Noelle went on, “I was just beside myself. How could this be? I just started getting permission for the doctors to speak directly to us. It was just surreal. We had a baby shower. The nursery was done. How could this be happening? How could this be God’s plan for us?” The cries of her voice broke her heart into pieces as she jumped into action mode.

“It took a couple of days to get all of the permissions worked out. Then, the doctor called us and said this list of all the things wrong. It was like THIS long.” Noelle said as she made a gesture of a list extending about a foot long. “It included something about his heart, his lungs, his arm, and it just went on,” Noelle said. 

“Then, he said ‘I’m so sorry. I’m not sure how he’s even going to survive after birth.’”

The words cut straight through Ben and Noelle’s hearts like a cold knife had actually been plunged through them both. Being a couple sharing an incredible strength of faith in a powerful God, Ben chimed in, “We were devastated, but we immediately just started requesting prayers for him everywhere we could. We had friends sending out requests. 

There were literally thousands of people praying for him all around the world, dropping to their knees for him. We were praying for him to surprise the doctors and just be a marvel to them. We just knew God was going to answer our prayers. We knew this marvel was going to be our story. Then, there we were in Little Rock.”

The doctor explained to the Kilgores upon delivery, their new son had Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS), a birth defect where the left side of the heart does not form correctly. That day, the day Pierce was born, the doctors began longer explanations of his inability to be helped due to his other health problems. Ben said, “Pierce had only one full functioning lung and now they also found a kidney problem. Because of these issues, the doctors said he can’t survive the lifesaving surgeries that they needed to do. They said they were going to make him comfortable.”  

Ben and Noelle just paused in the story. They had just been through so much, so quickly—and found themselves in what seemed like a bad dream. Ben went on, “The doctors and nurses rallied around us, but knew it was impossible he would survive. He was life-flighted to Little Rock to the Children’s Hospital. We were there several days; they looked at every way possible to have surgery. Their last resort was to have a surgery to open up his left lung to give him a chance to have his heart surgery. They came back again and said there’s just no way. We’re so sorry.”

That’s where they were when we started the article—palliative care for little Pierce. Ben said, “We were a mess because we really felt God had given us this desire. We dreamed of this boy, and believed God was really going to heal him before he was born. Our prayer was that his life would marvel the doctors. We had people all over the world praying for him.  It just didn’t seem real that he wasn’t healed.” Noelle said, “Pierce was strapped up to about every machine possible for his lungs, kidneys, and heart to sustain him comfortably.” Then, Ben said, “We just sat there—loving him. Waiting.”

Ben said the doctors had meetings to try to resolve tough situations in the hospital. The doctors wanted an echocardiogram of Pierce, which would get a picture of his heart and his breathing, as a way to see if he had a hypoplastic lung as well.” Then, Ben said, “Finally, they pieced together a picture of his heart that day to reconfirm everything. Our families were in the waiting rooms. The pulmonologist pulled us aside and confirmed for good that his lungs definitely couldn’t handle the life-saving surgery he needed.” Ben paused, then continued, 

“Noelle kept saying ‘He (God) didn’t give me ONE of the things I asked for. I mean nothing.’ 

She was so severely disappointed, broken on the floor wondering how God could have abandoned us in this situation.” As they talked, the intense pain from over 4 years ago was clearly brought back vividly in their hearts. The prayer they uttered in desperation over Pierce’s failing body was in broken desperation. “I prayed with what felt like zero faith,” said Noelle. “I just didn’t have anything left.”

The next morning Ben said, “Dr. Garcia, his heart doctor, said ‘Can I have a word with you in the consult room?’” Ben and Noelle walked slowly, knowing the doctor was bringing them to the consult room so that they could be alone to process more bad news. Then, Noelle said, “She said, ‘I’ve got good news and bad news.’ I stammered, wait, GOOD NEWS? The doctor went on, ’When he was born, his left side was 15-20% of the size it’s supposed to be. ‘We finally got a new pic of his heart today—it’s 75% of the size it should be.’” Ben said, “Noelle and I just stood there.” Then, he said, “The doctor went on, ‘He still has a coarctation of his heart. It’s an easy surgery, you go into the side and the repair is pretty standard. It’s honestly impossible to explain it.  We’ve seen growth like this over years but not in a few days.’” Ben and Noelle were overwhelmed. God had just marveled the doctors with their son.

Ben said, “It was just kind of crazy after that. A few days later, the nurses were doing rounds and we overheard them. The nurses said, ‘It doesn’t look like coarctation of the heart.’” Noelle said she chimed in on the conversation with a surprised face, “Wait! Did we just hear no coarctation? What?” The nurse told the couple to hang on, as she didn’t want to get their hopes up. Sure enough. In fact, Pierce’s heart was just great. The team literally had to kick them out of the NICU in the cardiologist department because Pierce had nothing that needed done to his heart anymore. 

In total, they were there 5 weeks and the team didn’t have to intervene with one surgery—not one. Later on, the couple said Pierce ended up having a surgery for a tethered spinal cord, but nothing with his lung, kidney or heart! They found out he had a horseshoe lung and it actually does the work of both lungs. When the doctor who delivered him came back to the hospital and ran into the Kilgores, Ben said, “She said ‘What are you still doing here?’ She was in shock. All the nurses were believers and they knew. It was a miracle from God,” finished Ben.

The Kilgores weren’t even sure how to share the depth of emotion they had been through. It wasn’t a roller coaster ride, unless roller coasters only go down and down and further down and then all of a sudden just before hitting the bottom, shoot back straight up to a height beyond the roller coaster’s rails. It was a work of God. There was no other explanation for Pierce’s recovery.  He went from palliative care to make him comfortable to scheduled to go home with his family.  Some miracles are so far beyond our understanding that we have to fall to our knees thanking God and praising Him for what only He could do.

The Kilgores have gone on to adopt two biological siblings of Pierce, Rosie, now 2 and Merrick, almost 1. Each have their own beautiful stories confirming for them that God knit these children together in their mother’s womb knowing full well they would become a family. Psalms reads “You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb…You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. How precious are your thoughts about me, Oh God.  They cannot be numbered.” (Psalms 139:11-17 NLT).

Noelle said their family means everything to them. They couldn’t imagine doing life without their amazing children. God has so richly blessed them.

She closed, “Adoption has become this really beautiful passion of ours that has just wrecked our lives in the most beautiful ways.”


Written By Ingrid B. Skarstad Williams

Reminisce with me for a moment. When you were a kid, did you have a bike? Did you clip playing cards on your bicycle wheels?  Wasn’t that cool? If you don’t know the joy of turning your bike into an imaginary motorcycle with just a clothespin and a card, I’ll explain.

We would bend a playing card at one end around the bike frame by the wheel, then pin it so the other end reached into the spokes (Clothespins were in abundant supply then. We dried laundry on outdoor clotheslines back in my childhood days. Nowadays it seems like clothespins are more like crafting supplies!). When the wheel turned, the spokes flipped the card. The sound made it seem like the bike roared to life as a Harley Davidson!

Some kids got fancy and pinned several cards on their wheels. Oh the magic of making noise! The louder and more interesting the sound, the more we enjoyed it. Then again, it seems like anything that made noise was fun!

But as an adult, the fun doesn’t last when the clatter of living haunts your days (and nights). Every deadline and responsibility is like another card clipped to your wheels—slappety-slap-slap-slapping to demand your attention. They multiply. Even one new event on the calendar can create an array of to-do’s to conquer.

The growing list of what you should be doing gets noisy. The “shoulds” hit the spokes every time you move forward. The faster you move, the louder they get. That’s a lot of noise! No wonder we have the saying, “Stop the world—I want to get off!”

What’s the answer? I reflect back on sentiments I expressed nearly a decade ago. It was written during days that seemed to hold everything but peace.

Thankfully much has changed, and some of it because of the big lessons in that small moment. I still reflect on that picture of my son on his Big Wheel. It reminds me that no matter how hard I listen for God’s voice, if I don’t stop the noise, I won’t hear Him.

God Is Right Here

God has our answers—all of them. He is ever present. He is very near. And He is not silent. He wants us to know His ways, His plan, His purpose, and His peace. So if we need to get quiet to hear our Father’s voice in our lives, it seems to me that it would be of utmost importance to create stillness.

How do we do that? The myriad of answers could be dizzying, but I will share one that is simple and visual: stop the noise and listen. It’s visual to me because I can still see my son riding in circles, loud and unlistening. But there’s more to that little story. After a while of not hearing his father’s responses, my son became a little more frantic. The original sing-song, “Daddy, where are you?” escalated with punctuated frustration. “DADDY! (clackety-gaspy-clack) WHERE (clickety-demandy-click) ARE (clitter-clatter-sobby-click-clack) YO-O-O-O-O-O-U?”

Days are a blur. 

I race through trying (and failing) to do everything that cries out for attention.

I am reminded of a day when my son was racing in circles on his Big Wheel in the basement.

        Those things are LOUD! And he was doing a good job of stirring up the noise.

Above the clatter of the wheels, I could hear him yelling over and over

        in rhythm with the wheels, “DADDY! WHERE ARE YOU?” 

His father answered every time from the floor above,

        but there was no way he could hear him over the noise he was creating. 

The picture seems a lot like me when life is so busy that I feel like I’m running in circles.

        And I am!

I’m making so much “noise” in my life that I can’t hear the answer to my heart’s cry …

        whether it is to know where my Father is, recognize my purpose, feel connected,

                    or simply taste the sweet relief of peace.

How simple would it be to stop for a moment and ask those questions in silence? 

Maybe more simple than I realize.

God has not been silent.

I have not been quiet.


Written by Pastor Alex Himaya

Years ago, I did a sermon series we called F.A.Q, which stood for Frequently Asked Questions.  During the series I asked lay people to submit questions for me to answer and to preach on. The first question I read was, “Why have I never heard you preach on orphan care?” My initial thought was, “Wow. This is going to be much harder than I thought!” My response was to sit down and re-read the entire bible. I marked every time God’s heart was revealed. My journey was literally
life changing and gave birth to an international adoption ministry called ADOPT(ED).

As I read the bible, I came across four things that He speaks of over and over and He values.

4 things God values

1.  God values: Marriage and Family.

The bible begins with a marriage between Adam and Eve and instructions to leave, cleave and become one. The Bible ends with another marriage between Jesus and the church and the marriage supper of the Lamb. God told us to address him “our father” or “daddy”.  Marriage and family are valued by God. It is how He chose to help us understand how to relate to Him.

2.  God values: Children.

Psalm 127:3 (NLT) states, “Children are a gift from the LORD; they are a reward from Him.” Gift, reward, blessing, inheritance. But our culture and world sees them as a wait, cost, burden, inconvenience. What do you think when you see a family with 6 kids? Be honest!

 The bible teaches that God values children. In Mark 10:13-16 (NLT) people were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, He was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to Me. Don’t stop them. For the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it. Then He took the children in His arms, and placed His hands on them & blessed them.”

There is another time that the disciples were admonished related to children. In Luke 9:46-48 (NLT), an argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had Him stand beside Him. Then He said to them, “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes Me, and anyone who welcomes Me also welcomes My Father, who sent Me. Whoever is the least among you is the greatest.” God values Children. John 1:12 (NLT) states, “But to all who believed Him and accepted Him, He gave the right to become children of God.”

3.  God values:  Orphans.

Deuteronomy 10:17-19 (NLT) states, “For the LORD your God is the God of gods and Lord of lords. He is the great God, mighty and awesome God, who shows no partiality and cannot be bribed. He ensures orphans and widows receive justice.” Over and over in scripture we see that God has great compassion for orphans and fatherless children.

Exodus 22:22 (NIV)  “Do not take advantage the widow or an orphan. If you do, and they cry out to Me, I will certainly hear their cry.”

Psalm 27:10 (NIV)  “Though my father & mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me.”

Psalm 68:5 (NIV)  “a Father to the fatherless…is God,”

John 14:18 (NIV)  “I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you.”

4.  God values:  Adoption.

Psalm 68:5-6 (NLT) states, “Father to the fatherless, defender of widows—this is God, whose dwelling is holy. God places the lonely in families; He sets the prisoners free and gives them joy.” Have you considered the fact that Jesus was adopted? Yes, Jesus’s earthly father, Joseph, adopted Him. In fact, the Gospel of Matthew traces the bloodline of Jesus not through his biological mother, Mary, but through his adoptive father, Joseph. Even though one might easily pass over this fact as insignificant, this detail reveals something amazing about God’s nature. God does not make mistakes, and He certainly doesn’t need a back-up plan. Through this footnote in history we see that for Jesus, adoption wasn’t plan B.

The first century church opposed abortion, child abandonment, deviant prostitution, human sacrifice and suicide. Their high view of life led to the rescue of many children. The church did more than just oppose the actions. They took those children in and adopted them, hospitals, education, economic reform and provided whatever they needed. I wonder. What would happen if just five percent of 400,000 churches in America established adoption ministries? How many millions would be adopted? 

May the stigma of “I am adopted” become non-existent in our church and reversed. The number of children worldwide without families to love and care for them is overwhelming. It’s easy to forget that each/every one of these children is precious to the Savior. I am convinced that Christians should be leading the international dialogue about our responsibility to provide a home and a family for those who have none. I believe that as adopted children in God’s family, believers should be the first to reach out to orphaned and abandoned children around the world.

Yet many are unaware of the great need, or of God’s call on the church to be actively involved in helping the fatherless.

At theChurchat, we have a ministry we call ADOPT(ED). ADOPT(ED) is an educating and exhorting ministry dedicated to supporting and helping the fatherless and connecting those children with loving, Bible believing families. I want us to challenge the heart, head and hands of believers. http://www.thechurch.at/adopted

Just because there are orphans doesn’t mean every Christian needs to adopt. But we all need to be involved – Adopting, Praying, Funding, or Supporting. I don’t know for whom it is God’s will to adopt, but I am confident that adoption is not a second best choice and it’s not just for couples coping with infertility. It’s not a last resort and it is certainly not Plan B.

God only works with one plan, and that is His divine plan, established before the foundation of the world. Just as He predestined the birth child’s existence, He also predestined the path of the child by adoption. Perhaps God is calling you to change a precious little one’s life today. What an awesome opportunity you and I have to reach the world for Christ, one home, and one child at a time.

#GoDoBe

If you read this article and felt God was calling you to be His child,
to be adopted into His family, please send us a note at info@communityspiritmagazine.com and we can help connect you to a local church to help you in your next steps as a believer. What an incredible choice!  Welcome to the family of God.


Written by Betsy Gwartney Catrett

Well, what does THAT mean? Everyone? You might be thinking “I thought foster care was for abused and neglected children? It even works to help bio-parents learn additional skills and to obtain resources to reunite families, right? Foster care can lead to adoption for the children into a forever family–yes?” But really, how does THAT help everyone? Follow me for a few as I set this up.  

I met a man nearly 15 years ago along with a few other very inspirational people. I worked for Oklahoma Department of Human Services Child Welfare Division (DHS) 15 years ago. I was speaking at a mission’s banquet for a local church when someone pressed a piece of paper into my hand. They said, “Call this man.” So, I did. His name was Randy Martin. I was so utterly impressed with what I heard on the phone, that I flew where he lived to meet him and see for myself. 

Randy’s story started when challenged by a friend to attend a Royal Kids Camp (a camp for foster children). The following year his wife, Kim, also attended the camp. That was in 1995-96.  It has been non-stop ever since. Needless to say, “it got in their blood” – so much so that they shared their experience and thoughts with their church family and had literally hundreds get involved in the foster care work. They met with their CA Child Welfare organization, learning the gaps in the program and the various needs they had. Then they created solutions. Eventually, Randy resigned from the pastoral staff of this large and caring church and started Covenant Community Services. At the present time his organization runs a host of complementary programs serving the fostering community and is influencing on a national level! Check them out at www.covenantcs.net.

Randy’s story is only one of a myriad of unbelievable stories I encountered in my DHS days.  There was a single parent with teenagers. 

Her passion was for babies born to drug addicts.  With her dedicated heart, starting one at a time, she helped over 40 babies, many of whom needed support during withdrawal from hard drugs used by their mommy during pregnancy! (40 BABIES!). 

Another family stood out in a completely different way. This grandmother and grandfather, who moved to Oklahoma for the husband’s work, were living far from their own grandchildren. The silence of their home didn’t feel like home-so they got involved. The first children placed in their home came with an opportunity to mentor a very loving mother, who was just not mentally able to care for her children. This lovely grandparent couple was able to provide a forever family for these precious children, but also an understanding and supportive place for their biological mother and grandmother to come and connect. This couple went on to adopt 2 more children into their forever family. This made a whole new second family after guiding their own 4 children to adulthood. 

The last family is one that had a special heart for special needs children. I was totally blown away by their tenacity and love. They were not especially well off, but they were very generous.  They remodeled their home and built on extra rooms to accommodate the wheel chairs and special equipment that was needed for the special needs children they served. When I asked the mother of the home about her plans for retirement and how she would care for all these children (who would never be leaving the home), she assured me that she was not worried in the least. Why? Because her own biological children had the same passion as that of her husband and herself. She stated that they were already having lively discussions about who would take whom when they grew up and left home themselves.

You may be concerned that you just aren’t cut out to work with abused and neglected children.  And, maybe you aren’t. You could be built with totally different gifts. However, everyone can do something. For example, if a couple in your church is willing to take on the day-in-day-out responsibilities of a child, you and others in your church could empower them with the diapers, formula, prom dresses, fees for summer camp, respite care, date night resources, birthday party and Christmas gifts, etc. etc. etc. Chris Campbell is heading up a program called “111Tulsa” which believes that if every church in OK would support one family as a foster family, to care for one foster child, there would be no children in foster care in OK. Wouldn’t that be a testament for the “Buckle of the Bible Belt?”

But until that day comes, foster parents are needed, good foster parents who can show these kids the love of Christ. What good is just talking about it? The magazine’s theme is Go. Do. Be.  Why don’t you? Go call DHS. Do request the paperwork to file, find a family fostering and help support them. The open doors before you are quite limitless. The biggest surprise you will find is you might not be changing these children’s lives for the better as much as THEY are changing yours. Hurt people tend to hurt people. Changed people tend to change people. Take the first step to heal the hurt and change the rest of your life AND theirs.

#GoDoBe

Written by Teresa Goodnight

Biology, the study of the human body. Anthropology, the study of humankind. 

Carson Lowe started Biological Anthropology not thinking much more about what to expect than that he was taking a basic course in college. After all, in this age of where we are to accept anything and everything, you would expect a college course to be fair and balanced. Right?   

“The professor started the first week in a 250 person class in a big auditorium talking about deities, creationism, and about a creator blatantly saying ‘There is no creator.  There is no deity,’” said Carson.  Carson said the professor went on, “He explained there is really just no God that created us. My fraternity brother and I looked at each other like ‘Did he just say that? Did he call us out that way?’”  

“We had never been told that as a ‘fact’ by an authority figure we were supposed to trust. It just threw me,” said Carson. He followed, “They are so quick to say not to offend anyone with genders or whatever the social issue is—and I’m sitting there as a Christian wondering where the balance is. I wanted to stand up on my table and ‘Oh Captain my Captain’ but the professor was kind of a jerk. He was pretty cold. You could tell he wanted an argument. He would spout off information that was just not true and how there just couldn’t be a God as if he were an authority with facts to back up his beliefs.”  

Carson first found himself wondering if the guy had ever seen the Grand Canyon or the ocean. He said, “God is so evident in everything around if you look at the complexity of life, but it was a little rattling to experience that kind of forceful declaration from a professor. Then, he continues that tone for the whole semester.” Carson stayed in the class, but was constantly in awe of the hard-pressed nature of the anti-deity rhetoric he taught. Carson said, “I don’t know exactly how God created what He created, but I do know He did it. So it was something to hear this guy just speaking against it with some kind of authority like he could possibly know.”  

Carson’s foundation with his Christian education at Mingo Valley Christian laid the groundwork to keep him centered during a time of attack. Carson explained his Christian education was spread throughout his tenure, but it was really ramped up with Nate Madden, his Bible teacher. During the college class, Mr. Madden’s lessons came rushing back to him. Carson said, “Mr. Madden taught a theology/world views class his senior year. It was basically about understanding your faith, what it is you are saying, and what it is you believe in. We even had classes in years past with him about what other world religions believe.” Carson felt he had been prepared to face this kind of pressure although he didn’t really realize it at the time it was happening. He said, “Mr. Madden taught us exactly what we needed for moments like this. In the class, it was really getting a hold on what I believe and then understanding what others believe so that I can have that conversation with actual knowledge.” 

Carson believed those years and years of preparation with Mr. Madden made such a difference. Carson said, “Those classes really sparked questions I had thought about before that had gone unanswered until the class. The training inspired me to learn more and to pursue my faith as my own. I didn’t realize it at the time, but they enabled me to be able to stand on my own two feet when talking about my faith–and in a way that wouldn’t have happened in the church and certainly would not happen in a public school.”  

It was “years and years and years” of doing school with Mr. Madden and the other teachers at Mingo Valley Christian that Carson felt prepared him for what he was facing.  Carson said “Mingo Valley went into deep theology for high school. You wouldn’t believe it. I would come home and have these complex conversations with my parents.  Sometimes, I was even explaining some of it to them just because the theology was advanced stuff.” Carson explained they were really diving into Calvinism for one. Then, his teachers would dive into some of the harder questions about the Christian faith, things he felt they would never get into in church.

Carson continued, “I didn’t realize it while I was there. I really didn’t. I was a bit arrogant in high school and I’m probably still a little bit arrogant. I was just going through that information, but I was retaining it, holding onto it, and then in college I was really clinging to it.” 

So I just analyzed everything I was taking in. It was all just surprising to me. I remember getting out of that class and wanting to give Mr. Madden a call and tell him like “DUDE! You prepped me for today. I fought something off today and I’m happy about it.” 

Carson continued, “When you hear that from an authority figure, you want to just believe it. I’m a trusting person, some might tease I’m a bit gullible, but when someone tells me something I am not very skeptical. I tend to believe what people tell me for the most part.” Then Carson explained, “In my faith, when it comes to people discussing theology and people discussing God, I have learned to keep my guard up in ways I don’t do in other areas of my life. I got that from Mingo Valley Christian, which is a very hard thing to do. Even when I hear a pastor talk about the Gospel, even when I’m sitting in my church, I’m fact checking and making sure ‘Is this guy preaching truth?’ and taking it to the Bible. It’s not because I don’t trust them, but really it’s because it’s my duty to stay true to scripture above all else.”

It’s amazing to me how much my Christian education from Mingo Valley has played a part in me keeping true with the Gospel. It built the groundwork for me basically to be able to run.  

Carson spoke highly of friends in several private Christian schools around Tulsa, confirming how incredibly lucky we are in Tulsa to have so many options. Each one has a different appeal—a different way of being a fit for your child. Large, small, Montessori style or a specific denomination you prefer–we are truly blessed.

To wrap up, I asked Carson what he felt like was his main message to the Christian community. Carson immediately replied passionately.

“Honestly I can say this wholeheartedly, that Mingo Valley Christian, or really just Christian education, as a whole, may have been the single most beneficial thing for my faith that I have had in my life.

That’s a bold statement considering I go to a good church. I’m in a Christian fraternity. I’m doing all these communities that are about the gospel, but none of them prepared me for the Christian faith more than Mingo Valley, or just Christian education has done.

“And, truth be told, I don’t understand if you have the resources to do it—I do not know why you wouldn’t regardless of what school. I think as a Christian parent, if you can, it’s almost foolish not to do it. You should do it.”

Written by Teresa Goodnight

Meet the queen of the remodel. Jenny has been redefining everything in her life for decades. It seems each year she finds a new project to launch – some by necessity and some by choice. Jenny was in shock when her seemingly perfect world came crashing down around her in 2006. She never imagined going through a divorce. Jenny has this gigantic heart with a passion for family and friends. “It just wasn’t on my radar. I didn’t see it coming. So, it really knocked me off my feet.” Jenny grew up in a very traditional Christian family with divorce being more “something other people did” than anything she ever imagined experiencing. So, Jenny was thrust into single parenthood with two young sons – the lights of her life. “Yeah, I never imagined it all, but I would endure any of it again for the chance to be the mom of these guys. They fill my heart with more love and life than I can really explain, but I think you know. I really wouldn’t change a thing.”  

In 2015 Jenny began remodeling her single parent life of two outstanding then young teens: Peter (who is now 16) and Harry (14) by marrying her longtime love, Jason Sotkin.  Adding Jason’s lovely daughter, Lexi (16), and his suave young son, Reid (14), they were just two kids shy of the Brady Bunch.   As if that level of chaos wasn’t enough, they chose to add two gigantic dogs, Maggie and Champ to the family.  Peter and Harry each stay very busy with sports, primarily focusing in on basketball these days.  Lexi, on the other hand, is a vibrant young cheerleader at Jenks High School.  Reid, a tennis player by day and crafty skateboarder by night, is into gaming and is a freshman (as is Harry).  At a minimum, these kids could collectively be called a handful. It’s a lot to even write about, much less live.  

“Jenny, let’s take a step back just a bit because any one of these roles is a lot.  So, you are a Christian woman, a mom of 4, dog owner times 2, an entrepreneur, a work-out-aholic, plus, of course, a wife.  For 9 years though, you were a single mom.  You raised your boys on your own for the most part. What was the most difficult transition for you as a woman who had to learn to do things on her own?”  

 “Flying solo.  Definitely.” said Jenny.  “When my situation left me a single mom of my boys, I had to change gears. I took a job as a pharmaceutical sales rep and started mobilizing forces to be able to give them the kind of life I wanted for them.  It wasn’t easy.  There were nights I fell asleep long after them and rose much earlier, just trying to make sure I had everything in line. They would sometimes ask why I was so tired, and I just thought ‘Boy if you only knew.’”  

Back then, Jenny burned the candle at both ends with the boys in almost every sport imaginable.  It took a while for their family to find their groove, but once they had it, they HAD it.  Everything ran smoothly, although it left Jenny a little worn down at the end of the day. “You just do what you have to do.  People don’t talk about it a lot, but in a high percentage of divorces, most of the moms end up carrying more of the burden of keeping the kid’s lives straight.  Usually the child support doesn’t cover everything the kids are in.  It’s just hard.” Jenny said. 

As mentioned, Jenny was single for about 9 years before marrying Jason. “It’s a lot of time to get into your own rhythm”, said Jenny. “Dating is one thing but actually moving everyone in together—well that’s just SOMETHING ELSE!”   It was easy for them to see both the joy and the difficulties their family faced as they tried to find a new rhythm – together.  Jason added, “When you have dated a long time, you don’t expect it to be that difficult to blend the families under one roof.  But you really have a rhythm to your single parenthood style.  We did premarital counseling but found no difficulties in anything they talked about; however, there have been a lot of challenges we just didn’t think of. No one would’ve even thought of most of the things that have been super difficult. For example, one thing that seems small—groceries. You don’t think about it, but teens are used to their own things, including their own brands of certain foods. Suddenly, even the mundane parts of life became a merger and compromise situation.”   Jason added, “In fact, we didn’t expect anything that happened to happen.  It’s just hard to be prepared. You just have to listen.”  Then Jason continued, “We were both single parents and we were in a rhythm and had our own way of doing things. Then, all of the sudden you bring in 3 other people and the rhythm just changes.”

The fun bunch consolidated into Jenny’s lovely home that she had built in 2009. On her own, she championed one of the loveliest homes in the neighborhood on a tight budget.  She really is a powerhouse.   Now, with Harry and Reid suddenly sharing a bedroom, it might be said that they carried the biggest burden of the blend. Harry once enjoyed the room by himself, which makes this type of transition even more complicated.  The family quickly decided it might be better to spread everyone out a little bit if they could.  Reid (then 12) agreed which lead to him spending hours on Zillow searching for homes. In the end, the family decided to remodel an older south Tulsa house Jenny found to make it their own and to accommodate the needs of their new family of six.

The kids all had the same answers to the myriad of questions this life change brought about with a different twist on both the fun parts and the difficult parts.  Peter, Jenny’s oldest, said, “It had always been me, my mom and Harry. I mean, my dad was there when I was young. But really, all my life, just the three of us. It really didn’t hit until after the wedding. I mean, they were dating, and he proposed, but then they came back from the honeymoon.  3×2 now we’re at 6. Doubled my family.  I’m still adapting.  Can’t say I’m a 100% used to it yet. At first it was kind of chaotic but moving houses to a bigger house really helped.” 

Reid, Jason’s youngest said, “The other house, it was smaller. We could’ve been fine.  We planned to move but we kind of moved 3 years late, which no one minded.  Dad and Jenny were picky, which was a bit annoying.” Reid chuckled.  “I would always be on Zillow trying to help them find something, but they knew what they wanted. Trying to get good deals (gasp). It took forever to get a house.  When I first saw this house, it wasn’t terrible but it was pretty bad though.  Weird walls.  Now it’s amazing. I don’t know if you saw it before. It’s an insane transformation.” I could see in Reid’s eyes that he’s proud of what they’ve accomplished as a family with the new house. 

When asked why the remodel, Jenny explained, “After searching for quite a while, with the minimum requirement for 5 bedrooms, we decided we had to go with really great bones and remodel.”  So, while remodeling their family, they also decided to remodel a place for their new family to call home. “Remodeling was just a necessity for our situation.,” said Jenny. “I wanted to make an incredible family home for us to call our own.” Jenny continued.  “I think it took us a year just to figure out more about who we were and who we really are now, as a blended family.  So, with a little life under our belts and a lot of ‘my house’ comments due to it being mine before, we were ready to get this party started and over.” 

Jason chimed in, “We dated for 4 years, so I think the adjustment was more in moving 6 people into one place, not necessarily Jenny’s place. Even though you all know each other, when you go to live with someone it doesn’t matter what house. It’s a good experience for the kids, hopefully they’ll adjust much quicker when they get to college.” Jason went on, “The toughest thing is to take the emotion out of remodeling. You want it so right—it’s your home.  The other thing is patience. No timeline is going to work, and no budget is going to work. The kitchen had pillars. Jenny didn’t like them. I said get rid of the pillars.  They said the pillars didn’t support anything.  We tore them down. Then, they said ‘Whoops, looks like they did support something’ and there we were.”  

When asked about remodeling both family and a home, Jenny and Jason laughed that there are similarities in advice for remodeling both.  Jason said, “In some ways, the two are similar.  You can have all the plans you want, but it will not happen as you planned.  Of course, you also have to plan that it won’t happen on time and it will cost more than anyone tells you.”  They laughed. It’s kind of true of both situations.  

After a few beams and a lot of cash, the remodeled kitchen turned into a marvelous masterpiece with an island about the size of Texas (if I were guessing).  With seating for the entire family and a few friends, it makes the perfect gathering place for the new blended family to come together for a quick bite.  They also redesigned the master bath, the living room, added new lights, flooring and carpet for an exhaustively brilliant family home.  The remodeled house definitely hits on all points as one of the most elegantly styled homes in Tulsa.

The remodeled house gave way to helping with the family blending as well.  Teens thrown together to be siblings are in a much different place than young children.  Teen identities really take a stronghold when those ages hit.  As Jason pointed out, “It wasn’t just our rhythms that were thrown off a bit.  It was the kids’ rhythms as well.  Everything was just different.”  “It’s really difficult to merge very active kids, for starters.” Jenny said.  “I have basketball players, cheerleaders, and a tennis player with activities in every possible direction.  I have had days while Jason was travelling, where all 4 kids had an activity at 6:30. Sometimes you just get one there super early, one early, one on time and one a little bit late.”  With so much chaos, it’s difficult to say there is even a rhythm to be found.”  The kids were going in 4 different directions even on the day of our interview – with Peter rushing off to Bedlam.  I honestly couldn’t catch where all of them were even heading it was so crazy.

Directly after the remodel, Jenny decided her next adventure for 2018 would be to launch a brand new company—HaPe Chic (a combination of her sons names, Harry and Peter!).  Jenny’s new company offers some of the most trendy women’s clothing items on the market.  Jenny’s experience in the fashion industry was at the ground level but her sense of style has always left friends in awe. As I told Jenny, “Now, you’ve launched your own HaPe Chic clothing line. It’s exhausting me to just get to my questions regarding everything you do these days.  These are all really big changes and roles.  Are you ever overwhelmed by all you have on your plate?”

Jenny replied with a roaring “Yes ma’am!  I want so much for my family. I love traditions and time together, but I just found I needed a little ME time too.  It’s chaotic yes, but it is soothing as well because I am really loving the business.”

Jenny’s favorite part is meeting with friends and customers both in her home as well as events around the city.  “It’s a great excuse for me to stay plugged in with my tribe of women.  We have photoshoots, mimosa events and a lot of fun with the clothing line.  I couldn’t be happier with the success.” 

Jenny’s drive, strength and determined nature are some of the things Jason loves most about Jenny.  Jason said, “Jenny is a very determined person and she kinda keeps me on track. When she sets her mind to something, it’s pretty much going to get done.  She makes things happen.”  When I watched Jenny in action preparing the house and the kids for our interview, I could see both her command of the situation and a little bit of sweat on her brow.  It’s a skill to push through the chaos to make everything come together.  As you can see from the cover photo, she rounded the troops for a great photo. 

Blending a family is not easy.  It comes with amazing highs as well as a few lows.  However, it is incredibly worth it as you create something new out of two really good families.  

Remodeled and Blended from The Teens Parents always have a perspective on the family blending, of course. However, there’s a bit of truth to the old adage “out of the mouths of babes” when it comes to putting families together.  Younger children can be more adaptable, because they haven’t quite found all of their grooves yet.  Teenagers are a lot more set in their ways, but are also old enough to have adult-sized opinions on situations.  It’s tough deciding the difference between listening to justified concerns versus making them to the line with discipline. Blending a family is difficult for the parents, but the kids have more adjustments than anyone might think.  Let me share just a few more of their thoughts on family blending with you.

Lexi, the couple’s only daughter, shared “It’s different being a new family.  For one, we obviously grew up with different sets of morals I think. I grew up with a more lenient family. Overall, it’s benefitting every person to experience this. I think we’re all learning from each other and it’s helping us all grow.” For all the kids, it was a tiny rumbling of ‘there are different rules for each of us’ as an underlying comment.  As Lexi said, “I think there are more of us now.  So, it’s just difficult for them to keep up with each of us.”  As an adult listening to their comments, I realized it’s more of a norm for any family to have different sets of rules for each child—because each child is different.  Some privileges are earned, and some are lost. Even in a non-blended family, there are a lot of ‘that’s not fair -type complaints.  The goal is the same for each child: primarily—get them to a place to have a successful life, whatever that path may be.  One thing teens need to know though is that the path to get there rarely ever looks the same.

One difficult part for Lexi is, “The girls at school don’t realize Harry is my younger brother. They all have crushes on my brothers.  They like to flirt with them. It’s just awkward.”  I’m pretty sure Lexi isn’t the only sister out there with that dilemma with her brothers.  But now she has two additional good-looking ones, which can lend itself to a lot more attention from her girlfriends.  That said, Lexi continued, “Being a blended family helps a lot with a lot of stuff.  I don’t know what I’d do if we had never met them.  I love them. The kids have never gotten in a fight. We’ve argued but never actually fought. We’re pretty
chill really.” 

I asked Lexi about her experience with Jenny as we all know the difficulties that could occur with moving two women into the same household.  “So, what’s been different?” I asked Lexi. “For one thing, I’ve been in cheer my whole life.  Jenny is at every single thing.  I really appreciate that.  All my friends know her.  She tries to teach me how to be a woman. I don’t believe all the same things she does—I think the men and women should have equal roles in the house.  But I respect her.  I mean, she drives us around everywhere we need to go.  I think the biggest part is she’s just very involved. She still makes time to be there for EVERYTHING.”   

In talking with Peter, I wanted to know the real side of having a “new dad” in his life. One of the traumas of divorce can often be the absence of the father, as often moms end up with primary custody regardless of the plan or circumstances.  It’s difficult to truly do a 50/50 split with bedrooms, school districts, friends and activities.  Peter’s dad lives in Texas, which although somewhat close, keeps him generally at bay.  Peter said, “It’s interesting.  It’s like always you have your dad and then there’s Jason.  My grandpa has had a very big influence on my life growing up, coaching my sports teams. I’ve always viewed him as my father figure—just not living in the house. Advice, life lessons, my grandpa has always been that go-to guy, but Jason and I have gotten a lot closer lately. He’s stepped up into a bigger role of that in my life as I’m growing up into more of a young adult.  He’s starting to teach me a lot about what you should do, how to do this, how to do that–things that matter.  I’m gonna be outta here on my own in 2 years.  So, there’s a lot to know.” Then Peter went on, “Honestly getting closer, to know Jason more, has been my favorite part. Having that void of a father figure and watching him step into that part has meant a lot.”

Peter’s not alone in having a grandparent step in to fill the absentee role of a father. Many grandmothers and grandfathers step into these roles for several reasons.  It’s often a result of exceptional grandparents filling the voids they see in their grandchildren’s lives in whatever way they can.  Our boomer population has honestly raised quite a few grandkids; however, it was easy to see in Peter’s eyes that having a new dad around was a big deal to him.  As young men start to mature, it becomes really critical for the father figure to give them guidance on everything from dating to adulthood.

Of course, being the adoring son, Peter also threw in “My mom honestly has done a heck of a job. I feel like shuffling the kids, cleaning the house, making dinner, just making sure everyone is where they need to be is a chore.  She’s done it all. She really is amazing.”  It’s clear through every child, that Jenny taking the time to be there for them—even if it gets a bit rattling – is a foundation for their family.  With Jason travelling regularly for work, it’s often left to her alone to be that piece that holds everyone and everything together.

Harry, being the youngest (and ending up with a brother his same age) has been through a lot of changes. “The impact and joy they can make on life is amazing,” said Harry.  “I can be there for them and they can be there for me. It’s just, like, another person to just be there for you forever.” He continues, “Getting along was tough. For a long time, I shared a room with Reid and it took a long time getting used to it–sharing everything. Not as much space. We got used to it though and our relationship is much better now.” 

Harry and Peter both had a lot to say about Jenny’s role in making the family function properly.  A determined mom with a vision for her family can set the pace.  Harry said, “My mom, she has a cARaaazy TON of patience.” Patience seems to be the key according to this astute, insightful teen.

I finished up with Reid, the unassuming smiling one, who had quite a lot to say.  Reid said, “At first, it was kind of like you could be best friends with someone, but you live with them every day and it becomes different. You have differences in the way you were raised. In the first year, we argued a lot. Now, we’ve adapted and changed, you know to satisfy the other. We’re still not fully there but we’re a lot closer.” Reid really appreciated gaining a new part of his family. Reid said “I like their side and their family. I have a pretty cool side but it’s kinda cool having another side. My family lives all over the country. Theirs lives all over Oklahoma.  We might have a reunion every year. They do Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’m Jewish but I love Christmas. It’s such a festivity. 

“I enjoy the family. I like eating the meals and spending time with them.” 

Reid ended commenting on Jenny’s parenting points, “Jenny kind of keeps us in line. She’s taught me a lot about manners and stuff. She always helps us clean. The house would be a mess without her.  She has a really good work ethic. It’s kinda just cool to watch it. She’s very, very dedicated to making whatever we need available to us.” 

It was easy to see that the whole group was happy to have each other, but they didn’t want to mask the fact that they’ve had tough times mixed with the good times. In the end, their comments didn’t sound all THAT different than comments that my sisters and I might’ve shared in our teens.  I think sometimes it feels different, because their situation is new, but really—it’s not THAT different.  

In closing, it’s critical to understand that although you are very close with the children that you brought into the blended marriage, they are not your partner.  Your spouse is now the one who should be in sync with you when it comes to parenting.  We’re not even venturing into the effect of exes in each blended situation each of whom add a different dynamic.  Regardless of the situation, the husband and wife (and the kids) need to remember the new couple is now a team—THE team, in fact.  Sometimes it’s necessary to step back from tough situations to regroup and then get back in step together.  It’s ok to admit when you aren’t perfect.  Biological/married parents aren’t perfect either.  Listen and communicate with each other.  The kids, regardless of age and maturity, are still just kids counting on the adults in their lives to guide them. 

In the end, Jason said “‘Don’t give up’ is the best advice I have. I think that being open minded helps. It’s been a great process, because neither of us are naturally that open minded.  You realize that what’s a ‘10’ to one person might be a ‘3’ to the other. So you try to find a ‘7’ compromise.  Of course sometimes, it’s easier to decide to go with what Jenny says.” Jason admitted while chuckling.  “I also think I have to give the kids credit. I think every kid wants a family. I think sometimes even when we get off track the kids are like ‘You need to stop. Sit down and talk.’” It’s the total overall family.  I don’t think it’s something you can prepare for everything you will encounter.” 

I don’t think I could say it better myself.  In the end, it absolutely is the whole family venturing into something together that none of them can really be prepared for, but with a caRaaazy ton of patience, and a guiding light like Jenny, something beautiful can be born!

Here are a few tips from Jason and Jenny:

Counseling helps but doesn’t cover it all

Embrace the unexpected. You will be toppled by things you didn’t see coming.

Realize rhythms need reset. They take time. Don’t expect it to happen all at once.

Space is good if you can make it. If you can’t, just be a little understanding that it’s not always easy.

Parents need to be on the same page. Period. “Mine” and “yours” can’t be operational adjectives.

Different children in a family need different parenting styles. Period. Blended and unblended.

Children are smart. They get it. Don’t underestimate their prowess to play the situation.

Find a cARaaaZy TON of patience (per Harry!). These aren’t overnight transitions.

Family Life Blended and Blessed

The only one-day live event and livestream just for stepfamily couples, single parents, dating couples with kids, and those who care about blended families. The event discusses what you can do to have a healthy stepfamily marriage.  If you or someone you know is in a stepfamily, sign up or pass it on.  This is a can’t-miss opportunity.

Livestream to your church or your home, April 27, 2019: http://familylifeblended.com/

Asbury Church Blended Families

Wednesdays, January 9 – February 27, 2019

6 – 8 pm, Room 1335

Cost: $10/couple

Facilitators: Brian and Beverly Bryan

Registration: myasburytulsa.org

Whether you are remarried or planning to remarry, discover the key steps to building a healthy stepfamily with expert Ron Deal, using his Smart Stepfamily book and participant guide. Through eight engaging DVD sessions, you’ll learn practical solutions for everyday living and gain valuable insight for raising your stepfamily the smart way.