Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Merry Christmas!

Greetings to our friends and family near and far!  My goal this year is to keep the Christmas season as simple as possible.  I am focusing on Christ through personal and family Advent devotionals and enjoying family and the beauty of the season.  One of the decisions I made to keep things simple is that I am not sending out a Christmas letter or picture this year but will update people here.   All of you are precious to us and we love getting your updates!

We continue to love living in Northern Michigan.  We feel more at home here every year.  Our church family is a blessing and we enjoy serving alongside them.  Dan is obviously quite involved at the church and the rest of us participate in many ways, also.  Dan experienced a bout with pancreatitis and gall bladder trouble this month and was in the hospital for almost a week, but he is recuperating and looking forward to being healthy again soon.  He enjoys his early morning workouts and prayer time and time with his wife and children.  

Jadyn is in her senior year of high school and is currently trying to decide where to go on her senior trip.  I think she should choose somewhere warm because I am the official chaperone.  She is also praying about her future after high school but does not have any specific plans at this time.  She continues to enjoy reading, participating in rodeo with friends in the summer, raising goats, working at a camp and also at a farm across the road helping with horses and sheep.  She was able to assist a ewe deliver a lamb this year and we all enjoyed watching the sheep herd grow with the cute little lambs.  As you may have witnessed if you follow us on social media, her goats also had kids this year and we had a litter of kittens, so summer was filled with baby animals. 

Gabe has kept us busy this year.  If we aren't traveling to soccer or basketball games, we are at doctor appointments or in emergency rooms.  He broke his collarbone while skiing in January, broke his wrist while playing basketball in May, and sprained his knee while playing in a scrimmage in November, two days shy of his 16th birthday.  We are all ready to leave year 15 behind.  When his knee heals he will again be playing basketball and will also be able to take his driving test.  He enjoys sports and we enjoy cheering on the Traverse City Bulldogs.

Malachi  has begun to play the cahone for our church praise team, continues to enjoy baseball, and keeps us entertained with his stories, singing, and dancing.  He and Isaiah both played for Kalkaska little league this year and Dan assisted the coach.  The boys team won the Chain O' Lakes Region championship in a 1-0 thriller.  It is a great way for the boys and Dan to be salt and light and share the gospel.  

Isaiah is Mr. Boundless energy.  He is loving, intense, passionate and driven.  He played centerfield on the baseball team and is a brilliant fantasy sports team manager.  His fantasy basketball team won the championship and he had the best record in our family fantasy football league.  He is gifted at scripture memory and his mind never seems to shut down.   

Zion Hope is a little farm girl, following in her sister's footsteps.  She will ride Jadyn's horse whenever she has a chance and spends much of her time in the barn with the goats and the kittens.  She loves to sneak the cats into the house.   She is gifted at making us all laugh and loves life so much that she hates to go to bed at night.  Dad and Zion are about to finish Little House in the Big Woods together!  She was baptized this past Summer and loves the Lord deeply.  

I think our family would agree that a highlight of our year was returning to Haiti for a visit.  We took a team from our church to Children of the Promise and volunteered there for a week.  At the end of the week the team left and we were able to enjoy a few more days connecting with friends and hanging out on the campus that was once home for us.  What a blessing to see so many people that we love and to just laugh, pray, and talk with one another. 

We continue to home educate and although each day brings challenges, it also provides opportunities for laughter and joy, repentance and forgiveness, and learning and growing together.  

As this year comes to a close, we are once again grateful.  Grateful for health and for family and for friends and for so many blessings.  But most of all grateful for a Heavenly Father that would send his Son to come and die for sins that we committed, all so we could have eternal life.  We want to live this truth out every day.   Our prayer for you all is that you know Him and that you receive this gift of life everlasting.  Celebrate with us this season!

Dan, Holly, Jadyn, Gabriel, Malachi, Isaiah, and Zion Hope

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Greetings from snowy Northern Michigan!  As I look over past blog posts, most of them contain pictures in a climate so different from this one.  We are eagerly looking forward to spring in the Willis home.  And we also know that, God willing, we will experience some of that tropical climate in less than a month, despite what happens in Northern Michigan.

Yes, we are returning to Haiti. Not to live, but to volunteer. This trip has been long anticipated.  There were so many times we were tempted to jump on a plane and we talked about so many possibilities.  We obviously have been settling into our work and life here, and we were also waiting for most of our "Haitian children" to go to their adoptive homes.  Praise God that this has happened for four of them!  And please keep praying for precious Ezechiel.  We know that he is well cared for in the Promise House, but we also long for a permanent family for him.  

We are going to Haiti with our family, several members of our church in Kalkaska, and also a missionary couple that our church supports that are currently doing ministry in the Caribbean.  We will be staying and volunteering at Children of the Promise doing whatever jobs we can help with there and Dan and some of the group will also be doing a pastor's conference for local pastors.

This trip has been the topic of much conversation in our home over the past months.  Why can't we stay longer?  What will we be doing?  Who will we spend most of our time with?  Can we play soccer?  Can we play with the kids?  What if we get really sad about leaving again?  We all have special people in our minds that we want to see and reconnect with.  We have visions of riding into Lagossette and all the flood of feelings and emotions.  Some of us are extremely excited about eating Haitian food again.  Taking a walk on the road through the village is definitely on the list.  We are all looking forward to this trip and are excited, but we also know that we will have many other emotions.  We miss this culture and these people.  What can we do to help?  Why are there so many hurting people?  Why couldn't we adopt?  Are we going to grieve again like we did before?  As you can tell, we have a lot of emotions about Haiti and our time there!

How can you help?  PRAY!  Pray for our hearts.  Pray that we will be open to whatever God wants to teach us while we are there.  Pray that we can be servants and serve well.  Pray for unity in the group and building of relationships.  Pray for safety and health.  Pray for people in the group that are experiencing a third world country for the first time.  Pray that God provides the money needed for the trip.  So many of you have been a vital part of our journey as we lived and served in Haiti.  We so appreciate all of you who have encouraged us and prayed for us for years.  We are grateful.  

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Merry Christmas 2016

We have received many requests for our new address and inquiries as to where we are and what we are doing now.  It is time to fill you in because much has happened in our lives!

We  have now been back in the States for almost 18 months.  That doesn't seem possible, but as you all know, time marches on.  Our first  year back was spent seeking God's will for a new ministry, and there were many days that we wondered why He was not answering.  Dan was working in the Christmas trees and then as a car salesman, and even though some people are called to those things, we believe he was created to be in ministry.  He was able to minister to people in those settings also, and filled pulpit many times in that year.  As many of you know, we were in Lake City, Michigan during that time, in the same area that we had been in before we moved to Haiti.  After we settled there and began to have time with friends there and feel so well loved and cared for, we wondered if it had been a good idea because we were likely not staying.  Our children (and I, if I am honest) began to dread interviewing at other churches because we really wanted to stay where we were.  We continued to pray and to trust that God would lead us exactly where He wanted us, but it was hard.  

Fast forward to June which had us interviewing at a church in Kalkaska, Michigan just a mere 30 miles from Lake City.   In God's good providence Calvary Baptist Church of Kalkaska called Dan to be their pastor.  We love our new church family and we feel like we have the "best of both worlds".  We have old friends just down the road from us who know us well and can encourage and build us up and we have a new set of friends that we can enjoy getting to know and ministering to and with them.  We were able to commute from Lake City until we found a home and have now moved a little further "up north".  

And yes, we bought a house!  For the first time in our married life we are living in a home that we own.  We are all delighted and happy, if not a bit overwhelmed, with settling into life in the country.  The children all have animal plans and there was much debate over a horse pasture and a baseball field and it turns out that we have room for both.  We are so blessed.

Jadyn is now 15 and continues to love on her dog, Shiloh, enjoys rodeo, reading, and artistic endeavors.  Our second teenager, Gabe is 14 and loves soccer, baseball, and hunting.  Malachi and Isaiah also played baseball this summer and really enjoyed it.   At 9 and 10 years old they were each able to hunt a day with Dan, and they love the freedom to run and play on our property.  They beg Dan to play football every day when he gets home from work and he often complies.  All of the children are enjoying getting to know new friends and also enjoying time with friends they have known for years.  Zion Hope still thinks she is the princess of the family, even though she claims that she hates being the youngest.  She is in Kindergarten this year and I have to ask her to stop doing math and go play because she is so intent on finishing her book early.  She loves her new kitten and plays with it more than any of her toys.  

We all miss our life in Haiti.  We miss our kids and the ladies that did life with us.  We miss our Haitian friends and the international staff that lived at Children of the Promise with us.  We miss the simple way of life there.  We have been blessed to experience that culture and those people and we are forever changed.  We can't wait for the day that we will visit there again!  We have found that life is good and God is good wherever we are and He calls us to different places for different seasons and is always teaching and training us.  

We are still working on getting settled in our house so once again I did not take the time for a Christmas letter and photo so I thought this would suffice.  Maybe next year!  We invite you to join us this season in rejoicing because we have a Savior who came to this earth as a baby to live and suffer and die for us.  Praise Him, serve Him, love Him and adore Him!

In Christ, 
Dan, Holly, Jadyn, Gabriel, Malachi, Isaiah, and Zion Hope 

Friday, March 18, 2016

What I Learned

This week marks the week three years ago that we embarked on an adventure that changed our lives forever.  We arrived on Haitian soil with our family and began the process of falling in love with a country and a people that became family to us.  When remembering the good, we also think about the challenges.  That first month when we didn't have hot water and we were trying to convince our two year old that a cold shower was a good idea, waking up in the morning to people we could say good morning to, but not much more than that, seeing the needs of the Haitian people every day and really, truly wondering what was the best way to help, those are the things that cross my mind.    I  thought that on our three year anniversary we could share some things that we didn't know three years ago.

I didn't know I could love another child so deeply that was not biologically related to me and that I wouldn't have the chance to raise to adulthood.  I didn't know I could sweat so much.  I didn't know I could communicate my love for another person without truly comprehending their language.  I didn't know I could hurt so much for people and feel so helpless.  I didn't know how tired I could get of having other adults in my house every single day.  I didn't know I would love watching my children love on their "brothers and sisters" every day and grow so comfortable with so many children that were different from themselves in many ways.  I didn't know I could stay in my house or "neighborhood" without leaving for almost a month with no breaks.  I didn't know I would think it was cool to have my kids going on tarantula hunts.  I  didn't know how a tradition like taking ten children on a Saturday walk every week could be so loved and so hated at the same time.  (I loved the excitement and beauty and smiles….hated the heat and the sweat and the tantrums on the road with the whole village watching).  I didn't know how stressful it would be to never have privacy…living on campus and having no window panes, just screens.  t didn't know how beautiful worshipping God in two languages every night with children piled on me could be.  I didn't know I could love watching my husband try to make the aunts who lived with us laugh when they were having a bad day  (He almost always succeeded).  I didn't know my children would grow so attached to a country and a people that they wouldn't want to leave.  

We are still transitioning but there are fewer tears.  We can talk about memories and look at pictures and laugh.  We can remember and we pray for our friends and for adoptions and the country.

So many people are wondering about our future.  So are we!  We are still trusting that God has a plan and that He is using this time of waiting to grow us and prepare us for what He has for us next.  Yes, we have talked with churches.  Yes, we have been interested in ministries.  At this point, God has not said "Yes" to anything that we have considered.  We get discouraged at times and wonder about His plan, but He is faithful.  He is good.  A song that has become very precious to our entire family is one that is sung by Lauren Daigle.  It is entitled "Trust In You".  I will share the chorus, but then encourage you to listen to the entire song.  

When You don't move the mountains I'm needing You to move
When You don't part the waters I wish I could walk through
When You don't give the answers as I cry out to You
I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You!

We continue to trust, and would love your prayers for peace and for wisdom, both for us and for our children.  

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Six Months Already!

It seems impossible.  It was really six months ago?  Half of a year?  That day is etched in our minds.  I have wanted to write about it many times, but didn't want to sit down and relive it.  I have wanted to give you an update on our life, but didn't want to feel and deal with the emotions that go with that.  At the present time I should be packing and preparing for leaving on a trip in the morning…..and I am the mom, so you moms know that I should not be sitting here typing and remembering!  I am going to make an effort, though.

That day was beautiful and terrible and heart wrenching.  I cried most of the day.  All of the aunts that worked in our home came in the morning.  They all wanted to be there.  They braided Jadyn's and Zion's hair and then I took them to our back porch which was loaded with things we were leaving behind.  Clothes, sheets, towels, bins, toys, etc.  I thought it would take them forever to sort through but they were amazing.  They had all chosen their pile within minutes.  Then they sang for us for a long time.  Singing and worship were always a sweet time for us in the Grace House, and it was such a blessing to have that time with them.  We all cried, but it was beautiful.  So many people came by and said their goodbyes, both Haitian and International staff.  It was difficult, but good to be blessed by so many people.  The time came and many of the COTP staff came together and prayed with us.  The most horrible part of the day was hugging the aunts and the children goodbye.  We told them we loved them, we cried, and we told them we would pray for them.  That drive away from COTP and the village of Lagossette was rough, to put it lightly.  Some of our friends joined us for the last ride and we began looking ahead to the fun we would have with family in the coming weeks and months.  

Our return to the States has been greatly blessed in many ways.  We have enjoyed time with family.  Grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles……what a blessing family is!  We have had great times with both the Willis and Ledeboer families and it is so fun to be a part of different holidays and celebrations.  We have also been blessed with sweet reunions with friends.  God provided a way for us to move back to Lake City, our home for ten years before we had moved to Haiti.  This has been good for us and for our children.  This transition has been very difficult on all of us and living in Lake City has sweetened this difficulty.  

Most people would not expect the transition back to your home country to be difficult.  The books and articles I have read, though, have indicated otherwise.  And our experience has now confirmed what I read.  We love the time we have had the past six months.  We LOVE Michigan weather.  We LOVE spending time with family and friends.  We LOVE America and the opportunities living here provides. We LOVE eating a variety of food and being able to get that food readily.  But man, grief is hard.  I was texting with a friend late one night about how I was feeling and what was going on with our children and she texted me back and said, "Those sweet babies.  Those precious people.  That is hard on a heart.  Probably a lot like grieving…..there is no time table for that."  Yes, grieving.  I had read about transition and dealing with change, etc, but hadn't really thought of it as grieving.  We parented those five precious children and lived with those precious ladies for over two years…..of course we were grieving.   And we still are.  We had the opportunity to Face Time with them all the other night.  So fun to see their precious faces….to see how they have grown, to hear how their voices have changed.   Our hearts were touched when they asked to see each one of us and blessed to hear the aunts' laughter.  But it was hard because we still miss them so much.  Hardly a day goes by that someone in this house doesn't cry about missing Haiti.  

Another friend recently traveled to a third world country.  She posted pictures and made comments that were familiar to me.  She reminded me of the "hard" of Haiti.  The constant real need for basic survival.  The lack of resources.  The sickness and the lack of food and health care and housing.  We didn't post much about that when we were in Haiti.  We wanted to focus on the positive and the work we were doing in the Grace House.  But we saw it every day.  And especially Dan heard stories and took requests from desperate people all the time.  You would think it would be easier to live here and try to forget about that, and in some ways it is.  But now we think about it from afar.  We ask ourselves questions.  Is so and so getting any food?  Is another friend going to school?  Is that house getting built for that family?  Were we hearing God correctly when He told us it was time?  

We believe we were.  He has a plan.  He has a plan for us.  He has a plan for the children we left behind in Haiti.  He has a plan for our many Haitian friends and also our international friends still living there.  Because many of you are wondering, I will tell you that we still don't know His long term plan for us.  He has been so good and has provided for us until now.  Dan has had new experiences in employment and is about to experience more.  We are well cared for and we are trusting that God has us waiting on Him for a reason.  We don't know why, and I would be lying if I said we didn't get impatient at times, but we DO trust Him.  We would LOVE your continued prayers as we wait on Him: that we would have wisdom and clarity in regards to our future.  

We didn't send out Christmas cards this year.  We are just focusing on enjoying our first Christmas here in a few years and anticipating time with friends and family.  In a few short days we will be celebrating with a Haitian friend of ours who is getting married in Iowa.  We are extremely excited!!  And then I get to be home for my grandma's 90th birthday!  What a blessing!  And Christmas with family!

I hope this provided just a glimpse of our life since we returned from Haiti.  We appreciate so many of you who have prayed for us, supported us, and simply loved us in this time of transition.  

Merry Christmas!!!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Family Pictures

A kind and generous volunteer came to visit a friend at Children of the Promise and volunteer for a week.  She offered to take some family pictures for us so we got everyone dressed and bribed them with smarties one last time to get some shots of our family.

These are the last pictures we have together as a family united as "the Grace House" and will forever be treasured.  These children will always be "our Haitian children" and will be in our hearts forever.  They are precious and mischievous and beautiful and stubborn and funny and missed greatly.  

Fun in the Sun

We have been planning and thinking about all of the things we want to do before we leave Haiti.  One of our favorite memories was when we took all of our aunts and children to the beach, so that definitely had to go on the list.  Last week Tuesday was the day.  We talked about it for a few days and I might have been asked over 50 times if indeed, everyone was going to the beach.  Usually the children  have to take turns so they really didn't want to be the one left behind.  We assured them over and over that everyone was going.  

Tuesday morning, after packing way too many towels and many other "just in case" items, eleven children, six aunts, and Dan and I packed into the van and were on our way.  We prayed and sang on the way to the beach.  I love to hear these ladies sing so I will treasure that time.  

Once we arrived, almost everyone went for the water.  Some people like it more than others, but the children definitely spent  more time in the water this time than they did in previous times.  They seem to be getting more used to it and enjoying it.  It was bittersweet to watch all of the children playing together, the aunts interacting with our children, and everyone laughing and playing.  We will miss these times!!  Here are some photos of our day for you to enjoy.