Monday, June 30, 2008

The Johnson's BIG Announcement

Noelle learned a new word on this trip and used it frequently - "Run!"

**We're Moving to Chattanooga**

This is Eric again (don’t worry faithful followers of the blog… Jennifer will be writing again soon!). I’m writing today to let you know that we’ve been officially “called” to be the senior pastor of the Chattanooga 1st Church of the Nazarene. The congregation voted Sunday morning (June 29) with a 95% favorable vote. What a great statement of affirmation. I can’t tell you how neat it is for us to know that others (our soon to be church family) feel as right about the match as we feel. In fact, my major comment to Jennifer as we left Chattanooga is that I really hoped they’d call us for the simple fact that I want to be a part of what God’s doing in that church.

Let me tell you about Chattanooga 1st (at least the little I’ve figured out so far). Chatt. 1st is one of the oldest churches in our denomination – older, in fact, than the denomination itself (102 years). I was a little worried at first that this might mean “living in the past” kind of thinking. But I found nothing of the sort. While the people are justifiably proud of their history, they don’t spend a lot of time looking back. Instead they kept talking about what they hoped to see in terms of children and teen programming. They wanted to know how I would go about leading them in outreach to their community. They’ve already started to reach out to their Hispanic neighbors and are talking about blended (multi-lingual) worship services and other kinds of ministries for this emerging cultural group. They’re already supportive of the local home-school association and seem open to other ministries including adoption / foster-parenting ministries. I just love it when God’s people look around and ask the question, “What more can we do for the kingdom?”

The church itself is an old Jewish high school/community center. The sanctuary seats around 300; it has a large kitchen, gymnasium and education space – space that’s just waiting to be filled. It’s located just North of a major interstate and (if we could cut down some trees) can be easily seen from the highway. They already have a lively praise band and team as well as a choir. I enjoyed worshiping with them because the people put as much heart into singing the hymns as they did singing the praise choruses – they’re doing a good job of blending the two worship styles. The congregation currently averages about 120 in morning worship.

There are a couple things that I really enjoyed about our visit. The first is the very obvious love for one another. Some of the members have been part of the church for over seventy years – and the great thing is that they’re still vitally alive in Christ and involved in ministry. I didn’t sense a division between “old” and “new” members, just a willingness to work together. There was a strong value for Biblical preaching and discipleship. And everywhere I turned, there were signs that this is a praying church.

Can you understand why I walked away thinking, “I want to be part of this church!”

Tentatively, we’re planning to say good-bye to our friends in Richmond on August 3rd and load up the truck on Monday, the 4th. There’s no getting around the fact that this is going to be a tearful farewell. Even though we’re confident that God is leading us toward Chattanooga, it doesn’t change the fact that we’ll grieve the loss of our friends and ministry in Richmond. Jen and I hope to have an open house before we go where we’ll have a chance to say good-bye to everyone. We’ll let you know when we finalized the details.

Well, Jennifer just pointed out that this is getting pretty long for a blog post, so I’ll wrap things up. We just want you to know that we appreciate your friendship and prayers. And we give praise to God for the way he leads those who seek him with all their heart.

God Bless,

Here's a few of the promised photos from our trip... Hugs, Jennifer

Granddad, Noelle, Eric and Grammy overlooking the Tennessee River from the Bluff View Art District

Noelle points out the half mile walking bridge
At the wheel of granddad's car, Noelle is all ready to receive her driver's license - in about 14 years, 2 months and 2 days (still much too soon in my mind)

Our little sweetheart getting 'spiffed' for our interview Sunday - I just love the way she looks in yellow...and that adorable squinty smile!

Visting the children's play area at one of Chattanooga's 2 malls

Noelle enjoys playing with the other kiddos at the mall

At the Chattanooga Airport getting ready to board our plane for home

The church parsonage, our new home, is on a quiet cul-de-sac

Chattanooga First Church of the Nazarene

Now listen up everyone! We have a great place in the parsonage for our friends and family to come visit. The finished basement has a large sitting room, a bedroom, a bathroom w/shower, and a kitchenette. So, next time you find yourself in The Volunteer State, please come on by and see us!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Our Trip to Chattanooga

Hello friends. Eric is writing today. We hadn’t realized the kinds of questions we’d raise with our cryptic “we’re going to be out of town for a few days” post of last week. We (or at least I) didn’t realize that Jennifer’s blog was followed by so many wonderful people!

Well, here’s the deal. Last week, Jennifer, Noelle and I flew to Chattanooga to interview for a ministry position in one of the Nazarene churches. We left a couple days early so we could spend time with Jen’s parents and to give Noelle a chance to get comfortable with them. Thank you for your prayers. Aside from too little sleep, Noelle did wonderfully. She didn’t seem anxious, she connected well with Grammy and Grandad, and she’s quickly getting back into her routine.

The interview process started on Saturday with a tour of the church facility and parsonage. About half of the church board/leadership team was there to welcome us and show us around. Jennifer and I felt very comfortable with them and found our excitement growing as we listened to the people talk about their church and what they hoped to do in the future. They value many of the same things we value including strong family ministry and intentional outreach to their community. I was particularly impressed with their men’s group and the fact that so many of their retirees are actively involved in ministry. Jennifer and I definitely felt like this was the kind of place where we could fit in.

I spoke Sunday morning and had great freedom in the Spirit. This is important to me/us because we’ve been diligently praying for God to direct us as we consider other ministry assignments. Clearly sensing the presence of God as I preached was a huge affirmation. That afternoon we met with the church board for a formal interview and then there was a question/answer time during the evening service. To make a long story short, the church board voted unanimously to recommend us to the congregation and the church members will vote on “calling us” to be their pastor next Sunday (June 29th).

During the course of the interview, one person asked a question that I think many of you will be interested in. He wanted to know, “What makes you think God is leading you away from your current ministry assignment and giving you freedom to interview with us?” I think that’s a great question – the kind of question we should all be asking when considering big moves. My answer is this:

Jennifer and I moved to Richmond ten years ago and over the course of these years, we’ve fallen in love with the people of our church and our community. Serving here has been an incredible experience. We’ve seen the church grow as we’ve ministered to children and teens and started the Christian school. I was counting recently and saw that we’ve baptized over thirty people in the time we’ve been in Richmond and I know that many more have taken their first steps into God’s kingdom through us. It’s also been a privilege to be involved with community crusades like the “Glory and Fire” and mission conferences like “Carry the Light”. The result of all of this is that hundreds of people have been strengthened in their faith and thousands of foreign language Bibles have been sent to missions around the world!

As good as it’s been, it’s also been difficult – especially these last few years. Closing the Christian school was a devastating blow to our church. Many of our families left the church and community. Those who remained were worn out and hurting. The church assumed quite a bit of debt from the academy and I voluntarily took a salary cut to help pay off that debt. Becoming “bi-vocational” (working a number of part-time jobs to make up what we lost in salary) has been quite a challenge. I don’t begrudge the long hours because I felt at the time that it was part of my “reasonable service”– part of what God wanted me to do to help our church get through our hurting time. I have been frustrated, however, because the time spent working at other things has hindered my work within the church. This sense of frustration (of being torn in too many directions) has only increased since our adoption of Noelle. The short of it all is that I’m no longer willing to work seventy hour weeks and miss out on raising our daughter.

All of these pressures have forced us to ask hard questions of ourselves and what it means to serve God in a particular place. I went to my church board/leadership team back in January, laid out my concerns and asked them to start praying with me for solutions. Unfortunately, the church is not currently in position to restore my salary. Jennifer and I considered my taking a full-time job to support the family and simply preaching on Sundays. There’s nothing wrong with this except that there’s a lot more to ‘pastoring’ than preaching, and I strongly believe that God has called me to be a pastor. We finally decided to test the waters and see if God might possibly want to move us somewhere else. We sent out resumes to the Tennessee and Illinois church districts (districts close to our parents) and waited to see if another church needed the kinds of gifts and skills we bring to ministry. And Chattanooga called us to interview.

Before I close, I want to make one thing very clear. I have the greatest respect for our friends in the Richmond Church of the Nazarene. Those who’ve stayed with us during these last few difficult years have done so because they believe in what we’re doing in Richmond. Your prayers and words of affirmation mean a great deal to Jennifer and me. Your willingness to look past the disappointments and to find new ways to serve our God has inspired us more than you will ever know. Jennifer and I think of you as family and will forever treasure our years among you.

Practically speaking, if the Chattanooga church calls us to be their pastor, the Richmond church will enter a time of “interim”. The church will be asked to evaluate their ministry needs and prayerfully seek a new leader. Jennifer and I will have to sell our house and we’re already working on handing the karate school off to some friends of ours. As you can imagine, it will be a very hectic time for all. If Chattanooga doesn’t call us, then we start the interview/discernment process all over again with other interested churches.

As you pray for us, I simply ask that you help us to sense what would be most pleasing to God. We really like the ministry potential in Chattanooga and felt very comfortable with the people (Jennifer used the phrase “kindred spirits”). However, we’re not anxious to go anywhere unless/until we sense God leading us. Following Him is priority #1.

Thanks for reading all the way through. Hopefully your questions have been answered, any rumors squashed, and direction given for those who wish to pray with us. Thanks again for your love and friendship!


Note from Jennifer:
When we unpack the camera and get a bit more settled, I will post some photos from our trip.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Goin' on a Trip

The Johnson's are outta here!

We are headed to Chattanooga, Tennessee for a few days and are flying out before the crack of dawn tomorrow. This will be Noelle's first flight since China. Please pray for us that it goes much easier than the last one (praise God it's soooo much shorter!) and that she is unafraid of all the travel issues we will be dealing with (including, meeting a whole bunch of new people). We are going to get to see my parents while we are there, so I am really pumped up about that!

We will be staying in a hotel, also the first time since China. It will be interesting to see if any of us gets any sleep... Please pray for that part, too. We need to be well rested for the events on this trip. (Sound mysterious? 'Will explain when we return.)

We are taking the camera along of course (sometimes I even take it with me to run errands with Noelle - I never know when my child might do something incredible and worthy of film - gotta be prepared), so keep an eye out for those.

I thank you sincerely for your prayers for our family. It is always an encouragement to know there are family and friends out there praying for us. We love you guys!

:) Jen

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Happy 1st Father's Day, Eric!

Noelle decided to join Eric on stage during Praise Team practice this morning. That girl loves a microphone! (So much, in fact, we bought her a toy mic today!)

I just want everyone out there in cyberspace to know that I have been blessed with the most amazing husband on planet earth!!! Today, his first Father's Day, is the perfect day to proclam it to any and all who will listen.

Eric is a great dad. I love the way he interacts with our daughter. He shows her such patience, tenderness and compassion when she's feeling sad, frightened or insecure. He also has a playful, goofy side that Noelle loves. She roars with laughter when the Tickle Monster comes out to play or when daddy chases her and mommy through the house playing Hide n Seek (or "Hii-Hii!" as Noelle calls it). He's always willing to let her pull him around by the finger to show him something. He teaches her to explore her world and be brave (sometimes this freaks me out...). I appreciate the way he desires to grow as a parent and encourages me to do the same. But most of all, I love the way Eric prays for our little girl. He daily brings her to the feet of Jesus. And boy do I admire this trait in my man!

Noelle doesn't realize it - yet - but God matched her with one truly special father!

Honey, I love you with all my heart. Thanks for being the man God created you to be.


If I have a camera near, I feel the need to snap photos of Noelle. She's getting pretty decent about posing for me! ;-)

Thursday, June 12, 2008


Eric and I have been teaching Noelle to cry.

Yes, you read that right. We are teaching our daughter to cry.

Noelle, being the active toddler that she is, is prone to tripping, falling, crashing, and banging various body parts on an almost daily basis. But she doesn't cry. We will find bruises or scrapes on her knees and elbows when changing her clothes, bathing her, etc. and wonder, "When on earth did that happen?" Sometimes we will actually witness a wipe out and wait for the screams to come...but silence. Stone cold silence. She doesn't even look around to see if someone is coming to her aid. She just sets her little face in a grim line, stands up and returns to her previous activity.

We could have ignored the warning signs and said, "Wow! We've got ourselves a tough, owie-proof kid!" but knew this would only hurt Noelle's chances for healthy emotional growth and bonding to her parents. We surmise that Noelle has been unwittingly trained through her experience as an orphan to not expect someone to come running when she gets hurt. I often wonder how many scraped knees, bruised arms or bumped heads she suffered in the orphanage, with no parent to swoop in with tender kisses and words of comfort. It makes me so very, very sad to think of this sweet little girl learning to "Buck it up, babe, 'cause no one is coming to help you!"

Now, let me just interject here that Noelle's orphanage is one of the really great ones, as far as orphanages go. The nannies there are well trained in child development and genuinely love the children. This doesn't change the fact, however, that there's just a lot of kids to keep track of. They do the best they can. Noelle surely got lost in the shuffle, as each of the children would, from time to time. We do take some comfort in the fact that Noelle's primary nanny appeared to love her very much.

Eric and I have been making a concerted effort to retrain Noelle in this area. We want her to know that her parents will unquestionably be there for her whenever she needs us. When we see her stub her toe on the couch, twist back her pinkie finger, scrape her arm on the playground equipment, etc. we immediately reach out to comfort her. No, we don't freak out and over react. We do, however, take the opportunity to examine the "injury", kiss the boo-boo, snuggle her up close to us and reassure her she is okay. We conclude by saying something like, "Mommy's here. Mommy loves you. I've got you. Don't worry..."

And guess what? It's working...very well.

Almost too well, in fact.

Noelle has become quite proficient in calling out to us or bringing her owies to us for kisses. There is often a bit of a whining or sniffling accompanying her request for attention. She's got the pouty lip, the shuffling gait and the hunched, dejected shoulders down pat. It's very cute. And yes, a bit annoying at times, but we were prepared for this. We'd much rather deal with our own feelings of frustration than our daughter's feelings of rejection.

Allow me to share one bit of owie drama before I close. Several days ago Noelle hurt her knee when the three of us were outside making bubbles. She tripped, and in her recovery effort, scraped her left knee. She didn't make a peep and Eric missed seeing her contact with the pavement. But since I witnessed the scrape, I performed my mommy inspection and grabbed a wet wipe to clean the wound. As it wasn't serious, we went back to our play.

Now a day or two later when the scrape had formed a scab, Noelle became very fascinated with the dark spot on her knee. She would say, "Pooooor baby!" as she examined it. I would tell her to leave her owie alone and attempt a distractionary technique from my growing arsenal.

Eventually, as all kids do, she picked off the scab. It started to bleed. I cleaned the wound, applied Neosporin and applied a band-aid. (In 5 minutes I had to repeat the process.)

Noelle was very fascinated with her 'bandaged' knee. She would rub the spot for minutes at a time with a wondering look in her eye. She would whisper softly, "Oh baby!" when she was unaware of observation. When she noticed I was watching, however, she would kick it up a notch. First came the soft whining with the soft "Owwwooo". Then came the louder, high-pitched whine accompanied with a much louder "Owwwwwwwwooooooo!" She would wave her arms wildly and point to her knee. In keeping with our re-training attempts, I would then swoop her up onto my lap and kiss her knee. But one kiss was never enough. Noelle would sign "more" and I'd kiss her again. We would repeat this exchange several times until I could distract her with tickle, a goofy song or other such nonsense.

One evening at the height of Noelle's knee drama, I was putting her to bed. I had given the final kisses, tucked her into her covers and was rising from my knees. As Noelle appeared quite relaxed and sleepy, I thought, "It won't be long now before she is floating away into dreamland."

But our little gal had other ideas. Knowing her bedtime routine quite well, Noelle realized that-- after mommy rubs the lotion on my hands and face and kisses my cheek-- she leaves the room!

This is not to be tolerated. I will not take this lying down.

Taking matters into her own hands, Noelle sets her dimpled face into a dramatic pout, rubs her knee and whines, "Owwwwwwoooo!!!"

Friday, June 6, 2008

Bonding with the 'Other' Baba

Eric and I have been trying to teach Noelle to call us 'Daddy' and 'Mommy' to no avail. Eric is still 'Baba', and I'm just 'Ehhhhhh'. I have to admit that this has been hard to take. I've often felt sad that I'm a no-name to her. Noelle bonded with Eric in China over that traumatic medical exam (the day I was so sick in bed) and has never looked back. Our bonding has been a little slower in coming. Now I know that my daughter likes being with me, and loves me even, in her own way, but I was never included in the inner sanctum of Noelle + Baba.

Eric and I have had many conversations about this, and he has encouraged me to hang in there. We eventually concluded that Noelle has had so many experiences with females leaving her in her young life, that she has been holding back from me a little to see if I will leave too. This idea made a lot of sense, and I have been clinging to it while waiting, hoping and praying for a breakthrough.

For 2 weeks now, Noelle has been trying to cut 4 jaw teeth. She has been a major crank - very whiny, fussing, clingy - the whole bit. It has been a special challenge for me, especially since Eric has had to work some longer hours and I haven't gotten much of a break. One of our helpful adoption resources explains that internationally adopted children struggle more than most kids when it comes to something like illness or feeling poorly. These kids tend to regress to much younger behaviors and can act a bit irrationally. No kidding! It's taken lots of prayers and all my strength to get through these days. But surprisingly, in the midst of the pain, crying, frustrations (on both sides), we have bonded. When I have felt bad for snapping at Noelle, she has responded by wanting to be with me even more. When I thought I couldn't lug around my whining fussing child a moment longer, she rewarded me with a hug, a sloppy kiss, and a huge grin. Her discomfort with the teething pain and my discouragement at the difficulties of new motherhood have succeeded in drawing us closer than anything else up to this point.

Just yesterday we were at the kitchen table munching together on an orange at snack time. We were each lost in our own thoughts when Noelle said suddenly, and with incredible conviction, "Baba!" as she pointed to my heart. I was a little in shock. I smiled and thanked her and waited to see what would follow. After a few more quite moments, Noelle repeated the same gesture, as if trying to convince me of something. Wow! I smiled and thanked her again feeling quite amazed. At this point, Noelle began chattering away happily, and we proceeded slurping away on our juicy oranges. Then a third time, Noelle referred to me as "Baba" and my heart sang!

I whispered up a prayer to Jesus, thanking Him for this breakthrough and this precious gift of a daughter. All it took was four teeth and some very sore gums to bring a mommy and daughter together. And inside I shouted, "I have a name! I have a name! It may not be 'Mommy', but I have a name!"


Let me say right up front, if you were hoping to hear from me some words on the meaning of life or a solution for world hunger, world peace, congressional politics and the like - forget it. This is just another post about our daughter. I know you had high hopes for something different. Sorry to disappoint. The blog is titled Journey to Noelle, after all.

--Our Blossoming Gear head

Noelle loves the car (not her car seat, but the car), and you know this from reading some of my previous posts. And her love just continues to increase. It is becoming a blinding, driving passion for my kid. Our garage is like a beacon in the back yard, daily calling to Noelle -- "Come to me! Inside my large white metal door you will find the answer to all your toddler woes. Herein lies the VW which will take you on wild rides to fantastic new places. You will forget your teething pain, you will forget your mom's poor cooking, you will forget the mean kitty who scratched you because you pulled it's tail after a warning hiss. In the VW's velour interior your worries will melt away, and you can dream grown-up dreams of controlling your own destiny (or destination, at the very least) as you rattle that old set of keys daddy gave you. Ahhh, bliss!!"

Not to encourage this obsession, but in an effort to shape it, I purchased a toy car for Noelle. It's a plastic yellow taxi and has great wheels. Yes, great wheels. I have always been bugged by toy cars that have these lame little wheels that only roll on a smooth flat surface and never follow a straight line. Noelle's car has the kind that roll easily on any surface. Thank goodness. And she loves it! She would sleep with it, but I have to draw the line somewhere.

Yesterday when we were going upstairs to bed, Noelle brought her car with her. Moving on her knees, she carefully navigated her car up and over each step. This activity isn't all that notable except for the fact that it was accompanied by engine noises. Noelle was making a low growling rumble with each move of the little taxi. I thought only boys came into this world programmed to make car sounds. Not true. My daughter was producing RPM's with gusto.

--Dance Diva

Well, American Idol has concluded its season. We were sad to see it go, but happy that KC native, David Cook, came out the winner. I really missed Noelle's antics during each show and wondered what I could find to replace it. (Let me just interject that I certainly don't want to create a couch potato. Quite the opposite. Noelle is disinterested in TV as a whole, but anything with music gets her up and moving.) We settled on So You Think You Can Dance, another FOX reality show. As soon as the music starts and the contestants move across the stage, Noelle is in front of the TV dancing along. Her choreography resembles more of an African rain dance, but at least she's moving. It isn't long before I join her on the dance floor. If I don't, she pulls me up by my pinkie finger - hard. We hold hands and prance across the floor. Then we jump and wave our arms and twirl in circles. Quite soon I am panting. So I shout, "Look! There's Elvis!" and crash on the couch when she turns to look for the rock-n-roll king.

--The 2nd Haircut

I cut Noelle's hair today. It only took me 3 attempts to get it right - snack time, lunch time, snack time. Yep, I cut her hair while she ate in her high chair. Is that terrible? Or gross? If a kid eats her own hair, will she get a hairball? I just don't know how else to do it. Noelle never stops moving, not even when she's sleeping. But she loves to eat, so when her hands are busily picking up dried cranberries and shoving wheat crackers in her mouth, I can snip around her and she won't try to run away. I really do try to keep the hair off her plate. With each snip of the scissors, I sweep the blunt hairs to the floor. My cats promptly attempt to eat the dark poofs, but Noelle's food is mostly hair-free.

After a final inspection, I am fairly satisfied with her 'do. It only sorta looks like I used a bowl. Short hair is infinitely easier to care for, cooler in the summer, and I think she looks cute with a pixie cut. But when we visited daddy at work today... Well, let's just say that he was not as thrilled. Before I had a chance to mention it, he said with such a woeful voice, "You cut her haaaiiirrr!" I watched him run his fingers through her closely cropped locks as he sighed. "Well, she's still cute. But her haaaiiirrr!"

Can I just say, what's the deal with guys anyway? They all want their wives and daughters to have long flowing hair like some mythical fairy princess, or perhaps like Eve in the Garden of Eden.

I consoled Eric with, "Honey, it will grow. I promise." (Though inside I might have said, "Get over it, dude!")

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Here's those Memorial Day photos I promised...

Noelle, Danny and Reagan on the Wellman's front porch

On Memorial Day we took a drive to Kansas to visit our dear friends, the Wellman family. We had such a wonderful visit and Noelle and Reagan had a blast getting to know each other better. After lunch at a Chinese restaurant (to celebrate a special milestone in Reagan's life) and before nap time, the girls went a bit crazy through the upstairs of our friends' home. Or maybe a more accurate way to put it would be, Noelle went a bit crazy and Reagan followed suit.

Oh, the running and the screaming!!
Oh, the giggling and the hugging!!

The girls were enthralled with one another. What fun to watch! I'm not sure Lisa and Danny had heard quite that decibel of girly laughter in their house before our daughter invaded the place. Then, royally wound up, we put the girls to bed in rooms opposite one another. As the grown-ups attempted to visit in the family room, Reagan and Noelle continued to chatter, loudly, unimpeded by their closed doors. I was tempted to peek in at Noelle with a "Shh! Time to go to sleep!", but we all agreed it was all just to humorous to put a halt to the show.

After nap time (yes, they did eventually sleep, in spite of themselves) we all went outside. The girls were just adorable the way they walked around the yard together holding hands. They posed graciously for the cameras, looking like movie stars of the 40's, in their sparkly sunglasses and 'haute couture' purses (Walmart and Target, I think). What a fun day! I hope we get to do it again soon. Next stop - the zoo!

The Photos...
Enjoy the photos below. No, I mean it. Really enjoy the photos, 'cause I tried to download all of the pictures we took that day to Flickr, but after about 2 hours - nothing! So here's the few I managed to download directly to the blog. Ugh. I hate dial-up!!)

Note: Matching outfits on Noelle and Reagan are courtesy of Lisa W., toddler stylist-extraordinaire

Holding hands with my buddy

Posing in the back yard

The 2 mommies w/ their 2 sweetie pies

2 friends snuggle up

Just chillin'

Eric needed a place to put Noelle's doll - cute honey!

Also, here's a link to the Wellman's photos on Flickr. And this is just a few. I think Danny said he took well over 300 photos of the girls that day. Yep, we are suckers for our little girls!

How is the Chapman family doing?

Here is a link to Kerry Hasenbalg's blog (a close friend of the Chapman family who works in the organization, Shaohannah's Hope). She has provided some touching information about Maria's memorial service and how the family is trusting God to help them heal from their loss.