Life, Faith & Running
". . . let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us."
(Hebrews 12:1, NIV)
(Hebrews 12:1, NIV)
I shared this write-up over at SimplyBeaming this week. Thanks for sharing our story with your audience Kate & Kelli.
I am a mom of three, with one on the way—arriving sometime in the next 12 months from South Korea. And I thought nine months was a long time to wait for my first three?
But I didn’t start life as a mom. I started life as a daughter of two amazing parents who taught me about life, and Jesus and hard work through raising me on a family dairy farm. I also started life as sister to one older brother, and eventually to a younger brother and younger sister. Those relationships formed me, the me that I am pretty sure only they get to see and understand. Throughout my life I often take for granted how much stability and courage were birthed out of my home, my roots. I really do owe much of who I am to the experiences of my first 18 years of life under that old farmhouse roof, with those people who get to see the best and worst of me, still.
With those roots and a courage only found in a woman who has been raised to believe that her life matters immensely to God and others, I set out to the “big city” to earn a degree at Bethel University in St. Paul. When I was in fourth grade, I determined that I would be a teacher. And I never really wandered far from that declaration. I wavered on what I would teach, finally settling on Communication Arts & Literature Education (aka an English teacher). I knew that no matter the subject I taught, I wanted to be instrumental in the lives of kids—giving them a little bit of courage and strength to have a voice and run hard after their dreams. Just as so many teachers and coaches had done for me. I knew that I wouldn’t be who I was if it hadn’t been for the many adults in my life steering me with encouragement and cheering me on toward my goals—both academic and athletic. So, I added to my, “who are you?” list, teacher.
While I was navigating the world of learning I was brought another relationship that would begin to define me and grow me into a wife. This man of my dreams helped me see my dreams, chase my dreams and live my dreams. Mostly, because God had given us similar dreams—to love God, to love and equip kids, to enjoy adventure, and travel light along the way. Thus, my roots began to become entwined with his roots, and through that we began to build our own foundation: One set squarely on Jesus, forgiveness, endurance, honesty, trust, hope. We realized without those, our journey would be anything but light and our days would be clouded with anger, distrust, and quarreling.
Adventure found us quickly! Just two weeks before our one-year wedding anniversary, we packed six suitcases, flew around the globe and landed in our new “home,” Daejon, South Korea. There we would together teach at a little international school, Taejon Christian International School (TCIS). What we thought would be a two year experiment in expanding our horizons and spreading our wings, turned in to seven years of establishing who we were: educators in the international world, passionate about the students and families who walked our campus daily. We grew to love that place as home. In this new place: I taught my first students, coached my first athletes, and later birthed our first two children. We had pitched our tent and set the pegs down deep.
But there were also burdens and challenges, just like in any life, any job, at any school. Even in the best places, surrounded by the best people there can be trials and burdens to carry. In our seventh year of service there, TCIS began experiencing a financial crisis of sorts. Back home, Mike’s mom was experiencing health-related trials. And in the midst of the trials we felt the Lord tell us to return “home.” Ironically, when you live in a place for seven years, sometimes returning doesn’t feel anything like home. So much of my identity had become deeply connected to a foreign place, foreign experiences, and relationships spanning hundreds of thousands of miles. This was the place I gave birth to my children and we began to build our family. All of these were the ingredients for “home” to me and I couldn’t quite bring them with me.
I struggled with the loss, almost as if I had experienced the death of a dear friend. I think of the dog Marely, from the film, Marley & Me. To say good-bye to our place and friends was like the family saying good-bye to Marley, the only one who had seen them through the transitions of adult life.
I was so lost some days, “Who are you?” and “What are you passionate about?” were not questions I could even answer. Instead, I waded through the days trying to grasp what exactly God was doing with this “return home” adventure that didn’t seem like an adventure at all—more like a pit.
But God and my husband, and my sister and other family and friends walked through it with me. It took me a long time to see that they were there, darkness has a way of blocking things from view. But honestly, the loudest voice (not audible, but through songs, books, conversations with others, the Bible) was God telling me “I see you there. I have purpose for you there. Your experiences will be of value of you in this new place.” It took several months for me to figure out what He meant and if I believed it, but once I really settled on believing it, my perspective changed. My passions were reignited. I felt like it was okay to dream again.
After that I was reminded of a dream that I had started chasing five years prior: A dream that was connected to this theme of being seen. While on a site-seeing tour, in a little tiny theater on the boarder of North and South Korea, the Demilitarized Zone, I sat and watched a clip from the Korean war of 1950. For about two seconds there was a little boy half-naked and alone on the street crying as military guns and horrific sounds surrounded him. In that ordinary but divinely orchestrated moment I felt God say, “I see that little boy. He represents every orphan. This is an orphan’s life: They are screaming for someone to run to them and wrap them up. Hold them. Keep them safe.”
I went about my next weeks not knowing what to do with those thoughts. I almost didn’t want to know. Where had this come from? Why was I even thinking about orphans while on a site-seeing tour to the one of the darkest places in the world?
At that point in time, we had two children. We wanted more but I thought I would birth them. Was God calling us to adopt, instead? I started investigating adoption. Dead ends. It seemed living overseas and trying to adopt a child to become an American citizen was unprecedented and highly unlikely. Cue, positive pregnancy test. Cue, moving home. Cue, floundering in unknown purpose. Cue, birthing third baby in an American hospital (Glorious—I had no idea what I had missed out on the first two times!). Cue, suffocating in post-partum and the Winter Vortex of 2012.
But once the fog lifted, and God graciously allowed me to find contentment and purpose (i.e. places to serve and people to know) in this new place. Then adoption made its way on the scene during a family walk to a park near our house. Again, an ordinary moment tapped with eternal significance. A conversation on asking God what our next adventure might be, turned into a search for a child to adopt from South Korea.
And like God does, he provided. Not just a child for us to adopt but a child who will forever tie our family together and tie our hearts to the country in which we first put down roots as a family. A child that simply needs love and a home, both of which we have waiting for him. God took our passion for adventure and moved us to a foreign country. God took our passion to love, teach and coach kids and gave us a home full of them to teach and train (along with being teachers we were the house parents to 36 high school kids—yep!), enabling us to grasp and grow to love the nuances of the Korean culture. God remind us of our roots and gave us the courage to move back home. God took my lost places and birthed life, dreams and new adventure into them by giving me the truth (via the Bible, books by Christian authors, friends’ voices, and the prayers of my husband) and assurance that I was seen by Him—that my life had purpose and even in this unfamiliar setting my gifts and passion could be used. God took my healed heart and opened it back up to the dream we had briefly chased years before--adoption.
Then, even while adoption was still just a future idea in my mind, I had a conversation with a mom at my kids’ school about their recent adoption. I was lamenting that I had researched adoption in the past, but at that time had read that Korea was closing international adoptions by 2015. This somewhat paralyzed me until that day because I really felt like we were supposed to adopt a Korean child. And again, I saw God use an ordinary conversation on the school playground for a divine purpose. She said, that the laws must not have passed because there were Korean children available through the agency they had been working with. What? Are you kidding? As soon as I had a down moment I was on the Children’s Home Society of MN website scanning the waiting child list.
After much prayer and inquiries to the agency, we were ready to start the journey to bring our son home. In just six weeks we completed the paper work and classes that typically span a few months. We were operating on mountains of faith because we had almost no savings and the projected price to complete the adoption was around $48,000. Our social worker seemed a little nervous for us (only in regards to where in the world the money would come from). But we reassured her, God would provide.
Just one month later our family and church friends hosted a Sock-Hop fundraiser that resulted in $10,000 to put toward our adoption. Our faith was boosted our confidence in this being what we were to do was cemented. In the weeks ahead we received checks in the mail and grants from local businesses in amounts that brought tears to our eyes because we knew so many people were giving completely sacrificially. The out-pouring of generosity from people of our past and present, literally from around the world, overwhelmed and astonished us. Yet, I knew that we would need to do more fundraisers to finish paying for the rest of the adoptions expenses. So, I started brainstorming and looking around for something easy, low in cost, and yet a desirable product—something people would actually enjoy, not just purchase and shove in a closet.
One day a friend showed me a pillow she had received from a friend, made from a placemat. (Ordinary moment full of divine purpose—catching that theme?) I had some sewing skills from being in 4-H, saw the project, and thought, “I love that! It’s cute. It’s easy. It’s warm. It’s going to be our fundraiser.”
Thus, Pillows of Love, was born. The following week on a four-hour round trip to our adoption agency I made eight pillows in the car! This is when I knew this would be “our thing” to bring JW home. I could make them almost anywhere. They weren’t messy. The kids could help me make them and they were so dang cute. (I have wanted to keep one of every design.) In fact, each of my kids purchased their own for their room because they love them and loved helping make them!
Apparently, other people liked them too. Christmas was drawing near and I hadn’t sold all the pillows I had made for an event. I was worried I would be storing them in my closet for the next 12 months if they weren’t sold. Hesitantly, I posted them on Facebook. I just wasn’t sure I wanted to use my personal page for marketing. But I took the plunge and did it anyway because the worst that could happen is that no one would respond. Within two hours all the pillows were spoken for. I was shocked! And a little stumped as to how to get some of the pillows to other parts of the country. Thanks to my affinity for shopping on Amazon I had plenty of big boxes to package the pillows in and send them off to varying zip codes.
After trying to keep up with orders on Facebook and selling out of 33 pillows at a local ladies outing event, I decided it was time to restock and get an Etsy shop going. A few friends came to church one Saturday morning and in three hours they helped me to get another 25 pillows made so I could stock the shop.
This is where I find myself today: passionately stitching and stuffing pillows to raise the last $10,000 we need to bring home our little guy from Korea. In addition, I am a person changed by my experiences and in awe of how God uses some of the most ordinary events in our lives to get our attention, steer us down a road, and equip us to live lives that show that our confidence, purpose and delight are found in Him knowing us, seeing us, and giving us assignments and duties that align our past experiences and dreams with our current places and callings.
I am a mom, a daughter, a wife, a friend, a teacher, but what most defines me is that I am a child of God: when I was lost and lonely, orphaned in the spiritual sense, He saw me and ran to me. In the process, by the grace of God, both extraordinary and ordinarily moments have brought us to unfamiliar places and an expansion of experiences. All of which have led us to pray and hope for these words of Jesus to be true of our journey of bringing home our little boy from Korea, “I will not leave you as an orphan; I will come to you” (John 14:18).
Pillows can be found at our Esty Shop, Love4Adoption: https://www.etsy.com/shop/love4adoption
Donations can be made on our You Caring site: https://www.youcaring.com/mike-and-jaci-loween-478696
Her family and friends know her as, Jaci. She is the wife of a pastor, a mom of four, writing and communications education instructor, a visionary and an avid runner. As a firm believer in the power and effectiveness of the body of Christ united together to live out the Great Commission, she holds fast to this verse, "Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19). Of equal importance to her are these words, "...let us run with endurance the race that is set before us" (Hebrews 12:1).
Posts in the Run for Your Life, series: