Saturday, February 21, 2009

Chapter 5: Two Valuable Lessons

From Amazing Journey, Amazing Grace

Not for one minute do I believe it was mere chance that brought those two ladies I didn't know to my door that Saturday afternoon. From the minute they asked if I'd be willing to host a Japanese student in my home, I knew it was a 'God thing.' But what puzzled me about that turn of events was this: If all along it had been God's plan for me to host international students, why hadn't He let my home be accepted by one of the university homestay programs where I'd applied? Why had He waited until I had all but given up on the idea of hosting and then brought strangers to my door to offer exactly that?

Looking back now I realize that God had been teaching me two valuable lessons.

Lesson One: It's not about me!
God didn't want me to rely on my own efforts and then pat myself on the back after every success. He wanted me to remember that He's in control; that everything I have--my house, my job, my health, even my homestay students--all are gifts from Him. Therefore, HE deserves the credit, HE deserves the praise, not me.

Lesson Two: Let go and let God!
Letting go means depending on God, not on myself. It means remaining calm about my circumstances, not panicking about my finances, not grasping for a solution, not running ahead of God's timetable. It means orderliness. It means learning to be patient while He works out the details. It means waiting for His timing.

I have trouble being patient. I don't like to wait. One of my dear friends knows this about me, but loves me anyway, and often reminds me of these Bible verses about God's plans and His timing:

“I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. They are plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen.” Jeremiah 29:11-12 (Living Bible).

“But these things I plan won’t happen right away. Slowly, steadily, surely, the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled. If it seems slow, do not despair, for these things will surely come to pass. Just be patient! They will not be overdue a single day!” Habakkuk 2:3 (Living Bible):

Just. Be. Patient. (Sigh)

I fail so often!

Two failures immediately come to mind, but before I write about them, I want to share a love story with you--although it's not your ordinary love story!

To be continued.

Chapter 4: Strangers At My Door

From Amazing Journey, Amazing Grace

Getting rejected by the homestay coordinators at all three universities in Seattle left me very disappointed. I tried not to fret, but in spite of my efforts to remain calm, I felt my anxiety level rising. I tried not to worry about my dwindling bank account.

A few weeks later, my sister’s son, who had recently moved to our area, came over for Saturday lunch. It was good to see him again and we lingered at the kitchen table, visiting well into the afternoon. The doorbell interrupted our conversation. Who could that be? I wasn’t expecting anyone.

Two women I had never seen before stood on the porch. “We’re not Avon ladies,” they assured me. “We are helping the homestay coordinator at the English Language Institute in Seattle and wondered if you would be interested in hosting a student from Japan.


I had all but given up on the idea of hosting international students, and now here were two strangers at my front door asking me to consider it! I’m sure my mouth hung open with surprise! Finally I found my voice and said, “Why yes. Yes, I am interested. But how did you know? How did you get my address?”

“We didn’t,” they replied. “We only know the family up at the end of the block who told us the families on this street are all very nice people. So we are going door-to-door in hopes of finding enough families to help us, because we have 25 Japanese students coming next week and we are desperate for families to house them!”

[note to reader: the neighbor they knew at the end of the block was not the same neighbor who had suggested I look into hosting!]

“Please come in,” I invited. I showed them my available room and they were ecstatic. I forced myself to remain calm. I didn’t want to get my hopes up yet. I figured they would have the same problem with the long bus commute as had the three university homestay coordinators, so I leveled with them.
“I applied to become a host family at all three universities in Seattle,” I said, “but they all rejected me because of the long bus commute.”

“Oh, but our school is a private language school and it’s conveniently located in downtown Seattle. We know there is an express commuter bus from here to downtown and the commute is only 45 minutes!”
Wow! I could be a host mother after all! I exhaled with relief. “Oh, God,” I prayed silently, “Thank you, thank you, thank you, from the bottom of my heart!”

My first student was Motoi, a high school English teacher. He knew English well, but wanted the opportunity to ‘speak with the natives,’ learn the culture and take pictures of America. He wanted to improve his teaching of English in his classroom in Japan.

Motoi was a delight! He was eager to talk, eager to experience our food, our culture, our city, and eager to share his country in return. The month passed all too quickly! Hosting was enjoyable! I was hooked! I was ready for more!

Motoi had never been this close to a racoon before.

Now, what do you think? Was it coincidence that brought those two strangers to my door? A mere chance? A stroke of good luck? The perfect alignment of the stars? A lucky fluke?

To be continued.

Chapter 3: On Being a Host Family

From Amazing Journey; Amazing Grace

Facing singleness after 25 years of marriage was scary. I had no idea where this strange, new adventure would lead me, but I knew God was with me and I clung to him for dear life!

Not long after my husband left, our son, Allen, came back home to live. We both had emotional wounds that needed to heal. It helped us to heal together.

The greater Seattle area is not noted for being a cheap place to live, and even though I was earning more at work and my son was contributing toward his expenses at home, it wasn’t quite enough.

One of my neighbors suggested becoming a host family for international students. I’d never heard of such a thing. “It’s not quite the same as exchange students,” he explained. “Homestay students pay to live with a host family while they attend school in the USA.” It sounded interesting. Allen liked the idea, too. I had an extra bedroom—why not give it a try?

I got busy and contacted the international student offices in Seattle’s three major universities. I was full of questions. Could a single mom qualify as a host family? What was the remuneration for hosting? How were students selected and matched to host families?

I learned that each school had a homestay coordinator who would visit my home, meet my son and me and learn more about each of us--did we do drugs? Or have a criminal record? We needed to “pass inspection” before becoming a host family. I wasn't worried.

I also learned that:
The student must have a private room with a window, bed, closet, chest of drawers, desk and a chair. They could share a bathroom with the family.


Food was to be provided for all 3 meals; the student could make his own breakfast and lunch, but the host family should make his dinner.


There should be a bus stop within a reasonable walking distance from the home.


The student could only make one transfer between buses.


The entire commute from home to school must be under an hour.


Back in 1992, the buses from outside Seattle's city limits weren’t that accommodating. The entire commute from my home to each of the universities was easily an hour or more. "I'm sorry," each homestay coordinator said. "You live too far away." And they rejected my application! There I was--up against the proverbial brick wall!

“Oh God,” I prayed, “I thought hosting students was a good idea, but I guess not. So, I’ll wait for a word from you, but please hurry, because I’m running low on money, and quite frankly, I don’t know what to do.”

Just a simple, straightforward prayer, but God heard and answered in a most unusual way!

To be continued.

Chapter 2: Who'd Have Thought?

From Amazing Journey; Amazing Grace

My boss was very kind—he was like a father to me. He was well-known and well-liked by everyone. He had retired from teaching about seven years earlier, but at the request of the board of directors of a small, private foundation, he had become their executive director. Three years later, he hired me to be his administrative assistant and I felt privileged to be working for him. We were both part time employees and each of us worked 20 hours a week.

                                              Frank, my wonderful boss,

I had purposefully not said anything to him about the upheaval in my life. I had not told him I was looking for a full time position. So that morning in 1992, when I was sure I’d have to give up the job I loved, my boss laid down his pen, leaned back in his chair, turned to me and said, “You know, I’m supposed to be retired. My wife would really like me to be home more. Would you consider taking 10 of my hours at my rate of pay and work 30 hours per week so that I can cut back to 10 hours?”

What an incredible offer! As soon my boss asked, I knew immediately this was God’s answer to my prayer! My eyes filled with tears. They were tears of joy! I could keep the job I loved, still work part time and yet earn as much as the other full time job would have paid. I choked up and couldn’t talk. My boss looked at me in confusion. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Did I say something wrong?”

Getting my voice back, the words tumbled out as I explained how my husband had left me, how I hadn’t wanted to but, had been looking for a full time job, and how his offer was the answer to my prayer. A look of amazement spread over his face. “I am so sorry,” he said referring to my failed marriage. “I had no idea!”

Isn’t God amazing? Who’d have thought of a solution like that? Only God! He loves to make “all things work together for good to them that love Him, to them who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28). He loves to pour out his grace on us at the least expected times in the least expected ways. He also loves to answer the desires of our heart. But He waits until we are ready to give up our own will and in humble faith, fully submit to His will. It is our faith in Him and our submission to His will that allows Him to bless us as he longs to do. What an awesome God!

But there’s more. This was only the beginning of my journey. God had even more plans up his sleeve, as I would soon find out!

To be continued.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Chapter 1: In the Beginning

From Amazing Journey; Amazing Grace

I never intended my marriage to end like it did. But in 1992, there I was, single—whether I liked it or not. It was a title I did not enjoy. I avoided bringing attention to my status, quietly checking the box marked “Ms” only when I had to. I choked on the ‘D’ word. It sounded too much like ‘failure.’

I had always thought our marriage would last like our parents’ marriages. Both had celebrated their 50th wedding anniversaries just a few years earlier. Ours barely made it past 25. I would like to say it was my husband’s fault, but that wouldn’t be fair. After all, “it takes two to tango,” or not.

My first night alone in our bed was the worst. I felt so alone. I buried my head in my pillow and let it all out—my sorrow, my disappointment, my heartache—let it all out with gut-wrenching sobs. I finally fell asleep from emotional exhaustion.

The next morning I awoke feeling small and vulnerable. “Oh God,” I prayed, “It’s just you and me now, and I need your help very much.”

I began to worry. How would I pay for a double-mortgaged home? I only had a part time job. Obviously, I would need to work full time. But how could I give up a job I really loved? How could I give up working for the best boss I’d ever had? That prospect filled my soul with sadness. It brought fresh tears to my puffy eyes.

When our self-sufficiency is shaky at best, it is much easier to turn to God. I started every morning with prayer and a chapter from the Bible. In His tenderness and grace, God directed me to the Bible verses that held His answers to my prayers. It soon became food for my soul and I found great comfort in His spiritual nourishment. For example, when I started worrying too much, God gave me these verses:
Philippians 4:6, 7
"Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. If you do this, you will experience God's peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus."

Learning to let go, to relax, to take my burdens to the Lord and leave them there, was not easy. It was literally a ‘two-steps-forward, one-step backward’ kind of faith.

Then the idea came to me. Maybe I could work two part time jobs. Yes, that must be the solution! So, I started looking at job postings in the classified ads. Nothing. Nothing with flexible hours. Nothing within close proximity to the job I loved.

In spite of all the verses of encouragement, discouragement set in. The facts were plain and simple. I needed a full time job and I soon found a position that looked promising. I made an appointment for that Thursday. But on Wednesday morning, sadness settled in. I prayed a simple, straight-from-my-heart prayer. “Oh, God, I really don’t want to give up my part-time job that I love so much, but if this full time position is your will, then I will do it.” And I meant it.

I had not said anything to my boss about my failed marriage. He was like a father to me and I didn’t want him to worry. I also didn’t want him to know about my pending job interview. Not yet! So that Wednesday morning, I put a smile on my face and went about my work as usual.

About mid-morning, my boss quietly laid down his pen, leaned back in his chair, turned to me and made a statement that left me in tears.

To be continued.

Introduction: Amazing Journey, Amazing Grace

Amazing Journey, Amazing Grace

Not in my wildest imaginations did I ever expect to become a host mother to international college students. I was married, mother to a grown son, college educated and working a part time job that I loved. My husband had a good job. We owned our own home. I loved my in-laws. But in 1992, it all imploded like a light bulb that burned out. What happened?How did I get to where I am today? It’s been a long journey, full of bumps and bruises; but, also full of joy, and fulfillment. Along the way I learned a thing or two about myself—the good, the bad and the ugly. I also learned about the big, wide world out there—right in the comfort of my own home—and got paid while I was learning. Amazing!The things that have happened these past sixteen years did not happen by coincidence. Only God could have orchestrated this amazing journey. Some of you have lived this journey with me. Some have heard me share bits and pieces. But now I am ready to share the complete journey with the hope that it will encourage you.

Tomorrow I will post chapter 1 of Amazing Journey; Amazing Grace.


Homestay Mama