Chapter One

It was a pasty hot afternoon in June.  Clouds were rolling across the horizon with bitter promises of a good old fashion summer storm.  As I sat on the steps of that house, surrounded by used clothes, two plush Cinderella chairs and a heap of old shoes, my mind traveled - for the 147th time - to China.  It was as if each donated garage sale item was a small piece of the ticket for that 13 hour flight from my big white house in the middle of cornfields to that overcrowded, smoggy city in Asia.

As I looked down the road for any promise of customers, memories of the last two years seemed to blur by.  It was a simple internet search for orphan ministries that landed a DVD in our crooked black mailbox in the fall of 2005.  I remember like yesterday gathering my six brothers and sisters around our small TV and popping that blue disk into the player, having no idea how my life was about to change.

Chinese orphans in metal cribs and toddlers on a concrete playground blinked past my eyes as the music sang

I was alone, I was hungry.  Would someone come?  Is anyone there?!  
Days would go by, no arms to hold me
Longing for love.  Does anyone care.

Just like a dream you came to my rescue. 
Guess you weren't too busy to hear this child's prayer

You brought me hope.  You brought me healing.
You brought a smile into my life.
With your loving touch, my heart is mending here in your arms
I'm resting tonight.

My eyes were burning from tears.  My heart aching.  Head spinning.  A father with his chinese daughter, used words to paint a picture of their summer camps for orphans.  He spoke of the games they played, the adventures they had and the children who needed someONE to come spend a week showing them love.  I knew that someone should be me.

A clap of thunder brought me back to reality.  Ahh man.  Now I had to haul one-massive-garage-sales-worth of junk through that tiny front door.  This rain better wait  Grabbing armfuls of snow boots, oversized tee shirts and Hannah Montana toys, I dashed inside.

As I rushed from yard to house, house to yard, the overcast sky shoved my brain full of memories from cloudy, smoggy days in China.  There was that first trip to Beijing in 2007.  My unforgettable walk on the Great Wall.  Matty, the little five year old orphan I carried up those uneven steps.  The spinning of my head as I felt a heatstroke knocking at my brain.  The swimming in the pool, markers at craft time, and a sea of beach balls at nighttime assemblies.  Then the heartbreaking goodbyes on Friday. The tears.  Oh the tears and tears.  And most of all the phenomenon that you could utterly and completely fall in love with this child in less than one week.

The last armful that I shoved into the house was fired on by those first raindrops from the dark sky.  I grabbed the money box and bolted to the car with my youngest sisters.

Fifty, seventy, eighty. . .  this covers the rest of the plane ticket.  Only $2300 left to raise.

I tried to encourage myself by remembering last summer and how God provided.  After spending five days with those orphans in Beijing, returning to camp wasn't even a question.  They had completely and utterly stole my heart.  Fundraising for the $1200 plane ticket was stretching for my faith, but God did it.  Just like He took care of my body and heart those six weeks I spent in Xin Zheng that summer in 2008.  There were adventures rushing on and off a chinese train with a dozen huge pieces of team luggage.  Hundreds of orphans, volunteers and translators that flocked to camp that summer.  There were tears and laughter, frustration and excitement as people's hearts were touched by the kids.

The summer camps were coming to an end.  My body was tired and I just wanted a big bowl of cold cereal and american milk.  I was tired my hard camp bunk bed.  I was emotionally worn thin.  Only three more days until I would board that long flight.  I missed my family and I was ready to go home.

Then this moment happened in the staff girls room one afternoon.  My friend Becca, was talking to her brother David {who happened to be the director of the camps}.  I sat quietly on the oversized, burgundy chair with my computer in my lap.

"So Becs.  When are you coming back?"

"To China?"  She asked as the gluten-free crackers came out of her suitcase.  There were only a few left after being snacked on all summer long.

"You know," David said plopping down on the wooden arm next to her.  "I think I'm coming back next year.  I really think it's time to start that foster home for older orphans that we've been talking about.  Next year is the year I move to China."

Have you ever felt like a oversized bulldog at a Pretty Poodle Show?  Utterly out of place?  That was me as they had a family moment of hugging and tears.  It was emotional and I didn't quite belong.

But that's when I experienced MY moment.  That moment you know what you are suppose to do without a shadow of unknowing.  That moment that grabs your heart with a deep settled peace.  That moment you will still remember when you are sitting in that wheelchair at 80 years old.

In that moment, it was as if God spoke to my heart and said,
Nicole.  That is where I want you next year.  Right in the middle of that project.  

And that's when I knew I would be moving to China.

The moments I experienced after that time in the concrete, white room in China to the moment I was driving in the rain just days before I would leave, pendulum swung like a crazy train.  

There were moments of excitement.  I can't believe I get to spend six months in China with orphans!  Moments of panic attacks.  Literally gripping my heart and throat with questions.  Nicole, do you really really know this is the right thing?!  Can God really use you?  Really?  You are crazy and foolish.

But as that plane took off on June 30 and we banked right over the green summer fields of Iowa, I knew I was right where I was suppose to be.  I knew God was going with me.

And it sure was a good thing.  If I could have seen the heartache, the brokenness, the mirroring of massive joy and pain that I would encounter the next six months, I probably would have stormed the cockpit and demanded the pilot to turn around. 

Because the greatest adventure this midwest girl had ever had was just beginning. . . 


  1. this is sooooo beautiful!! you have a GIFT for writing! I LOVE IT. <3

  2. Love it girl. I'm enjoying hearing your side of the story, in a more in-depth way. It's bringing back memories ;)

  3. We were in China, loving orphans, at the same time, summer of 2008. We were with totally different groups, but there at the same time!

  4. Wow... I'm at a loss for words! I cannot wait to hear the rest of the story!!

  5. a great beginning, can't wait to read the rest =) people's stories always so intrigue me!

  6. Wow! You are a great writer...it's even better that the story is true! I can't wait to read more!

  7. ooh i can't wait to hear the rest. Girl, you have no idea how you have inspired me with your life...maybe i will tell you one day, or maybe in heaven you will truely understand how knowing you has changed me!

  8. LOVE IT! I am so glad you are sharing this story... I am in the middle of writing my own (teaching in the Marshall Islands, in the "butthole of the Pacific"... best adventure of my life! Can't wait to see what your story has in store for us. :)

  9. What a great beginning to what I know will be a beautiful story. Can't wait to hear the rest :)

  10. I want to cry. You know that I've been considering missions but as of late, my heart has just been longing for it more. Maybe because I just finished reading the book "Little Princes." Have you read it? I'm so envious of you. In a good way.


  11. So amazing! It's beautiful how you felt this calling. I can not wait to read more! Now that you've got us on the edge of our seats :)

  12. You are a talented writer. I look forward to your next chapter! I spent a summer teaching English in China and wish I could go back. You're an inspiration.

    PS I always check into your blog even if I don't comment. :)

  13. When I got to the end of that I was like... KEEP GOING!!! :) I love this story and I cannot wait to hear the rest of it!