Walmart Woes

How can even the most mundane purchase feel like it has become a decision of style – economics – priority?

One of today’s shopping tasks: buy a waste basket for the bathroom. Seems simple enough. After a few days with just a plastic sack in the corner of the room, I made a plan for an upgrade.

It’s been a while since I bought a wastebasket for a bathroom. And the last time I did, it was likely from one of the housewares vendors found in nearly every outdoor market in China. These stalls are marked by a stack of plastic basins out front – from large and sturdy and red, down to smaller pastel types, marked with a cartoon character in the center. Brooms, mops, and waste baskets are also sold here, along with a myriad of other daily use items. The waste baskets came in just one or two sizes, and a handful of colors – light green, light blue, maybe pink. None particularly distinctive in style, but definitely functional. And once our basket was lined with one of our leftover red plastic bags from a trip to a veggie or fruit vendor, it was all we ever needed.

But we live in America now. And with no outdoor market around the corner, I went to the place that felt most logical to look for such things.

Armed with a list on my phone which read – ‘wastebaskets’ – along with countless other uninspiring items (broom, ice cube trays, socks), I took my first solo shopping trip since arriving in Evansville. Mark stayed home to mow the lawn, and the kids played the Wii. (I’m not even making this up. Do we sound acclimated to life in the US or what?)

I drove the new-to-us mini van to the nearby store, all the while trying to shake the feeling that I’ve been plopped down right in the middle of someone else’s life, not my own. I’m used to navigating the city on bike or bus to run such errands, or maybe taking an Uber or a taxi. It wasn’t easier, really – far from it. But after 19 years it felt comfortable. And I felt competent.

I don’t know what I thought it would be like to buy a wastebasket in America, but I certainly wasn’t prepared for the style choices before me. This was Walmart, not Target, for heaven’s sake.

Chevron print or the one with bronze embossed leaves near the top edge? The one that reminds me of a flower pot? An elegant, modern look, or a more country feel? Sleek and classic, or whimsical and cute?  Should the trash can match the soap dish and toothbrush holder? Oh, right. Maybe I also need to buy a soap dish and toothbrush holder.

How much money is reasonable to spend on such a purchase? It IS just a container for our trash, after all.

I round the corner and realize that there is actually an entirely separate section of what also seems to be small sized wastebaskets. Oh no – are these for the bathroom too? Or are these bedroom wastebaskets? Is there a difference?

I have plenty of time to make the decision, sans kids, in this not-at-all crowded, climate controlled store, which truly contains every convenience I could possibly imagine. Why does the large selection irritate me so? What on earth is wrong with me?

Like it or not, the selection is there, and a choice must be made. And so I deliberate. I try to envision the color of the tile in our bathroom. I try to remember – are the baseboards white or cream? What will go with the towels we were given? And then – grrr! What am I doing? How much time have I wasted standing here thinking about a trash can?!

Though it was tempting to just stick with our plastic bag in the corner, I finally chose a more respectable bathroom waste basket. (White and plastic and round, for those who are wondering.)

On to the brooms.




Minimalism and the Kingdom of Heaven

pearlIn January I had the chance to share during our school’s morning devotional time. I’ve reworked what I shared that morning into the form of a blog post here.

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

Matthew 13:44-45

Jesus describes the kingdom of heaven as a treasure, or as fine pearls, worthy of joyfully abandoning all other pursuits. Single-minded devotion. Joyful pursuit. I find the concept so compelling.

So with that as the backdrop, let me take a short detour . . .

* * *

About a year ago I read a book called The Joy of Less: A Minimalist Living Guide by Francine Jay. It’s a practical, how-to sort of book on de-cluttering, organizing, and simplifying. It may seem silly, but something about the theme of the book resonated with me quite deeply.

I quickly took action, and gave away about half of our coffee cups, all sorts of linens and towels, tons of my own clothing, and even most of our kitchen knives (I had read somewhere that you really only need one good knife.).

Since that time I’ve learned of a whole minimalist movement. There are those who number their possessions, and others who live with a stylish but streamlined 10-item capsule wardrobe. Some hold all their worldly possessions in a van, or even a backpack.

As for me and my family, we still have a ton of stuff. But in the past year I’ve been slowly and steadily removing unnecessary items from our apartment, and it’s been surprisingly liberating. I get an odd sense of satisfaction when I see things go out the door, when a drawer has plenty of empty space, or when I realize we no longer need a particular shelf or bookcase or storage container at all.

But beyond these surface level satisfactions I’ve noticed something else, and I have found that the process of simplifying physical possessions has taken root much more deeply than expected.

* * *

There is a saying I’ve read out in the minimalism blogosphere which says that clutter around us is simply evidence of deferred decisions. I know it’s true – we keep things around not necessarily because they add convenience or value to our lives, or even because we like them. We hold onto things simply because they’re already there, and we can’t decide what we should do with them.

It’s not that big of a deal, I suppose, except that the same sort of thing happens on a deeper level. There is the physical clutter – unneeded items here and there, that crowd our space, making it harder to clean and stay organized. But then there is the mental clutter. The emotional clutter. Even spiritual clutter.

Let’s go back a moment and remember our Scriptures – Jesus’ words, the kingdom of heaven – like a treasure, fine pearls, worthy of abandoning all other pursuits . . .

But how easy it is to let a bunch of other stuff bring us away from that single-minded devotion.

It’s easy to end up with days that are full of tasks and activities – things that keep us feeling busy and full, but still may actually be crowding out what is best.

Jon Bloom of Desiring God wrote a blog post entitled “Free Yourself from Divided Interests” that captures well what I’m talking about:

“But to pursue this joy in whatever levels of undivided devotion God calls us to requires prayerful discernment and gracious ruthlessness. We need to know a few things, and we need to say no to many things.

We need to know what our calling is right now. Perhaps our vocational and other callings are clear, or perhaps we are waiting on God for further guidance. But whatever the case, there are things God is calling us to for his sake right now. And we must give ourselves to those things and not other things.

Which means that we also must know our limitations. I’m preaching to myself more than anyone else here. I have friends who have greater capacities than I do. They can read faster, write faster, organize more efficiently, and all around manage more things than I can. So they may be able to say yes to more things than I can and be faithful in their callings.

But as hard as it might be to admit, I’m not like them. I am who I am. And being me requires that I know, within reason, my limitations and how to say no to many things I may want to do or have so that my interests aren’t too divided. It’s hard, but a kind of ruthlessness is necessary to be faithful.

I like the word “ruthless” here. I think it’s important. We can’t assume that cutting out the ‘unnecessary’ in our lives will be easy or natural. We must know our calling, and know our limitations. We must be willing to say ‘no’ to many things, so that we can fully say ‘yes’ to what is most important.

I have some health challenges and struggle with fatigue. This has forced me to face head on my own limitations. Not only the limitation of time, but even more significantly the limitations of energy and bandwidth. Last semester I cried through a decision to say ‘no’ to an opportunity to serve. It was difficult, but I know it was right.

While it has been an emotional struggle to be content with doing less, accomplishing less, feeling less productive, less social or even less fun, I do believe that the Lord has used this journey for my good. These limitations have helped prune me, have helped me focus, and have forced me to choose between good and best. I have to remember that saying yes to one thing means saying no to another. And this is true for all of us: our time and energy are limited. We must make choices.

Before my de-cluttering kick, I used to think of minimalism in terms of an artistic aesthetic. Bare uncluttered rooms, clean lines, neutral colors. Or perhaps like a picture in a magazine of an all white empty kitchen, with a beautiful vase of flowers or bowl of bright yellow bananas. In these scenes, our eyes are drawn to that one highlighted item, and the rest just falls into the background.

I’ve noticed that as I remove things from the physical space around me, it seems to highlight what is left. Every artist or designer knows that the negative space is every bit as important as the positive. The empty space is necessary, because it draws our eyes to what is most important. Without it, there is no focus: our eyes are left darting from here to there, unable to take everything in.

In the same way, I know that if I’m to pursue the kingdom of God with undivided attention, to experience joy in the pursuit, to be able to see God clearly and allow Him his rightful place on the throne of my life, I must ruthlessly cut out that which takes my attention away from him.

Richard Foster, in the Celebration of Discipline, writes:

“Shun anything that distracts you first from seeking the kingdom of God. It is so easy to lose focus in the pursuit of legitimate, even good things. Job, position, status, family, friends, security – these and many more can all too quickly become the center of attention.”

“The person who does not seek the kingdom of God first does not seek it at all . . . worthy as all other concerns may be, the moment they become the focus of our efforts they become idolatry.”

I was journaling about New Year’s Resolutions the other day, and I had a number of things on my list. It was typical stuff regarding health and fitness, daily routines, spiritual disciplines, and the like. But before long, when I looked at the list of all I wanted to do, it was discouraging. Do more! Do it better! Accomplish more! But this year, instead of thinking about what I need to add on or what more I need to do, I’d like to consider what there is in my life that I might need to take away. What is distracting me from a full-throttle pursuit of the kingdom of heaven?

So my resolution is this. May I better understand what it means to be like those Jesus describes:

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

Let our New Year’s Resolutions not be a list of all the ways we should do more and do better, or things we need to accomplish to be more or be better. Instead, may God give us all the courage, the wisdom, and the strength always to hold the kingdom of God as the number one priority in our lives.



gotcha day* musings

Tonight we were all at the dinner table, celebrating Josiah’s Gotcha Day anniversary. Rose and Grace throughout the day have wished our little guy “Happy Gotcha Day!” with hugs and smiles, and though he doesn’t really know what the excitement is about, Josiah appreciated the attention and was glad to steal the show.

After dinner, Mark pulled out the computer so that we could all view pictures and video clips from one year ago today.  This has become our Gotcha Day tradition . . . conversation and memories of our first hours, days, and weeks together, along with a celebratory outing or dessert or gift.

So Mark set the computer on the slideshow feature, and together we began to view pictures of the events one year ago.  Our travel to Henan – Josiah Fuzi’s birth province.  The fabulous buffet breakfast in the hotel.  Meeting other families and our agency’s guides.  And then – the video of our much anticipated first encounter with Pu Fuzi.

The screen showed a scared and timid little one year old, lost in winter layers, cowering in the arms of his caregiver, expressionless as he is passed to my arms.  Only his darting eyes and quivering bottom lip betray his uncertainty and fear.


As I watched the video, I was struck by the contrast between the timid one-year old on the screen, and the happy little guy who was sitting before me in his booster seat.

Josiah was intrigued by the video, and before too long the motion on the screen captured his attention.

“MomMom!” he shouted with a grin, pointing to me and then to the screen.  “Dada!”  “RoRo!”  “GaeGae!”  He eagerly called us all out by name, happily reaching out to the images on the computer screen.  We all affirmed him, touched and pleased to see his excitement.  I realized then that he hadn’t seen this video before, and for the girls, it had been many many months.

I felt so emotional watching his reaction. “Just a year ago we were all strangers,” I thought to myself, “and now here he is!  He’s confident in knowing we are ‘his people.’  He seems so settled and sure in his place with us!” Not one to miss such a precious scene, I grabbed for my phone, and began taping his reaction to this first meeting.

The scene ran on . . . the screen showing a timid Fuzi in my arms.  I am holding him while asking caregivers questions.   “How long have you all been on the road?”  “Has he had lunch?  Do you think he is hungry?”  Rose and Grace cautiously and gently approach, with proud big sister grins, gently offering toys and snacks.   Mark stands back and observes, patiently waiting his turn to hold our new son.


As the scene unfolds on the computer, I turned back to our jovial 2-year old.  He was captivated by the screen.  He seemed so interested and curious, watching quietly and very seriously.  Mark and I exchanged a glance, both of us wondering what was going on in Josiah’s young mind.  He continued to watch intently, but after some time he started to look concerned.  Mark noticed and began to stroke his hair to assure him.  Josiah continued to watch, but then his demeanor visibly changed. His bottom lip began to quiver . . . his face, his countenance, his whine . . . it’s something I don’t remember seeing.  At least not for quite some time. He seemed so unsettled.  And sad.  “No no. . .” he whined, while at the same time craning his neck so that he could see the screen.

We stopped the video early, and instead looked through some photographs of our early days together.  But Josiah wanted to be held, and didn’t seem excited to watch anymore.  Not even the offer of dessert brought the predictable smile and excitement.

As I reflect, I’m not sure what to make of it all.  Perhaps he was just mirroring the emotions of the younger version of himself he saw on the video.  While that’s a simple explanation, and a reasonable possibility, his emotional response seemed to go beyond that.   And as I think about our evening, I am reminded of something I read recently in a book on adoption.  The book discusses the power early memories have in serving as triggers in the life of an adoptive child, bringing back emotions associated with early trauma.

“. . . figuring out the source of a memory trigger requires some detective work, predicated on the parent’s belief in the implicit memories of infants and young children and a willingness to honor those early experiences as real . . .”

The author goes on to provide examples of research which reveal that for some children a particular smell may serve as a reminder that brings grief.  For other children, the trigger might be a particular neighborhood, or a certain time of year.  For these types of implicit memories, it may require some detective work on the part of the adoptive parent to discover what triggers are there, and to then help the child navigate their emotions. Of course, in the situation I described, there is not much detective work required in determining the source of the memory trigger for our little Josiah.

Without any preparation, or any smaller steps leading up to the event, we had him watch the video of himself, timid and afraid, being transferred from orphanage caregivers into our arms. That’s a fairly explicit trigger.

I suppose I should have known that.

But I didn’t see it coming.  Perhaps because he’s so young.  Perhaps because he’s not yet verbal.  Perhaps because I see the scene from the happy momma’s perspective, and not from the perspective of a frightened child experiencing major loss and traumatic transition.  (loss of people, language, culture, environment, food, # of layers of clothing . . . you name it)

I will always view the pain inherent in adoption through a lens which trusts that healing and wholeness can come, despite (through?) the loss.   However, I hope next time I’ll be more prepared to walk alongside for the grief which is a part my childrens’ stories as well.

Gotcha Day still ended well.  Very well.  This photo was taken later in the evening, and he was all smiles and charm – his usual self.  So thankful for our chubby, jovial fellow!


*I’ve learned over recent years that the phrase “Gotcha Day” may be a bit misguided, as it focuses on adoptive parents’ experience on the initial meeting (joy, fulfillment of longing, excitement) rather than the child’s experience (loss, confusion, trauma.)

 (sigh)  Live and learn.  The term was introduced to us as we prepared for Grace’s adoption in 2005 and is now such a part of our family culture I feel it would be counter-productive to undo.

taking charge

We’re getting back in the groove.  A 5th grader, a 2nd grader, and a spunky take-charge toddler.

This morning on our way to the bus stop, Josiah designated himself as caretaker of big sister’s backpack.  He proudly pulled it along behind him.  Focused.  Serious. He screeched and wailed if anyone so much as touched the backpack, even just to help adjust the course when stuck, or to set it right when he was pulling it upside down.  When his sisters finally boarded the bus and the bus pulled away, he sobbed.

Sad to see his sisters go?  Perhaps.

Sad – very sad – to see the backpack go?  Definitely.

When we met the girls at the end of their school day, he quickly took charge of the backpack once again.  But this time a popsicle did divert his attention.  I had originally bought the mango ice pop for myself, thinking I could get away with just sharing a bit here and there with our little man.  But Josiah had other plans, which he verbalized (screamed) with gusto.

I didn’t get much of that popsicle.  But that’s OK.  Especially after he dropped it, held it against his T-shirt while pulling the backpack, and then set it down on the sidewalk so he could more easily manage his way up the steps.


This little boy is SO awesome.  And has decided he’s a fan of popsicles.  A few months ago he wasn’t so sure!

Update on Maggie and Hope

Update on Maggie and Hope
July 2, 2013 4:30PM 

Here is the latest news on Maggie’s status: 

Maggie has finally awakened from surgery. 

Doctors have informed her of the encouraging news of her daughter’s birth, which is giving her the much-needed desire to survive. 

The cancer and surgery have caused massive swelling, and Maggie is not able to talk or move. Her lungs are full of fluid and not functioning. Her doctors have downgraded her from “late stage cancer” to “terminal or end-stage cancer” and have notified her family to prepare for her passing, which is rapidly approaching. 

Baby Hope is still under close watch in the ICU and visits are not allowed until tomorrow. 

Please keep up your earnest prayers for a miracle!!! 

Thank you to the many of you who have generously donated to our Hope for Maggie Fund. If you want to send a card or email to Maggie, you can send them to CCAI ( We will make sure to deliver your wishes to her and her family as quickly as possible!! 

To donate to the Hope for Maggie Fund, please visit

pray for Maggie

Our family met Maggie in late January.  She was one of our adoption guides for the week we spent in Guangzhou.  She greeted us with an open smile and a bounce in her step. 

We only knew her for a week, but her patience, helpfulness, diligence and grace made an impact on our lives.  She worked tirelessly to walk our adoption travel group through each and every detail, as she has done for countless adoptive families since year 2000.  She cared for us well.

We are heartbroken today to receive an email from the founders of our adoption agency telling us that Maggie is struggling for her life.  Her situation is dire.  Please pray for this dear young woman, her precious newborn daughter, and their family. 


Dear CCAI Families,

We’re writing to you today because your family has been touched by our wonderful CCAI Guangzhou representative Maggie Pan.  On June 9, six months pregnant, Maggie checked herself into a hospital as a result of breathing difficulties.  Two days later she was diagnosed with late-term stomach, liver and lung cancers.

Yesterday, doctors delivered her baby via C-section in order to save the baby’s life.  At around 10:00 am on July 2, her baby girl Hope was born, more than three months premature but with a strong heartbeat.  Hope weighs only 1.8 pounds.   

Doctors then immediately operated on Maggie and removed as many tumors as they could.  Almost 24 hours have now passed, but she still has not yet woken up. Doctors have informed her family to prepare for the worst.

Baby Hope is in intensive care, fighting for her life…

Maggie joined CCAI in 2000 and has provided incredible service to more than 1,000 CCAI families like yours.  Will you join us in prayer during this very sad and difficult time for Maggie and her family?

We have established a Hope for Maggie Fund to help with Maggie and her daughter’s medical costs.   Donations of any amount are needed and much appreciated.

Contributions can be made online at  or by check to CCAI (6920 South Holly Cir., Centennial, CO 80112). 100% of your tax deductible donation will go to the Hope for Maggie Fund.

If you have any questions, please contact us at 303-850-9998 or email to

Thank you very much for your prayers and support!

Josh and Lily

5 K Fun Run

Our school held a 5K fun run yesterday afternoon as a fund-raiser for students’ summer service trips.  All five Wickershams joined the fun!


I realize that we’re not looking much like true runners, but who’s to say you can’t run a 5 K in a cotton dress or while pushing your kid in an umbrella stroller? We DO have our numbers pinned on, which makes us look a tad bit official. 🙂 And speaking of numbers, perhaps my favorite part of the whole experience was enjoying how cute little Josiah looked with his number pinned on his shirt.

So we ran around the school, then some surrounding blocks, and then around a lake on the nearby university campus before returning to our school to find the finish line.  Rose was the first Wickersham to cross the line, followed by Daddy (slowed down by his recent knee injury) and then lastly Grace and me, pushing a very laid-back Josiah.


The girls surprised us with their great attitudes and impressive endurance.  Already planning to join next year’s event!