The delights of the physical world were carefully crafted to point to the One who alone is able to give your heart eternal delight. Paul Tripp

Sneak A Peak

Sneak A Peak
Sneak a Peak at the Stern Family


Leaving Paradise

Here is a letter about our upcoming move...although that new move may sound exciting to you, some of our kids think we might be a bit psychotic, and i'm not sure I'm not inclined to believe them some days. Our living room full of boxes for a month is just one of the things that may prove 'insanity' is a closer fit for our lifestyle than 'exciting'. We hope to settle in Qingdao and call it home for quite a while and are excited to be closer to some of our greatest interests and passions: China, Chinese (the language), Chinese friends, International Students, Mountains, Orphans/orphanages/disabled children...and we'll even be a couple thousand miles nearer the US! Read the letter below to find out more. Blessings!

New Bookstore!
Old Governor's Mansion from the time that Germany controlled Qingdao
Another shipping port, not as big as Singapore's but almost
Laoshan is the part of the mountain range outside of Qingdao

When we came to Singapore 4 years ago we knew that we would be returning to China at some point. Although, we weren’t sure of how or when, we knew that we couldn’t walk away from China that easily! We’ve been impressed recently by the story of the Exodus, when Moses told the fleeing slaves of Egypt to stand still, the Lord had other ideas. With an army at their back and a roaring river at their front He said, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.” (In other words, “Stop wailing, I never said to stand still, start moving forward.”) And it seems we’ve had the same word spoken on our lives. Adopting Amelia and integrating her into our family and care for her medically has been a huge focus of these years, and we couldn’t have picked a better place. The medical support has been high quality and all English! Mike has loved teaching social studies and spending time with students from all over the world. Ashley was a guidance counselor for three years until Grey was born.

We’ve thoroughly enjoyed our time in Singapore; our children have been enriched in many ways through the teachers and staff at International Community School. It’s going to be hard to leave behind our friends, not to mention, the comforts of a beautiful and clean ‘city in a garden’. But God has opened a unique door to allow us to work with Leadership Development Institute Schools in China. Since 1986, LDi has been making a difference in the lives of expatriate students and their families through International Schools. So, we are now busily going through the paperwork to procure a visa for China before we leave Singapore and figuring out all the other details of an international move. We are also planning our time back in the States this summer.

Mike will teach high school Social Studies, at International School of Qingdao (ISQ), in Shandong Province. Ashley will stay at home with Grey and hopes to reconnect with some of the activities she was doing in China before, such as orphan advocacy and rehabilitation for the disabled. There are ongoing projects such as these in Qingdao. The older 4 children will attend the International School where Mike is teaching and we are praying for friends and families to build relationships with over the next few years as the kids enter high school and prepare for college and adult life.

We're excited for this opportunity to be used by God to have an impact not only on the lives of our students, but also on our Chinese neighbors and associates. If you would like to find out more information, please check out the LDi website at: and contact us.

We covet your prayers as we make this big transition,

Mike & Ashley

Skype: mxstern 
Facebook: Michael Stern or Ashley Sell Stern 


I can cross an ocean,
I can learn a language,
I can smile for the camera,
I can learn a new name,
I can draw beautiful skies,
I can learn to bake a cake,
I can learn to 'high five',
I can learn to use my legs,
I can learn to do my figures,
I can learn to wear new clothes,
I can kiss my baby brother,
But no one can teach me how to hold a mom


Goodbyes: The impossible checklist

My Checklist ie; what my mind does instead of sleeping
The boxes arrived a week ago. Not sure why I wanted them so early, except that I have become less of a procrastinator than ever since the 4th, and 5th child came along. 
Or...I need to go through the motions of doing those things that are possible,  so I'm distracted from all the thoughts I could waste on all those things which are impossible. Those lists I cannot figure out, or speed up or predict:
  • Will we get our visa paperwork while still in Singapore or will we have to traipse off to DC?
  • Will the kids survive another displacement and new place, new friends, new home, new food...
  • Will we need ____ in China or regret that we wasted space hauling it?
  • How do we connect the dots between Illinois, Wyoming, New York and all the people/places in between that we want to see. Trains, Planes and Automobiles? 
  • Will the baby ever potty train? (Not that I care, but would love to pack less)
  • How will Amelia respond to moving back into her birth culture? 
  • When will we feel settled? When will we be home?
  • Will we ever see some of these amazing people again? 
  • How do you say, "thanks" for 4 years of friendship in the midst of some big life transitions such as adoption and a baby born to old people.
  • Will these curtains, sheets, pictures... fit?
  • What will life in Qingdao be? How will it be to return to China and not be in Shanxi?
And so, I soak up the enjoyment of wrapping those trinkets of our lives, and clothes we never needed here in a box and taping it shut. Stacking it in an inconspicuous place in an apartment measuring 900 sq. feet (Ha!) and saying I finished something. 
Really the boxes distract me from the real goodbyes. Goodbye to the people, the lessons God has taught, the society I have been honored to be accepted into, the doctors who have supported Amelia, the teachers who have coached our kids, the church we grew with.

But I'm reminded by watching my kids who are still living right here, right now with all their energy that this next few weeks is a part of the process.  And the process is just as lovely as the goal.

Waves can be the most fun you'll ever have!
The crashing unknown 
is exhilarating.

Savoring the journey

The hike up the formidable staircase, is just as much fun as arriving.

The mysterious monster that just might bite, is the story we tell our friends.

Belief only during the calm, belies my lack of knowledge of the deep.

I either need to get this tired, or become this trusting

Resting this deeply only follows a knowledge of the one who holds me.


A Flier, and a Fear

Life has a way of imitating life. On a recent family adventure I opted in though I had said I never would and suspended hundreds of feet in the air my fears were pretty plain to all. Grey, on the other hand...Indomitable and extreme athlete in all arenas already at age 1.5 rejoiced. I am sure he believed that he had willed us to our present height by his own desire. As soon as the flier (the highest in the world) came into view, still several blocks away, he began begging in languages none of us speak, but all of us understand that he wanted it, and badly. Gratified by our willing obedience we relented and put ourselves into the hands of technology and God, and climbed the skies.
 Myself, feeling quite human, could not resist the urge to ponder the thrilling principles of Gravity and so I clung to the bench in the middle, knowing that leaning out over the glass walls could speed those timeless principles of falling, if only slightly. But Grey, true to his word (loosely translated) adored everything, even the rubber seal around those glass walls was inspected and pulled away by him.
The ocean he squealed about, the cars he begged to hold, the sky itself he gloried in even as more and more of it separated us from the earth he prostrates himself upon many times a day.  Trying to get closer to the drama and thrill of the heights he laid down and scooted himself into the wall of glass, so no part of him was on the opaque portion of the floor; that portion that was so dear to my sanity. 

I and my doctrine of Gravity sat in the middle or squatted (we learn this in Asia or die of shame) with an outstretched hand clinging to his shirt. Silly, but every fiber of my being told me I had to, my grasp might be his only salvation. I clung. Thanks to those engineers and maintenance staff oiling the cogs and replacing the screws, Gravity never intervened and we survived. As we again stepped on to the beautiful, but admittedly less grandiose tourist scenes like Popeyes, Subway and McDonalds, I breathed and gave myself a 5 for participation.

And then my mind, able now to function, thought of the Flier that is life with teenagers. Lofty conversations, grandiose ideas, amazing potential, near falling from great heights and oh the heights! While we pray they can defy gravity, beg that the earth remain stable and for the cogs in the wheel to remain true.  And often, I sit in the middle, fear of what might be and grasp at their shirt tails, thinking my hand might be the only one to catch them when it all implodes. And confident my hand can keep them. 

Hmmm... but underneath I want the faith to let go, stand up against that glass wall with them, and peer at the majesty, Remark on the beauty and revel in the experience of defying gravity. Grey's right, The sky is even more amazing from these reckless heights, I just need the heart to savor it.  And you know, those two teenagers, and one who thinks he is, are pretty fun when I stop clinging and let them walk upright.


A child who's lost her faith

I always search the ground for those things that will make me stumble, the hand never caught me
I never look at the sky in the swing, for the one time I did the arms did not comfort.
I never ask for food, I anticipate with fear that you will say no to my complaint of hunger, my newborn cries shushed instead of fed.
I cannot trust you when you help with home work, I taught myself how to talk, how to walk, how to were not there. I'm not sure you understand 2+2.
I am in constant fear of falling off a chair, one foot always on the ground, my only attachment was a string tied around my leg and knotted to the crib.
I sleep with eyes open, the dark has not been peppered with gentle late-night kisses, and one more tucking-in.
I trip, because concerned about behind me, I look over my shoulder constantly. You have not always had my back.
I cannot listen to the words you read, so much of the rest of this might fade away, I hold on with clenched fists to the moments, I miss the story.
I weep at the sight of a doctor, I faced so many all alone.
I speak of friends and their jibes and habits with obsession. Someday I will be like them, carefree.
I panic when you walk away, for five long years they walked away and never came back.
I play, but frantically, as if it's the thing I must do, the way back to joy.

I read the book, There are no Children Here by Alex Kotlowitz, a classic social study on American inner-city growing up and I've spent hours in orphanages, numbed to the fact that the children are primarily, profoundly silent. But my son asked after returning to Amelia's orphanage one summer, why the room full of 3-5 year old boys and girls couldn't speak and I had to say, I guess they have no one to teach them to talk and play and run and smile. Who knew it had to be taught?

As we try to regrow childlike trust in life, and see this modeled in Grey's wild, exuberant play, I find myself frustrated, wondering how long it takes to get back a childhood? 
Amelia balancing with friends, Eden and Gabe


I am Boy

My sister likes pretty dresses and fluffy flowers and bright candy. That's nice...
But I love digging deep into the earth with my toe and feeling the rough dirt clinging to my toes,
The zmmmmzmmmmm music of weed eaters, and sawing, and drilling,
The schschsch flash of the street cleaners brush left too low and sparking as it passes,
The arf arf of the dog whose owner can't get him to stand still,
The hum and majesty buildings at the wharf sliding along streets of metal,
And the clang, bang, crash of the metal crate as it dangles in the air, a little toy box and crashes into place with a thousand others,
The puff of hot coming out of large, loud trucks as they whir by,
And the brbrbrbrbrbr of the motorcycles whizzing through the lanes.
I love
The tickle of a dozen ants as I squish them in my hands,
The slime of lotion all over my tummy,
The goo of yogurt as it drips down my chin,
The Ssss Sssss of the sidewalk sweeper.
The taste of insect repellent, fake leather, vitamin capsules and foam,
The crane and excavator and buildings being born and buildings being torn.
It's so fun to see
The shock on mom's face as I chuck a large book at her her, and hear
The roars of laughter when I wipe my food on the wall.
The shout of surprise when I scale new heights, or burrow into new holes.
I live for
The feel of almost-dying when I climb up on the shoe cabinet to jump into the couch,
The thrill of the fall when I dive off the back of the chair,
And even the ouch of pain when my head hits harder than I intended,
The way every different object falls so differently when thrown off the eleventh floor
And the way my sister objects when she has to go retrieve her socks or shoes...again.
The echo of my loudness as it catapults around the room,
And the people who come running to see what all the ruckus is.
You may call me crazy, wild, hyper, urban, gross, in-poor-taste or dirty.
But mostly I am Boy.

Inspired by Grey and recently watched documentary, Raising Cain


Cooking Wherever

I was born for cooking with internet. I've long ago dumped recipe books as no sooner do I find a beautiful recipe than I also discover that I do not have, do not know the name in the local language, or do not want to go through the trouble to find one of the main ingredients.  Don't get me wrong, I've never gone completely local and have trekked to find butter or cream or local honey on occasion, but really I am perfectly happy with how I can cook with a web device in my hands. Search millet, goat cheese, raisins, pork and I'm sure to find a recipe that calls for all 4 and claims to be gourmet (yeah, my kids never buy that, but...).  Search for Amaranth flour, cocoa, coconut, vanilla and Iwith a 'm sure to find an amazing, healthy breakfast bar.
And now with my husband on this radical diet, completely avoiding sugars and most complex carbs I can still search the limited ingredients available: goat cheese, chicken, spinach, garlic, quinoa, lemon and be sure someone out there has also been dieting and finding goat cheese for an unheard of 2 dollars a roll and fixating a bit...and blogging about it.
In the wake of my daughter becoming a teenager and now living with two of them, as well as a tween, an 8 yr. old and a 1 yr. old I was thinking about the mixture of ways family is made, and the personalities that are dumped together and expected to survive--and even to sharpen each other and realized family recipes are for the birds. I'm actually not sure if the internet helps either. I haven't searched for 1 fastidious 14 year old with a desire to succeed that dogs him constantly; 1 13 yr old book worm who loves doing her nails, eating lemons and (who knew) playing soccer in the mud; 1 extremely energetic 10 yr old who loves guns, speed, friends, and playing badminton, biking, hide and seek, or swimming especially when the sun has already gone down; 1 8 yr old from China who loves pretty clothes, pretty shoes, pretty hair, pretty bracelets, pretty cakes, friends, school, and making sure she knows where mom is all the time; and 1 1 yr old who has already shorted our house when he caused an electric fire, jumped out of his crib, summersaulted into his crib, fell 4 feet to his head trying to keep up with sister on the playground,  runs everywhere and will gnaw on a piece of celery for an hour.  But I'm pretty sure I wouldn't find that exact mix and I'd be stuck trying to figure out how to parent these kids on another's contagiously emphatic success plan.
And so I try not to search for plans, and instead pray, hope, laugh, and beg and know that today is the best day I have with these amazing souls and tomorrow they will be different, with different wants, needs, longings, hurts and victories. And today pray that the hope will someday be realized. Even better than a good recipe, I hope for adults that stand tall in the confidence of who they are, what they believe and where they are headed. Someday.