Archive - June 2016

» Until Joshua has a family
» Charleston: 3-Day Family Vacation
» Finish What You Start (My Seminary Journey)
» Look Up



Earlier this year, I started working full-time with One Orphan and more recently, decided to go back to school to complete my masters degree. Because I work remotely from my home office, aka Starbucks, Dunkin’ and the public library… I have been looking for the perfect stylish bag to carry my laptop, iPad, Nalgene and everything else I need for a full work day. My research led me to GRACESHIP.



GRACESHIP bags are Vegan Certified by PETA and Fair Trade Certified by the Fair Trade Federation. They are also certified by the Women’s Business & Enterprise National Council where at least 51% of the company is owned, operated and controlled by women. (whoop!)

GRACESHIP offers various models but I was drawn to the New York Laptop Bag. I love the simplicity and clean lines. My days are no-fuss, so my bag needed to reflect that as well.

The video above says it all but just in case, its features include:

  • Adjustable and removable crossbody shoulder strap
  • Cushioned computer compartment protects laptop or tablet up to 15.6”
  • Sleek magnetic snap closure to secure your computer
  • Interior charger pocket that zips
  • Cell phone pocket
  • Multiple business card pockets
  • Two pen holders
  • Convenient key ring
  • Pouch for papers
  • Soft chocolate colored lining
  • Gold hardware made from the highest of quality

HANDLE SIZE: Double handles with 11.5” drop
DIMENSIONS: 14.25″ W x 12″ H x 6″ D
WEIGHT: 3.0 lbs


At first, I wasn’t sure about a high-end vegan leather bag… After using this bag for about four weeks now it has softened just as real leather would. It is durable, and believe me I’ve moved enough to put it to the test. I’ve also received several compliments on it as others have observed me pulling everything but the kitchen sink out of this versatile bag.

Buy GRACESHIP on Amazon

Disclaimer: The folks at GRACESHIP kindly provided a bag for this review. As always, the opinions are my own.

» Until Joshua has a family

I’ve advocated for many children over the years. And I continue to do so, both professionally with One Orphan and as part of my normal life. It’s become as natural as breathing. There are so many kids that have woven themselves into my heart. I desperately want a family to step forward for them. There is no plan B for the kids I’m sharing about. It’s a family, or life in an orphanage.

So here’s Joshua. The child I can’t shake. The child that keeps me awake at night. He’s not my son, but I’m certain I’m supposed to introduce him to his parents. In fact, there is a team with him THIS WEEK. I just received a picture of him and there are updates coming. Will you step forward with me today? Will you share until every corner of FB has seen his face? Because his parents are out there, they just haven’t seen him yet.



Meet 3 year old Joshua. For reasons you can understand, our daughter has a similar condition, this guy is pretty special to me.

Joshua is a sweet and quiet boy. His caretaker reports that he loves to cuddle and play. Joshua was born with binocular corneal leucoma (whitening of corneas), which has caused him to lose sight in both of his eyes; however, because the reason for his leucoma is unknown, it is also unknown until he is further evaluated by doctors if his condition can be treated to some level. At one and a half, he could crawl, respond when others asked for him to share his toys, and look for sources of sound. He is very sensitive to sounds and knows how to locate where sounds are coming from.

He is designated by the CCCWA as a special focus file and is from one of our agency’s orphanage partnerships. His file is now a shared file. A family at any stage of the process is eligible to review this file.

A grant is available to the family pursuing Joshua’s adoption. Email to learn more.

» Charleston: 3-Day Family Vacation

We were so eager to get our Summer started that we skipped the last week of school and headed straight down to Charleston. Our kids are in 1st and 2nd grade so we felt great about skipping the movie marathons and parties that make up the last four days of school. Things will change as they get older so we’ll take the chance to play hooky now!

Charleston is an 8.5 hour drive from the Nashville area. It seems that all ocean-front destinations are no less than an 8-hour drive so we’ve accepted the distance and loaded up on movies and snacks for the kids on many occasions. Additionally, Charleston is so much more than a beach destination. The Holy City is full of history, amazing food and even a little adventure.

Day 1, Afternoon

Francis Marion Hotel

We chose to stay at the elegant Francis Marion Hotel. The location, on King and directly across from the Spoleto Festival, absolutely cannot be beat. The Waterfront and Battery, Rainbow Row, the South Carolina Aquarium and street after street of delicious eateries are walkable from the doors of the Francis Marion.

We love the Francis Marion because they have chosen to preserve the era in which the hotel was built. The grand lobby boasts chandeliers and soaring ceilings. When you walk into the Francis Marion you walk back in time. The Ballrooms are just as grand and perfect for the many weddings that take place there each year.

The guest rooms also reflect the era in which the Francis Marion was built. Blue and Gold furnishings and paint colors make the rooms feel rich and inviting. It just feels like Charleston. And that is exactly what you want to feel when visiting a city full of history and southern charm. A stay at the Francis Marion completes the Charleston experience.

Despite the fancy environment, the hotel is super family friendly. In addition, the staff was helpful and patient when asking about local attractions.

Tip for Families: Be sure to ask for the kids pack when you check in! All junior guests receive a draw string backpack with a few treasures (ours included some Charleston Chew Candy!) inside.

You can see special offers here. Currently, The Francis Marion has a great Family Adventure Package worth checking out that includes many of the places covered in this post.

Day 1, Evening

Wild Blue Ropes

We are always looking for adventure while on vacation. Especially adventures that will empower our kids to overcome their fears and get some exercise while they’re at it. Wild Blue Ropes definitely met and exceeded our expectations. Wild features 70+ challenges that put you a soaring 35 feet in the air.

And they don’t exclude anyone. While we were there climbing with our kids and nieces (ages 4-9) we noticed that kids of all abilities were celebrated and encouraged on the course. Our daughter, who is blind, rocked the course and was met with high-fives when she landed on the ground. We watched a boy diagnosed with CP gather his courage and exceed everyone’s expectations. We’ve also heard many testimonies of how beneficial the course is for children diagnosed with sensory processing disorder or autism. What makes this possible is not just the tenacity of our children, but the encouragement of an amazing set of owners and staff.

They truly celebrate all abilities and encourage kids and adults to push and exceed their limits. And don’t start thinking this course is for kids… it’s a challenge for even the most fit adults. There is something for everyone at Wild Blue Ropes.

If you’re in the Charleston or Folly Beach area Wild Blue Ropes is a must for a warm Summer evening adventure.

Boxcar Betty’s

This place is a must if you love fried chicken! Boxcar Betty’s received recognition for Best of Charleston’s best fried chicken for the second year in a row.

Day 2, Morning

Swamp Fox Restaurant and Bar

We started our day with the breakfast buffet at Swamp Fox Restaurant, located inside The Francis Marion Hotel. The buffet was plentiful and included some fun extras like fruit smoothies.  We did not eat dinner at Swamp Fox but we definitely stole a glance as we departed the Francis Marion that evening. Delicious Southern fare was gracing every table.

The Swamp Fox Restaurant and Bar, named for Revolutionary War hero, General Francis Marion, features classic Southern cuisine for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Executive Chef Simon Andrews and Restaurant Chef Phil Gaulin create regional specialties that emphasize farm to table practices using locally grown fruits and vegetables with respect to the traditional beloved flavors and techniques of the Old South.

After breakfast we took advantage of the King Street location, one of The Francis Marion’s biggest perks, and hit the unique shops that line every inch of King Street. From the Savannah Bee Company to King Street Cookies you’ll find an expertly curated shopping experience brimming with Southern charm.

  • Glazed on King St.

Day 2, Afternoon

South Carolina Aquarium

This is our second visit to the South Carolina Aquarium. We love that there is something new to see each time we visit. The highlight of this visit was the new Shark Shallows exhibit. The kids loved reaching into the tank to “pet” the sharks. Yes, you read that right… you get to pet the sharks.

This aquarium is one of our favorites because it’s not overwhelming. The sections are nicely divided and there are areas designated for imaginative play. Overall, it’s one of the more interactive aquariums we’ve visited. And the view of the Charleston harbor cannot be beat. In true Charleston fashion there are great balcony areas to relax and take in the coastal scenes.

Tip for Families: Let your kids bring recyclable items to trade for cool shells at the Trading Post.

Day 2, Evening

Downtown – Progressive Dinner

This is the one night Calvin and I got a date night in. We made reservations at Coast Bar and Grill and planned to eat a big seafood dinner. However, when we arrived we realized they had happy hour pricing for oysters, peel and eat shrimp and a few other items. At that point we decided we would rather eat a little at many places than a lot at just one. We enjoyed perfect oysters and shrimp in a beautiful setting at Coast and promptly took a short walk to CO (Banh Mi & Noodles Bar) to enjoy something completely different. Noodles.

  • CO
  • Coast Bar and Grill
  • King St. Cookies

We took advantage of happy hour pricing once again and ordered three things to share. We had big plans to hit at least one more restaurant but were too full and had to settle for milk and cookies at King Street Cookie Company.

Day 3, Morning

Folly Beach

You can’t visit Charleston without hitting the beach. So we did just that! Our preferred Charleston beach is Folly Beach due to the laid-back local flavor. Make sure to visit Taco Boy for lunch and rent a couple of bikes to cruise around the Island.

And When you’ve done all of that, hit the pier with an ice cream cone and watch the locals fish. You might even spy the big catch of the day!

Day 3, Afternoon

The Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry

We visited this spot for the first time last year and the kids are still at an age where they all enjoy it. The museum was also very aware and accommodating of children with special needs. You can read the full review here.



Charleston is like coming home. You can wear flip flops to a fancy restaurant and sip cold drinks on rooftops that don’t extend higher than the church steeples. Vacation is really vacation in this humid, slow-paced, Southern city by the ocean.

Disclaimer: The folks at Francis Marion Hotel, South Carolina Aquarium, and Wild Blue Ropes kindly accommodated us for this review. As always, the opinions are my own.

» Finish What You Start (My Seminary Journey)

Photo: Elliott and I at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary campus, November 2007

I have a funny story for you. It may or may not be known that after receiving my Bachelors in Elementary Education from Clemson University I headed down to New Orleans to pursue a Master’s degree in Missiology. Calvin moved there shortly after (because he loved me) and moved into an apartment about 20 minutes from where I was attending school and living. Things were looking pretty great and we were looking forward to engagement, marriage and on-campus (cheap) married housing.

The weather had other plans. Hurricane Katrina swept through just weeks later and Calvin and I found ourselves displaced. We both lived and worked in Charleston, SC for a year, got married, and headed back to Lousiana as soon as the seminary re-opened. Six months after our wedding day we found out we were expecting a little addition. We watched in awe as a 6-week-old little heartbeat showed up on the ultrasound. And then I threw up. A lot. I wasn’t the best pregnant person and a master’s program on top of that was even worse. I was also working. We look back and laugh right? There were also some difficult things and loss that happened with my pregnancies, something I’ve written about here to encourage anyone who has a similar story.

New Orleans City Park, November 2008

New Orleans City Park, November 2008

I pressed on and was blessed to have another pregnant friend in the same master’s program. Our baby boys were born within weeks of each other and we scheduled our classes around each other in order to care for the babies. Not paying for a baby-sitter was amazing, but supporting each other was even better. Once that situation ran its course another sweet friend stepped in.

Preparing to evacuate New Orleans due to Hurricane Gustav

Preparing to evacuate New Orleans due to Hurricane Gustav, September 2008 (that’s me sitting in the middle)

On Elliott’s first birthday, and one semester away from graduation we found out we were expecting yet another little one. Miss Charlotte. And she… love her to pieces… made me even sicker than Elliott had. I would later find out that there is an actual diagnosis for this level of pregnancy sickness. I reduced my class load a bit but continued toward the finish line. Let me also add that during this pregnancy we were displaced from our home again, with a one year old, when Hurricane Gustav came through. It was only for a few weeks. But those few weeks were spent living on a farm of a ministry friend and in a church. This would be the second time we lived in a church. The first time was as newly weds when trying to get back to New Orleans. You can read more on that fun here.

Fall Festival at Edgewater Baptist Church, October 2008

Fall Festival at Edgewater Baptist Church, October 2008

By the time I finished my program classes we were pretty much done with New Orleans. We loved it there… but we were done with hurricanes. It was time to move on. I was pregnant, sick and it was Summer in New Orleans. I was really just over. it. Calvin had a job offer in Nashville and I couldn’t get there soon enough. I hugged my friends, who truly are embedded in my heart till this day, and hauled butt to Nashville in our little U-haul. I didn’t even apply for graduation or take steps to actually confirm my degree. I had barely anything left to do. And I didn’t do it. My excuse? I was over. it. I was hot. I was pregnant. I couldn’t stop puking.

Valid things… but really y’all. I should have done the graduation thing.

First Christmas in Nashville, December 2008

First Christmas in Nashville, December 2008

Six Years Later. I’m tired of saying… well I finished but I didn’t. I didn’t apply for graduation. Yes, I made straight A’s. Yes, I actually enjoy school and want to pursue an even higher level of education… but no I didn’t actually finish.

A few months ago I pulled my paperwork out of a drawer and decided to apply for graduation. To walk, to do the whole gown thing. I thought it would be cool for the kids to see me finally graduate with my Master’s degree. I called the school and got things rolling. The office was encouraging, oh it looks like you’re good! We just need you to reapply and get back in the system. So I did all the things that felt very foreign and was officially re-accepted into New Orleans Baptist Theological.

Then my academic advisor called.

The degree program I was in had changed, there were now additional course requirements. And because it had been SIX YEARS since I was a student there, one who didn’t apply for graduation, I was going to have to do some work.

I almost didn’t y’all. In fact, I stewed for a whole week thinking… I just can’t do this. Four kids, full-time job, full-time house and a husband.

But then I remembered something my mom always said. Probably one of the greatest values instilled in me as a child.

Work hard. And finish what you start. 

Pretty simple right? But not really. If you believe that statement you’re going to have to finish some things you don’t want to. You’re going to have to do extra sometimes. Like taking extra classes to finish a Master’s you should have finished six years ago. 

So with my mom’s words I enrolled in the fast track classes and started writing. Writing until my eyes hurt and reading until I really felt like I could solve the World’s problems.

I’m going to finish. And in December I’m going to take the walk I should have taken six years ago. And my kids are going to watch and I’m going to hug them and say I did this to show you how to finish what you start. I’m hopeful that some dramatic music might coincidentally play while I say this.. so my life will look like my own version of Gilmore Girls…

So, What do you need to finish?


» Look Up

This is a devotional I shared at Together in the Trenches Retreat. I thought there might be someone reading today that needs these words as well.

I’m a mom. A mom who constantly questions whether I’m getting anything right. I’m scared, confused and worn out right along with everyone else. Isn’t it funny how God uses us despite our short-coming and fears?

I hope these words of encouragement and pieces of God’s word bring you some rest today.

Mothering children who have experienced trauma and pain in the early stages of life is difficult, to say the least. It’s downright lonely and crippling at times. You find yourself in a rotating pattern of drowning and clawing back up to the surface for a breath of air. The very child who brings you joy also leaves you speechless and empty.

The very chaotic, unpredictable nature of trauma has claimed your household and left you in shambles.

You’re left there, sitting in the wreckage, wondering if there is an “up” from here. You’ve heard that once you hit rock bottom there’s nowhere to go but up. That’s all well and good, you think, but it seems you’re spending most of your days at the bottom lately and the light at the top is slowly fading.

Mom in trenches; the darkness isn’t closing in yet. The light isn’t fading. You’re just so very tired and worn thin from endless days spent clutching The Connected Child in your left hand and guiding your child back to you with your right. Here’s a bit of truth to cling to, when God allows you to be emptied He doesn’t plan to leave you that way. Look up, He’s there.

Don’t forget, you are fully human, yet striving to do divine work. Redemption is costly, redemption is painful. And in your beautiful surrender to obedience you’ve accepted a task that you cannot do alone.

We see so many instances of God standing with his people in scripture:

2 Timothy 4:17 But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.

Isaiah 41:10 fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Exodus 15:2 The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.

Joshua 1:9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.

Deuteronomy 31:6 Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.

John 16:33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

The last verse, John 16:33 has become my heart verse in the past year. Reading those verses in succession gives me great courage and hope… but knowing that Jesus has already won every battle I’ll ever facethat gives me strength for the day. Jesus you’ve got this, take my life in your hands. You said it Jesus, you have overcome.

If you can’t find words to pray, know that it’s enough to say, Jesus you’ve got this, I’m yours. My kids are yours.

Mom in the trenches; you are a warrior. And warriors don’t fight alone. We wake, we rise, we swipe on war paint, we hand it to Jesus and we claim our tribe.

Every day provides a new opportunity to fight for the family you courageously love.

Give it to Jesus mamma, he’s already won.

All Content © Erica Ho, Goodbye Normal