Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Get on your beam

I remember sitting on the couch a several years ago watching this video by Francis Chan (It's only 3 minutes, you really should watch!) In summary, he challenged us that life is like a balance beam. A lot of us just lay down and cling to our beam out of fear and desire for safety instead of standing up and doing our routine, even though its risky, and you might fall, but isn't that better than laying down and clinging to your beam and jumping off at the end of your life saying "How was that God?" Instead, living a life of risk for God and living a story that is contrary to what the world would say is comfortable and good.  This is a video that has challenged John and I and stretched us in ways. It has challenged us to take a dream or a crazy ideas of what our family could look like and attempt to make it a reality.

A few weeks ago we were on the way home from a gymnastics meet with our daughter. I asked her how she is able to focus in a meet. Meets are loud. People are cheering, floor routine music is playing for the other gymnasts on the floor,  people are talking, kids are shouting. Then, there's my girl on the beam, laser focused on every aspect of her routine, trying to execute it with precision. I asked her on the way home, 'how can you focus with all that going on? You're even hearing the same music you have learned all the moves to for floor and yet you're on the beam. You don't get the routines mixed up and you don't look over at whats going on when people shout and cheer. How do you do that?' She said something to me that really has made me think. She said "Mom, I just pretend like its quiet. I pretend like I am in a room with my coach and I repeat everything in my head that my coach says to me in practice. So all I hear is her voice telling me what to do for the next move". (She proceeded to go through the script she hears in her head, 'approach, mount, split, present, arabesque, handstand, tighten it up, keep it vertical reese, down, leap, turn, look forward', and so on).  I was shocked at her answer.
I realized she is learning a skill and a self control mechanism that I need more of. I wish I could do a better job at quieting the noise around me, the shouts that the world throws out of "get more, you're not enough, compare, someone else is doing it better" and just quiet it all and just listen for God's voice telling me who I am and what to do next. If I just pretended like it was only me and Him, no audience around waiting for me to fall or seeing if I do it flawlessly.
Such a beautiful picture of a life that I want to live, not a safe life, but a life surrendered, moving in the presence of Him, not focused or caring of the onlookers approval, just hearing His voice tell me the next step to take. What if our lives could be a beautiful routine? One that shocks and twists and turns, one of falls and getting back up, one of huge leaps and amazing feats. It requires some letting go, some risk, and a lot of listening to our Coach for the next move, challenging us on to the next step. That is what I want more of.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Who needs Christmas Ideas?

At Christmas, I love to give meaningful gifts! Things with a story that either point to something I am praying for that person or a story of where that gift has come from. I did a list last year, so I decided to compile a list again of more of my favorites and pass along to you in case you are stumped with what to get someone! (Links are embedded in each gift!)

For the child 3-9 (sorry I don't have teens yet so can't help ya there!)
1. Jesus storybook Bible- This has been a great launching pad for our younger kids to get them excited about the Bible and it totally ties together the Bible in an amazing way pointing each story back to a foreshadowing of Jesus. Our kids (John especially :) love it!
2. Ronnie Wilson's gift- I mentioned this in my last Christmas post. But its too got not to share again. A great story about what it looks like to overflow with gratitude and love the least of these.
3. It will be okay: trusting God through fear and change- this book has been great for our worrier child and our child who needs to know God works all things for good, even messy things. This book is a challenging and fun story of pointing little ones to trust in God!
4. Light em up- not a christmas gift per se but a Christmas month of activities to show the true joy of christmas is in giving not having! We have done it for 3 years and its now something the kids long to do year round to love others well with fun and surprise!
5. Chronicles of Narnia series- we loved reading this with our two oldest. At the end of each chapter they couldn't wait for more!
6. ABC scripture cards- found at your local life way or online at a few boutiques. LOVE these in our home to remind us to learn scripture.
7. A Winshape summer camp scholarship- you can register now for rising second graders and up for an amazing Christ focused and FUN summer experience
8. Conversation cards- we love pulling these out at dinner, we have the faith edition too. Such a great time to be intentional around the dinner table.
9. Older kid books- Reese and I have loved reading the One and only Ivan and Wonder together. Wonder especially is great conversation topics for including the outcast and the importance of encouraging people just how they are uniquely made. 

For the Mom who needs encouragement or the woman who is searching
1. The Best yes: Making wise decisions in the midst of endless demands- a reminder it is ok to say no to good things when we have a better yes we need to protect. 
2. Desperate- Hope for the mom who needs to breathe- enough said.
3. Restless and 'Anything' by Jennie Allen- these books were game changers for me this year.
3. Parenting books I love: Give them Grace (about to re-read its so good), Parenting the wholehearted Child, In this house we will giggle, Don't make me count to 3.

For the woman who loves cute things :)
1. Noonday collection- LOVE IT. Their jewelry, bags and scarves are all made by women in 3rd world countries giving them a sustainable choice for income for their family,
2. Altar'd state- loving this store that is giving back to non profits! Super cute stuff too!
3. Aloe tree- kids clothes that are fair trade and profits go to fight child trafficking. Double score!

For the gifts that may or may not be meaningful but you'll still LOVE them
1. Clarisonic- I got one in August after my cousin told me about it. Amazing. Love the way my skin feels after using it! 
2. Buckle Lounge Sweats- sorry john. This is what I live in at home. They come in about a zillion fun colors and are SO comfy!
3. Toms wedges- I have no heels because I choose comfort over fashion but I love these and can walk in them!
4. Pampered Chef Griddle- I use the mess out of this thing for anything from pancakes to chicken. Best griddle-like pan I can find!

For the music lover
2. Pentatonix Christmas album- both of which are currently on repeat at my house
3. Lauren Daigle- such gospel centered words and her voice is amazing! And you can send an iTunes gift that day online if you are late with a gift! Score!

For the couple who needs to connect
1. You and Me forever- amazing amazing book about the bigger purposes our marriage exist for.
2. Love and War- such a good book about how we are to live out our marriage in a war zone trying to tear it apart.
3. A Winshape marriage retreat- we have loved our time at Winshape. There is no better thing than to get away and focus on reconnecting, learning and growing together. 
4. Date night- just do it, weekly if possible :)

For the giver
1. Compassion child- sponsor a child so they can get an education and stay with their families and break the cycle of poverty!
2. Samaritans purse catalog- our kids love choosing goats and chickens out of this thing every year. Such a great way to focus on the importance of loving others and meeting needs.
3. Care for Aids- you can join us in raising money for year two of our center here, providing a 9 month program for 80-90 families experiencing AIDS and giving them the spiritual, health, economic and social counseling they need to live long, healthy lives and preventing orphans! Just put Sinai center in memo if you would like it to go to our specific center!
4. Host a shoe cutting party! What better way as a family to get Christmas started on the right foot than to sit around together and cut fabric that will employ a Ugandan tailor to make shoes for children that are unable to walk due to a parasite called a jigger burrowing in their feet. Check it out!

Hope that helps and happy shopping! Merry Christmas almost! :)

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Monday, November 17, 2014

Ramblings on the messy side of Gratitude

So this month as a family we are focusing our conversations around gratitude. We have all memorized "In this house we will giggle"'s cute, catchy definitions and verses about it. But as I "teach" my kids about gratitude, the more I really dig in, I realize gratitude is getting messier as I grow deeper in my faith. We made a gratitude tree and each night we clip a clothespin on it with something we are thankful for. There is a lot in the surface of my life I am grateful for: our church, my husband's job, 4 amazing kids, a growing and caring marriage, family close by, etc. But the more I really think about the moments in my life where it was the most impactful and thus I am the most grateful, I realize those moments at the time were the deepest valleys, the heaviest weights, the sharpest of pains. God is taking me to a place in my walk with him that I am most thankful for my moments of suffering. It wasn't something that could've been muttered in the moment, in the moment, on the contrary, I was shouting at him, clawing to get out of the pit, or empty and angry. But as he brings me out of different challenges, I see looking back that in my suffering I am so near to him. In my hardest times I am clinging to him with desperation and dependency. I am drinking in the Word like it is my only water source. Then when life gets "easy" again, I tend to go on autopilot or coast through my relationship with him without recognizing that level of dependence still should exist.
I thought on my drive home last night, what were some of the moments I felt most alive with God and thus so grateful for, I came up with a tough list... clinging to the leg of my best friend of 10 years as he took his last breath, walking the streets of a country hostile to Christians and feeling the physical weight press on my chest for God's love for them, praying over my new child with my husband as she was just a shell of a girl overcome by trauma and grief, the impossible weeks that followed in a violent country where I was being tested from every direction, the days where my marks of motherhood were spit in my face, claw marks on my chest, and a child that ran from me. Those are the glory days of my faith. Not when I felt like I had it all together and health, wealth and happiness all lined up in a pretty package for me.
So as we clip our moments of gratitude on our tree I see it is not just me that is thankful for the messier things in life: my son has clipped on God cleaning out the yuck in his heart, our daughter that we are made creatively unique, our other daughter wrote her birth mother and that God gives us joy when we are sad. Our tree from the outside is not a pretty picture of words like money, health, and happiness; although we are deeply grateful for such things. Yet, I find myself increasingly more appreciative for the times where he strips me of "self strength" and I land in a place where nothing makes sense but him. I can taste him more in that place, I need to breathe him in there, and he shows up, maybe not in the way I was asking him to or how the world would think looks like an answer to prayer, but he is there. So this all leads to a shift in the outlook on my life. Instead of spending my days anxious over future suffering or avoiding it at all costs, I am finding a new level of trust and peace in what he has for me. As I wrote a letter to a friend who is struggling to belong, fighting identity in Christ, wrestling with the pain of her adoption, I thanked God for giving me a space to prepare myself. It will most likely be my daughter in that place, he could be preparing my heart to walk through this with my child. As John and I have walked several couples through affair and divorce, where I used to be overcome with anxiety hoping it doesn't happen to me, I have traded it for a quiet trust, a trust that knows my circumstance is not at the root of my joy, a Good God is. A God who works all things together for my good, even if that means suffering. It is a freeing place. And although I still selfishly desire an easy, comfortable life, I know deeper that may not be the way God wants to draw me to himself. I am reminded of sitting in a church in Kenya as a man stood up to say "I just need to thank God for AIDS, getting HIV was like gold to me, otherwise I would not know Jesus how I do now." This is the life I want. Grateful in ALL things. Having a new lens and a new perspective to see the pain and hardship we will walk through. So come what may, it is well. I believe He knows, I believe He is good... to me, I believe he works all things for my good and his glory.  Like the words of Mr. Beaver in The Lion, the Witch and the wardrobe, "Safe? said Mr. Beaver; "Don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the king I tell you."

I've been reading "Every bitter thing is sweet", she challenges a question to my heart, do I simply believe God is good, or do I believe he is Good..to me? Even in my suffering? 
post signatureWhere are you at in your gratitude journey with God? When have the deepest times in your walk been? How is the theme of gratitude shifting in your journey?

Monday, October 6, 2014

In This House We Will Giggle! A book I believe in!

I have two shelves of parenting books. I desire to seek out godly wisdom on this, my most important job and biggest legacy I leave on earth; our kids. So I have delved into some amazing parenting books and gleaned wisdom, changed my "techniques" and been challenged to pour into my kids grace and choice and wisdom.  But I could not be more excited for the newest parenting book to hit the shelves this morning than I am for
IN THIS HOUSE WE WILL GIGGLE!! Written by my dear friend Courtney DeFeo. I have been privileged to journey alongside Courtney over the last several years as she has been equipped and called to write this book. It has been a blessing to watch her pour her heart and soul into this offering because she is passionate to make an impact for Jesus in families around the world. 
I think a lot of Christian parenting books give great conceptual topics. I walk away with big takeaways, like give them more grace, use the Bible in discipline and encouragement, be consistent, help them learn how to think and make choices... But I usually put the book down with this huge concept that is tricky to apply in the day to day trenches of parenting. This book is the perfect blend of big takeaways yet also just practical day to day application, fun activities, memory tools, etc.  
This book covers 12 virtues (like humility, joy, generosity, patience, respect and more) and boils them down to a easy way to teach them to our kids and not just through a boring lecture on being more generous, but a kid-friendly definition, memory verse, and fun activities and study to do as a family around that virtue. I have read every page of the book and came away with a new excitement in my role as a mom, a new found urgency and importance to make this crucial learning fun and applicable to my kids, and an easy "attack plan" of how to do it! Do not miss this opportunity! Get a group of moms together and read it, go through each virtue monthly as a family, do it in your women's Bible study, or just read it through if you are feeling trapped in the mundane of motherhood and stuck in your current place of pouring these important virtues into your kids. 
John and I will be taking a virtue a month with the kids and having fun with it! I cannot wait to get started. Join me in this journey! Order NOW at amazon HERE
Lets love our kids by giving them a solid foundation to stand on and memories of a fun home they grew up in where it was a safe and happy place to learn about the life God made them for and how amazing it can be! So excited for you to get into the pages of this amazing book!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Dear John (a decade of love, struggle and triumph)

Dear John,
I decided to forgo a silly anniversary card that over-optimizes marriage or over simplifies all we have worked at and overcome and fails to mention all God has done between us. Plus, since you know me well, you know I am too wordy to fit what I want to say on a 5x7 card.
10 years, as of today, I have been officially married to you for a third of my life. When I look back at my 20 year old self, having graduated a month prior (by taking two 22 hour semesters to be able to graduate with you;), I thought I knew what marriage was and thought how much I loved you would carry us through any struggle, but I also had a few fears walking down that aisle of what the future would look like when we got to year 5, 7, 10, 25, 35. 
I remember sitting in a chair at Northpoint Community church, hearing marriage is not a contract but a covenant, not an "I'll serve you if you serve me" but being the actual tangible hands and words of Jesus to your spouse. I remember feeling the weight and privilege of what we were entering into. 
People say that when people as young as we were get married they don't know what they're getting into. I've heard people use this as a cop out of marriage 5, 10, 20 years later. We didn't know what we were doing. Obviously...no one does.  We sought counsel and made the wisest decision we could understanding the commitment as much as we were capable.  But, just as if you parent your first child at 22 or 32 or 42, you don't know what you're getting into, because you have never parented a child before. Same as walking down that aisle. Yes, we were so young. But we committed to our God, a choice, a vow and the unknown. We never knew what life would hold for us, but we committed to each other and a love and a God we knew was bigger than any circumstance we would face. 
10 years later, my wildest dreams have been imagined and I've also felt deeper pain than I ever imagined. That's just part of it when entering into life with another flawed human being. If you would have told me at age 20, walking down that aisle, that 10 short years later we would have 4 kids age 3-8, been through 6 moves, 3 churches, an international adoption, 5 international trips with our kids, a ministry partnership in Kenya, counseling, 2 restaurants, and a whole lot of ups and downs I would have laughed in your face! It has been quite the adventure and I cannot imagine what the next 10 holds. 
As we have watched marriages crumble around us, it has brought an ever-present reality to mind. We are not "immune" to struggle, separation, sin. Sure we have done our best to put protective boundaries in place, sought counsel when we have hit hard times, prioritized date nights, been in small groups, gotten away several times a year together without kids. Those have all been crucial in protecting and building upon our covenant. But Satan is still out for us. No amount of boundaries can protect us from that, only the strong power of Jesus. I was talking to Reese in the car a few days ago explaining what separation and divorce are. I told her about how God gives us guidelines and boundaries not to keep us confined, but to protect our hearts and protect us from the damaging consequences of sin. Same for marriage, he has made this beautiful union that can be an amazing, hard, beautiful adventure if we stay within the guidelines he has given us. Just like the CS Lewis illustration of the fish who always dreamed of living outside of the confines of water, until one day he lept out of the "cage" that had been holding him captive only to realize that pleasure was fleeting, and outside his home was only death. He was designed to be in the water, it is not a confine but a boundary to where he can live abundantly. When we step outside those confines, there is hurt, brokenness and sin. We will still sin and have hurt inside our marriage, but nothing like the brokenness that happens outside. So I explained to her, Daddy and I have agreed to choose God's way over our own, even when things get hard and messy. And this is why I try to instill in our kids a heart that loves God's word and way, and to grow their will that can make the right choice in the hardest of circumstance. I hope our home is a breeding ground of small choices will bear fruit into a person who commits to God's way when the storms come. Reese asked, "so why doesn't everyone else just decide to obey God instead of hurt their wife or husband and break that apart?". Self and sin and Satan's lies are a powerful deterrent from the choice we all make at the altar of our marriage. I pray you and I continue to arm ourselves to daily fight that battle.
John, it is so freeing to know your struggles, to know where you continually disappoint yourself and me, to know what makes you tick, to know what you're gifted at; and that you know me all the same. One of my fears in walking down that aisle was that the glitter would soon wear off our relationship and it would no longer be anything to look forward to, there would be nothing else to learn about each other.  What if I wasn't excited to see you come home anymore or get butterflies to see your name ringing on my phone?  I was afraid the excitement of dating would wear off and leave me with a boring relationship. That was one of my biggest fears, but where some of the glitter has faded, security, sacrificial love, transparency, vulnerability and fun has risen in a larger way. There is a safety that comes when you know someone so deeply and you are known deeply by them and accepted. There is a deepness in our bond of friendship that is so comforting.  That beats all the first date feelings to pieces. Because when we are holding hands as we watch a grandparent take their last breath, when we are up until 2 am with friends going through separation, or when our child comes home in tears over a lie they've told, we don't need the butterfly, fleeting flirtatious relationship, we need a rock and shield and a partner who knows you through and through and is ready to go into battle with you. And I am honored to be your battle partner.
I am so proud of the man you are becoming. A man who treats me with gentleness and tenderness, a man who loves our children well, a man who is concerned by those in need, a man who desires to love and know God more deeply, a man who conducts his business with integrity and care, a man who pours into others, a man who loves to give generously, who forgives abundantly, a man who loves to go to the broken places in the world, and a man who can serve well. Your humility is one of my favorite traits of yours. Never do you use your position to put someone down or sit on the sidelines and watch others do the hard work. You have a team mentality; if there is a problem what have we done to get it here? If there is success, you put it back on the team, not yourself. That is present in our family and your business and I think that is why you are successful at both. You lead with wisdom, kindness and a servant heart and thats why you are a leader so many want to follow, including me.
But even on the days when you are not so easy to love; when you're home late, when you don't give me the input I desire in communication, when you disengage or even watch golf on a sunday ;), even then I love you, I respect you, I choose you. In the midst of your faults, I see who you are becoming still and I want to love you into that man. You were created as a fun, wild, tender, courageous warrior and I have the privilege of being a part of your story and that is one of the greatest gifts to me outside of my salvation. 
So 10 years in, I am still here, not because you are worth it, but because He is, not because I deserve happiness, but because Jesus deserves my ultimate devotion and commitment. 10 years from now, Lord willing, I will still be here, loving you when you don't earn it and humbling myself when I mess up time and time again. You are mine and I am yours.
Happy 10 year anniversary my love,

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A letter to Maran on her 6th birthday

Six. Six years of growth. Each birthday brings a new year for us together. But your birthday is also a time for me to look back. I missed your first 4 birthdays. Your story had not intersected mine yet. I do not discount the joy, the hurt, the challenge, and the history you made in the 4 years before me. Those years are as important to me as the two we have had together. Your history is a part of who you are and I am grateful for those formative years that shaped you into the joy you have become. You are a light, a ball of energy and fun, you are excited at the smallest of things and love to tell about your day. You are a peacemaker, you look up to your sister, you are affectionate and silly. You know you have a voice and you love to use it!
For the years when I didn't have you but knew you would come, I prayed these things for you.
1. A joy unexplainable. One of your referral pictures we were given you looked like the shell of a girl that used to be. Lifeless, joyless, hopeless was the look on your face. From that day especially, I prayed for God to fill you with joy. Joy that is beyond explanation. All adoption starts in trauma, grief, loss. But Jesus brings hope, life, and joy abundant. So I prayed he would give you those things regardless of where your story started.
2. A heart grateful. I prayed your history would not make you angry. Some days it probably will. On the outside it may seem desirable to just be ordinary, to hide behind the curtain, to not stick out. But God has given you a story. I prayed one day you would come to be thankful for the story God has given you and embrace the fullness of what he intends for your good and his glory. I pray you are thankful to and for your first family, for all they have given to you and the ways they loved you. I pray you are grateful to a God who sees you, who longs to call you daughter, and to a God where you have always belonged, been accepted and desired.
3. A generous spirit. I prayed that as you transitioned to a new home, a new country, a new family, that you would always remember who you are, where you are from, and who God made you to be. I prayed that God would create in your spirit a generosity to see people in their hurt and brokenness and give of yourself to them. I prayed you would be extravagant with your love and sacrificial with your life for those who are lost, abandoned, and alone. I pray that you will always tap into God's love to pour out of and to live a life spent for others.
4. A knowledge of your acceptance. I prayed for this the day I saw your picture and I still do today. This is one place in your heart where you will be attacked. The enemy wants to tell you that you don't belong, you aren't fully loved, you aren't accepted for who you are, you are different and different is bad. These are lies that will fill your heart and mind one day and I pray you will cling to truth to remind yourself you are fiercely loved, deeply known and completely accepted. We are all different glimpses of the image of Jesus. He stretched his arms wide and gave up his life for you to know you are his daughter, fully loved and redeemed.

Our journey together has not always been easy. You challenge me to trust and lean fully into God in a way I have not before. I fail daily to love you the way you need to be loved. You are always so quick to forgive, to give grace, and to find joy. I realize God has answered many of my prayers already in you. He has used you to call me to Himself in a way I wouldn't have experienced before. I pray for wisdom so that I can continually point you to the healer, the provider and your perfect father. You are a light, you radiate joy that cannot be explained. You challenge me to not let little things stress me but to rather look to the simple things God has given and created and just enjoy, just live, just revel in all he has done. I am so thankful for you and you are a gift I do not deserve. I pray this year brings about a knowledge and dependence on Jesus you have yet experienced. I am so honored to be your mom. Happy Birthday and I love you Maran,
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Monday, August 25, 2014

Happy Birthday Levi!

You are 3 my sweet boy. I cannot believe it. It feels like just a short time ago someone passed a small, 13 pound, 13 month old boy into my arms.
You were scared and quiet and analyzing all of the situation. I would have never dreamed you would have turned into my silly boy, full of affection, spunk, and joy. Your tenacity for life is inspiring! Although you keep me on my toes, (because often disobedience is somewhat comical to you) you so frequently put a smile on my face. Somedays when I look into your dark eyes I wonder who you would have become if our paths have not intersected. But that wondering is then met with such gratitude that you are forever in our family. God is orchestrating an amazing story for your life and has such a purpose with your history and your future. We chose the name Levi because it means "joined" or "attached" in Hebrew. It has been such a beautiful picture of how you have been woven so intricately into our family. Moses was the English version of your given name and how appropriately it means "drawn up out of the water" symbolizing Moses' adoption into Pharaoh's family. Moses' mother had to make a hard choice to give up her son so that he would not be harmed. I wonder frequently about the choice your first mother had to make. I am sure she had the bravery of Moses' mom, and I hope she was thinking of all the great things God would do in and through you with her sacrifice of protection.
You are a treasure, an inexplicable joy. I pray this year you continue to have a heart molded by God into a tender boy who loves the Lord and loves others. I pray my shortcomings will only remind you of the one Perfect Father you have in heaven. The Father who longs to be so close to you, to bring glory and good from your pain, and adopt you at the highest price because of your extreme value to Him.
I am so privileged to be your mom and humbled daily of all the depravity the Lord reveals in me as I imperfectly steward your life for his glory. I will not know the best way to navigate your journey in our society as a man of color, but I pray for such wisdom in shaping you into a man of God first who loves others, respects, and cares for the broken. My baby boy, you are loved, accepted, and prayed over. I am totally smitten by you,
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Thursday, August 14, 2014

To Reese on her 8th Birthday...

Its hard to believe it's already been a year since sitting down and writing this post.  7 was a magical year of new maturity, conversations, closeness, and challenge. 2nd grade was a breeding ground for growth and social learnings. This year especially I would say was one of the most enjoyable to be your mom.  No longer do you need me to help you pick out clothes (when I try you make sure it is known you can do it on your own:), get you a snack, tie your shoes.  The physical demand of being a young child's mom is lessening as each year passes with you. Yet a new level to the emotional and deeper spiritual journey has begun.
This year your deepened in your faith. Last year began a big year of talking about what God is doing in your life, the brokenness of the world, the savior that came to rescue us, how God is uniquely calling us to run to the hurting and the hungry, the sick and the orphaned. I can say that Kenya changed you. It put a God sized desire in your heart to be with the broken. Ever since our adoption, but maybe even more so, that trip, you are keenly aware of others feelings and needs. God urges your heart to pray, you are emotionally tied to Africa already in a way my heart only had hints of as a girl. Your faith is becoming your own and it is a joy to watch that grow.
This year you really flourished at school and bonded with your teacher. In a public school, in a liberal city, it was not a question for us you would remain at your school indefinitely. You, little light, are someone God wants to use to point others to him, to surprise people with your kindness and different way of thinking, and to challenge people to look to him. All year long you would talk with your teacher about your faith in different ways. What you are praying for, what you saw God do in Kenya, how He is a huge part of your life. The last day of school your teacher pulled you out and had lunch with just you in your classroom to pour into your life just a little more on your way out, and she told you how much she noticed your light shining. She wrote you a note to encourage you to keep shining, keep praying, keep sharing to others about Him, keep loving others well. It was one of the best moments I have seen for you in school. It was such an affirmation that you are a little arrow, like Psalm 127 says, ready to launch out and pierce the enemy for His good. I am so proud to be your mom. Your boldness and big heart inspire me to live on purpose.
This year you have developed in gymnastics. Something you love so much and you feel God's blessings as you do what he has gifted you to do. You are developing a community of girls that is precious. To see you circle up at the end of practice and share prayer requests and pray with your coach is amazing. To watch as you learn what hard work, persistence, perseverance and even how prayer can impact your abilities and results. I watch as you encourage others when they are having trouble to get something and as you pray through and seek help when you struggle with something. I continually remind you to anchor your identity in Him, you are not a Gymnast, you are a daughter of God who he has blessed with an amazing talent in gymnastics. It is a platform, not an identity. And it has been an amazing learning and growth opportunity for your relationships and character.
This year you have grown as a Big sister. You have released a little bit of the pressure to perform that you often default to and are growing into your own on learning how to mess up gracefully, ask forgiveness, talk with me about how to pray for transformation and strength in the midst of sin. You know you are not responsible to be everyone's example. You are just a girl that will mess up and seek Jesus like anyone else. But yet you are deeply moved when you hurt your siblings. You feel deeply as you have shared in the grief of your sister's story. Life's struggles with siblings are pointing you to your perfect Father and I pray you can see beyond your imperfect mom to see Him more clearly.
I have messed up over and over again with you. The amount of times I've said I am sorry for my sin to you does not even cover the countless times I've missed that opportunity. This year, it will continue. But I ask with the boldness in James 1:5 for God to give me wisdom, and to give it in abundance, on how to be your mom and steward the life in you I have been given to hold loosely for Him. My prayer goes back to that little arrow in Psalm 127 that will be released over and over again into different situations to pierce with kindness and with truth places where it is missing. This year will bring new challenges at school, with friends and influences mounting and the struggle of identity and self esteem on the horizon. I pray you are anchored in the one who made you, just how he wanted you, with a part to play in His huge story. My prayers are too much to list for you for this year, but know you are fiercely loved, known deeply, accepted fully, and prayed over frequently! I am honored God chose me to be your mom!
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Monday, August 11, 2014

Oh Congo...

A few weeks ago I got to return to Congo to accompany a dear friend visiting her children she is in process of adopting. Due to the governmental halt on adoptions, she cannot bring them home, but wanted to meet the children she has been the parent of for a year now. I was honored to go alongside.
Heading to DR Congo this trip was completely different than the last. The last time I boarded that long flight I was filled with the nerves, excitement, fear and uncertainty of what was to come as we met our two treasures there. I spent 4 weeks in a convent turned hotel, staying put as much as possible while paperwork cleared, passports were printed, and we awaited the much coveted exit letter to leave the country.  The few times we did leave the convent, we were met with opposition in public, in one situation that only God orchestrated protection in because it went violent very quickly all around us. I had small hungry boys outside the 2 inch rolled down crack in my window making gestures of slicing my neck and reaching their small hands through the cracks trying to get in. Our driver was yelled at, hustled, and arrested and a stranger got in the driver seat of our car.  It is only through God's grace we made it out of there unscathed.
The month before this most recent trip to Congo a battle was raging in my mind. Fear vs. Trust in God's sovereignty, my mind trying to find the line between wisdom and recklessness, trying to figure out the vague boundary between not letting safety be an idol and using the wisdom God has given me. 
As we arrived in DRC that June 28 evening God gave me such a peace to be back in a country so sacred to our family. My fear was gone and my heart was flooded with love for a people and place so deeply interwoven into our home.  The next morning we woke up early to attend church with a friend. We wound down unpaved roads, through slum areas where people rode on bikes carrying chickens, motorcycles 3 men full, mothers walking their bundled up babies in the 78 degree weather.

Life in Congo is awe-inspiring. I saw a mother on the side of the road with her 4 children, younger than mine, trying to sell clothes and food to make an income for that day, men carrying 30-40 soda bottles on their head in hopes to sell, little girls carrying bundles of sticks tied around their head in fabric. I saw girls around the age of 5, 6, 7 on the streets alone caring for their younger siblings.  We made our way to the church and the sermon was on Ruth. Through our translator, I was moved to tears through the rich interpretation of Ruth's story.  Here was a pastor speaking to 150 Congolese people about leaving a life of safety, security and potentially trading that in for clinging to Jesus. Over 70% of people in Congo earn an average of 2-4$ a day. This pastor challenged these people not to turn away from Jesus because they are afraid he will ask them to give up something, but instead, to run to Jesus and cling to him no matter the costs. If it costs your job, your family, your financial security. Run to Jesus. Cling to Jesus the way Ruth clung to Naomi. He said sometimes this will mean we need to leave our familiar and venture out to the unfamiliar, serve the least of these, maybe even go to another country to take the good news of Christ.  Orpah made the safe choice, to leave Naomi and return to hopefully find a husband or prosperity without the 'burden' of her mother in law. However Ruth took a risk. He preached:
 Sometimes God calls us to do the uncomfortable, something that doesn't make sense, God pushes us out of our norm, out of our culture, and asks us to follow. Giving up control to our lives doesn't mean we lose freedom, we are set free. This takes humility, God raises up the humble. Ruth didn't ask questions or give conditions to her following. She merely said "Where you go, I will go, where you stay I will stay. Your people shall be my people and your God my God. Where you day I will die. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you." What a declaration of reckless faith. 
God used a Congolese pastor in the near slums of Kinshasa to remind me of how he has called me to live, how he called us to adopt, how he gives me far more than I ever "gave up" for him. The following week was a roller coaster of emotions in my heart, reflecting on meeting our kids almost 2 years ago now in this beautiful, tragic country of strength and struggle, hope and devastation. God blessed me in ways I cannot explain in words on a page of this trip. He poured healing and purpose into my heart, He laid out for me another step in my journey of what he has called me to in this amazing country. He put a new chapter in the story of our family and I am completely humbled he would use someone so small, messed up, selfish, and insignificant as me. I am also reminded of the beauty in the adventure of following God. If you would have told me how our story would have ended up 3.5 years ago when I filled out that application to adopt I would have laughed and thought, not me. 
God also allowed me in those 10 short days to enjoy a country in a way I couldn't when I was there before. Not only did I get to witness a new mom meeting on and loving on her two Congolese children and watch the bond of unconditional love begin, but I got a fresh look at my own story, a new heart for a country I had only 'wanted to get out of' the last time I was there. 

My challenge to you is to put your yes on the table. Put your "anything" out there for God to use. Pray to him, "God I will do anything you ask!" And see what he does when you surrender your everything. He will change how you spend your life, your money, your time. Holding our stuff close only keeps us trapped in the life of the predictable, the mundane. Live recklessly like Ruth, trust he is real and live like it. He sees us and he made us and he put you in the story he is writing for you. I guarantee he will move, he will call us out, he will use us, we will live in the freedom we were intended for. We, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,  to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:18-21
Thank you Jesus for giving me a small part in your huge story. May I steward it well,

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Monday, July 21, 2014

When grief rears its painfully beautiful head

The thing about grief is that in our brokenness Jesus is closer. That's the beauty in it. You never taste him so clearly as in the midst of grief. I think parenting a child who has been through trauma usually is what scares people away from adoption. What I'm learning from a book I've been reading is our western culture tries to avoid grief and suffering at all costs, not entering into situations that may bring about future grief or suffering. I'll admit this was one of my unknowns in adoption as well. But today reminded me that while grief is still ugly and painful, it brings about such beauty and glory too.
Grief seems to come in waves at our house. Today was the peak of one of those waves. John was working late so as any good mom was I loaded the kids in the car to head for the Chick-fil-A drive through. I had my iPhone on shuffle playing songs in the car. I had turned the volume down low to address my sweet two year old throwing books while in was driving. Unknown to me my phone shuffled to a song I played on repeat during crying spells in Congo. I rarely go to that playlist anymore. Sure enough something brought on a wave of memories and grief and wailing ensued from the backseat somewhere on the interstate. Usually these things happen at home and can be more easily with physical comfort and a sweet prayer time and talk. With hungry kids in the car it can be tough. So I finally made it to Chick-fil-A and pulled in a spot to get closer to my girl. I called her forward and hugged her and rubbed her back as she cried. I immediately prayed to myself something like "God. This is something I cannot handle. I am alone tonight feeding bathing and putting 4 kids to bed and once I get home it will be hard to devote all my attention to her for the time she needs for this. Please multiply my words, give me strength and wisdom and show me how to comfort her." I finished by praying to myself, then prayed over Maran out loud and when I looked up I noticed my sweet tender hearted Wheeler crying in the backseat. I mouthed to him if he was ok and what was wrong as Maran's head was nuzzled down. He motioned he was just sad because she was. We finally settled enough to make it through the drive through. Of course, only God orchestrated our food passer to be our sweet employee from Uganda adopted when she was 13. So we all waved and left with the food in two and as we pulled away again the crying began again, all the way home. Again I prayed, knowing all 4 kids would want to eat when they got home and knowing Maran still needed undivided attention. I wallowed in my inadequacy for a moment and then turned it back over in prayer. As I got home, I told Maran to wait for me in her bed as I got all the food laid out for the others. As I got to Reese's meal she decided she wanted to go upstairs with Maran instead. I got the boys fed and headed upstairs to find Reese sitting making Maran a rainbow loom necklace while Maran cried. Levi beat me to the side of Maran's bed and laid his head on her stomach while I patted her and talked to her. We finally made it through with talking and snuggles.  As we all came back down for Maran to eat her dinner, I realized something that brought me to tears. I pulled Reese and Wheeler aside and told them about my prayer in the car. I said " I trusted God would answer my prayer, he is always closest when dealing with the brokenhearted. But I thought he'd answer my prayer by giving me the right words to say and give me wisdom on how to comfort Maran. But instead, God used you Wheeler to cry with Maran when she felt alone in her sadness. God used you Reese to sit with Maran when I couldn't be there with her and cheer her up with a gift. God even used Levi to snuggle on Maran and comfort her. God didn't give me the right words or thing to do, he instead chose to use you guys. And you obeyed God when he nudged you to act. And that is what is beautiful even in the hard parts of our story. This is how God makes good stories out of brokenness. He pulled our family together in the most amazing of ways."
Reese proudly smiled and said "how did Wheeler crying help Maran?" We talked about Lazarus dying and how Martha needed words and truth from Jesus. But Jesus didn't speak to Mary because he knew what she needed in the midst of her grief. She just needed someone to cry with her and feel her sadness and carry her load with her. And that's what Jesus did. He wept right along with her. Just like Wheeler. Wheeler didn't have to care that his sister was upset. But he chose to take on her pain and feel it with her. And she noticed. Maran asked me later why he cried in the car and a light came into her eyes when I told her he was hurting for her.
After bedtime John got home and shared with me that his employee, the sweet Ugandan girl who passed us our food, sat down with him at a break and she shared her story with him. She is 17. Adopted from Uganda at age 13. And she has written a book already about her God sized story. What a beautiful blessing.
So yes grief is ugly. It is painful. It is something we would typically rather stay away from. But if I chose a life without entering into someone's grief I would miss out on how close Jesus can be in times like this. I hate it has to be Maran's grief. I would take it on in an instant. But my prayer for her is that Jesus becomes more real to her in these times. As I tell her frequently, I don't know when or if God will heal her heart this side of heaven, adoption is hard and it is not wrapped in a pretty bow of being a "lucky" child for getting out of a tough situation. Even the beautiful parts of adoption come out of loss and pain, and we are honored to walk this road together. Just as we named Maran after the aramaic word Maranatha that means "The Lord comes" or "the Lord is near", come near Jesus. 
I don't share this sacred story with you so you feel pity for my strong girl, but I share it to make God bigger. Jesus surprises me daily with how intimate he can be in the details of our trials and requests. And he shows up big when I surrender in dependence on him. I do not have the wisdom to parent 4 lives and point them perfectly to Christ, but I know in my weakness when I call out to Him he answers and reveals himself in ways beyond what I could ask or imagine. Thank you Jesus. 
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Sunday, May 11, 2014

A tale of two mothers

3 days and 30 years ago a little girl was born in Eastern Tennessee. She was born with hope and a promise of earthly opportunities and born into a family of 'enough' and one that loved the Lord and wanted the best for her. She would go on to graduate from a good high school and a great university and get married to an amazing man and one day bear a child. Around that time another little girl was born in a province of DR Congo. She was born to a mother who carried her against the odds. Born in the middle of war, violence and hunger. She was a survivor of utmost proportions. She went on to one day meet a man and bear a child herself. 
The first woman would carry that child full term, and birth a little girl in one of the best labor and delivery hospitals in the south, a 9lb blue eyes beauty with a head of hair, this mother experienced relatively no pain in childbirth, thankful to modern medicine, and went on to bear another child, this time, a boy. She loved her children very much and wanted the best for them, a life of opportunity, hope, adventure, but most of all love.
Back around the world, that other woman bore her child, a girl, one with skin the color of smooth chocolate and lush lips and a cute button nose. In that moment, in that birth, that was at best in a local hospital and even more likely in a shabby home in western Congo. She soon bore another child, this time a boy, with almond shaped brown eyes and soft brown skin. 
These mothers loved their children, they were full of hope and optimism at what their girl and boy's life could hold, maybe a life that would change the future, benefit others, meet a need, solve a problem. This boy and girl, both sets, were destined to be world changers.  They were born on opposite sides of the world to two women raised in completely different ways, but they were all loved. Loved beyond measure, loved without condition, loved with great sacrifice, loved in a way it seems like love enough would will that great things would come from these children. 
One mother today holds all of those four children in her arms; grateful, somber, amazed, feeling inadequate for the gift she has received. The other mother has empty arms today; she did not get roses or handmade flowers from those two beautiful children she birthed- I did. I got her handmade cards and her roses and her hugs. This world in all of its brokenness and beauty has gone through a tragedy and a gift at the same time and they have landed in my arms. 
The weight of this day does not pass from me.  I went to bed and woke up this morning with that woman from western Congo on my heart. I ached for her loss, I thanked God for her sacrifice and the way she loved her children well, and wanted every opportunity for them, just as I did mine. Our hearts are not that different I don't believe. Love just plays out differently some times. Painfully different at times. Beautifully and graciously different at times. Today I ache for the birth mom that gave me my mother's day treasure. I wish loss wasn't the way I came about such a great gift, but that is the heart of our story. Every great story is up against great odds and a great crisis, a battle of epic proportions. Victory in this situation is often vague and ambiguous.  There is no win-win. There is no sweeping the bad under the rug to only look at the good. Like the tapestry-maker knows, the underside is ugly, tattered looking, pieced together, looking like nothing beautiful can come out of this mess, but on top, the master weaver has woven a masterpiece. 
Today I am painfully and heavily aware of the loss that is on the other side of the world, in a poverty stricken area of DR Congo. I am praying especially today for such an amazing, strong Congolese woman that will ever be part of my heart, life and story. 

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