Monday, December 26, 2011

The Post-Christmas Post

Well, another memory is filed.  Another morning of watching my babes create what can only be described as pure carnage at the foot of the tree.
Another meal of too much, plus dessert.  Our home filled with friends and noise and mess and fun.
And another year of sitting next to my dear hubby as we settled down for a romantic evening...just the two of us...
watching National Lampoon's European Vacation.

Don't judge me.

(At least it was the somewhat edited version.)

We lit our last candle and sang for Him (this was before the movie...by the way)
How I loved watching the faces of my children...

They went to bed early (so we could watch that movie...I said don't judge me!) and were so happy and exhausted that not a single one of them had to be re-tucked.

I mean, people, do you KNOW how long it has been since we have not had to re-tuck at least one child?  Either after a sip of water, one more trip to the potty, or any other of a plethora of excuses...we always have to re-tuck someone.

But not last night.

They were worn plum OUT.  Their little eyes were closing before their curly heads hit the pillow.

It was a.w.e.s.o.m.e.

This Christmas, I truly feel I was more focused on Him and His coming than in many years past.  Partly because of this.  My heart has been filled and my voice has murmured lyrics all week...words that are eternal and true.  This concert set the tone for us.  Our imaginations were captured and our hearts ached for Him.  The words of these songs came to life and drew us so sweetly to the throne of Grace...to the fact that He came while we were not looking.  He fulfilled all the promises that many had forgotten.

And He died for us while we were yet sinners.

All of this celebration and feasting, all of this fun and gathering and relaxing, every good and perfect gift is from Him.  We give and bless because He has so abundantly given and blessed.

We live because He came.  We rejoice because He is risen.  Whether we live in poverty or abundance or somewhere in between, He is the reason we sing and celebrate.  Without Him Christmas would be utterly empty and nonexistant.  There would be no warm spot in Winter.

But there is...because He is.

This day after, we have relaxed and played and been happily not busy.  Now I sit in evening silence, with rain coming in sheets outside my window, pondering the fulfillment.  Quiet has not exactly been abundant, so still my Bible awaits and I am about to turn those ancient pages and read Isaiah's words.  I did not want to rush or be distracted so it turns out I will sleep with them fresh in my mind.  I think this may be what He wanted for me today, how He intended this day to end in the first place.

But I must say, ending last night like this...with a good laugh next to my husband of 16 years...
well, you watch this and tell me if you don't crack a grin:


You know you laughed :)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Coming

The celebration of Advent has been a struggle for me in years past.
To wreath or not to wreath?  Which devotional should we use...or do we use one at all?  In the attempt to avoid legalism, we often miss out on tradition.
But this year has been different.
I did not say perfect.
But it has come together and my heart is becoming ready.
A candle is lit, and we sing.
Silent Night, Away in a Manger...little voices rise in imperfect harmony.  Mari stays one step behind as she is still learning these old, old songs.  We all smile, and Daddy picks up the devotional that just happened to arrive the day we lit the first candle.  Sent by a friend, who no doubt was prompted by the Lord to be sure we had it just in time.
Daddy reads, and I fall in love with him all over again.  Sometimes the younger ones get wiggly, distracted and  unwilling to sit. 
So he starts over.
The wiggling eventually becomes disobedience, but it is so important that they learn to sit and listen and try to grasp just a tiny shred of what Christmas means.
So he starts over again.
The wiggling stops.  Eyes are no longer glazed over but focused.  Sometimes a question surfaces, or a smile.  
They begin to grasp that tiny shred.
I pray I can grasp a tiny shred of Christmas.
A Child...God become man...a Savior who deserves the honor of a King, the glory and praises of Heaven, sets it all aside to be born into earthly poverty.
He willingly becomes the most helpless of beings and lies, whimpering, in filth and strips of linen as a feeble attempt to keep him warm.  
He becomes the scandal of the gossips, the focus of hatred, the one they are hunting when countless innocents are brutally murdered.
He grows and matures and loves his Mom and Dad...but is keenly aware of and in constant communication with his Father.  
Can I grasp this?  I don't know.  It causes me to sit and marvel at the purpose for which He came.  When did He know?  When did the Cross come into focus?  

He comes in humility.  
He comes in love.  
He comes in power.  

The Lion of the Tribe of Judah
The King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Emmanuel...God with us.




Gather Round Ye Children Come
Words and music by Andrew Peterson

Gather ‘round, ye children, come
Listen to the old, old story
Of the pow’r of death undone
By an infant born of glory
Son of God, Son of Man
Gather ‘round, remember now
How creation held its breath
How it let out a sigh
And it filled up the sky with the angels
Son of God, Son of Man

CHORUS

So sing out with joy for the brave little boy
Who was God, but he made himself nothing
Well he gave up his pride and he came here to die
Like a man
Therefore God exalted him
To the place of highest praises
And he gave him a name above every name
That at the very name of Jesus, Son of God

CHORUS

We would sing out with joy for the brave little boy
Who was God, but he made himself nothing
Well he gave up his pride and he came here to die
Like a man
So in heav’n and earth and below
Every knee would bow and worship
And ev’ry tongue would proclaim
That Jesus, He reigns with the angels

CHORUS

So sing out with joy for the brave little boy
Who was God but he made himself nothing
Well he gave up his pride and he came here to die
Like a man
So gather ‘round, ye children come
Listen to the old, old story
Of the power of death undone
By an infant born of glory
Son of God, Son of Man

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Sweet Moments



I love Christmas.  I guess I've already told you that.  But, really, this season is filled with so many beautiful possibilities and, usually, they come by surprise.  I like to think I am good at planning memorable activities for my kids, but more often than not they just show up.

Then He gets the credit.  Isn't that how it should be? 

Every good and perfect gift is from above...
of course.

So one evening my dear, brave hubby decided to take 4 out of 5 munchkins to see a movie.  Katie and I declined, as I had a lot of gift wrapping I hoped to do in their absence.  She asked if she could help, and of course I said yes...as soon as I stashed her goodies out of sight.

We pulled out the sparkly paper, bows, tape...and all the gifts that had been accumulating as Mr. Ups made his frequent stops at our house.

Yes, folks...for those who often ask how I "get it all done" the answer is I don't.  I go online, point and click, and never darken the door of the Mall.

At least not during Christmas time.

So we sat down to our task and, as usually happens when her hands are busy, Katie started talking.

"Mom, I love Christmas.  And not just for the gifts, because I know it is about Jesus and His birthday.  But I just love imagining the looks on their faces when they open them."

"I think the little ones are the best, because they look so pretty."

"I knew you and Dad were Santa because you always made us go to bed early and then we could hear you walking around and doing stuff.  But it was fun. I liked having fantasies when I was little." 

"They are going to love these."

Every word she spoke made my heart fill with joy.  This daughter of mine, whose love language is so obviously the giving and receiving of gifts, was being blessed and lifted up by the simple act of selecting the perfect ribbon.  Writing to DJ from Mom and Dad and sticking the label to the package was an act of love.

Her love tank filled as she dreamed of filling theirs.

It was a memory that I will treasure all of my days.  This quiet time with just her, to see her love well and be "in" on the secrets, was pure bliss.

Now, I am fully aware that a couple of secrets may be spilled.  She is only human and keeping all the secrets just might cause her to burst so I did not reveal to her all of the siblings' gifts.  *grin* 

I wasn't born yesterday.

But I am willing to sacrifice a few secrets for moments like this.




Monday, December 5, 2011

Meaningful Remembrance

Every year, my children receive a new Christmas ornament.  It may be something beautiful like a sparkly tiara for the year Gracie was totally a princess, or it may be Batman.  There is the puppy in the mailbox for the year Katie loved the fur off of her stuffed dog, and the ESPN tree for DJ who knows all the stats.  But they always represent something about that child and what they were "in to" that year.

Well it hit me that Mari doesn't have a ornament for her first three Christmases that she spent with her birth family in Ethiopia.  And we decided we needed to fix that.  She has a "first Christmas home" ornament from last year, and her beautiful African angel for this year, but I decided to get the "lost" ones from families who are fundraising in order to add even more meaning to them.

So this is her first one...
 Pink, for a tiny baby girl born in an African mud hut.  
A tiny girl who barely survived.  
But she was so loved.

The second one... 
Her second Christmas.  
Spent sleeping on a straw mat with her entire family of seven.
Spent running barefoot through the fields of Wolaita, watching wild elephants and giraffes lope by.
Spent being loved by both of her parents and her four siblings.

The third...
This represents the year that hurt.  
Her father passed away suddenly and she was hungry.  
She was small and sick.  Her mother was afraid for her.
She was taken, in loving sacrifice, to a place where "she would get to grow up."
God was there, and He knew.  He sparked a desire in our hearts and that very summer, when her hurt began, we filled out the application with America World Adoption to bring her home.  Not knowing...well...of course we didn't know.  But He knew.  He had driven her someday-sister in America to pray and beg and believe for a sister from Africa.  Yes, He knew and He was weaving it all together.

Today was a hard day.  She struggled and decided today she didn't feel like being nice.  She told me she wanted to act up.  As I write this, my heart hurts because so often she acts completely normal and whole.  But today I could see the wound that is still there.  It only flares up occasionally now, but it is still there.  All the kids could see that today was harder, and they were exasperated because, well, why won't she just stop acting up and getting in trouble?  Why is she hitting and yelling?  Lord, help me to see.  Help me to love her as she needs to be loved.  Give me patience when I don't feel patient.  Give me eyes that see her heart when I am frustrated and feel manipulated or ignored.  Help me draw close when I am pushed away.  Help me remember how you have woven this all together and to remember that it is not, and has never been, about me.  Give me the mind of Christ, Lord.  Give me the strength to lay aside what I think should be and choose to pour myself out for You for the sake of my children.  Help me to model service by serving.  Help me to teach patience by being patient.  And above all help me to foster love and connection by loving and intentionally connecting with my children even when all I want to do is grab a cup of coffee and go into my room alone.

Meaningful...yes this post was meaningful to me because, in remembering, my heart opens up.  
Collecting these stones of rememberance is healthy because we do so easily forget.  He encourages us to remember...

Even in the beauty of Communion...it is there for us because we need it.  We forget without it.  We forget Him and what He has done and why.  How much more do we need stones of rememberance in our every day?  
Much, much more.  I am convinced.

Friday, December 2, 2011

30 days of thankful...day 28-30

I had the best of intentions.
On the 30th I was going to sit down and knock out the last three posts with panache.
Instead, I was in bed.
Some weird virus knocked me out...and not exactly with panache.
So as my house fell apart around me and my babies played nurse to mommy I had plenty of time to think.
Oh, and I also watched lots of Discovery Channel and National Geographic Channel...because these were school days.  We have a new affinity for the series "Going Tribal."  It is some serious fun!  And did you know that Tiger Sharks off the coast of Hawaii have been tagged and then swam over 3000 miles to the Sea of Cortez?

Anywho...
The last three days of thankful.  Where oh where do I begin?  How do I narrow them all down?
I will say that as I languished in feverish achiness for two days I thought and rethought these last three entries.
I type these somberly, with a sense of awe at my God and Father in Heaven who has truly blessed me...blessed us...beyond measure.

#28...the Christmas Season.
This season holds so much meaning for me.  I remember the years before I knew Him...when it was about Santa and gifts and sparkle and good wishes, but not about Him.  Then He found me, and I wept through most of my first Christmas as His child.  Then just two years later I walked down the aisle as a Christmas Bride...down an aisle decorated with red and green plaid bows, to an altar filled with glowing red votives and poinsettias and a groom who would whisk me off to a cabin nestled in a winter wonderland.
Now I see it through the eyes of my children, as we light candles and sing songs and imagine what it was like back then.  As we watch the same movies I watched as a child and pick out new favorites and as Johnny Mathis serenades us...because nobody sings Christmas like Johnny Mathis...I marvel at this Season, that it never gets old.

#29...the leather sectional
It sits in our kitchen living area.  There are always blankets and a doll strewn across it, and a dog or two trespassing.  We often read stories or they spread out with their chapter books on this couch, but when the schoolwork is done and the weather is bad, they are allowed to turn on the TV and we all end up together in a happy pile of arms and legs and cuddles.  Memories are made and love grows as we enjoy a good book or a good show.  There are crumbs in the cushions and dog hair that needs to be vacuumed away and...hey, who wants to watch Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer?

#30...Homeschooling
I have to end here.  I have mentioned my Savior, my marriage, my children, adoption...and beside all of these sits the huge decision that was obviously the calling of God for us.  It has changed the entire dynamics of my family.  We love better, we live more freely, we learn together, and we get to set the priorities that are important to us...the priorities that help us stay in step with God's plan for our family.
Sleeping later, eating breakfast without hurrying, doing school and helping each other when one gets stuck, learning to be best friends again and having the flexibility to leave out what is unnecessary in order to have time for the truly important...I can't put into words how much better life is now.  Yes, I am teaching five kids in four different grades.  Yes, it can be complicated and we don't always "get it all done".  Yes, sometimes there are bad attitudes and kids who slop through work in an attempt to get done.  But overall, it has reduced the stress level of our home and given us time and memories that are priceless.  I cannot thank Him enough for pushing us and prodding us to this life.  It is worth every bit of planning and scheduling and paper-grading and frustrated reshuffling of the day in order to see our family live and love like this.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

30 days of thankful...days 25-27

Further and further apart these posts come...I know.  I so easily lose track of time these days!

Ok...I only have 3 more days left to fill, and I am realizing how difficult it will be to narrow it down.  What do I leave out?  I look around, at my life and my home and my blessings and realize I could count every day for a lifetime and still there would not be enough days to thank Him.

Eternity sounds even sweeter as I realize this.

#25...quiet.
Now I know that may seem impossible in a household of seven.  I remember before children, how I would weep over the barrenness and cry out "I am tired of having a quiet house."
And I was.
I guess the quiet I speak of now is different.  It is the quiet of 5 little hearts content.  It is the quiet of everyone occupied with work or play and just being.  It is knowing that the quiet will not last more than 30 seconds very long and that the lively sounds of feet running down the stairs or a voice or three yelling "Mom!" will pierce the silence and the cacophony that is our normal will resume.  This type of quiet is respite...it is catching my breath before the next adventure and maybe even getting the chance to sit and be with Him for a few stolen moments.

#26...lotion on brown skin
Winter can be brutal on the skin of my children, making their skin ashen and dry.  But a palmful of lotion, rubbed and massaged and scented in all sorts of fabulous scents, is like watching a miracle.  Their skin transforms and becomes like dark chocolate or caramel, depending on which child I am applying it, and I cannot resist the urge to plant a kiss on that suddenly smooth knee or that creamy little belly.  I love those moments.

#27...our anniversary
It is coming soon...for the sixteenth time.  I look at my calendar and marvel that I was once 23 and cute and unwrinkled and he was 22 and a total dream and thought I was worthy of his name.  I marvel even more that he still looks at me that way...and I thank God for these years.  Things did not turn out like we expected...not even close.  We had no idea what God would do, but does anyone?  We both have changed, but we have changed together.  I love this time of year and the memories it evokes.  And I would marry him all over again, yes I would.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

30 Days of thankful...days 22-24

As I write this my heart is bursting with happiness.  I just spent the afternoon welcoming a beautiful little girl from Uganda into her family and our sweet circle of friends.  One year ago, when I came home with Mari, my friend had no idea what the next year would hold in store for her.  NO idea.  But God was working behind the scenes and now my friend just came home with her fifth child...a daughter from the Pearl of Africa.
I am overcome.

So here I am contemplating 3 more days (because I am behind again, I know)  and I have to begin with...

#22...watching my friends adopt.

When our first three children were born, we were the "pioneers" in our group of friends.  No one we knew, at least no one who lived around us, had yet walked that road.  After we settled here, God started bringing adoptive families into our lives one by one.  Then our friends, several who already had biological children, began to feel the nudge to adopt and now...well it has literally exploded in our community.
Every time a watch a friend walk this journey, my heart rejoices.  Not only because a child is coming home but also because they will now, finally, know what I have tried to communicate but have difficulty putting into words.  Like so many God-moments, until you live it you really cannot imagine what it is like.
So today another friend  knows...really knows the miracle He works when He binds your heart forever to a child who does not share your DNA.  Tonight she looks at her new daughter, freshly home and overwhelmed and in complete culture shock, and watches her breathe.  Today another family gets to live that little slice of Heaven...

#23...Hot apple cider.
I am drinking it now.  Mulling spices float at the top and the scent fills my home.  Winter is coming, and I am happy.  My children sip at their mugs carefully but can't wait for it to cool because it just smells so good.  DJ comes back for seconds and then runs back upstairs to finish watching the football game with his Dad.  I love this time of year.

#24...Thanksgiving
Today I look around my table and marvel at how full and alive and busy my home is.  Cooking recipes that I grew up watching my mama prepare for us, and then seeing them smile as they chow down makes me happy. Sitting back with full bellies...well, I do not take that for granted because so many are hungry.  So many go without tonight while we eat leftovers.  We are blessed...abundantly blessed.  As we celebrated today, and shared what we are thankful for, Mari spoke up and said "I am thankful for my own home."  We all took a breath and waited...

then she polished off her green bean casserole and said, "Mom, this is good...it did not make me sick!"

I think that is a compliment.

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends.  May you see the blessings, one by one, that He so freely gives.  May you be awed by His mercy, moved by His love, and inspired to share the endless love of Jesus with those who so desperately need Him.

Monday, November 21, 2011

30 days of thankful...days 20 & 21

#20...2 refrigerators, stocked.
I often marvel after a grocery shopping trip.  I step back and look at my refrigerator in the kitchen, overflowing into the spare in the garage.  They are often crammed tight with good food...especially now as I prepare for Thanksgiving.  I know this is a luxury.  I know there are literally hundreds of millions of people who would give anything for what languishes on one shelf of those refrigerators.  We never go without.  We eat three squares a day plus plenty of snacks and I know that we usually take it for granted.
But then I look back at pictures of Africa...I remember Mari's thin frame and swollen belly that broke my heart the first time I bathed her.  She has forgotten, mercifully, but I have not.  She, just like her siblings, knows there is a pantry full of food that guarantees she will eat and eat well.  She doesn't remember the hunger that drove her birthmother to make the most painful decision of her life, so her daughter would "get to grow up."
I don't want to forget.  I want to eat thankfully and share generously.  I want to be a good steward of this blessing of abundance.  I want to remember that, though it is easy to zip down to the store when I need a gallon of milk, that milk still comes from Him and circumstances could easily change.  I want to keep that awareness of my desperate need for Him in every detail of life, because we are the sheep of HIS pasture.

#21...worship.
Music is truly powerful.  Songs move me deeply and stir memories that were thought to be forgotten.  They also snap me out of myself, at times, and refocus my spiritual eyes on the One who is the author of the most beautiful Song ever written.  I heard a new song a few days ago...Chris Tomlin's new recording of "How Great is our God" from his latest "Essentials" album.  This version is different because it has tracks recorded around the world...several different languages singing this beautiful song together.
It gave me chills the first time I heard it because I know every word to that song, so when it is being sung in Spanish, French, or Africanz I know what they are saying.  And it is so beautiful.
It struck me hard when I listened to it again today...it struck me how the Lord hears worship in every language all at once and He understands perfectly every single word that is sung to Him.  It reminded me of going to church in Ethiopia and standing amongst a congregation of 62 nations as we all sang out to Him...sang songs I knew from home.  How beautiful to think of the family of God, and to have that reminder of how big our God is that he gathers us ALL safely into His arms and adopts us all into His family so we can sing...many voices singing one song to Him.
Yes, I am thankful for Worship.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

30 days of thankful...days 18 & 19

#18...I am thankful for my girls' curls.
Oh, the fun of fixing and caring for hair that is everything mine is not!  Braids, beads, twists, and 'fros...ponytails and dog-ears, cornrows and conditioner...lots and lots of conditioner.  :)  I love the beauty of their hair...all three heads so unique in texture, color, and curl pattern.  Sometimes they struggle, they resist the combing and wish for thin and straight hair that hangs down.  But I don't.  I pray, as they grow, that they will see themselves as God sees them:  Beautiful young ladies of color with glorious hair meticulously created by their Father.

#19...I am thankful the look on Gracie's face today as we took down the Fall decorations and began to transform our house for Christmas.  She is my artistic one and I can let her have free reign with a handful of knickknacks and the child will create an incredibly beautiful arrangement!  Plus, in her excitement, she put on her Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker CD and plied around the house in happiness.  :)
Yes, I am a week early and totally breaking personal tradition.  But we had nothing going on today, which NEVER happens in this family, so I figured I should take advantage of the downtime and pull the boxes out of the attic!  The tree is not up...yet.  But the garlands are on the banisters and the boxes are sorted, poised and ready to make magic.  I love Christmas...

But I love Thanksgiving as well, so I am trying to pace myself!


Thursday, November 17, 2011

30 days of thankful...day 16 & 17

It seems I am on a "every other day" kinda roll, doesn't it!  Well here I go with more gratitudinous (is that a word?  probably not) posting.  :)

#16  I am thankful for coffee.
Ok, ok, you KNEW it had to be on this list, right?  I mean the whole URL for this blog is coffee-dependent, as is it's writer!
Starbucks, JustLove (My FAVE...love the Ethiopian Yirgacheffe), mochas, lattes, cream and sugar...it's all good.  Fresh ground, french pressed...ah, now that is the way to start a morning!
But why?  For me, it is the routine...the sitting down in the quiet of morning with steaming cup o' joe in one had and my Bible and pen in the other.  A sip and a sigh in the middle of Isaiah and my morning is just right.

#17  I am thankful for the fireplace in my kitchen.
It is just now getting fired up (pardon the pun!) regularly and takes the nip off the cold floor when I stumble in before the aforementioned coffee.  The best part?  It is remote controlled.  I am not kidding.  Press a button and "poof" it is on.  No ashes, no mess, and we can save the wood for the outdoor marshmallow roasts that make Fall worth living.  I love to cuddle up under a blanket with a kid or five and watch the flames dance.  Maybe even read a good book if I'm lucky!  Coming in from outside, little hands run straight to it's warmth and pause, waiting for the chill to subside.  Wet boots and socks hang over the screen, dripping as they warm up.  The heat travels up the stairs, making the 2nd floor toasty warm...and little kids in their beds a bit sweaty.      We eat and play and relax by it's warmth, and I am thankful for those peaceful moments that a fireplace in my kitchen creates.



Wednesday, November 16, 2011

30 days of thankful...day 14 & 15

#14...I am thankful for technology that allows me to be in contact instantly with friends around the world.  Skyping, email, Facebook...it is really amazing when I stop to think about it.  Our world really has gotten small...and I love it.  I love chatting with friends in Ethiopia and Uganda, watching live pictures stream in of friends and their new little ones in Korea, and reading updates of missionary friends in South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa...as well as just knowing "what's up" with so many dear ones that I might have lost touch with if it wasn't for this gift of communication God has given us!

#15...I am thankful for my camera.  Seeing life through a lens...focusing in on what is important and cropping out what is not.  Capturing that quick smile...or that far away look.  Gathering evidence to present when they are older and swear they NEVER did that.  My camera is the safety net of my memory...so when my memory fails the photos will serve to remind me of these sweet days...of chocolate on faces and impromptu hugs.  Of shared treats and dogs used as pillows.  Of the pile of kids on the couch, content to watch cartoons and rest limbs akimbo on each other in sweet contentment.  Of productive, and not-so-productive, school days...heads bent over paper, pencils askew, crayons scribbling all waxy and not quite in the lines.  Yes, my camera helps me to remember...and to be intentional about making sure the moments count.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

1 year home

One year ago today, my sweet Mari set foot on American soil for the very first time.
I am amazed at what this past year has held.
I have written almost every month about her progress...about the joys and challenges of adopting a child who comes with grief and fear and hope...and now here we are one year later and I marvel at what God has done.
In the past 2 months we pulled her out of preschool and breathed a sigh of relief as what appeared to be the final hurdle in her attachment was succesfully crossed.  She needed me.  She liked school, she wanted school, but she needed her family.  She was disappointed in our decision at first, but in a matter of 3 days I knew it had been the right one.  I told her that I knew she liked school, but it did not seem to be good for her and that I love her and I want to be her teacher.
Now she knows...now she sees that I want her home in the daytime.  I want to be the one who comforts her when she is afraid.  I want to be the one who teaches her ABC's and 123's and I was not sending her to school for me, but because I thought she would enjoy it.  Now she knows I am willing to do anything for her...that being with her is joy and that her emotional and spiritual health is of utmost importance to us.   She has settled in and settled down and has said "I love you" at least a million times since.  I was most proud of Drew, who had rather enjoyed his one-on-one pre-K lessons.  When I told him Mari was going to do pre-K with him he grinned, put his arm around her and said "You can share my desk!"
Thank you, Jesus.
She talks so freely to me now, and has filled in gaps that had been in my memory from the days and weeks in Ethiopia...when I was with her and when she was waiting for us.  She remembers being excited and nervous all at the same time and longs for kids like her who wait to have a family...even offering to "share our Mommy and Daddy with them."  She remembers the night she had a meltdown before dinner in Ethiopia and I had NO idea what was wrong and finally could tell me that, when I took her upstairs to get her sippy cup she thought I was going to leave her in the room.  She remembers details of that week and her homecoming that blow me away.  She is SO smart.  On the 1 year anniversary of her "gotcha day" last week, she came downstairs wearing the shirt she was wearing on that day!  Again, her understanding blows me away.  She knows her life was changed, she knows we treasure her story, and she knows that part of Africa came home with her that day and that one of these days our family will happily journey back to visit, to love, and to serve.
Her behavior is so normal now.  She still is catching up in some ways emotionally, but really I don't have any more issues with her than I have with with Drew, who is just 3 months older.  She responds beautifully to consistent and clear boundaries, loving and firm discipline, and positive reinforcement.  We can't be lax with her, for she needs rock-solid boundaries in order to feel secure and have self-control.  We allow choices when the choices are no big deal, but for the most part she thrives knowing we are in charge and "have her back" at all times.
Oh, the books I could write on what God has taught me about my need for Him in this past year.  Watching her life be redeemed and transformed has been a huge blessing and I feel so honored that He has placed our family on this path.  How He longs to do the same for all of us!  To shower us with Fatherly love, to transform and redeem our lives and give us the security of knowing we can live in freedom without fear because He "has our back"...the parallel is so beautiful.
My friends, how I long for you all to experience this amazing journey.  If you feel the nudge to adopt, do not be afraid for the Lord goes before you and gives you wisdom and strength you did not know you had.  He lights the next step and blesses you with understanding of His heart that you could not learn any other way.  You will feel a love grow within you for this child that is such a gift...whether they come home at 2 days old or 12 years old...the Lord is the giver of good gifts and He rejoices to bind your heart with your child's and make you fully and completely a family in every sense of the word.  The call to adopt is truly an honor...and I pray you will step forward in faith and don't miss out on what He has for you!
If you are not called to adopt, you are called to do something.  (James 1:27)  Sponsor a child, foster a child, go on mission to love and give hope, help other families who are called and are working to raise money for their adoptions, give generously to those who are being the hands and feet of Jesus to the 147,000,000 orphans who all have captured the heart of God.  He holds them close, as should we all.

One year ago I journeyed across continents and oceans to place a scared, overwhelmed, and tiny little girl into the arms of her father and into the safety of our home.
Today we sat next to our daughter and her 4 siblings at McAlister's deli as she ate a PB&J with applesauce, chatting happily about what she learned in Sunday School.  She held my hand as we prayed, she leaned her head lovingly against my shoulder as we ate, and she played with her brothers and sisters all afternoon as if she had always been here.

Because, somehow, in God's kingdom, I believe she has.

Psalm 139:16
Your eyes saw my unformed body; 
all the days ordained for me were written in your book 
before one of them came to be.

30 days of thankful...days 11, 12, and 13

I was out of town this weekend for one of Katie's swim meets...fun girl time, especially since we shared the weekend with one of my BFF's and her sweet daughter!  Late nights and busy days have marked this past week and I finally crashed today and napped...which is SO not normal for me.  I slept for an hour, and finally was awakened by snoring....who was that anyway?

ahem.


Anywho...I am again behind on my blogging but will promptly get caught up right here and now.

#11 on my thankful list...
Healthy Children
I do not take this for granted.  I have five beautiful, healthy, strong, and athletic kids and I know that this is a huge blessing.  I know that all of that could change in the blink of an eye, so I want it to be clear that I am truly thankful for this blessing.  The moments of fear have been few, only a couple of ER visits and broken bones...ear infections and the like...but those moments were enough to make me imagine what families go through who know the hospital all too well.  How they would give anything to have a diagnosis of no big deal, just an ear infection, here is a prescription and she should feel better in a couple of days.  Thank you, Lord, for health and strength and life.

#12
Boys who love to be together
DJ and Drew are on the floor in a pile of arms and legs and breathless laughter with a football somewhere in the mix as I type.  Drew has broken a sweat in all of his exertion and the two of them are just enjoying these moments of brotherly fun.  I love these sweet times.  They sit now and share gum and smack it like boys do, bonding over a video game and side-by-side, expressions intense and matching and thumbs flying as they discuss strategy and smack that gum some more.  The recliners are back and they are settled in for a good match-up and dirty socks twitch with intensity as they get lost in their play.  DJ instructs Drew and Drew feels so important to be part of this big-boy play with his incredibly cool big brother.  Yes, these are indeed sweet times.


#13
Little mommies
Sometimes my girls get lost in their pretend world of baby dolls and playing house.  They get so caught up in it that I have a hard time knowing if their conversations are real or if they are referring to each other as "Mom."    I get sideways glances if I answer because they are not talking to me...but to whoever has been designated the Mom that day...usually Katie.  They diaper and feed and rock and shop and stroll with their dolls as my heart gets a little snapshot of the future...the glimpse of the sweet mothers I pray they will be someday.  I hear my words come out of their mouth and marvel that they are not conscious of the fact that they are saying what I have said to them so many times...what was once said to me.   They talk about how they "got" their babies...how they adopted their 12 or 15 kids...and I rejoice at the legacy the Lord is giving us.



Thursday, November 10, 2011

30 days of thankful...day 10

Day 10...I am thankful for afternoon quiet.  I am not one who needs lots of "alone time"...which is a good thing!  I just need a few minutes to catch my breath...to sit in quiet and kick off my shoes and let my mind drift just a little.  Just a few minutes.  Right now my kids are playing contentedly outside on this sunny, chilly day.  Our Ethiopian guests are resting and I am upstairs alone.  Just for a few minutes.  It is almost time to pick up Katie from swim practice, and then the busyness of dinnertime, baths, and bedtime will begin.  Tomorrow morning will begin early as our friends pack up to go to their next destination...to bless another church full of souls with their sweet worship and joyful spirits.  We will miss these girls, yes we will.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

30 days of thankful...day 9

Day 9...I am thankful for the sound of children, lost in worship.  From the beautiful voices of a childrens' choir to the sound of sweet Drew singing to Jesus before he falls asleep, my heart fills and my eyes brim with tears every single time.  How their sweet worship must please Him!

Tonight I watched with my spirit singing as the Holy Spirit moved in my church...14 little ones sang to the Lord and put sweet faces on the unimaginable number of orphans in our world.  The Lord is working, and hearts were touched.  Adoption applications were taken, children were sponsored through Compassion, and eyes were opened to the magnitude of this God-sized problem with a Jesus-sized answer.  What a privilege to be a part of His work, to have sweet accents in my  home and friends all over the world...to be truly part of His body that reaches the ends of the earth.
Yes, what a privilege.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

30 days of thankful...day 7 and 8

My home is filled today with sweet African accents and Amharic conversation once again, and my heart is burdened to pray for these precious girls who long for a forever family.  T and M have stolen Katie's heart and she is begging for "just two more sisters"...ahem.  T is convinced that Katie is Ethiopian...and it didn't help that Katie showed T her Ethiopian dresses and money!  They came downstairs holding hands within 5 minutes and my heart just sang with joy.  Mari showed them her photo album from Ethiopia and what fun it was for them to realize the people and places they have in common!  T and M were so surprised to see photos of their nannies in our home and exclaimed in delight at the pictures of Yonas, Dawit, Robel, and Eyob...our precious friends and brothers in Ethiopia who serve the adoptive families of America World.

So on day 7 (which was yesterday, I know!) I am thankful for my home with plenty of room for a visitor or ten and the blessing of a large table at which to share a meal with friends.

On day 8 I am thankful for the happy mess that is Autumn.  Piles of leaves and ten arms and legs sticking out of them in all directions...such wonderful kid happiness.  I cannot wait to introduce our sweet Ethiopian visitors to these big leaf piles and fun tomorrow!


ETA:  As we walked into our church to pick up our new friends, Mari took my hand and asked if these kids have a family.  "No,"  I said, "they don't yet.  But we are going to pray for God to give them a Mommy and Daddy."  
She didn't miss a beat...and said, "They can share our Mommy and Daddy."
Out of the mouths of babes, I tell you.  She remembers waiting.  She remembers...and she knows what it is like to long, to wonder, to hope.  I have to believe that the prayers of my daughter are soaring to the heavens, straight to the ears of God, powered with faith that moves mountains.  Oh, my heart.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

30 days of thankful...day 5 and 6

Ok, ok, you KNEW I couldn't keep it up, right?  I mean, blogging every day for 30 days when I had been lucky to get in one per month for the past year?

Anywho...

Last night we had a sweet brother and sister over for dinner who we have been blessed to get to know through a local ministry to international students.  They are here from Malaysia, and what a blessing they are becoming to our family!  This week, we will be hosting two beautiful Ethiopian princesses who travel with an international childrens' choir in our home.  So the natural outflow of all of this international exposure?

Gratitude.

Thus...#5 on my thankful list is this big, beautiful world that our God has made.  That in the span of a week I can be talking on the phone to one of my BFF's in Uganda as she and her husband jump through incredible legal hoops to bring home their new daughter, then have dinner with a Malaysian brother and sister, then have the joyful sounds of Ethiopian friends living in my home for a few days just blesses my socks off.  It is a teeny tiny slice of Heaven...and I really can't comprehend how incredible it will be when every nation, tribe and tongue will worship together at His throne!

#6...I must say, #6 is my church.  Small in stature, but big in love...we have been part of this sweet congregation for about a year and OH MY how God is working!  We are taught good, meaty truth every single week, encouraged to be hands on in serving the Lord, and backed up with prayer and support when opportunities arise to engage in His work.  Today I had the privilege of manning a table in our foyer with a friend and hearing our pastor preach on James 1:27...giving voice from the pulpit on this cause that is so dear to my heart.  I had the privilege of answering hard questions by members of our church regarding what, exactly, this involves...and to realize that God is truly stirring the hearts of His people to care for the least of these.
A.MAZ.ING.
Right next to us was another table encouraging the church to pack shoe-boxes for Samaritan's Purse and it was thrilling to realize how many angles this calling can take.  Caring for orphans and widows can be done in many forms and if we ALL do what God has called US to do, well I truly believe we as a church would make a huge difference in this so-very-needy world.  This world desperately needs to see Jesus at work...to know he IS alive and real and involved in the details of our lives and we, as His body, have no shortage of opportunity to be His hands and feet and serve.  We can live out the reality that is Jesus Christ every single day by loving those who, as our pastor said today, have nothing to give us in return.


Friday, November 4, 2011

30 days of thankful...day 4

Well this is obvious, but it must be said:

I am thankful for my five beautiful brown babies.

Five kids who were placed in my arms by the very hand of God...
and who have since given me ever-deepening wrinkles and an urgent need for highlights in my hair.
Kids who cause me to go without makeup more often than not, then exclaim in happy surprise when I do manage to emerge from my bathroom with warpaint because...
"Mom, you look pretty!"  (Insert incredulous...how did you walk in like that and come out like that expression)

Bare Minerals makeup is my friend, just fyi.

Hot breakfasts are a rarity...unless you count the microwave pancakes and frozen waffles, thanks to the presence of 5 babes under my roof and in my kitchen.

Sometimes we just wing it...go all crazy and stuff and have fruit with our chicken nuggets...because mom is gourmet like that.

My kids are responsible for the piles of laundry, the dishes, the leaves on my carpet, and the glue in my hair.  They are the reason my fingernails have not seen nail polish in at least a year, and for my toenails having white crackle paint that stayed on WAY past cute and quirky until they were just, um, trashy.
They are the reason I am learning American History again...and Geography...and oh heck I might as well be honest, 4th grade math.  Ok?  Are ya happy?

My kids make me notice things that, before, escaped my vision...worms, creepy-crawlies, a perfect red leaf in the grass, and that cloud shaped like Jesus.

My kids have stretched my imagination and my heart...and they have been better teachers than I ever hope to be.  They love me unconditionally...even when I embarrass them by getting FIVE STARS on THRILLER while playing the Michael Jackson Experience (oh yes I did!!)  They hide their face in shame when I dance in the car, while wearing a big black afro because DJ changed HIS mind about wearing it and didn't believe me when I said I would.  I turned up "Stayin' Alive" loud enough for neighboring cars to hear and relished their groans of embarrasment and uncontrollable laughter at this crazy woman they call Mom.

My kids fight and bicker and laugh and love and learn and play and make messes and sometimes clean up and make me crazy busy and darn it all if I don't love them  more than life and wish time would just slow down for crying out loud.

My kids are a part of me...etched into my soul.  I am a mom because I am their mom, their REAL mom in every important and God-defined sense of the word.  I am fulfilled because my arms and my life are filled to overflowing by five busy, energetic, strong-willed, and hilarious children who suck every shred of energy from me by the end of the day until I go skidding sideways into my bed and pass out in the middle of the first paragraph of that book I have intended to read for over a month now.

Yes, I am thankful that I am never going to remember what it was like to have a quiet house because I am that barren woman whom the Lord settled in her home as a happy mother of children.

Praise the Lord and thank you, Jesus!

Oh, and is it wrong that I may not tell them about the impending time change for a couple of days after?  I mean, y'all, it's a whole extra HOUR!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

30 Days of Thankful...Day 3

I am thankful for my husband.

I remember those early days of our marriage, when I thought I was so in love with him.

I had no idea.

As the "new" wore of and life set in, as hard days came and we learned to weather storms, then and only then did I realize the depth of love.

When he sat by my bed as I lay aching from exploratory surgery.  When I fearfully whispered that I had failed him by being unable to bear children, and he said "I married YOU for you, not for a baby."  When in my sleep I felt him place his hand upon my belly and I knew he was silently praying.

Then I felt the depth of love.

When I at long last held our first baby in my arms, he sat behind me, weeping.

When he wept at the placement of three more babies...and at the arrival of our last child home.

When he lays on the floor and lets them all climb on him and pull and tug at his limbs and wrestle and laugh...

When he lets DJ stay up past his bedtime to watch sports, I act annoyed at the late morning that I know will result, but I silently thank God for the way they enjoy each others' company.

When he gets SO excited about a weekend alone with me...after nearly sixteen years of me.

Then I feel the depth of love.

He is my rock...my stability.  His words hold more power over my heart than any other person on this earth.  His prayers fall on my ears like gentle rain, soothing my soul and settling my spirit.
He is the spiritual leader of my home...becoming more so, more confident in this place of responsibility, with each passing year.  He is adored by our children, met with squeals of joy and forceful hugs as he walks through the door.

(I can assure you my arrival is NOT met with such, um, festivity...I'm just sayin'.)

He is God's gift to me, given when I was so lost.  He was there when I accepted Jesus...leading me to the throne of God for the very first time.  He watched as I followed the Lord in baptism and stuck with me through all the growing pains of my early walk with God.


Our life has not turned out like we originally planned...not even close.  We never dreamed we would live like this...five beautiful brown babes, homeschooling, and living far from any family who could serve as respite.
No, this is not how we planned it...it is better.

I am so thankful to share this journey with him.  So thankful that he puts up with all of my quirks and weirdness and wacky ideas.  So thankful that he loves me in the best and worst of times and believes in me when I can hardly believe it myself!

My sweetheart, I am truly, from the bottom of my heart, thankful for you.

I love you.

Thank you for showing me the depths of love.



Wednesday, November 2, 2011

30 Days of Thankful...Day 2

Today, I am thankful for a condition that has marked my body for sixteen years...

infertility.



Through this thorn in my flesh, I came to know God more deeply than I had ever known Him before.  Those years of waiting, of longing, of grasping for that carrot that seemed always just beyond my reach...
those years taught me more than a million hours of seminary every could.

God grew me in those years.  He grew me in ways that I have difficulty putting into words.  He showed me how to lay down my sword and let Him fight.  He showed me the meaning of trust.
He let me run out of words and hit the wall, so that in my brokenness I would fall into the arms of my sisters in Christ and let them intercede.

Because the blessing of the journey was never meant just for me.

He showed Himself strong in my weakness.  He brought out the tender warrior in my husband.
He loved me through it and, even before the promise was fulfilled, he made me thankful for the pain.

I remember...looking into her eyes and she wept..."I don't know if I will ever be able to have a baby"...and I was able to honestly say, from the depths of my soul,

"You are going to be okay.  You will learn so much from this.  He will get you through and you will somehow thank Him for this pain."

Yes, I said it, and I meant it.

I still do.

Five children later, I am still leaning on the lessons He taught me in those years.  As new challenges arise, and new worries threaten my heart, I look back on these stones of remembrance...every time He came through, how He never even one time failed me...and I hold onto those stones with hands clenched for dear life, lest I drop one.

Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you.  (Psalm 9:10)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

30 days of thankful...Day 1

So my bloggy friends have started a November thing...and being the "I'm not gonna jump on a bandwagon" type I hesitated because I always...ALWAYS...want to be sincere.  But then I realized if I can't be sincere about this, I have a problem.
So here I am, jumping on the blogging more than once a month  going to be creative with these posts if it kills me  thankfulness bandwagon with gusto!

Where do I even start?  Do you KNOW how much I have to be thankful for?

You don't?

Well let me tell you...at least, the first one.  I DO want you to come back so I will have to leave some of the goodies for later.

#1
I hope it is quite obvious.
I am thankful for my Jesus.
The Son of God.
The Living Water.
The perfect atonement for my sins...because, boy, there are many.
I am thankful that He love me perfectly and completely even when I am at my most unlovable, that I can crawl back up into His lap and know He rejoices in my return...and once again washes me white as snow.
I am thankful that Jesus loves my family more than I could ever dream, that when I worry and pray and worry (Did I say that already?  Silly me.) that HE has them covered.  That He has promised beauty from ashes, grace and mercy unending, that the hard days are part of the journey and that they WILL pay off in rejoicing...in wonder at how He has woven this tapestry of our lives into a beautiful work of art.  That iron sharpens iron and the refining of our hearts will result in His reflection being perfectly seen in us.  That words of promise have been spoken that we can and must hold onto when the waves are rough and the storm rages around us.
Yes, I am thankful for this Jesus who calms the storm.  Who gives peace and reassurance.  This Jesus who changed my life so completely that I can hardly remember life before Him.  This Jesus who purified my heart and left me with a complete distaste for what was once temptation.  He showed me how to catch a vision for my family, how to live differently, how to not follow the norm but follow Him.  He works in ME to will and to act according to His purpose and it blows me away.
Nothing I do can be accredited to me.  Parenting my children, the decision to homeschool, the path our family-building has taken.  Nothing.  It is ALL Him.  And I love Him so much.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Baptismal Waters

When a child is born, our hearts look ahead.

We wonder...

what will it be like when?


When they learn to walk, talk, read...

When they ask Jesus into their heart, fall in love, get married...

When they are baptized.

Today I watched as my daughter, Gracie, submitted to the Lord.

I watched, alongside her brothers and sisters, as she gazed into her earthly father's eyes...as he spoke words of eternal weight over her and through his own tears lowered his daughter into the waters of baptism.

I saw my daughter radiate the joy of the Lord as she arose and walked carefully up the steps to me.  Her face glistened with the water cascading down as she emerged.  Katie handed me a white towel, face filled with wonder at the intensity in the face of her younger sister.
I lovingly dried the water from Gracie's face as I kissed her still-wet nose and whispered "I am so proud of you."

I marveled as Drew, overcome with the emotion-charged moment, laid his head on my shoulder and wept.

I heard the church service continuing below, but I know in my spirit there was worship in the splendor of Heaven as my precious little girl chose to identify with her Savior, unashamed to be His child...a child of the King.

I watched her walk, head held high and proud, into her circle of friends...stopping for hugs from our sweet church family and shouts of "Praise God!" along the way.

And I praise Him that her days are in His hands.  He has gifted her with faith at such a young age, with a love for her Jesus that is unexplainable apart from His work, and I watch in awe as He works out His plan for her life.  She will be used, that I know, because she is willing.

Thank you, Jesus.


Monday, September 26, 2011

Sweet Words

I have had this urge to listen to Ethiopian music again lately.  I wasn't quite sure where it was coming from, but every time I break out the Nahom Favorits #2 and Mari starts jamming to Chembalala or Elay Yaba-Addis Abeba the sights, sounds, and smells of Ethiopia literally flood my mind.

Then I looked at the calendar today...and it hit me like a ton of bricks!  It has been exactly ONE YEAR today since my DH and I boarded that plane to meet our baby girl face to face.

A year has passed since that tiny little girl sauntered into the room and rocked my world.

I keep thinking "This time last year" thought such as...

This time last year I was scared out of my mind of flying across the ocean and leaving four babies at home.


This time last year I had no idea I would spend three extra days in Africa...alone.


This time last year I was a packing MACHINE.


This time last year I had no idea of the challenges we would face with Little Sister, nor of the joy small victories with her would bring to my heart.


I did not know the love that would wash over me when she lets me paint her toenails electric blue.


And I did not know how sad I would feel when she forgot her native language.  


I took her for a haircut a couple of weeks ago and let the hairdresser cut off quite a bit so that we could keep her in my fave 'do of all time, the short afro with a headband and giant bow/flower/whatever gaudy accessory I can find.  As the stylist cut off a good three inches I looked at the pile of curls on the floor and tears filled my eyes.

Africa.  That hair on the floor is the hair she came home with from Africa.  I had to restrain myself from scooping it up into a bag so that I could try to glue it back on save it.  For what I'm not sure, but there was that sense of letting go...of cutting the cord, so to speak.

The little girl that stands before me is more American each day.  Her accent is only slight now...still beautiful but fading.  Her grammar is still hilarious, and it looks like it may be for a while, but she says things that shake me sometimes...things that remind me of the redemption that has taken place in her life.

"Mommy, you 'member in Etiopia when I did not know your words?"


While watching me look at children on the Waiting Child List...heart heavy with the need to pray for them...she asked me who they are.  "These are kids who are waiting for a Mommy and Daddy, just like you did."  She smiles with bright eyes and says "I have a Mommy and Daddy!"  Yes you do, sweet girl.

"Mommy, I need to hold you."
"Mommy, I love you."
"Mommy, you're conjo."  (The Amharic word for beautiful....one of only three she still uses!)

The remaining Amharic words, besides conjo, are bunna (coffee), and when she really needs to go pee  BAD...shint.  


That one will forever crack me up.

And above all these things is the realization that she LOVES.  She loves her parents, and she loves her siblings.  She wants to be at home.  She feels safe here.

And though she may still do some unsettling things, like giving a blank stare to strangers or forgetting boundaries with visitors, she is not the same child she was this time last year.  She is healing.  Thank you, Jesus.





Thursday, September 22, 2011

From Joy to Joy

It amazes me how quickly time passes.  Days turn to weeks turn to months and now here I sit with one child  home 10 months and another about to turn five.

Slow it down, already.

Sweet Mari has passed a major milestone.  She has officially been home longer than she was in an orphanage.   Though she may not be conscious of that fact,  I see it in her.  Our battles are no longer daily...her behavior is more and more predictable.  The only struggle has been with preschool, and I think we are quickly coming to a decision on that.

She goes to a Mothers Day Out twice a week, just for fun.  She wanted to go because she saw the fun Drew had when he graduated from preschool and I figured it might be a good thing for her.  At least I hoped so.
But despite the fact that she really, really likes preschool, it is taking a toll on her.  When she is away from me, there is that internal fear that I may not come back.  She prepares herself for that possibility and then acts out once home.  She came home from Africa with enough "issues" of her own, and I am realizing that she is taking on some new ones while away from the shelter of our home.
I don't need her to go to preschool.  It is not a break for me.  In fact, it just takes more time out of our homeschool day when I have to take her and pick her up, so she really has been going for her own fun and not for my need for a break.
I have struggled with what to do because on one hand, the consistency of my coming to pick her up helps to build trust.  But on the other hand, her behavior betrays her weakness and fear.  Is that fair to her?  Is it worth it?  I read recently that people often put newly adopted children in school right away so they can make friends, but when they were in the orphanage friends were all they had.   They don't need a bunch of friends now, they need a family.
And that is exactly what she has.  When I asked her if she felt better when we were all home together she smiled and said "yes."  She wants to go to school, but expresses that while she is there she misses me and feels scared.
She doesn't need that.  I don't need the "undoing" I seem to be doing after every day she spends away from us.
Yep, I think my decision is pretty clear.

Last weekend my DH and I flew away for the weekend to attend the wedding of a dear friend.  It was our first weekend away together since Miss Priss came home and boy were we ever in need of some couple time!  It was FABULOUS.  When we arrived home on Sunday, kids #1-4 came running and smiling and leaping into our arms.  Mari smiled, said hi, gave a halfhearted hug, and kind of looked at me like "well what do you expect?"  So I picked her up and planted her on my hip, smothering her with kisses.  Her response?
"I want down."
Me:  "Nope, you are staying right here."
"I want down, Mommy."
Me:  "Nope, Mommy wants to hold you because I missed you!"
More protests, but I held my ground, stroking her hair and her back and waiting.  Finally she gave up and her little body melted into mine.
Yessssssssssssssss.....
I held her a while longer and then very nonchalantly lowered her to the ground when I was good and ready.  It worked like a charm.  She has been more physically affectionate with me this week than she has been in months. She expresses how much she loves me several times a day, unsolicited. Oh what joy to win that battle!   I just pray her little heart can finally see that this deal is forever, no going back, no matter what.  We may go away now and then, but we ALWAYS come home. She is stuck with us and we are going to love her through whatever comes, no matter what!

Finally, we have my baby boy's upcoming birthday.  Five years of the brightest white smile lighting up the most gorgeous ebony face you could ever imagine.  Kissable lips and meaty little hands that give Mommy more hugs and love than I ever deserve.  How I love my sweet boy.
He is SO excited about turning five, SO excited about being a "big kid", and literally counting the minutes until it is officially his birthday.
Five years old.  I can hardly believe it.
He cops the cutest version of a black Justin Bieber that you have ever seen, lives for basketball, football, soccer...well, if it has a ball he can play it and plays it well.  He adores his brother and sisters, loves to make us all laugh, and has a young faith that challenges my heart at its core...praying with such authority at a young age that it takes my breath away.  My baby boy loves his Jesus.  He lights up when his heart of worship is caught up in song, closing his eyes and raising his hands to the Lord.  He loves church, his daddy, and his dogs.  And oh, does he ever love his Mommy.  I could write volumes about the way he looks at me when I sing to him.  His eyes are ebony pools full of love.  It is beautiful.  I am so thankful for him.  I am so thankful for this privilege of mothering him and experiencing all these wonderful moments of his life.
So, happy birthday my precious Drew!  You are more than we ever hoped for...our unexpected surprise that we now cannot imagine life without.  You are love and light and joy and fun...and you are the apple of our eye.  Your siblings are so crazy about you, grinning at your antics and proud to call you theirs.  You are a gift, sweet and perfectly fit for us and loved...so very loved.  I pray this year you take that leap and give your heart fully and forever to Jesus.  I pray the Lord lights every step of your way.  May you rise up in strength and know why you were placed in such a time as this.  May you be a life changer and live fully for the glory of God.  His plans for you are good, and we count it all joy to be the parents He chose for you.  Sweet boy, may you always feel the joy you bring to others and be blessed beyond measure.
We love you more than words can express.

Oh, and can you slow it down just a little, for crying out loud?  I mean really...five?
Sigh.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Nine months plus...

We went on a vacation...by airplane.
I wondered how this would affect her.  We rehearsed over and over..."We are all going to California, we are all going to play at the beach, and we are all coming home together."

Over and over we reassured her that she could safely be excited about going on an airplane with Mommy and Daddy.

So we went.  She smiled as she buckled her baby doll into her seatbelt.  (Remember this?  We've come a long way, baby!)  I took a photo and marveled at what I was witnessing.  We flew, we landed, grandparents and a cousin met up with us.  We flew and landed again...and then we vacationed like nobody's business.

It.  Was.  Fabulous.  

I heart SoCal weather, I'm just sayin'.

Katie learned to surf, Gracie built masterpiece sandcastles, Drew threw sand...and whatever else ended up in his meaty little hands, DJ boogie-boarded, and Mama?  Well, I got myself a tan.  :)

Mari played happily in the sand all week, testing boundaries occasionally, but she IS four.  So no big deal.   We had one incident when she nearly stepped into traffic just because she wanted to go the opposite direction from where she was told, but thankfully we stopped her and Daddy stepped in to make sure she understood that she must obey the details...if we say go out this door of the car, it is for a very good reason!  (#1 being her safety!)

We ended the week relaxed and rested...ok not really.  Let's just say those college students in the condo next door can PARTAY into the wee hours.  I must be getting old.    But we arrived home safely and I again saw another layer peel away from my daughter.  Because we all went to California, we all played on the beach, and we all came home together.


She has been so much easier to deal with since.

I knew attachment was a process, but it really is remarkable to experience it.  It happens day-by-day, layer-by-layer of trust.  The emotions wax and wane, but they are always on an upward trend of growth.  I have those moments when I sit back and think about what has transpired in 9 months and I am speechless.  She is not the same child I brought home.  She has grown in every way.  Challenges?  Yes, we have them, but not nearly to the degree we had them 9 months ago.  My love for her deepens with every milestone, every smile, every time I hear her say "I want to go home" because she means home.  Our home.

Last night, my husband read to our children and the kids took turns praying afterwards.  Sweet Drew (age 4 and not given to accurate details!) decided to recount Mari's story to God...in his own way.  He has been talking lately about how he is going to grow up and go to Africa and help kids find their mommies (meaning he will help kids get adopted).  So he said  "Kids in Africa don't have mommies and Mari doesn't have a mommy so I'm gonna help them find one."  (Meaning kids LIKE her don't have mommies.)
Mari looked at him quizzically, then looked at me and said "I have a mommy."
"Yes, you do.  You have a mommy and a daddy and brothers and sisters!"  I said.

She smiled the biggest smile...a smile of satisfaction and joy.  My heart leapt with the knowing on her face.
She is found.  She belongs.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

8 months and extreme randomness...

Oh. My. Word.  Has this EVER been a busy month!

Miss Mari has been home 8 (and a half...yes I am late) months and it has been a good season for her.  There are still "days" but those days are SO much less intense than they were before.  I am seeing her draw closer to her Daddy and seek his attention and comfort, as well as respond better to my verbal commands and now is able to "talk things through" instead of falling apart and screaming in anger or frustration.  We traveled (this time ALL of us) to California for a week of fun in the sun and she did GREAT.  Daddy was there through it all and stepped in at all the right times with her and she responded beautifully to him.  Yes, she is still pushing those boundaries, but she had two of us enforcing them day in and day out for the whole week and I can see, now that we are home, how that really helped her settle a bit more.
She is more affectionate than ever, and now tells me "I need to hold you, Mommy" if she is upset.  I love to cuddle her and feel her melt into me.  What a work the Lord is doing!

I had a first with her this week that has struck me so deeply.  It was completely unexpected.  She had disobeyed and I was trying to talk to her, to get her to look me in the eye and focus on what I was saying.  She kept fidgeting with her hands, scratching at her clothes and playing with her mouth so I took her hands and held them firmly in mine so she would have to be still and listen.  She began to cry as I spoke and got very frustrated because the tears were running down her cheeks and she couldn't use her hands.  It hit me...
I had never in 8 months seen tears run down her cheeks.  Every time she has cried, she immediately takes her hands and wiped the tears before they even have a chance to spill over her eyelashes.

When is the last time someone wiped her tears away?


My heart broke for her.  As I spoke, I reached out gently and wiped away her tears.  Her eyes, which had been downcast, darted up and looked at me in surprise.  I continued to stroke her face and catch the tears as they fell while talking her through the incident and helping her understand right from wrong...

that Jesus loves her and wants her to have a clean heart.

That He died to wash her sins away and He will help her to obey when it is hard.

(Because it IS hard...even for Mommy.  Especially for Mommy)

In the midst of all this, our trip to Cali was nothing short of fabulous!  My darling 10 year old, Katie, who until this Summer didn't even like the deep end of a pool, not only swam in the Pacific Ocean, she SURFED!  Nine times my girl caught a wave a rode it in, standing on her own two feet!  She was so excited and proud of herself, and I (being the dutiful mom that I am) thoroughly embarrassed her by screaming and jumping up and down on the beach..."YOU DID IT!  YOU'RE SURFING!  OH MY WORD, YOU ARE DOING IT!!!"

We ate, we burned tanned, we ate, we loafed, we ate, we played...did I mention we ate?  I am a fan of fish tacos...
and donuts.
I'm just sayin'.

It was good.  SO good.  And such a well-timed vacay as we are now preparing for our first day of school!
GULP.

The schoolroom upstairs (which just recently became such...as the kitchen table was WAY too distracting with barking dogs, telephones, and doorbells interfering with concentration) was painted a cheery green today.  Now I get to hang all the cute plaques with quotes SURE to inspire and finalize all the little details so we can get this par-tay started!  I had hoped to start tomorrow but I think it may be Monday before we really get going.  Maybe we'll do a 1/2 day for the next couple of days, just to get familiar with the books and new routine...but it will be a soft start to say the least.

I am so ready, though, to get going with this school year!  The kids are ready as well...eager to try out the new books and programs, and I can just tell we need the structure to return to our days.  It is time.
DJ is looking forward to his new Math curriculum, Katie (the bookworm) has decided she is going to assign herself book reports (we'll see how long THAT lasts!), Gracie is excited about being a first grader and doing ALL the subjects and Drew is "so proud that I am in Kindergarten" which just thrills me to no end!  The boy cannot WAIT to learn to read!

I am SO thankful for this call the Lord placed on our family.  Homeschooling is such a privilege, such a blessing.  On the hardest of days, I would not trade one moment of watching my kids learn and grow and become best friends again.  It is beautiful and I am humbled as I see the task before me.  Lord, be my strength...fill me with wisdom and patience...use my hands and my words to bless and teach and train up my children in the way YOU want them to go.

Etch these days into my memory, more clearly than any photograph.  May my children know and feel the love that surrounds them and be content.

Yes, Lord, may we all be content.




Thursday, July 14, 2011

Lest I forget...

My sweet Drew, so proud to be four-almost-five, has become enamored with a new song.

It is not uncommon for children to fixate on a song, singing it over and over ad nauseum, but this time is different.

This time, my son is not only fixated on the song, he is fixated on Who the song is about.

He asks me to sing it with him at every bedtime.  As I sing, he looks into my eyes adoringly and joins in, heartfelt and only slightly off-key.   His eyes, almost ebony, shine with joy.  He serenades us in the car, reminding us that it is about Jesus, who died on the cross to save us from our sins.

Those are his words, at four-almost-five.

It is a song I have known for a long time but has taken on new meaning, a fuller meaning, when sung with my baby boy and I love with all of my heart that he loves this song so much...

Here I am to worship, here I am to bow down,
here I am to say that you're my God.
You're altogether lovely, altogether worthy,
altogether wonderful to me.

I'll never know how much it cost 
to see my sin upon that cross.
I'll never know how much it cost
to see my sin upon that cross.

Oh, that his sweet heart of worship will only grow stronger...