Saturday, November 30, 2013

The End of My Rope

Back a long time ago- well, what seems like a long time ago- when it was just me and Tommy for the most of my days, I decided to babysit my niece (who is the same age as Tommy.)  Two babies and a new mama, there are a whole lot of stories and disclamiers that could come out of that year, but, most basically- I did it.  I watched two babies for the better part of the day. Somewhere in my mind I figured I managed a horribly collicy baby and my sweet niece, and therefore I could conquer the world. I remember Kenney and I still had standards. Dishes were never left in the sink. There were never fingerprints on the windows. We woke up early on Saturday mornings to do laundry and wash our bedroom sheets. Every. Saturday. Morning. (Well, being honest, he woke up and pulled the sheets from under me and I am pretty sure I fought that kicking and screaming- seriously.) We kept lists, and had routines, and planned weekend projects. I distinctly remember being proud. It makes me a bit nauseous now, but I remember thinking it. I was happy, yes, but secretly proud. Money wasn't really tight. I lost my baby weight. We had a clean and managed house. We even had a cat and a puppy. Even little colicy Tommy would take a bottle from Daddy now and then, to give me a break. Even on my worst days it felt like things were in control. Even on those bad days when Tommy didn't stop crying and I was exhausted, I remember the dozens and dozens of people that either gave practical advice or the simple quote... "It will get easier, it will get better."  I really did believe life progressed and got "better."

Then Noah came home and I was five months pregnant. We kinda bumbled along those first five months. Audrey was born, and we realized Noah needed some help. Therapy began- Speech Therapy, Occupation Therapy, Developmental Therapy, Physical Therapy, a Behavioral Psychologist, and even a Nutritional Therapist.

The house was full. Somewhere in-between pre and post Noah we moved, we gutted the "new" house out. We traveled to Russia four times. My brother and sister-in law and their new little baby moved in with us. At some point I began babysitting again. Finances changed, our house didn't sell for what we had hoped. The mortgage was high, and the loan we planned on getting to remodel the house in the beginning was used for adoption. Yet, somehow in the midst of all of this we decided to adopt both Isabell and Caleb.  And somehow, we thought special needs, and handicaps and deafness would all be okay too.  So we signed up for more financial "tightness" more people, more stuff, more needs. 

Not even months after we were back with Isabell and Caleb, we planned to go back for Charlotte.  More special needs, Cerebral Palsy to be exact.  We even adopted two more dogs (one who had just delivered puppies) to add to the mix.

There is a whole lot of missing information and pieces in the above paragraphs, but that information isn't the point.

You see, for me loving my little baby boy, colic and all was easy, being a mama wasn't so bad. My little Tommy spent nine months in my womb hearing my voice, listening to my heartbeat. I spoke words of praise, of joy, of delight over him. He was wanted and the two of us grew together. He was born healthy, nearly perfect.  He rolled over and crawled and walked perfectly. He talked perfectly. He ate perfectly. His body did exactly what healthy bodies do. He was loved from the very moment of conception, by both his mommy and his daddy. Sadly, I took the credit for it. I believed it was me. I believed somewhere in my sinful, broken heart that I was what made this little boy giggle and coo and smile at his mama.  As he grew up and began to read and write, and became a mostly well mannered little boy, as he ate all his veggies and asked for more, again, I took the credit, and I believed it was me. I believed I was a good mama.


I cry more than all the past years in my life almost every day. I am a mess. A real, dirty, needy mess. These children, even more specifically the children brought to us by adoption. They ruin me.

Some of my children can not walk at the age of five years old. When I go to the grocery store, I have to park next to a shopping cart corral that has a cart, because there is no way for me to carry both Charlotte and Isabell and hold Caleb and Audrey's hand, and monitor the safety of Tommy and Noah. So if there is no shopping cart, or spot open near a corral- I have to wait, keep driving around, or just leave. I have to get them out of bed in the morning. Carry them to the table, carry them to the living room, carry them downstairs if we all go downstairs, carry them outside if we all want to go out and play.

Some of my children can not use their hands or arms or bodies to get dressed, to brush their teeth, to feed themselves, to hold a cup and drink, to color, to play with their toys, so I feed them, I dress them, I brush their teeth for them, I hold their cup.

Some of my children can not talk. Cannot. Nothing, no words, nothing.  She's almost six years old and all we do is look into each other's eyes, and some days I have no idea what she needs or is trying to tell me. She can barely manipulate her arms, or hands, let alone fingers and so signing isn't much of an option. She can not call out to me in the night and ask for a drink if she is thirsty. She can not say the words every mother longs to hear.... "I love you."

Some of my children are hearing impaired. He can not hear what I am trying to say, he gets confused, he has a hard time talking, of communicating his needs. So I resort to talking loud, almost yelling. I repeat myself over and over, only to be stared at blankly. 

Some of my children have ADHD, SPD and other brain/behavior disorders. Things are confusing. Learning the alphabet is nearly impossible, even thought at five we sing the song every day over and over. They break down, throw tantrums, screaming lying on the floor, all because I politely asked don't touch. They can't sit still, they can't focus. They can't stop pulling at their sleeves or picking at their cuts and scrapes. They cry because someone touched them one minute and the next could gash their head open and not even notice. Their brains are confused and in a basic sense don't work the way they are supposed too. Trips in public can be a nightmare. We have to have special diets- no gluten, no food coloring, no preservatives, no cured meats, stay away from genetically modified foods, extra Omega 3's, extra liquids, eat every two hours.

Some of my children are hurt. From the moment they were conceived things were not like it was for Tommy. I do not know that the nine months (if it was even that) they spent in the womb, words of love, of affirmation, or joy were spoken over them. I know for a fact, some were thrown away, literally in a garbage bag left to die. I know some were malnourished, some spent the first year of their life on their backs, in a crib staring at a ceiling. I know some of them physically hurt. Their bodies were literally broken. They've undergone numerous surgeries and spent more time in a hospital than Kenney and I, and most all the adults I know. They've had multiple "mommies." They've had people come and go. The bonds that a mother and a child have... they've had and then lost, and then had and then lost, and lost and lost again, while some... have had nothing. 

Everything I thought I had control over- my son's walking and talking, his health and his happiness- I believed a lie.  The lie made me proud, and proud people don't know how much they desperately need Jesus.

I am sure I said it before... said that I needed Jesus. But it was not my life's heartbeat. It wasn't the constant I heard all day. It was just words, empty, meaningless words. I know I liked to believe that Christianity was about being strong for the Lord. I know I believed that things were getting better. Life was getting better. Things were getting easier.  Somehow I believed that Christianity made me stronger, more powerful, bigger, better, more capable.  I am not quite sure exactly where I was headed, but I've heard it said "Jesus' office is at the end of your rope."  I do know I wasn't at the end of my rope. 

But I am now.

This though, is where is gets good.

Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you.  Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important.  As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God. --1 Corinthians 1:26-29

I can not say it any better than this quote:
"The hope of the Christian faith is dependent on God’s display of strength, not ours. God is in the business of destroying our idol of self-sufficiency in order to reveal himself as our sole sufficiency. This is God’s way—he kills in order to make alive; he strips us in order to give us new clothes. He lays us flat on our back so that we’re forced to look up. God’s office of grace is located at the end of our rope. The thing we least want to admit is the one thing that can set us free: the fact that we’re weak. The message of the Gospel will only make sense to those who have run out of options and have come to the relieving realization that they’re not strong. Counter intuitively, our weakness is our greatest strength.- Tullian Tchividjian

I have been brought to my knees- better yet the floor, flat on my face, poor and needy, crying tears of desperation. I know every single moment of every single day, I CANNOT do this. I can't. I'm lost. I'm so very helpless. I need so desperately Jesus.

My need for Jesus- it's my greatest strength.  I didn't think really that I needed Jesus, like I need Jesus now. 

It's a beautiful thing.

Being broken and having Jesus.

I didn't see my own dirty hands before, but now I see them every day. I can hold my daughters broken hands in mine, and I can see the dirt and the mess of my own hands, and I can have joy, because Jesus washed me white as snow. 

I didn't see the mess my life had become before, but now I see it every day.  Dishes piled up, shoes on my counters, unopened mail, a lunch still to be packed, and groceries still to put away. But Jesus, he cleans up messes, and he takes the weight of having to perform to have worth and value, he takes that and squashes it, and loves me in spite of the messes at the end of the day.

November is National Adoption Month and Thanksgiving.

No more an appropriate time to be thankful for adoption. God used adoption in my life to break me. Jesus heals broken people.  I am a healed, redeemed, white as snow daughter of a Heavenly Father.  I have never experienced such a joy as this and I am so very thankful.  I am thankful to be at the end of my rope, because this is where I have Jesus, and there is no better place to be.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Seasons Change

I've got a cozy blanket wrapped around my shoulders and my beat up zebra print slippers have made their debut this year.  I left the windows open last night and this morning the house is 65 degrees.  The sounds of crickets, beetles, and locust are only a faint sound in the distance, no longer the loud boasting symphony of the past few months.  The dogs don't quite stay out as long in the morning.  Kenney hits his snooze button a little bit more these days. 

It's a fair assessment to say Summer is on it's way out and Fall is here.

Amazingly thought each new season for me is bittersweet. 

The garden, with it's messy rows and warm-sun kissed tomatoes, the beaches and pools and water toys, the local fair, sweet corn straight from our own garden this year, charcoal grills, staying up late- because it's not dark enough to go to bed, margaritas and mojitos, sweat dripping from the brows of my kids after running down the hill pulling their siblings in a wagon behind them. I could go on and on about summer, I love the summer.

The electric bill, the boys stinky clothes, no running the oven (cause there is no exhaust fan and this house gets HOT) the un-predictability of the garden, it seems there is always too little or way, way, way too much
(too many days this summer were spent with tables filling my kitchen with work to be done) fruit flies, I really could go on and on about summer, I dis-like the summer.

But Fall, seems to be just the same...
Crisp mornings, apple cider, pumpkin patches, a double tall pumpkin-spice latte, sweatshirts and sweaters, watching the kids create leaf piles, earlier bedtimes, roasts and baked casseroles, the glorious display of leaves changing colors, thanksgiving-oh wonderful brined turkey and all the fixin's-oh how I love thanksgiving! Campfires, no cutting the grass, I could go on and on about fall.   I love the fall.

The kids have school (and I am their teacher-praying for myself right now) leaf clean up, schedules and routines are enforced, lazy days seem over, the smell of campfire smoke the next day on the kids clothes, kitchen cooking is way more clean up than grilling, the days get darker, the garden is over, no more fresh watermelon, blueberries, cantaloupe, juicy peaches, fresh picked greens, sweet tomatoes with a dash of salt, oh the fruits of summer that fall doesn't have.... I could go on and on about fall, I do dis-like the fall.

That's Life. (insert awesome Frank Sinatra song here)

What an (insert the sarcasm) epiphany!  But that's the crazy part for me.  I know life changes, it changes every single day.  I know friends come and go, jobs change, houses change, kids grow up and life moves and creaks and groans and some changes are hard and some are easy some I fight and kick and scream and others I welcome. 

I'm standing on the edge of changes.  We have to put one of our dogs down on Monday, I've become a home-schooling mama with six kids, my last sibling is getting married this very weekend, my sister is having her first baby, and I am kicking and screaming and fighting these changes just the same as a monumental three-year old temper tantrum melt down!

Somewhere deep in the recesses of my sinful heart I'm thinking this isn't how I thought it would be.  I would get married, once the kids were back in school, I'd work part time, and things (including all friendships, family and pets) would stay the same... sure I knew life would "change".... but it would change according to what worked best for me.  Bad things that weren't working out, well, of course they could change, but the good stuff- no thanks, no change, they were supposed to stay the same.

I was going to be a "cool" mom (oh just typing that statement makes me roll my eyes and die a little at my pre-mama ignorance) I was going to stay up on fashion, get my nails done not too much, but just enough to make my husband think I was still young and vibrant, I'd run three times a week, early in the morning, and of course with my dogs.  I'd have a cool part time job.  Maybe work at the gym, or volunteer for a great non-profit.  I'd decorate the house (pinterest would be my best friend) Meals would be gourmet and chef quality, I'd bake treats and goodies for the kids.  I'd take the kids fun places and not make them only listen to oldies radio or Christian music.  What a joke- really- WHAT A JOKE!!!!  Stay up on fashion??? If my sisters old college sorority T-shirts count then maybe I'd be good, but until the cover of Vogue shows up with the model in a dress made from an old T-shirt, I am pretty sure that fashion is out.  Nails done???  Trying to plan a time that works to just squeeze that in for my sisters wedding is a nightmare, pretty sure - it ain't happening throughout the year.  Running with the dogs?  If chasing them down the trail or out of the pond to get the rabbit out of their mouth counts, then maybe I'm good...but otherwise....

So I am feeling a bit bitter and angry. I went to a shower on Sunday and saw some of the other ladies.  They had their nails done.  Some had part time jobs, one of them had a baby and even ran a 5K that morning!!  Discontentment sets in really easy at the edge of comparison.

My littlest sister- the one who had all the time in the world- still in college, no real job.  She could come and visit whenever, she could be the "cool" aunt.  I could go do things with her and live my younger free life vicariously though her.  Things were easier when she was single, aunt Mary (for me at least) No really hard topics to talk about, no kids, no job, no marriage.  No additional person to put into the equation of getting together.  I could call her say "hey Mary, what are you doing this weekend, and she could say nothing lets get together" but now she has to say "let me check with my hubby."  Even more complicated now though is this- we are both married- and we are going to "do" our marriages differently, I am sure, and we'll disagree on how to handle things and say things and do things, and we'll each think our way is the right way, before I was married and she wasn't- of course things were different, and it was okay, cause they were!

So I am feeling anxiety and sadness.  I do not know how things are going to work out.  I do not know if we'll ever see eye to eye again.  I do no know if we'll share the same friendship anymore. Fear of the unknown- it's crippling.

My sister is having a baby.  Last summer we got together almost every week, Kenney and I and she and her husband.  We would try the new beer at Three Floyds on a Friday night after the kids were in bed and sit on our deck and chat.  The warm summer air, the frothy beer, the wildlife at night, We'd laugh and talk about funny you-tube videos, we'd talk about real stuff, marriage, money, dying to ourselves, the sermon last Sunday.  We had real and meaningful fellowship, the kind the bible talks about, the kind of friendship, where anything can be put on the table, and where we share it and work through it together.  We laugh and cry and commune together.  She is one of the few people I can leave all my kids with.  She helps me cook and make dinners, she helps with the kids, she can run errands for me, mostly- she has the ability to work around our schedule.  Those late summer nights, and babysitting, and errand running, and help with the kids worked because it was just her and her husband, no crying baby with an early bedtime, no tired mamma up every two hours to nurse a baby.

So I am feeling lonely. Feeling maybe a little bit less loved.  Feeling like things are going to be just a bit harder. (I did this summer's canning season without her- the smell of salsa made her want to puke- I missed her, and her help.) I know babies change things. I know things will be different.  I liked the way it was, and I don't want that to go away.  It worked, the pattern was good, the relationship was fine just the way it was!

From all these thoughts, just putting them on paper, getting them out in the open, exposing them- it makes me breath a little easier this morning.  Mostly though, there are three things I need to learn/remember.

1.  Feelings are normal.  I believe it's been said that the Psalms alone have at least 23 different emotions described in the verses.  We were created to have emotions and feelings.  Pain, Anger, Peace, Grief, Broken-heartedness and Delight- all real emotions, felt by real people. Pretending the emotions don't exist isn't helpful... something alone the lines of honesty is the best policy...

2.  The first thing that I think of, and I think most would think of after reading my words, after seeing my emotions spilled on a page- don't be selfish.  Count your blessings.  Change isn't always bad.  As it seems my life verse- Philippians 2:3 "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind, let each esteem others better than himself."  Clearly, if I applied this verse my thinking would/should change.  Really, if my kids acted like I was acting, I'd probably lecture them, so I've been lecturing myself. 

Laura, you have so much.  School will be okay.  You have all you need in Jesus.  He will equip you.  You have friends that homeschool.  You know others who homeschool.  You are working yourself up into a panic.  Get yourself a simple schedule and good routine, and things will be okay.  Start small- baby steps- look at the progress you've made!  Tommy is reading wonderfully and the others are picking up on it too!  As far as your littlest sister Laura, you are being selfish.  You love your husband right?  Wouldn't you want your sister to enjoy the same blessings of being married as you?  Life isn't about you.  She'll get married and things may be different but you'll enjoy new experiences together and share in new blessings.  Your other sister Laura, seriously Laura???  You really are that selfish??  You really think her goal in life is to serve you?  You're really upset because she won't be around as much to cater to you??  Pathetic!! You should be ashamed of yourself!  You are going to have a new niece or nephew!!!  Think of how awesome that will be.  You and your sister can share and talk about mommy-hood together.  You'll have a new joy, and a new dynamic to your relationship that you should cherish!

Number one and number two seem to be the places I've been bouncing around for almost six weeks now.  I'm not moving past it.  The lecturing isn't seeming to "do" anything.  My schedule and routine isn't accomplishing anything, the feelings aren't going away, and I still feel crappy!  I just end up feeling ashamed of myself and my feelings and thoughts, and I make a goal for myself, for the next day, to wake up, do my devotions, try harder, think better thoughts, write more things down in my thankful journal.... but I just seem to be getting more upset. 

3.  Number one and number two are both true.  My lecture to myself is true.  Sometimes I need that.  Sometimes I need the "law."  I need to be brought to my knees, I need to be reminded of my sin, my sinful thoughts, my selfish nature, but, the law was never intended to change me.  That's the job of the gospel.

Only the Spirit of God, Christ himself can change me, my thoughts, my sinful heart.  So I spend some time focusing on some of Christ's attributes. 

His unfailing love.  Psalm 52:8 "I trust in God's unfailing love forever and ever." 
He's always there. Romans 8:39 "Neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." 
He's the same, and doesn't change. Hebrews 13:8 "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday; today; and tomorrow." 

These are all verses I've heard a million times, but have I meditated on them?  Thought about what they really means? 
Jesus isn't going to one day find someone HE loves more than me. 
He isn't going to spend less time with me. 
He isn't going to be unavailable because I'm not a priority in HIS life anymore. 
He's not going to be busy. 
He's not going to be too tired. 
He isn't going to be too far away to visit. 
He doesn't have to go home early even thought I want Him to stay because He has other things to do.  Anytime I need something from him, boom- HE'S there- help with school, help with the kids, help with my messy house, help running errands- HE'S there for every single thing I need. 
If I call Him, I won't get a busy signal or his voice mail. 
He'll return my emails immediately. 
If I need a shoulder to cry on, He will always be there. 

And that's what I needed.  It's a good thing that life changes, because it makes Christ's un-changing love that much more awesome.  Sweet is sweeter when you've tasted sour first.  It's okay that things in this world change.  Christ hold's me in the palm of His hand and I can't be plucked from it.  What a glorious feeling.  I was looking for love in the wrong places.  Just like the joy and pain in the changing of the seasons -my life and my relationships will change, maybe for the better, maybe some not.... but it's okay because the friendship I need, the time, the stability, the always available, always on time, never tired friend has me as His own daughter and that will never ever ever change.  It's HIS love, HIS grace that changes me.  It gives me joy and peace.  No goals or lectures, no amount of trying harder is going to give me what I need. 

I need daily to be dazzled, enamored, enthralled, and reminded of Christ's unfailing love.  That's what I need.   Because I need a little soul in my life- Arethra perfectly reminded me today of that:

        What a Friend we have in Jesus,
        all our sins and griefs to bear!
        What a privilege to carry
        everything to God in prayer!
        O what peace we often forfeit,
        O what needless pain we bear,

        All because we do not carry
        everything to God in prayer.

       Have we trials and temptations?
       Is there trouble anywhere?
      We should never be discouraged;
      take it to the Lord in prayer.
      Can we find a friend so faithful
      who will all our sorrows share?

So I can watch my sister walk down the aisle on Saturday and smile and be happy, because I have everything I need in Christ already.
So I can wake up on Monday morning and do school with the kids and smile and be okay, because I have everything I need in Christ already.
So I can watch the birth of my sisters first baby, and I can watch the dynamic of her family and our relationship change, and be at peace, because I have everything I need in Christ already.
Oh What a friend I have in Jesus!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

30 days.

30 days.

That's how long we've shared our time together with our newest little girl.

I'm thinking about the 30 days prior to these last 30 days and the 30 days prior to those last 30 days...I'm thinking about how strange it is that sets upon sets of 30 days can go by, and our lives remain the same.  Then suddenly 30 days can go by and our lives are forever drastically changed.  Even more thought provoking is the fact that as prepared or planned out my weeks and days and months even years may be- I never know the impact 30 days will have on me. 

The thoughts are scattered, the life lessons still aren't totally clear, and some of the reality isn't quite as real as maybe it will be.  Nonetheless there are some things we are chewing on.  Good things, bad things, sin things, flesh things, practical things, God things.

We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ-  2 Corinthians 10:5

This little girl has brought to the surface a problem both Kenney and I have.  We are NOT taking our thoughts captive and forcing them to be obedient to Christ.  We've just let our thoughts be our thoughts.  They come in and maybe we don't act upon them, but, we've given them a home and a place to stay, and even three good meals a day- all regardless of their allegiance.  Thoughts. They seem so innocent, so harmless, we say things like "we're human" "we're sinners" "this is all normal and a part of living in a fallen world" but, do we EVER say things like "hey, somebody lock those thoughts up and don't let them out until they have conformed to what Christ would have me think."

Captive.  What a simple word with such a simple meaning.  To confine or imprison.

What happens when we don't take our thoughts captive?  What happens when our thoughts have free reign?

It was two am in the morning and three in the afternoon in China.  Thoughts are running wild and spilling out of our mouths through the miracle of wireless phone calls. What if she never talks?  What if she never walks?  She is the only little girl that is handicapped out of the 80 other people doing medicals- why do all these other people have it "easier"?  What if we never have alone time again?  I can't do this.  We can't do this.  What have we done.  What about our other kids?  We'll never vacation again.  We can't afford two power chairs and adaptive aids and therapy tools.  What if all of our time is spent with Speech Therapy, and OT and PT and doctor appointments?  Our lives are already so busy and so full, we can't possibly make it any more full and stay afloat.  What about us?  What about our marriage?  What if it's never just "us" again?  What if we are cutting food and wiping mouths and changing diapers until we die?  We had dreams ya know- dreams full of just Kenney and I, just him and I and coffee shops and quaint restaurants, beaches and Zombie Dust (that would be our island beer) dreams of quiet mornings, spontaneous living, and weekend getaways.  What if this is what our lives are like forever...

I'd like to say this was just one conversation.  I'd like to say we talked about it and worked it out.  We didn't.  We've spent HOURS upon HOURS of conversations like this in the last 30 days.

So we tried to fix it all.... tried to make it all get better and go away.  We knew things were broken, and so we tried to fix it. 

1. The Comparison Game
This one is a favorite of ours.  It's seems to be the go to remedy in our fix-it tool box.  And just like basic screwdrivers, there are two go-to favorites -the Phillips head and the flat head.  The Phillips head approach- compare our lives with people who have it seemingly better than us.  So we looked around at the people we knew that didn't have any kids with disabilities.  We looked around at the people that have booming college funds and big houses and separate rooms for their kids.  We looked around at the people going on family vacations - rock climbing, white water rafting, swimming, and hiking.  And we sank even further.  We found our lives to be ugly and not fun.  Suddenly everything was bad.  The house- bad.  The cars- bad.  Our kids-all bad.  Heck- we even looked at our wedding pictures and decided those weren't very good either, especially since someone else had better ones than us.  The pity party comparison /Phillips head screwdriver approach failed us miserably.  Because all it did was make us even more miserable.  Clearly the problem must have been who and what we compared our lives to- so we moved on to the flat head screwdriver approach.  Compare our lives with others who have it worse than us.  So we compared ourselves to the parents who have lost their children in this world.  The pain didn't go away.  Suddenly we were overwhelmed with guilt and how insensitive we must be.  We thought thoughts like "We should be thankful our children are here with us right now."  "We should be thankful that we are not in and out of hospitals, thankful our children can eat and chew and swallow and smile and communicate with us, thankful they are happy, thankful they are not in pain...."  Funny thing is, we were thankful for all those things, but it still felt like our arm was on fire, and while we were thankful our house wasn't on fire, mostly, we were still a bit concerned about the arm that IS on fire.  Problem is, pain is pain, and hurt is hurt, and sin is sin, and being thankful doesn't make sin go away.  ONLY God takes away sin. 

2.  The Convincible Ally
Find someone, in particular someone who doesn't exactly know you well.  Someone who might not want to offend you.  Someone who probably really doesn't care, but key is, you have to be able to act like they know you well and care tons.  A co-worker, or friend in your yoga class, maybe the cleaning lady, or hair-dresser.  So we tell them our story (clearly leaving out any details that might make us seem like the bad guys.)  We use words that make us sound like the hero of the story "We're really thankful she can get the therapy here she needs, but isn't it so sad that she can't walk?" Guess what the natural response is?  Someone gushing over us, telling us how awesome of parents we must be, telling us we deserve so much more, the praise pours over us and we bask in the accomplishment.  Not only did we get someone to side with us and totally agree with our point of view, we became saints in the process.  Then we went home.  Then we talked with each other again.  Kenney doesn't think I'm a saint, as a matter of fact, he has first hand knowledge that I am not.  And, while Kenney was calling me out, he probably used an expletive of some sort... no saint there either.  Spouses have a way of bringing the truth to the surface.  Spouses destroy the self-praise bandwagon. 

3.  Just Go With It
Our last ditch effort- just let the feelings guide us.  Fear and worry- just go with it.  Who cares if we go to bed scared and crying.  Who cares if we wake up cursing the day.  What does it matter if we're happy and friendly.    Praise God for the Holy Spirit!  Praise God for Grace!  One of Tommy's first Sunday School lessons resonated through our heads- Why were we created?  To bring God glory.  These feelings were not bringing God glory.

Lastly (which should have been the first- again- Praise God for his infinite Grace)
We prayed together.  Laying in bed, our eyes were closed and Kenney prayed.  I don't even know the words he used.  I don't remember anything, other than surrender.  Giving it all to God.  No more fixing it.  No more comparison games or going with it, or pity parties- everything was surrendered.  Every thought, every feeling, every worry, all put at the foot of the cross.  Together we surrendered.

and take every thought captive to obey Christ-  2 Corinthians 10:5 

We're moving on.  We're taking those thoughts captive, and surrendering them, handing them over to Christ.  After all, we are powerless to make our thoughts obey Christ, it is only CHRIST himself that can change us, and change our thoughts.  We're changing, we're growing and we're learning new things together. In 30 days, our little Charlotte has changed our lives forever.  Our prayer is that she changes our lives, our marriage, and our parenting to reflect more and more of Christ, and less and less of ourselves.  We pray she brings Him glory.  We pray she helps us, together, through our parenting and our marriage- bring Him glory. 

Practically speaking, this article was AWESOME!  Really gave Kenney and I a much needed perspective.  To summarize:  Don't believe everything you think; The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9) Fill your minds with the right things; I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless. (Psalm 101:3) Don't stop learning; Wise men store up knowledge . . . (Proverbs 10:14), Those who get wisdom do themselves a favor, and those who love learning will succeed. (Proverbs 19:8), “My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.” (Hosea 4:6) Feed yourself on God's word.

Hindsight is 20/20.  I can look back on the last couple of weeks and see some of the areas we failed prior to our meltdowns.  We believed our thoughts.  We filled our minds with worthless and useless things, instead of God's word.  We didn't store up the truths we'd already learned.  I could go on and on.... I'll say it again, PRAISE GOD FOR HIS GRACE! 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

"Leave No One Behind"

posted by Kenney

I have the privilege of being the son of a US Army Veteran that served in the Vietnam era.  The brother in law to both an Army and Marine soldier.  The grandson of an Army soldier.  The nephew of a Marine, Navy, and Army servicemen and friend of many who have served.  One thing that has always stuck with me each time I hear it in speeches or movies is how our military "leaves no one behind."

When I examine what that means in my civilian life and how I can apply that honorable "code" of living in Northwest Indiana - where there are corn fields all around us and the closest military action I ever will see is sand bagging around my house to deal with floods- I've decided this is as close as it's gonna get.


When we started the Chinese adoption process nearly two years ago, we were given "access" to a database of some of the waiting children.  Each child on the list was given a pseudo name in English for child protection and easy identification.

Laura and I have always adored the name "Charlotte."  In our history, we talked about naming a little girl by that name.  If Tommy was a girl, that's the name we were going to use. Then Noah came along, and obviously was not a Charlotte. Then Audrey, who at the time it felt right to name her Audrey as a namesake to her Grandmother "Nanny" and my Aunt Audrey.  Two women of impeccable character and women we looked up to.  Caleb, obviously not a Charlotte, and Isabell, who again, Charlotte just didn't fit.  In fact Laura has told her sisters that if any of them ever have little girls, the name "Charlotte" is off the table for them.  Period.  She means business.  Don't go there. (You gotta know Laura to get the seriousness of this statement. Seriously)

Back to the database of waiting children.

There was a girl on the database with the name "Charlotte."  We found out her Chinese name was Yawen.  A little girl with a cute round face, full of life eyes, and a diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy. Of course Laura gravitated to her file and requested information on her (this was before we had even looked at the files of our Isabell and Caleb) however she was not available at the time, some other family somewhere had her file and was possibly adopting her.  Since her file was not available, Laura prayed for her.  She prayed that a family would care for this little "Charlotte" and prayed for her to find a forever family.  We continued to look at children on the waiting list and eventually found our Isabell and Caleb, locked in their files and proceeded to bring them home to be a part of our family.

Fast forward 1 year.  

Laura and I are in China for a week at this point.  We have our Caleb and we are now in Guiyang, China picking up Isabell.  We arrived in a small office in a part of China that MAYBE has two-four adoptions a year.  We are chatting with Isabell's foster family.

Here is where the story starts to connect.

Through all the questions we had for the foster family we find out that Isabell has a foster sister that lives with them too and she's available for adoption.  Her foster sister's name... Yawen.

Knowing Yawen was Isabell's foster sister and the odds of 2000+ children on the waiting list in a country with over a million orphans, knowing these two girls were actually living together in a remote part of the country. Knowing they grew up together. Knowing all of this, well,  Laura knew one thing.....God was moving.

I on the other hand did not feel the movement. In fact, any form of "movement" I was feeling I chalked it up to indigestion and jet lag. Once we got back to Indiana, I suppressed any knowledge of that feeling, I hid deep in the recesses of my heart what I knew. I denied what my own heart knew. I was overwhelmed on many fronts; knowing we now had five children - five and under, some with special needs, some with a misdiagnosis that was way more complicated and difficult than what I had planned. Knowing this information, put much fear and much trepidation in my heart.  How would I continue to lead our family? How could I provide for all of our children in each of their unique needs? All I could think about was our small-mustard colored house that we lived in that needed repair and remodeling for a, gulp, wheelchair.  I would wake up at night scared not knowing what lies ahead for us.  All I could think about was the unique needs each of our children seemed to have and  I as the leader of my household had no idea how to guide them or direct them or help them. I felt that I was not leading very well at all, so to add more to lead was surely a bad idea if I couldn't even manage these five. It was all about what I felt was best.  All about what I wanted.  All about what I knew I needed to control.

I went into a season of "enough".  I reached my "enough".  Circle the wagons, it was time for internal focus on what I was living for.  By July of last year, Laura had brought up to me several times "Charlotte" and it broke her heart.  Weeping like I never saw, she would stand before me saying her heart breaks that Isabell's sister is there and we can't bring her home.  She just cried over and over again, that she felt like there was just to many "miracles" that this was our Charlotte.  I would just think to myself, someone else can handle that. I can't handle another little girl, let alone another little girl with Cerebral Palsy.

I would just look at her with a cold stare and even colder heart.  Refusing to see the hurt in my wife, refusing to help her deal with this, refusing to partner with my partner....I didn't just build a hedge....I built a wall stronger than Fort Knox.  Discussions on the topic of "Charlotte" turned into arguments and then to fights.  I refused to listen to Laura, or even talk with her about it-  I kept my wagons circled.  I failed Laura as a husband during this time.  One Saturday afternoon; it got bad.  Really really bad.  

Laura and I argued for the morning and into afternoon and to make a long story short, her parents got involved in our "conversations."  Her dad took me out for a drink to have a "guy to guy" talk.  I explained to him about "Charlotte" and the story, except the story was my story, and only a half truth of a story- and after the conversation He agreed we should be on the same page, because based on what I told him (the lie that God wasn't calling me) we weren't on the same page.  I won that battle; for whatever worth that was. We came back and shared I had told Laura's dad about Charlotte.  When Laura heard I told her dad about Charlotte, and told him a story that wasn't all true she knew the "conversations" were over.  I watched a piece of my wife die that day, and I knew it.

We didn't talk about "Charlotte" anymore.  I didn't pray for her anymore, I didn't pray about what God's will for my life was. I felt like I won.  I felt it was time to really begin living my life.  After all I had done enough.

I didn't speak about this to anyone.  I didn't tell my accountability partners. I didn't share about what had happened with any of my Christian friends.  I knew I was a "fake" Christian.  I knew I wasn't being honest with anyone.  I knew what God wanted of me, though.  I just knew it.

...and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. Matthew 10: 3b-4

Then one day I remember praying.  I remember being on my knees.  I remember opening my hands and asking God what he wanted of me.  It clicked.  My eyes became open through the Spirit that I was being called to pray for "Charlotte" again.  This started slowly.  I prayed for a good month or two.  Then one day I remember being on the phone with Laura and the words just slipped out, "we need to go back and bring her sister home."

So, Laura and I talked about it with each other. We can't bring every orphan home. We don't know what the future brings. We had no idea how all the details were going to work out or if they were even going to work out. We might be making a huge mistake.  This may be one of the most difficult things we do.  This may be a bigger challenge than we can even imagine. But one thing for sure, it has taught me than living with open hands is the best way to live. Letting God use me, however he pleases is the place to be.  Putting the focus on what God wants instead of what I want is where peace and comfort are found.

This means six children ages six and under.

So with that, China is in our destination again.  In fact, I leave tomorrow to go back to bring "Charlotte" home and forever be our Charlotte.

I can now look back and see some of the ways God moved.  In the very beginning, in something as simple as a name planted in our hearts. In meeting her foster parents, In bringing Isabell home first, In the therapists we have, in the time we've spent getting used to heading to Shriners all the time, in the drawing me closer to Himself. 

We've decided to apply the motto "Leave No One Behind" and not leave our little Charlotte an orphan any longer.



Saturday, June 8, 2013

We too, Choose Life

I was barely up, eyes barely open as the sun was not even nearly up-  "She didn't make it through the procedure."

And my mind knew what my heart felt. 

On February 29, 2012, this sweet little girl sat in my lap, while I listened to her sing "Jesus Loves Me" in Chinese.  In a home for orphans in China, while we were picking up our son Fengfeng (Caleb) this little girl sat with no mommy or daddy and with extreme medical conditions. 

From that day forward I have had the privilege of watching a family choose life.  Her life.

Their story is long and complicated.  It is full of twists and turns.  Full of setbacks and problems.  From the beginning, pain and suffering were commonplace in this story.  I watched every plot twist unfold and have had the privilege to first hand witness the orchestrating of God's mighty hand in their lives.  The family chose life.  At all costs.  The financial burdens, the paperwork, the stress, the hours and hours on their knees in prayer, the questions, the hard answers, the extra work, the extra time, the extra everything it required of them to make that decision. They even chose more life. That arm and leg and one quarter of head in the picture- that little boy is part of the story too.  They chose his life as well.

Last night, that little girl, Zoe, had Jesus call her home.  In the midst of a complicated and trying surgical procedure, all the medical intervention couldn't sustain her life here on earth, and Jesus chose to call her home. 

The pain and intense heartache I can't even begin to fathom.  The tears I've cried over this little girl are nothing compared to the mama who chose her life, to the family that fought for her life. 

Many thoughts flood my mind.  Almost every thought brings me to my knees and to tears.  May this little girl's life remind me why we live the way we live.  May her life remind me why we have the children we have.  Why we support the ministries we support.  May her life remind me, human life, is precious and to be celebrated and to be chosen.  Always.  Made in Christ's image each life is, and HE is always to be chosen, always to be celebrated, always to be praised.  Every single sacrifice, every financial burden, every amount of suffering is always worth it.  Life is always to be valued.

Zoe's mama chose life.
Zoe's daddy chose life.
Zoe's family chose life.

They penned these words to remember:  (click here to read the full post)

So how much is a life worth? Ask Jesus. He gave everything. This tiny bit I'm giving right now?!? It pales in comparison. I pray that I'll remember that when this day is done.

I pray for this family- that
"the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:7
I pray that it may be true of me, that I choose life.  That this family chooses life.  No matter the cost, no matter the suffering, no matter the ridicule, no matter the culture, no matter the expense, even if it costs our own lives, I pray it to be true.
We choose life.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Am I a Mother?

It seems most fitting that on Mother's Day I personally define who I am.

I scan the pages of an old journal covered in teddy bears and pink ribbons and bows.  The words on the page are quite sobering.

September 9, 1990 (that makes me 10 years old)
" I know that nobody likes me, I wish that someone had."
"I want to be cool and have a friend."
"I wish I was good at sports like all the other kids."

23 years later and it's amazing how some thoughts still creep into the deep crevices of my heart. 

I've spent some time this week reflecting on Mother's Day and reading about the history of Mother's Day.  Most profoundly are two thoughts:  from a personal, reflective perspective Mother's Day forces us (me) into one of two categories- 1.  I am a good mom, and therefore deserve a gift, respect, a breakfast in bed, cards, flowers, etc, etc.  or 2. I fail as a mother, I can't get my act together, my children are heathens all condemned to hell, my house is a mess, I can't ever keep up with laundry or dishes or dust or anything!

It is in neither of those places I am comfortable.  To say I am a "good" mommy never bodes well with me.  As one of my favorite writers says- "I ain't no hallmark mother."  I know the truth.  I know how many times in today alone I raised my voice.  I know how many times I said the wrong words.  I didn't listen to the tender stories being told by my babies, I didn't rock away tears, I didn't speak of the gospel, I didn't play, I didn't teach, I wasn't a good mommy.

Yet, to name all my failures seems to send me into a downward spiral.  A frenzy of pain, guilt, shame, loathing and despair. 

And yet, I desperately want and desire to be a "good" mommy.  I want to be good at what I do.  I want the world to see me as a good mother.  Yet, I am not.  I can't.  No matter how early I awake.  No matter how hard I try.  No matter what I do.  I. Can't.  I. Fail.

How?  How do I, as a woman who spends nearly every waking hour of my life tending to little children , define myself in any other way than a mother?

And to be honest.  If I got a report card on my mothering abilities.  "F."

Big fat "F."

Oh the world might catch glimpses of me.  They might see me calm, or not raise my voice.  They may see me with all my children peering into a basket of newborn puppies, while we all giggle and laugh and relish the joy of new life.  Some may sit at our dinner table and listen to each of our children pray.  They might think they've been taught well.  They may see me hold a crying child and whisper words of comfort.  They might see a lot of me, but what no one sees is all of me.  The truth.

I told a child today they were a "snotty, crabby. whiney, brat, that no one wants to be around."
I rolled my eyes.
I punished out of anger.
I distanced myself from a child that doesn't want to love me.
I didn't listen.
I didn't kiss their skinned knees.
I thought more about my needs than anyone else's.
I didn't tell each and every one of them I loved them over and over again.
I chose myself over each of them.

If a mommy is who I am.  I fail.

To be even more honest.  I am exhausted.  I find "mommy-ing" exhausting.  The potty-training, the temper-tantrums, the learning disabilities, the handicaps, the anger, the tears, the crying, the late nights, the whining, the whining, the WHINING!!!!!

The performance.  The behavior of my kids at the grocery store I feel directly reflects me.  The behavior of my kids at Sunday school directly reflects on who I am.  If my children have manners.  If my children eat all their vegetables, if my children know their ABC's and their colors and their constant vs. vowels.... the performance of my children seems to directly reflect on me... on my skills as a mommy.

And it's all exhausting.  And on Mother's Day I'll wake up exhausted.

I'll feel like I am drowning.  My natural instinct in the words of another favorite author " it is natural to paddle harder and kick faster when you feel like you are drowning."

And I'll wake up tomorrow and feel like I am drowning.

My expectations.  What I expect a "good" mommy should look like, I won't be able to meet. My performance is clearly not that of a "good" mommy.  Tomorrow morning, just like every other morning, if I look on the performance of me as mother, I will see all that I didn't do, and all the areas I failed.  I will see what I wish I was, and see what I am not.  I will feel the burden to be something that I wish I was.  I will feel the burden because my very identity as a mommy is at stake.  I feel the burden because I am a prisoner of my own demands.

Luke 4: 16-19   When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures.  The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written:
 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
    that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come

So, how do I celebrate Mother's Day then?

By realizing that Jesus came to set the captive free. (that's me)

Free from my own demands.
Free from the pressure of having to make it on my own.
Free from the burden to get it all right.
Free from the obligation to fix ourselves.
Free from the need to be right.
Free from the need to be rewarded.
Free from the need to be respected.
Free from the need to perform for my worth, identity, or value.

Jesus transferred HIS performance to me when He chose me as His daughter.

Jesus won for me by dying on the cross. 

Because Jesus won for me, I am free to loose.
Because Jesus was strong, I am free to be weak.
Because Jesus was someone, I am free to be no-one.
Because Jesus succeeded for me, I am free to fail.

The gospel liberatingly declares, that in Christ we already ARE a winner, strong, someone, and already successful.

Then who am I?

My identity is not in what I do, but in what Jesus has already done for me.

Before I am a wife, before I am a mother, I am a daughter.  A daughter of the King.

My life will no longer be judged on the performance of me as  mother (or wife, or friend, or sister or "_____")  My life will no longer be about what I do. My life will no longer be about what I do not do.  My life is about what Jesus has already done.

My life, my identity, has nothing to do with what I do, my identity has nothing to do with my past, my future, my strengths my weaknesses, how clean my house is, how good my dinners are, how much I weigh, my family background, my education or my performance as a mother but instead, my identity is firmly anchored in Jesus' accomplishments not mine. 
 On this mother's day I am free.  Free from what other's think of me, and free from what I think of myself.

My happiness will not be found in anything other than what Christ has already done for me.

May the JOY of what Christ has already done for each and every one of us be what motivates my heart today.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Jesus Came to Serve

The day starts, today for instance- wet beds and fussy kiddos.  Muddy dog paws and literally spilt milk.  Leaky faucets, no time for a shower.  Behavior issues and eating issues.  Running late for doctor appointments.  Crappy doctor appointments.  Screaming and tantruming kids- and the loneliness that comes from no one understanding. Runny noses and scraped knees.  More anger and more fear.  More pain in some of my children that wrecks me and ruins me and leaves me crying.  A husband home late and car repairs. A grocery list I didn't complete.  Dinner that never got made. Winter decorations still on my mantle.  More problems and more issues that run deeper and thicker than I could ever put on paper. 

I begin to feel lost again.  I feel like a failure.  I feel a mess and I want to hide from it all.  I don't know how to redeem the day and the messes.  I find myself longing for the things of this world.  A maid, a new job, kids that don't have handicaps and medical issues, a shower and makeup, and the spiral begins.  I am looking for my identity in places that it shouldn't be and I am upset when I can't find it there.

It's 8:30 at night and the kids need to get to bed.  Kenney and I stare at each other, and I see the brokenness he sees. It's the week of Easter.  Every single night we pray with our children.  We pray they see Jesus as glorious and holy.  We pray they believe and accept Jesus as their savior.  We pray they see themselves in need of a savior and we pray they see Jesus as their everything.  Yet, these littles, they look to us to see that, and when I look in the mirror, do I see Jesus?

So we gather in the middle of the kitchen floor.  In the last moments of the day I confess my sins.  I tell them all I love them.  That I yelled when I shouldn't and  I complained when I had so much to be thankful for. I used words that were not loving and I lived selfishly.  I tell them all I am sorry.  We talk about Jesus forgiving me of my sins, and how much I need, and my children all need a savior. 

I tell them mommy can't be a good mommy without Jesus.  Only Jesus can make me a good mommy, and only Jesus can make them good sons and daughters.  Because there is only one good and perfect man, and His name is Jesus.  I tell them, if we believe, we get Jesus- we get His good and perfect record as our own. We get grace. A couple of the older ones start to think about that. 

We didn't do a passover dinner, as much as in my mind I wished we could have.  (My mom came over and made us some Mexican tortillas) We didn't do Lenten devotions as I wished we would have.  We didn't do Easter crafts and empty tombs to celebrate His death and Resurrection.  We messed up a lot.

But tonight, we stopped everything rolled up each others pant legs and removed our socks and read together:

John 13:4-5 So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him.


John 13:12-17 When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am.  If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.  For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

Every last one of us washed each other's feet.  It was all I had in me to keep from crying the entire time.  Jesus came to serve.  And He served perfectly, without sin.  Washing each others feet made that so clear and obvious. 

The day has been redeemed.  All my failures, all of my sin, it's washed away.  I believe and claim the One Perfect Servant as my Savior.   The sorrow that seems to consume so much of our days, can still be met with rejoicing!  For in Christ, we have everything.  In Christ we are full of an infinite supply of everything we need.  In that fullness, at the end of the day, we can serve, and wash each others feet. We will go to sleep tonight resting in the knowledge of His grace, and the peace that it brings to our weary hearts.

  2 Corinthians 6: 3...10 In everything we do, we show that we are true ministers of sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.