Sunday, July 17, 2016

for the JOY...

Do you see this sweet, super hero of a girl right here? She learned to ride her bike without training wheels this week! You may be thinking, "It's about time," but regardless of the world's typical timeline, we are celebrating this victory in our household, because it's so much more than just learning to ride her bike...

When I was pregnant with my Lucy, I was filled with a lot of fear. Actually, fear is something I struggled with a lot before having Lucy, but I discovered that motherhood will bring even more of it out of the depths. The Lord spoke very clearly to my heart during my pregnancy though, and He gave me a phrase that I have clung to ever since: 

Live in FAITH and not fear.

My fears throughout the years have been so many. Some of them may have seemed silly to most, other were common fears, and some were unique to me and probably considered valid. But God doesn't assign our fears to categories, and He simply asks that we choose to trust Him no matter what.

"Trust in Him at ALL times, O people;
Pour out your heart before Him;
God is a refuge for us." (Psalm 62:8)

In my life, I've worried about infertility and also the safety of my children. I've worried about rejection and finances. I'm currently struggling with the fear that my hand will not completely heal.
My worries are many and are born out of a lot of fear. But you know what? God has never ceased to provide for me in my time of need. All of those fears of mine? Most of them have actually become a reality that I have had to face, and through that I realized that it's not as much the actual fear that causes me anxiety, but it's the way that fear will make me feel. BUT GOD has been there every time to make a way out  for me, and that's because God always goes before us, so when He tells us not to fear or be dismayed, He's telling us that we don't need to feel disappointed or stressed, because He's got this!

"Do no be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD will personally go ahead of you. He WILL be with you; He will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed." (Deuteronomy 31:8)

I suppose it's fitting that since the Lord spoke His truth over me while I was pregnant with Lucy, that Lucy, too, would need to learn this as well. She's a very cautious child and greatly impacted by her surroundings and happenings.

 When I asked her why she was so scared of learning to ride her bike, she kept saying she was afraid of falling, and I told her this: "Honey, the chances of you falling are pretty great, because you're learning. You probably ARE going to fall, but then you will just have to choose whether or not you're going to get back up and keep going."

The same thought process applies to my own fears. How did I respond when faced with infertility struggles? How do I respond when faced with my children's safety, rejection from others, financial stresses, etc.? Will I stay down for the count, or will I dust myself off, get back up, and keep going, while trusting FULLY in the One who has gone before me? 

Lucy could have let her fears hold her back, like we so often do in life. She could have just continued to ride with her training wheels on, but that was making bike riding more difficult for her. They kept coming loose and were slowing her down. Yet even when they were on the brink of falling off, she felt more secure--but it was a false security she discovered when, last week, they finally did fall off. But now, less than a week later, she's flying up and down the street, and she's having more fun than she ever did before because she can go faster and
further...because she chose to not let fear win. 
Hebrews 12:1-3 says this:

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God."

We can't just bury our heads in the sand and pretend like difficulties aren't going to arise. The question when we learn to ride a bike isn't "what if I fall?" The real question I must ask myself is, "What am I going to do WHEN I fall?" Jesus knew He would face difficulty. He knew He would face rejection and betrayal and a cruel death on a cross. But in this scripture we see that He chose to endure them "for the joy that was set before Him..." How will I choose to praise my Jesus through the storms that I face? Will I choose to throw off the "training wheels" of fear that holds me back and then trust Him joyfully? It is my prayer that I will, and that my little Lucy can follow in my footsteps (or my bike riding;-) and also learn how to "live in faith and not fear," for the JOY... 

Sunday, July 10, 2016

"Wait! Let's Discuss This!"

last year's six flags trip--we weren't as brave last year!
I'm not sure if we are brave or just plain crazy...maybe we're a little bit of both? Either way, my friend and fellow mother of four and I loaded up our entourages and headed to Six Flags recently.

Yes, you read that right. The two of us took EIGHT children (4 of them 4 and under!) to Six Flags. They always go through your bags after the security lines, but the security officer just kind of glanced at my bag and looked at all of the kids in towe and gave me a look that seemed to say, "your large assortment of bags and pouches are obviously well-warranted." As he nodded at me that I was okay to go, he told me to "have a good day" in a tone that seemed to be sprinkled with a bit of doubt. I don't blame his half-empty attitude though, because even I was questioning what we were attempting to do!
However, I can happily report that the day was a success...I just needed the next day to recover from it! 😜
GP was NOT happy last year on the Yosemite Sam ride

One of the main reasons I was hesitant going into our outing is because Gabriel was absolutely terrified of Six Flags last year. He would scream and cry just at the mention of us going, and he refused to ride anything.
Having suffered from so many ear infections for so long, he doesn't like to be around anything very loud, and an amusement park is certainly full of loud music and noisy rides. However, after a successful trip to the mall carousel a few weeks ago, I was cautiously optimistic that we'd turned a corner, and sure enough, we have! 

When we first entered the park, the music was BLARING, and Gabriel quickly covered his ears and screamed to go back out. We kept walking though and made it past the music area, and he immediately calmed down and willingly jumped in line to ride a ride. I was SHOCKED! He was so excited about riding that he almost got us thrown off the ride because he ran over the track to get inside the car the wrong way!
It may sound silly, but I was so proud of him for overcoming this fear. It brought me so much joy seeing him laughing and screaming in excitement over the fun he was having. There were still some things he was afraid of and wouldn't do, but he didn't let that keep him from enjoying other things, whereas before, he would have shut down. I know this is all just a sign of him growing up and outgrowing some of those tendencies, but no matter the reason, I was really proud of him today. 

It all made me stop and wonder what areas of life I've been cautious of, causing me to resort to running away in fear. How many blessings do I rob myself of because I'm too afraid to step out of my comfort zone? Just like I want my son to trust me and know that I would never put him in a harmful situation, my Jesus wants me to trust in Him fully, too. 

One of my very favorite roller coasters growing up was the Texas Giant. I recently got to take Lucy on it for the first time. They've re-done the track since I was a child where it now is steel (which makes for a much smoother ride--I definitely prefer this change!), but the ride itself is very much the same, including Wile E. Coyote's sign at the top of the largest hill you come to at the very beginning of the ride. It reads, "Wait! Let's discuss this!"
I think this is the approach I often take with my Lord. In life, we face tall mountains of difficulty, low valleys of grief, and sharp turns of disappointment, and our life can get turned upside down by the hurts of this world.
My heart doesn't feel prepared for the sudden onset of these things, so I throw a stop sign up over my heart and tell the Lord, "Wait! Let's discuss this!" But God knows that all of those things in my life work together to bring me to exactly where He wants me to be, and He asks that I would just trust Him, knowing it's for my good and His glory. 
July is a month full of things that remind me how crazy and unexpected and HARD this life can be. My father passed away 9 years ago this month, and it's been almost one year since our lives were turned upside down when we left our previous church with hearts full of hurt. And while I still can't quite make sense of it all, I'm reminded that I'm not meant to. Because while I don't understand how good can possibly come from any of it, my Jesus does, and He WILL! What I have to do is decide if I will dig my heels in the ground, or let go and trust. 


Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Oh That You Would Bless Me Indeed...

"It looks like you're heading out on vacation," said the man to me while our families stopped at Wendy's for lunch at the same time. "No," I smiled. "You don't go on vacation with four small children--you go on TRIPS!" lol

stopping for lunch on the way to Arkansas
I'll admit, I had been bracing myself for this "trip" for quite some time. (Traveling with a nursing newborn=enough said!) I'm happy to say we all more than survived though and had a wonderful time in Arkansas. Here are some thoughts I wrote about during our trip at the end of June...

It was a full week of traveling for our "troupe de Toller." ;-) We left on a Thursday for my college suitemate's wedding...not that it really needs to be stated, but 4 children traveling 7 hours (that's not including necessary stops) is certainly no walk in the park! (Thankfully, we had a minivan;-)
Between breaking for lunch and dinner, nursing the baby, filling up the van, needing to pick up some last-minute items, and running into crazy roadwork-induced traffic (we were at a complete standstill for some time, which apparently led a fellow driver to take a nap while he was waiting--we passed by his non-moving truck and saw him snoozing!) we turned our 7 hour trip into a TWELVE HOUR journey! It was exhausting, but I have to say I always love extended time I get to spend with my hubby in the car.
DH and me at Lizzy's wedding
He laughs at all of my witty attempts and puts up with my desire to be the best back-seat driver that ever was, and we just get to spend lots of time talking to one another...in between the endless question from the kids of "are we there yet?" We would have arrived much sooner to our first destination, except that we discovered we had one headlight out. It was too late to go to the dealer or to an auto store, and Wal-Mart didn't carry the right sized bulb, so we weren't surprised to find blue flashing lights directly behind us when we tried to enter the highway. Thankfully, the officer was amused by our large display of Apple stickers on the back of our minivan, (there's one for each member of our family) and he was gracious in understanding we couldn't find the necessary bulb, so we got sent on our way. (We did find a bulb the following day.)

Our first stop was Heber Spings, Arkansas, where my college suitemate was getting married.
OBU classmates
I got to meet her sweet (now) husband and also got to catch up with former college classmates that I hadn't seen in almost 15 years. I'll admit that it's hard for me to revisit days from that part of my past. I often feel like a failure because I withdrew from school for a time so that I could regroup and figure out exactly what I needed to do with my life. The Lord would have a word for me regarding that on the second leg of our trip tho...

DH's parents
After the wedding, we headed for DH's parents' home where we led worship for a revival.
The birthday boy!
 The sermon that Sunday evening was on the Prayer of Jabez. I've always focused on the actual prayer in that passage, where Jabez petitions the Lord to bless him, enlarge his territory, and keep him from evil. I'd never noticed the part right before that though where we learn that Jabez's mother named him Jabez because he was "birthed in pain." And while the world might have looked at him and called him by that name, the Lord did not. In 1 Chronicles, we read that the Lord granted Jabez's request. It's so hard not to become consumed by how the world views us, but MY prayer is that my gaze would be so fixed upon God that I will see myself through His eyes.

The revival wasn't the only thing going on that Sunday, June 26th--it was also Gabriel's 4th birthday!

friends from our adoption agency
Paw Patrol bracelets he wears every.single.day!
And I found that the Prayer of Jabez had me reflecting upon these last four years with my precious baby boy. Jabez asked God to enlarge his territory, and I truly believe that God has done that to our lives through our son. We have people in our lives that wouldn't be there were it not for him--friends we met through our adoption agency, and of course, Gabriel's amazing birth mom--and we also have been given a heart for adoption and those who hope to adopt. God has given us a different outlook on certain things, especially infertility and showing grace to others when they're walking through valleys, and the best part is He's grown our family in a way that we never could have done on our own. God has truly "blessed us indeed and enlarged our territory." This precious, amazing, long-awaited son that we have been given is truly the greatest gift I have ever been given.
The Lord continually uses him to teach me of His great love and might, and He also uses Gabriel to bring a sweetness and joy to our lives. I love the way he and his sisters love on each other, the excitement he shows over even the smallest things, and his snuugles--ohmygoodness does he give the best snuggles! :)

Gabriel: I pray you never question the great blessing that you are to me and how loved and wanted you truly are by so very many...


Monday, June 6, 2016

Where's my Surrender?

I'm so thankful for all of the precious people who love on my kiddos each week at church. Whenever my kids ask where we are going and I say, "Church!" they all get SO excited!
I know this is because not only are people showing their love to my kids, but even more importantly, they are showing God's love to my kids. Sometimes they even gift them with things, which totally tickles the kids. Annie came home with a green necklace one day from Miss Jeanie,
Lucy comes home frequently with things from Mr. Tom's class, and Gabriel came home today with a huge plastic syringe to "squirt water with" that he said Miss Ann gave to him.
He was quite proud and possessive of this new "toy," and as we got in the car after lunch, he said, "Where's my surrender??" 

"Your what, Gabriel?"

"My surrender!"

We soon realized he meant his syringe :)

I know he's just a little boy (and an adorable one at that!)
who got his words mixed up, but I found myself stopping for a moment and repeating his phrase to myself:

"Where is my surrender...?"

It seems a bit counter-productive to be searching for something that you've supposedly laid down, and yet it also seems that this happens pretty often.  In the Christian walk, we are called to die to ourselves--to surrender to God and make Him the Lord of our lives. We lay down all of ourself so that we can put on all of Him. This doesn't just include our sins that we confess before Him, but it also includes our hopes and our dreams,
trusting that His plan is far greater than our own. What a tremendous, ugly mystery that Jesus would put on our sin so that we could clothe ourselves in His Father's gift of righteousness! The idea of being made new is quite enticing...until we realize that the process can also be a bit painful. We claim that we surrender our lives to Him, and yet we often find ourselves coming back searching for where we laid it all down. In a sense, we ask, "Where's my surrender?" But when I give Jesus "my surrender," it is no longer mine--it's not a toy that I can place on a shelf one day and then decide to pull it back out. 

Romans 12:1 says this:
"Therefore, I urge you my brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. This is your spiritual act of worship."

The less there is of me, the more room there is for Him to fill me up and be poured out on others. And just like that syringe acts as Gabriel's new way of squirting out water, our lives can be used to spread the hope and glory of Christ as refreshment to others...

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Waiting...

One of Lucy's school assignments this week was to write out a list filled with imperative statements (commands.) You may or may not know this about me, but I love a list! Lists keep me organized and scheduled, and my type A self loves that kind of control! (Just being honest.) Lists give us an opportunity to be the most productive with our time, being sure that we stay "on task." Something I pray often is that the Lord would help me to prioritize my time and use it wisely. But I think I often miss the point with that--I think the answer is accomplishing lots of stuff, so that means moving quickly from one task to the next. But maybe that's not what God always has in store for my days, and I fear I have missed out on many important moments because of my hurried spirit.

One of my favorite stories in the Bible is from Daniel chapter 10. He had prayed over something for 3 weeks before receiving an answer. In reality, the Lord had immediately answered his request, but the answer was delayed because of a battle going on in the spiritual realm. It would have been easy for Daniel to give up and think God wasn't listening, but instead, Daniel persevered through his prayer and grew in his faith as a result. It was time used wisely, sitting in the presence of God. As I reflected on this story, I found myself asking, "So what is the purpose of waiting?" These are the things that came to my mind: 

1) Waiting instills patience or impatience
2) Waiting instills perseverance or defeat
3) Waiting instills anticipation or frustration 
4) Waiting gives us time to prepare or time to waste 
5) Waiting gives us time to reflect or to wish away the present 
6) Waiting gives us a chance to rest or a chance to stress. 

As we wait, we have a choice to make: will we hurry ourselves on to what is next, or will we sit and learn from what has been? Waiting gives us the opportunity to prepare and to grow and, yes, even just to REST. Unfortunately, I'm often so hurried to check everything off my to do list that I miss out on those moments. 

The question I need to ask myself is not how I can get everything done each day, but how I can glorify God in every moment I'm presented with each day. The Lord is not concerned with how much I can accomplish each day--He longs to see how much my heart is transformed through the ways I spend my time. I may have an impressive list to show at the end of each day when I hurry through my to-do's, but the Lord does not delight in sacrifice, but in a broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51:16-17.) It's not so much about what I DO as it's about what it does to ME. So whether I'm waiting for my kids to find their shoes, or for the traffic to clear on the interstate, may the Lord find me ever looking to Him through each task at hand, soaking up all He has for me in each and every moment. 


Sunday, May 8, 2016

Mother's Day 2016: The Greatest Show on Earth!

This was supposed to be my Mother's Day post, but I obviously didn't quite get it pulled together in time. (Pretty true to life with kids though, don't you think? ;-) But, as the say, the show must go on, even if it has to start a bit late...


My Mother's Day started off waking up next to the tiniest of Tollers and hearing  the sounds of 6 sweet feet trampling down the stairs. I overheard Lucy whispering to her brother something along the lines of, "Today is Mother's Day--so we want to make mommy feel special!" There were dark circles under my eyes from lost sleep, but there were also sweet homemade cards to read with those tired eyes; there were loud quarrels to break up throughout the day, but there were also sweet "I love you's" to be heard. There were showers of spitups to clean, but there were also the sweetest of snuggles to be had. But hey, I'm a momma, and
projectile spit up is like a rite of passage!;-)

Seriously, this whole mom-thing is no joke. It's an exhausting job full of messes and mishaps and a LOT of second-guessing. I spend a good portion of my day asking for my kids' forgiveness, texting my DH in desperation, and drinking coffee...lots and lots of coffee!;-)

But in the midst of the difficulties of being a momma, I try to remember the difficulties of BECOMING a momma. I remember the days my empty arms ached, so I strive to never take for granted the fact that the Lord has filled them in abundance. It may not look like it from our current family photos, but infertility is a part of our family's story, and I'm so thankful for how God used it to shape us into the family He wanted us to be.
The comedian Jim Gaffigan jokes that having a fourth child is like drowning and someone handing you a baby! I'll admit that most days I feel like I'm just struggling to keep everyone else's heads above the water while I'm sinking only with an occasional gulp of air at the surface. The house is never totally clean, there is always laundry in a pile, and dinner is usually sandwiches or cheap takeout. BUT, I'm doing my best to take care of the home God has given to us and the family He has blessed me with. Everyone is dressed and fed (even if that just means clean, mis-matched pj's some days). There are lots of tantrums and fights echoing down the halls, but there's also a lot of laughter and joyful squeals bouncing off of each wall. 

I'll never forget coming home with Evangeline from the hospital. DH and I were greeted by three very excited kiddos. (Well, maybe two very excited siblings and one somewhat-confused-but-equally-as-loud sibling!) To reference  "Spinal Tap," adding one more child to the mix has got to be like adding one more notch to the volume control: it's definitely "one louder" in our home now!;-) And as we walked into the chaos, I was reminded of the saying "Not my circus; not my monkeys," except I realized that this was TOTALLY my circus, and these were definitely MY monkeys! The thought was at first overwhelming, but I decided in that moment to just grab a hold of it and try my best to embrace it. After all, what child doesn't want to run away to the circus at some point, and here I am with a front row seat to the best show in town!

So, to all my fellow mommas out there--we may be sleep-deprived and feeling desperate, but we've been given the role of a lifetime, so let's all just take a seat and enjoy the show! (And maybe buy some cotton candy, too!;-)

Happy Mother's Day!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Flowers and Fondue...

In our lifegroup the other night, we discussed different truths we believe as Christians. I mentioned that I believe children are a gift. We then discussed what kind of actions those beliefs cause us to make. For example, if we truly believe that children are a gift, how does that affect how we treat them? Do we find ourselves becoming easily angered when they misbehave, or do we treat them with love and gentleness, even when we get frustrated? I truly want to cherish my children, and for the most part, that's easy to do.
Like on the days when my 8 year old crawls into bed with me early in the morning, snuggling up close to me and telling me how much she loves me and thinks I am the greatest mommy in the world...or in the moments when my 3 year old runs up to me and gives me the biggest hug, just because he is so excited to be in my presence...or when my 22 month old reaches up for me to pick her up and crinkles up her nose, smiling at me and babbling away joyfully... It's easy to be a grateful momma in those moments. But what about the moments when that 8 year old talks back and argues with you over EVERYTHING...or when that 3 year old throws a fit because you make him take a much-needed nap...or when that 22 month old is kicking and crying uncontrollably because you won't let her eat chocolate animal crackers for a meal...or what about when all three of those things seem to happen all at once?! Those are the moments when grateful mommies can easily turn into the Incredible Hulk. Those are the moments that we all too quickly forget that even the greatest of gifts often require some of the greatest of sacrifices. I have to admit that I can often "lose my cool," but I truly do pray each day for the Lord to take over every ounce of my being, to give me patience with my children, to show them grace and gentleness, to LOVE them as He loves them, and to help me to appreciate every single moment--the precious ones that make my mommy-heart melt, but also the challenging ones, that make my blood want to boil! And as we approach
socks with sandals
adding another amazing gift to our family, I find myself praying extra hard for the ability to mother these children in a way that honors my Heavenly Father. I feel so humbled that, for whatever reason, the Lord has chosen me to be their mother...but I admit that I often feel very overwhelmed by such a great task. But that's actually a good thing, because when we realize that we really aren't enough, it causes us to rely even more on the only One who IS enough--Jesus Christ. And as we approach Thursday (*squeals*!!!!!) when we will get to welcome Baby H into our wild and crazy and blessed family, I find myself wanting to soak up every single moment I have with these three precious babies the Lord has so graciously gifted to me already. So while my brain is pretty preoccupied with thoughts of how everything is going to look as a family of 6, what recovery from surgery is going to be like with four children, etc., I'm also trying to just live in the NOW of this moment, and my "now" centers around my Lucy Shea, Gabriel Paul, and Annie Beth, and today, that meant picnic and play time outside, and a special mommy-daughter date with my oldest.

The Texas temps are doing their usual
Picnic in the backyard
dance of going from one season to another in the matter of just a few days, which meant my kids all wore winter clothes to church on the first official day of spring (except Annie's winter shoes no longer fit, so I actually put her in socks with sandals!) Today, it started warming up though, so I thought it would be fun to have a picnic out back on the deck and then let the kids run off some energy in the backyard.
Gabriel was the first to abandon his PB and J, but it wasn't just so he could run off and play. He ran up towards me , thrusting a small flower in my face, and with a big, warm smile, he proudly proclaimed, "Here you go, Mommy. I brought you a flower!"

"Here you go Mommy. I brought you a flower!"
My heart instantly became a puddle! I gladly accepted such a prize, only to be continually rewarded with various findings from my boy throughout the rest of our time outside. The fits are often hard to endure, and the potty training wars can be frustrating, but in the grand scheme of things, those moments make up such a small speck of mommyhood. It may seem overwhelming at the time, but when I think of the big picture of being a parent, those aren't the moments that come to the forefront of my mind. And just as I pray to give my children grace each day, I find that they are possibly the best examples of grace-givers (and flower-givers, too;-)

Before-Baby-Date
Not only was I blessed today by the sweet heart that my baby boy has, but I also got to experience the breath of fresh air that my Lucy brings to me.
On their way to see Star Wars!
Daddy-Daughter Date
She recently requested a special one-on-one date with her Daddy and with her Mommy before Baby H arrives. I was the baby of my family, so I never have experienced what it's like to have the responsibility that's placed on the oldest child of a family, especially a larger family, and I often wonder if we expect a bit too much out of Lucy. I seriously would be lost without that girl! She is SUCH a helper, and if ever someone truly blossomed in their role in life, it is Lucy with how she has just thrived in her position as the big sister. Her siblings look up to her with such awe, and she embraces them with such love. I always say that the Lord knew exactly what He was doing when He made Lucy the oldest child. So, while she does have the most responsibility placed upon her amongst all of the siblings, she also gets a few special treats that the others haven't gotten quite yet, such as a one-on-one date with her parents.

DH took her out a few weeks ago with some other friends to see the new Star Wars movie at the imax. I always say my biggest flaw for DH is I don't like Star Wars,
tic tac toe
and his one and only fault is that he doesn't like chocolate. However, God gave us Lucy--she's obsessed with Star Wars alongside her Daddy, and she's also a HUGE lover of all things chocolate, just like her Momma! So, I decided for our special "before baby date," we would go out for fondue! Lucy was so excited when she heard me on the phone today making reservations for our special outing. I could just see it all over her face how special she felt tonight. She spends the majority of her days having to share everything, including Mommy and Daddy, but tonight, she just had me to herself.
After we finished eating, she asked if she could come sit next to me. Since it wasn't busy at the restaurant, they told us we could stay as long as we wanted, so we sat next to one another and played eight rounds of tic tac toe, coming up with different shapes and designs to use for each game, laughing with each other, and taking silly selfies.
It was a few hours devoted to just enjoying each other's company.

silly selfies
It's quite possible that tomorrow will hold its share of tantrums and fits and arguments, but I'm reminded that my Heavenly Father deals with the same thing from His children, too. I often kick and scream my way through the valleys, and yet He so graciously loves me through it. I so pray that my children will see Him in me as I parent them. Whether it be over flowers, or fondue, or even fits, may I never forget or take for granted the tremendous gift I have been given by being called "Mommy."