Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Nine Years...

Today marks an incredibly special day in the life of of our family.  It started off as a typical day, but it ended in what, at the same time, seemed like devastation.

DH and I had just finished up a very busy Christmas season as youth pastors. We had enjoyed the Christmas holiday with his family, but I remember he and I talking that evening about being worried about a lump he had found. I remember when he told me it didn't really hurt that a red flag went off in my head, except he was only in his 20's, so it seemed kind of ridiculous to be worried about it being something serious, so I tried to dismiss the idea. And then we both went straight from Christmas festivities to the annual state youth evangelism conference. DH took our youth group, and I was in charge of backstage stuff for the event, so I had to stay in Springfield, IL at his parents' while DH went back and forth with the youth group.  I remember discussing things again with him over the phone one evening, and we decided he should probably go see the doctor on Friday, just to be safe, since it was going to be a long holiday weekend. I had to work that day, and we had plans to go on a "Christmas date" with friends to dinner after I got off, so to save gas money (we lived 45 minutes away from my job), DH decided to just drop me off at work and then go to the doctor, and then just hang out in Springfield until I got off. Our plans were quickly derailed though...

He went from the doctor, to the hospital, into an operating room, in a matter of just hours. I remember calling him on my morning break to check in on what the doctor had to say, and that's when I learned they were sending him to the hospital for a scan or something. I felt my heart skip a beat, but I remember he assured me they were just trying to be cautious. Next thing I know, I'm finding out he's got to have surgery...and I have no car to get to him, and my job is refusing to let me leave because there was no "undertime" available right before another holiday. I got in touch with DH's mom to come pick me up, and I just took the point for leaving work (if you got so many points, you got fired.) but I didn't get to the hospital until they had just wheeled DH off into surgery. I was a MESS!  I felt like I had absolutely no idea what was going on. I remember my sweet mentor-friend praying for me that God would prepare my heart to rejoice or to grieve.  I remembered the tears I had cried just days before when I discovered that, yet again, we were not pregnant, and now wondering if we would ever be able to have a child...and yet at that point, all I wanted was for my husband to be okay.

But, in the midst of the tears, the worry, and the confusion, Jesus was there. He was present in so very many ways, reminding me of the control He had of what seemed like a very OUT of control situation. You see, since all of this happened on a holiday weekend, there weren't really any surgeries scheduled, so the schedule was very open. And, the doctor who "happened" to be on call at the hospital that day also just "happened" to be the very best. If things hadn't all played out when they did, we would have been looking at a wait time to get in just to see a doctor about the issue, and then waiting to schedule surgery. But instead, it all happened that day, and it was truly a huge deal that it did, because they literally removed the tumor RIGHT before it had spread anywhere else as far as the surgeon could tell. The news was not one we wanted to hear: it was almost certainly cancer. But the outlook was as positive as it could be at that moment: it looked like they were able to get it all.

If I close my eyes, I can immediately transport myself back to those hospital halls and that waiting room where I received the news from the surgeon. I can remember walking in to see my husband for the first time after surgery. I can remember the grief in my heart, the worry in my soul, and the overwhelming love I had for this amazing man. At that moment, nothing else mattered--none of the disappointment of our fertility struggle even--but that he was there with me.

The next several weeks were quite stressful. I can remember laying on the floor, crying harder than I ever had before, banging my fists to the ground and up in the air, questioning why God had allowed this to happen, questioning what this meant for us, and being so angry. I remember going to church and them singing, "Victory in Jesus," and being unable to participate, because I truly felt no victory in my life at that moment. But you know what? God didn't punish me for my questions, or chastise me for my attitude. Instead, He just kept showing up and loving me and assuring me that He indeed was not caught off guard by all of this, He already had a plan for it all, and since I couldn't walk the path on my own, He reminded me that He would just carry me through it instead. You see, my Jesus' faithfulness to me has no bearing on my faithfulness to Him; His works have nothing to do with what I bring to the table; His plans are not thwarted when my flesh gets in the way because He is God, He is able, and He is bigger than my doubts, confusion, and mistrust. He didn't have to prove that to me, but He did, and I was forever changed because of that. During that season in our lives, DH and I learned we had to just cling to one another, being held together by the One who had brought us together: our Lord. It was the darkest road we had traveled together, but it brought about such a blessing, because we grew closer to one another and to Jesus in the whole process, so we wouldn't trade it all for anything. God doesn't always answer our prayers how we personally would hope for Him to, but He always answers them in the best way, and we praise Him that in this case, He allowed DH to be okay...

So how do we choose to celebrate this particular anniversary?  Well, in a few days, we're having a bit of a party to commemorate it all, but today, DH is taking his oldest on a daddy-daughter date. It wasn't purposely planned for this day. In fact, it's been delayed a week because Lucy was sick last week when they were supposed to go. But I can't think of a better day for DH to spend with our Lucy. You see, after all was said and done with DH's surgery and diagnosis, we were told it would be very difficult if not impossible for us to have children on our own, but just a few months after DH's surgery, we would find out that we were expecting our first miracle: Lucy Shea. And now, here we are, nine years later, with this amazing family that God has so lovingly and graciously blessed us with.

I'm not sure where you are at personally as you enter into this new year. Maybe you've received news that has left you in shock and confusion; maybe the desires of your heart have yet to be fulfilled and you find yourself feeling hopeless and doubting God's promises; or maybe you're eagerly anticipating all God has planned for you in 2016...whatever the case, let me encourage you keep praising Him through the storm, keep clinging to Him through the confusion, and when you just can't put another foot in front of the other, let Him CARRY you! We were never promised an easy road, but we were promised a Guide, a Comforter, and a victorious ending! God truly is SO good, even when life is not, so please join me in praising Him today, for the storms, for the sun, and for all of the moments in-between.

Happy New Year, my friends!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

All is Well...

I have so much that I am thankful for and looking forward to this holiday season. I am so humbled by this incredible family God has created in His own special way and in His own perfect timing. I love seeing the wonder and excitement in my children's eyes as we pass by Christmas lights in the car, the joy they express at giving to others, and the excitement they feel as they gaze at presents under the tree. And I'm so thankful for the amazing church we are getting to serve in right now who has loved us and affirmed us in such an incredible way. As we have been preparing for this amazing season where we celebrate the coming of our Saviour, there is so much joy in my heart. But if I'm being honest, I have to tell you that more than a lot of years, this holiday season has been one filled with a lot of tears...

While I never want anything to overshadow the true meaning of Christmas, I fully acknowledge that the Christmas season is also one where we take time to really spend with family and people near and dear to us. In a society that thrives on busy-ness and full schedules, the Christmas season is one where we usually try to take a step back and focus on the things that are really important to us. So, it's little wonder that if you've experienced a huge loss in your family (whether it's a job or even more, a loved one), it can often hit you harder this time of year than any other...and boy, has it done just that with me this season. Maybe it's the extra pregnancy hormones compounded by the health issues I've been experiencing lately, or maybe it's just one of those years that's going to be more difficult for me, but whatever the case, the Lord has certainly been filling up that bottle of tears that He collects for each of us.

A friend once told me that for children, grief is like a toy. They play with it for awhile, and then they put it away. In other words, it's perfectly normal for a child to not deal with grief right away, so we just have to be patient with them and available to them. I realized this past week, though, that grief can be that way for adults, too. I shared with a friend how sometimes we, too, can kind of place it up on a shelf. It's not that we forget about it necessarily, but maybe we just don't think about exactly where we've placed it. Whatever the case, just like something you place up on a shelf, it will often present itself in the most unexpected ways--blind-siding us as we are actually searching for something else, only to find it coming crashing down and hitting us hard on the top of our head. It's not a new type of grief--it's the same thing we placed up on the shelf before--but when it hits us unexpectedly, it hurts. Bad.

As I go into this Christmas season, I feel like there are a lot of losses I'm mourning: the loss of a ministry and many relationships, the loss of my Daddy and also my PaPa...there are a lot of people I expected to be spending this holiday season with that I will not get to. Does that mean I'm ungrateful or have lost sight m of all of the many people that I DO have in my life? I don't think so. But I do have to take my grief to the Father and ask Him how He can use it and mold it and make beauty from the ashes, so that's exactly what I've sought to do the past several weeks. I don't know why I ever get surprised when He reveals Himself to me, but I found it so sweet how He gently nudged my heart this Sunday at church with a glimpse at how He's listening to me and working...

Our pastor preached out of Colossians 1 this week. Verses 16-20 tell us this:

"For by him all things were created:things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 

17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 

18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 

19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 

20and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross."

You see, as Pastor Charlie pointed out, "The purpose of God being broken was to piece back together our brokenness." As I deal with hurt and loss and confusion on how so many prayers seemed unanswered, I have to take a step back and ask myself, Do I trust my Jesus with great expectation that these requests I have made are already done? Do I trust that He's working even when it appears that nothing is working out? As I struggle through grief and hurt and disappointment, my God wants to remind me that His perfect work has already been accomplished, so I can trust Him to make beauty out of the sin in this world--that's the whole reason He came! He came to make right all that was and would be wrong. Do I really trust that He's not only able to do that, but that He's already done it? I think sometimes I am so overcome by the hurt, the loss, and the grief, that I lose sight of the healing and the Work of my Father. I don't believe this means I can't still pour my heart out to Him through my tears and my grief, but it means that I can TRUST Him with that grief, that as He stores each of my tears in a bottle, He is willing and able to pour them back out upon me as refreshment.

So why the title of "All is Well" for tonight's blogpost? Well, I wanted to share a Christmas arrangement on my studio Facebook page during this Christmas week, and that title is what popped up in the forefront of my mind. As I looked over the lyrics of this Christmas hymn, I smiled at how God was continuing to speak to my heart. Yes, through the darkness, through the wrongdoing, through the grief and the sorrow, Jesus came humbly as a baby, and because of that, we are truly able to say that ALL is well--all of the hurt, all of the pain, and all of the loss. It truly is well because of Jesus.

So if you, too, are struggling this Christmas season, join me in clinging to the Truth that Jesus came to this earth to make it well for YOU! He is not only the reason for THIS season, but He is the reason that we can have victory through ALL of the seasons we endure in this life on earth. My prayer is you will be overcome by the joy and the peace that only He can give.

Merry Christmas, my friends!

"All is Well"
Words: Wayne Kirkpatrick
Music: Michael W. Smith

All is well all is well
Angels and men rejoice
For tonight darkness fell
Into the dawn of love's light
Sing A-le
Sing Alleluia
All is well all is well
Let there be peace on earth
Christ is come go and tell
That He is in the manger
Sing A-le
Sing Alleluia

All is well all is well
Lift up your voice and sing
Born is now Emmanuel
Born is our Lord and Savior
Sing Alleluia
Sing Alleluia
All is well

Born is now Emmanuel
Born is our Lord and Savior
Sing Alleluia
Sing Alleluia
All is well

Friday, December 11, 2015

The TRUE Story of Adoption...

You won't recognizes most of the faces in the photos I'm sharing today. In fact, I don't recognize them either, and that's because they are from a post I saw on Facebook that struck me so deeply. The images you see are things actually said to adopted children and families all of the time--I've heard many of them myself. I know that people do not tend to be hurtful in their questions, but adoption is just so often misunderstood. Seeing the photos shared below spurred on these words from me. I hope you'll read and gain a little insight into where my heart is when I think of adoption, and especially of how I view my own son...

As Gabriel gets older, comments like this will become more and more confusing for him. I know a lot of them are out of ignorance from what adoption really is, which I can clear up for everyone in one single word: 


Adoption isn't a burden, or a saintly
action, or a plan B because you couldn't have your "own" kids. Adoption is LOVE. It's not only the love I have for my son, or the love he shows me daily; it is also the incredible love his birthmom has for him. Love is a verb, and that means it is shown through many different actions.
I'm so thankful that my calling is to love Gabriel as his momma, that his calling is to love me as my son, and that his birthmom's calling was to love him by giving him life-a different life-and by giving our family a different life, too. 

Is there sadness involved in adoption? Yes. There sure is. But when you think of it at first thought, please think of love!

It's not a question of, "Why didn't his real mom want him?" It's a statement of "Wow! His birthmom must have really LOVED him to be able to do that!" And it's not a question of, "How can you love him like you love your OWN kids?" It's a statement of, "Isn't it beautiful how God can grow a family in a way no person ever could dream up?!" Because here's the deal: No, Gabriel didn't get his gorgeous complexion from me. Those dark brown eyes and long, beautiful eyelashes are nothing like mine. His precious face doesn't carry any of my family's or my husband's family's traits. But do you know what I see when I look him in the eye? I see the beauty in front of me and think, "Wow. DH and I could never have made that, and yet we get to call this precious boy OURS!"

You see, when you let God write your story, it's always going to look different from if you would have written it yourself. And while the journey of having absolutely no control of the outcome is often filled with grief and fear, it all becomes worth it in the end. Will there be more hurt and difficulties in future chapters? Yes? But I am able to hold to the truth that my Jesus knows how to make beauty from the ashes.

So I choose to trust Him.

I trust Him to give me the words when my son asks the tough questions. I choose to trust Him when well-meaning people say hurtful things. I choose to trust Him when I don't feel like I'm enough. And that's where I gain confidence and a sneak peak at the very end of this ongoing chapter called life--I know how the book ends!  

So, if you're thinking about adopting, or you have already adopted, or you know someone who has adopted, I'm going to let you in on the end of the story. It may not look like the conventional fairy tale, but when God writes your story, we are promised that we are "more than conquerors through Him", so we can rest assured that the last page is going to looks something like this: 
"And they all lived happily ever after..."

The End

(All images except the last came from Kim Kelley-Wagner images.)

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Water Tower...

My teenage years were pretty challenging.

(Actually, I could probably slightly adjust that sentence to read: Teenage years are challenging for anyone.)

My family moved the year before I started junior high. I didn't really have any friends, and my dad literally worked seven days a week from the early hours of the morning until some times the wee hours of the following morning. There were lots of difficulties in my life at that time, but the Lord knew this, and He placed a very sweet and selfless couple in my life: The Bryants. David was my youth pastor, and his wife, Ashley, was a precious servant of the Lord. They truly were a team (which totally shaped how I view ministry with my husband.) They would often pick my brother and I up for youth events, bring us home, take us to special events no one else was going to...David and Ashley embodied the calling of ministry--which means you aren't just available from 9-5 on certain days of the week. No, he and and his wife sacrificed so much of themselves to truly minister to my family. They stretched me spiritually and encouraged me mentally. A huge part of who I am today is because of who they were to me then. 

(Lesson Number One: Never underestimate the power of your actions.)

During one of our Wednesday night series, David began something called "Destination Unknown." This was where he would take the youth to an unknown destination during our youth group time, and he would relate the place to a specific message. I remember visiting a wooded area where he discussed unreached people groups, posing the question how if people never hear the name of Jesus, can they still know that He exists and is their creator? A location I remember the most, though, was the city's old water tower. I still pass by it to this day every now and then when I am visiting my hometown. It's in an older part of town, and it's not surrounded by anything that would draw you to the neighborhood. It's not a place you would typically (or ever!) visit. You wouldn't take your kids out there to run in the small, open area for fun, you wouldn't plan a romantic picnic underneath its shadow, and you certainly wouldn't just visit to check an item off your bucket list of notable places to see. But 20 years later, I can still remember this short visit to that water tower, and every time I pass by it now, I'm brought back to that moment.

To be perfectly honest with you, I don't remember the point our youth pastor had in taking us there. I don't remember what passage of scripture he used, and I don't remember what the lesson was about. But as I was reflecting on it all today, for whatever reason, something struck me about it all: What exactly IS the purpose of a water tower? This is what I found:

"...A water supply system that provides emergency storage for fire protection..."

Why has that particular, short, Wednesday night lesson stuck in my mind all of this time? I think because of what that particular place represented. The water tower wasn't much to look at (there's a much newer and nicer looking one in my hometown now), and it didn't provide anything to me that I needed at that moment--we certainly weren't in need of emergency water supply that day at our visit! But I was desperately in need of consistent, spiritual figures in my life who would love me where I was at and encourage me to be all that God intended for me to be. I might not have known it at the time, but looking back, I can see several "emergencies" that were surrounding me, and I needed a source to be there for me to help get me through them. My youth pastor and his wife were just that. They didn't live in a fancy house, and I'm sure they weren't making very much at our small country church, but that didn't matter. They were living out their God-given calling with grace, determination, and purpose.

(Lesson number two: never allow the size of an assignment to determine the size of its possible effects. Jesus' most far-reaching ministry was just to a group of 12 people!)

I so desire that I can be that type of "emergency storage for protection" to other people. I pray that I never measure ministry by the size of the audience or the benefit for myself. I pray that I will allow myself to be fully available to consistently embody the security, supply, and sustenance that my Jesus desires to house within me, and I hope I remember that right now, my greatest audience is my family. It may not be the most glamorous of jobs--most days, I suit up in yoga pants and t-shirts; I encourage my husband and snuggle my babies;
I referee small sibling spats and serve quick and easy meals, and I don't get paid in any kind of monetary form. But that's not why I do what I do. I'm a wife and a mom because that's what GOD has called me to be--to love, encourage, provide, and be consistent in the everyday and the mundane. And while I certainly love and cherish my husband and my children, I pray my MAIN motive for being who I am is because I love my JESUS.

Be encouraged today, my friends. You may not have the largest audience--in fact, your location may often make you feel overgrown and forgotten--but you have a great purpose, and you may never realize the impact that you're having on those around you. So mommas, wear those yoga pants and spit up stains proudly! We play an important role in the body of Christ. Perhaps that city water tower will never really be utilized for its original intent, and perhaps we feel like our talents and desires remain untapped, too, but God desires that we remain consistent and AVAILABLE. God has created you to be an important source, housing His grace and His sustenance, so don't forget to tap into it!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Are We There YET??!

6AM on Thanksgiving (after everyone being up late spending time with family we don't see very often...)

Annie keeps laying over on her new doll that giggles every time you touch her belly, which makes Annie giggle every time she hears the baby doll giggle.  Daddy is groaning the "I drove 3 hours and didn't sleep good last night...please go back to sleep" kind of groan that all parents should be well acquainted with.

Mommy has already been awake for an hour, and she's trying to sneak out of the room for some "Java with Jesus" with the hope that the kiddos will fall back asleep...

but the baby doll keeps giggling...

and Annie Beth keeps shooting her head up out of the pack n play every time she senses Mommy's slightest (attemptedly stealthy) movements.

So, up we go...

only to discover that the other two are already wide awake as well.
 I sense naps in everyone's future...and I shall be THANKFUL for naps in everyone's future;-)

At any rate, as I looked at my kids and said, "Don't you want to go back to bed?" I had to laugh about my ridiculously rhetorical question. If my children are EVER given the option to go to sleep, they're always going to choose to stay awake where the action is! It reminded me of the silly rhetorical questions I often hear from them, too: "Are you awake yet?" "Can I just eat dessert tonight?" "Do I have to brush my teeth?" I'm sure you have a list compiled yourself from your littles one. But one I'm pretty sure that all of has heard happened in the car yesterday on our way to Mema Joan's house: 

15 minutes into the trip: "Are we there yet."
                                      "Honey, we JUST got into the car!"

45 minutes into the trip: "Are we there yet?"
                                      "No, sweetie...."

1 hour into the trip: "Are we there YET?"
                               (starting to get perturbed) "We're still driving on the road, so no, we are not there yet."

2 hours into the trip: "Are we there YET??"
                                "NO!  We are NOT there yet!" LOL

I realize these questions stem from excitement at arriving to a destination. Lucy was excited about getting to see her Mema Joan, Papa John, Nonnie, Opie, Aunt Bubba, and Uncle Joey. She had been anticipating the trip for quite awhile, and she couldnt wait to see everyone and spend time with them (And maybe get some speical "Mema Toast" for breakfast the next morning;-) But a parent can only get asked the same questions so many times before we start to crack a little, right?

I think of all of the times that happens at home, too. When I'm on the phone and Gabriel asks ten different times for Mommy to turn preshool prep on for him, but I need him to wait just a *few* more minutes...
Or when Annie acts like she hasn't been given a cup of "milk juice" in days, and she just doesn't understand the process takes more than Mommy magically snapping her fingers...
Or when Lucy is ready to eat breakfast, but Mommy desperately needs just a few more minutes to fully wake up before attempting to stumble into the kitchen and safely use any kind of eletrical device.

We often view our kids' endless questions as impatient actions. They get frustrated with us when we don't have immediate actions and/or responses. They have a need or a want, and they want to see immediate gratification from it. The quality of being patient is certainly a learned one though, and it's one we try to instill in them...

And yet...perhaps I do the same thing with my Daddy-God from time to time.

Our requests typically stem from a desire we have, a want, a need, a plea...and we often feel like we are asking over and over again, anticipating a result. We continuously tap at His shoulder, often wondering why we aren't getting a response. But it's not that Daddy-God isn't responding, or that He's too busy, or that he doesnt care. It's that He can see a part of the picture that we cannot. He's often protecting us with his delays, He's often teaching us from our persistance, and He's often pursuing us with our dependance on Him through the circumstance. God's delay is not a sign of His distance from our requests. In reality, God's delay in a sign of His great love for His childen, because He doesn't want what WE think will be best for us, but rather, He wants what HE KNOWS will be best for us! 

I know I've shared this story many different times on my blog, but I hope you'll allow me the opportunity to share it once again...

More than anything, from the time I was a little girl, I longed to be a momma. I played with baby dolls until I was in junior high and kept (okay, I STILL keep!) a list of names I wanted to name my future children. After I got married, I dreamed of the moment I would find out I was expecting a baby and get to experience the thrill of feeling that child grow inside of me. I longed for the moment I would see them face to face for the first time, hold them close, and sing them lullabies. I couldn't wait for the opportunity to raise a child alongside my husband who I had no doubt would be such an amazing father. So we tried, and we prayed, and we waited...and we cried.  I tapped on the shoulder of my Daddy-God repeatedly, pleading for a yes, asking for a why, questioning His delay...I felt confused and ignored, and probably even angry. 

As much as I sometimes wish my children would enjoy sleeping a little more easily, I don't enjoy the thought that my Daddy-God is sleeping (even though I know that's never really the case.) 

But all that time I was throwing a bit of a fit inwardly, my Heavenly Father was busy working behind the scenes. He was knitting together a family far greater than my hopes could have dreamed up, in a way I would have never even known how to have asked for. Did that make the waiting or the pain any easier in hindsight? No. But it made the end result even sweeter. And it taught me of one of the most important lessons we can learn in this life: God's faithfulness. You see, when we're asking and God doesn't seem to be answering, we can rest in the Truth that He IS listening and He IS working. And we can have the expectancy that His response is going to be so far greater than anything we could ever ask or imagine--because that's what He's promised to us!   

"Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be the glory..." Ephesians 3:20

In what ways are you finding yourselves tapping on the shoulder of your Daddy-God? How many times are you asking Him, "Aren't we there YET?!" Rest assured, my friend, He knows, He hears, He cares, and He IS at work! On this Thanksigving day, let's choose to thank Him in advance for what He has done and what He is GOING to do for each and every one of us!  Sometimes the road is a bit long, but we'll eventually arrive at the destination. (and "Mema toast" may even be waiting on us;-) 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Baby "H" explained...

I keep getting asked questions about why we are referring to our baby as "Baby H." I think most assume that it's because the name we have picked out starts with an H, but as much as that would make total sense, you know I'm never one for really making too much sense of things;-)

Each pregnancy we've gotten to experience, we've had a nickname for our baby. Lucy appeared to be the size of a single Rice Krispy on her first sonogram photo, so she immediately became dubbed as our little Rice Krispy, or "RK" for short. (In fact, we almost considered naming her Rory Kristine so that we could keep RK as her initials because we had bonded with her that way for the entire pregnancy. A sweet friend even mailed special Rice Krispy treats to us when she was born!) She certainly does have a "snack, crackle, and POP" personality, too, so it definitely fits her well;-) 

I didn't have the privelege of carrying Gabriel in my belly for nine months, so I didn't have a pregnancy nickname for him. I do feel like I still bonded with him though, because about the time his birthmother found out she was expecting him was the time that the Lord began revealing His desire to me for our family to adopt. I spent the next several months daily praying for our future baby and his or her birth mom. I'll never forget the moment I got to lay eyes on him for the first time, this precious boy I had been talking to my Heavenly Father for so very long about. The only nickname he needed from me was being my future child. The night I got to spend in the hospital, after he was born, with him and his birthmother, tops the charts as one of the most amazing moments of my life--sitting in that room with the two people that the Lord had daily placed on my heart for so many months, and there they both were. It was a bonding moment unlike any other in my life, and unlike most mothers will ever get to experience. I cherish the unique way I got to bond with not only my newborn son, but also his birthmother. We just cannot imagine life without Gabriel as our son! He is the sweetest, most snuggly, most precious little boy! 

With Annie, she instantly became Baby Mustard Seed, because she was literally the size of a mustard seed when I found out I was expecting, and because her sister had prayed with SUCH faith that God WOULD give her a baby sister from her mommy's tummy. The rest of us were totally skeptical, but Lucy never lost faith, and while the positive pregancy test surprised Mommy and Daddy, it just affirmed a little girl's faith in a miraculous God. And when the sonogram affirmed another of Lucy's certainties, we knew that God had truly blessed the faith of our little girl in answering her prayer so specifically. No, God doesn't always answer our prayers exactly as we hope Him to, but we can rest assured that He ALWAYS answers our prayers in the perfect way, and we praise Him for allowing Annie to be His perfect will for our family. Annie Beth, our little joy baby, continues to teach us what it means to believe, to trust, and to be blessed by an amazing, miraculous God. 

And then there were four...While Annie's introduction was quite a shock, I do believe that Baby H's takes the cake many times over!  We really didn't expect to be able to conceive again, and we certainly weren't even trying, because life this past year has been pretty crazy. There were many reasons that caused this baby's announcement to throw us all for a loop, but once the dust began to settle, we couldn't help but be anything but thrilled and amazed, realizing that this baby was just one of God's major ways of reminidng us that HE is in complete and perfect control in the midst of all of life's chaos. It may seem that those in "power" are calling the shots, but the One who holds the ultimate authority will never let us down. He has a beautiful plan, and while it doesn't always make sense, it does always brings Him ultimate glory.

So, why Baby H? Well, two days before we learned of Baby H's presence, DH had resigned from our church. We were in the beginning stages of hurt, confusion, and lots of uncertainty. Just a week before the news, we had finally finished paying off our medical expenses from Annie's birth. Having a baby at such a time of uncertainly for our family's future seemed crazy. Plus, weren't we once told we would probably never be able to conceive on our own? Yet here we were, about to have our fourth child! It was easy to get completely overwhelmed by all of the what-ifs, but God gently whispered to us, "Don't you see? I am STILL on my throne and in control over your lives. I am still able to produce miracles. I am still able to bless you even when others may seek to curse you. I AM. Will you trust me?" As overwhelming as it all seemed, we then chose to be overwhelmed by God's goodness and mercy and kindness over our family. We chose to trust in His complete control, and we continue to praise Him for what He's doing through the good, the bad, and everything else in between.

This weekend, we've had the blessing to be in Arkansas with DH's parents. We got to meet their new church family and lead worship on Sunday morning, and we gave a concert on Sunday evening. It's been a true blessing to meet their new church family who just continually outpours God's love onto our loved ones. His parents, too, have recently experienced a great deal of hurt, but God is restoring that season, and it's a beautiful thing to see. 

As one fun last event with Nonnie and Opie this weekend, Larry built a big screen with the kids for us to watch a movie on last night. We'd been wanting to see the movie, "Inside Out," and everyone thoroughly enjoyed it. I related a lot to the character of Joy, because I notice in my own life how I so often try to keep everything together and just focus on the happy things. But the thing that struck me so deeply in this movie is when Joy realizes that to TRULY experience joy to the fullest effect, you also have to experience sadness.  You see, it's often in the midst of our greatest hurts that our Jesus shows us our greatest Hope, and it's from our deepest wounds that we get to experience His greatest Healing. 

So, as I was praying and thinking about this new life God has given to us, I was overcome with God's message of hope and healing in our lives, and I was so humbled that He's allowed us to grow our family. Are we still working through the hurt and confusion of this last season in our lives? Absolutely. But, we are working through it with the assurance that our God is in control. So when I think of what this baby means to our family, I can't help but be humbled, feel hopeful, and be expectant of the great Healing that God desires to do in our family. Baby H is truly a gift in so many ways, and we praise God for him or her!

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Glad Game...

During the Christmas season (and sometimes beyond), our kids have two movies that they probably watch just about every single day if we will let them: "Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas," and "Mickey's Twice Upon a Christmas." They never tire of the stories, the jokes, the animation--they just love watching them! As a child, I remember having movies that I was exactly the same way about. You would often catch me standing in front of the TV as Dorothy would sing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," or you'd see the wonder in my eyes as I watched "Mary Poppins" and thought Jane and Michael Banks seemed so much bigger than I. (I'll never forget watching it for the first time when I was a bit older and thinking, "Did they shrink? They look so LITTLE now!" haha;-) While most of the movies I enjoyed fequently as a child were musicals, (surprise, surprise!;-), there was another classic that you'd find me asking to watch pretty frequently despite the actors not breaking into random song throughout. That movie was "Pollyanna." Perhaps it was that the story was about a little girl who got to wear frilly dresses and live in a huge home that attracted me to it, but I think it had more to do with the main character that was revealed in the movie: Pollyanna herself. This was a girl who had basically come from nothing that had fallen into everything. But it wasn't all those "things" that made Pollyanna so intriguing; it was her attitude. I loved her imagination, her confidence, and, yes, of course her accent, too!;-) But I think perhaps the most endearing thing about Pollyanna was her ability to look beyond what things were and see them for what they could be. Throughout the movie, she references a game that she would play called the "glad game." Basically, she would look at each circustmance thrown her way and find a way that she could be thankful for it. 

James 1:2-4 tells us this: "Consider it PURE joy when you face trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. And let perseverance have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing."

Do I look at every circumstance that comes my way as a positive opportunity? Is each obastacle truly an opportunity in my eyes? It's so much easier to get beaten down and focus on the negative side of things, because if we are being honest, when trials come into our lives, it feels more like we are LOSING out, rather than gaining anything. When your husband loses his job, when your children get sick, when friends betray your trust, when things keep breaking in the house, when you discover a flat tire...but God tells us to consider all of these things PURE joy.  See, our Heavenly Father accepts us just as we are, but He loves us too much to let us stay there. He desires that we be "complete, lacking NOTHING." When we think of that end result, it sounds really enticing, but the process to get to there isn't always easy. However, it's the perception we choose to have in the midst of the process that makes all of the difference.

In the movie, Pollyanna visits a man who has a bunch of crystals hanging around his house. Pollyanna is enthralled with how the prisms create rainbows against his walls when the light hits them. The man didn't think much of them, but Pollyanna talks him into stringing them up all over the house and they're astonished by the beauty that was created in the room by how the light caught the prisms and created rainbows everywhere. I think, sometimes, I feel like I have a lot of stuff just "hanging" around in my life that dosn't seem to have much use, but if I will allow God to shine His light on it, He's able to create something so beautiful from it! 

How can I choose, today, to be thankful in all circumstances? How can I choose to look beyond the muck and the mire and see the beauty God is working to ufold? Do I truly believe that God's purpose for everything in my life is to allow me to be "complete, not lacking anything"? I so often want to fight that process, but my prayer today is that I would surrender to the way HE desires to work. 

Anyone up for a game today??;-)

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Who's Got This?

When your child is trying to learn a new skill, you will often tell them, "You've got this!"
 Or, "I believe in you!"
 Or, "I know you can do this!"
 We express confidence in their ability, not because we want to give them false security, but because we want them to know we believe in them. It doesn't change whether or not they can do the task ahead of them, but it changes how we look at that task. 

As a child, I was never very athletic (I wasn't really anything at all that resembled being the SLIGHTEST bit athletic!) I decided to take up running though, and I can still hear the voices of some onlookers who totally made fun of my attempts. Running didn't come easily for me, I wasn't good at it, and they made sure to point that out. I felt defeated. And even though today I can say I've run in and placed in many races, and I've even done triathlons, I can still hear those girls' voices in my head, telling me I'm not good enough. It shakes my confidence. 

My husband has always said he's not very handy, but when push came to shove, he found himself in the midst of ripping up our downstairs carpet and installing beautiful, new wood laminate floors. He had some friends and a very excited wife cheering him along, affirming him and applauding him when it was completed. (Seriously, they look incredible!) But I can often catch him glaring at the floors intently, picking out little flaws he wishes he could go back and change. 

...In ministry, we've had situations where people have questioned our call to ministry. They don't like the way we play or sing or lead, so they say things like, "Maybe this isn't your calling," simply because it doesn't meet up to their personal expectations. 

Whether we place it on ourselves, or it comes from others, criticism and doubt are common occurrences that like to drag us down. 

But you know what the BIBLE says about each of us? The Bible tells us that we are more than conquerors in Christ (Romans 8:37); the Bible tells us that we can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens us (Philillians 4:13); the Bible tells us that "we WILL overcome" (Revalation 12:11)! The world may tell us that we aren't good enough and will never measure up, but God sees us through the lenses of His son, Jesus Christ, and in Him, we are made into an entirely new creation. (2 Corinthians 5:17) 

So, when I start listening to those negative voices, in a sense, I am telling God that HE is not good enough, strong enough, and able enough; I am telling Him I don't trust Him enough; And I'm telling Him I don't have enough confidence in Him. But that's not what the Bible tells me! The Bible says that I am to "approach the throne of grace with CONFIDENCE" (Hebrews 4:16)!

Am I confident that God is able to accomplish anything through me? Am I confident that God will fulfill His purpose for me? Am I confident that God loves me unconditionally? I do believe, but I pray daily for God to help the unbelief that my fleshly side still clings to. Because just like I want my children to believe me when I say they can do something, my Heavenly Father wants me to trust His words of assurance to me, too. And if I will place my gaze upward, I will see that He's got His arms opened wide, encouraging His child along this journey on earth. We just have to take the time to look up to see Him, and take the time to stop and listen for Him. It's not about learning to have confidence in ourselves and think that "I've got this," but it's about realizing that HE truly does. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Three Letters in the Middle...

 You may have picked up on a new social media hashtag being celebrated amongst pro-choicers: #shoutyourabortion 

Just typing the words out makes my stomach turn. It is difficult for me to understand how anyone can ever justify the act of abortion, but the thought that people find it celebratory is just sickening. In response to this hashtag, a friend of mine posted a precious picture of her son and my son together. Both were adopted from the same agency, and both are truly such a gift to our families! For her hashtag, she chose to say #shoutyourADOPTION ! I found this new caption positively brilliant and posted this comment with the picture of Knox and Gabriel: 

"THIS is what I choose to celebrate: two beautiful lives that are able to LIVE their life to its fullest because two beautiful birth mothers chose to GIVE them that life. THAT is something worth shouting out and celebrating!"

After posting it, I received a text from a concerned friend. She had not yet heard of the pro choice hashtag, and she thought I had mistakenly written the words 
#shoutyourABORTION instead of 
#shoutYourADOPTION. I was able to fill her in on this horrible new trend, but in doing so I realized how close the two words are: abort and adopt. The two words may look very similar at a quick glance, but their meanings are far from similar. One word (adopt) means to accept or to take as one's own, while the other (abort) means to terminate or bring to a premature end. Both words start the same, both in appearance and in meaning: adoption begins because of a life, and abortion is chosen because of a life. However, it's those three letters in the middle that make all the difference--and in a sense, it's those three people in the middle of these circumstances that make all of the difference, too. In adoption, there is a baby with a life to live, a birth mother with a choice to make, and a family with eager hearts and open arms to welcome this baby AND their birth mother into their forever family. With abortion, there is still a baby with a life to live and a birth mother with a choice to make, but the third party holds anything but eager hearts and open arms--it holds the ability to end not just the life of the baby, but a part of life that the birth mother would also have had the opportunity to live. Aborting a baby doesn't just hurt the precious life of that baby, but it also hurts the life of that baby's mother. Many women have been lied to about the truth of abortion, and many people even encourage the celebration of such a choice. This is nothing but a horrible coverup for a horrific tragedy though. Many women are told that their life will be over if they birth a baby they didn't want, but in all reality, abortion is doing the same thing: ending a life. The life of that baby will be over, and the life that the birth mother would have experienced will also be over. Many may see this as a positive thing, but I refuse to buy into that lie. After all, there is certainly no proof of that, because that opportunity has never been able to present itself. 

The fact that our society has come to the point of celebrating murder...I just am without words in how it grieves my heart. I grieve over these little lives that were never given a chance, I grieve over the families that so desperately wanted to parent them, and I grieve deeply over these mothers that are so very deceived. Truly, every life is BEAUTIFUL! So, this day, I celebrate the beautiful life I see in my son, and I celebrate the life his birth mother has given to our family. This day, I want to shout it out that every life is truly beautiful. Please don't be silent in this fight for life. Find a way to support the prolife cause, and if you can...

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Product Review

I received this product for free from influenster to try out, and I was asked to give a review of it on my blog. Here is a picture of my review--super fun, quick, and easy to use product to get a natural looking tan in a very safe way. I can't say it made a huge difference in color, but it's certainly natural looking and gives a nice tint. Thanks @SallyHansen and @Influenster!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Adventures in (home)schooling!

This year, we are embarking upon a new journey for our family: home schooling! I imagine the reaction to this will be all across the board, and while my own emotions have certainly covered a wide range, DH and I feel an overwhelming peace about this decision.

Being home schooled myself for the majority of my schooling, I always said I wanted to home school my own children. But when it came time for Lucy to actually start school, we felt the Lord leading us in an entirely different direction. We have always stuck by the mantra that we would take it year by year though, so as each school year comes before us, we have prayed and sought God's direction for what He would have us to do, and in Lucy's few short years of education thus far, she has experienced a variety of paths: public school, private school, and now, home school.

Since DH is between jobs right now, we really feel that home schooling will give our family not only the most flexibility as we search for what God has for us to do, but it will also allow Lucy the most stability through this school year. Having already taken her out of one school here, I would hate for us to get her adjusted to a new school only to possibly have to take her out of that one, too. We are also excited about the opportunity that home schooling will allow our family to bond in a new way. I'm sure there are going to experience multiple levels of chaos going on in our house trying to teach a second grader while having one pre-schooler and one toddler under foot, not to mention a tired/nauseated pregnant mommy-teacher and soon-to-be-newborn joining our Toller troup, but overall we are excited to embrace the crazy and enjoy this new adventure!

For this year, we will be using the Sonlight curriculum. I'm so excited to dive into this Bible-based curriculum that's full of so many wonderful books! We decided to wait until after Labor Day to start (I actually remember that's about the same time I started my second grade year, too...),
so tomorrow will be our first official day of home schooling!

Our piano studio has undergone a bit of a facelift with the addition of beautiful new flooring
 (thanks to my amazing DH who installed it!) and an antique school desk that I actually used as a little girl, too! I added a corner shelf to give us some more organization options in the room, too.
 (This curriculum is VERY much literature-based/reading-intensive, so there are a TON of books to find room for!) I am hoping to add a large, magnetic chalkboard to the wall in front of her desk, too, but in the mean time we will utilize our chalkboard cross for our weekly memory verses.
 It's always interesting to me how every time I feel like we have absolutely no room left in our house, God always provides the space we need. As I prayed over how to rearrange furniture, things just fell into place. In fact, with the addition of furniture in the studio, I actually feel like the space is even more functional than it was before! I'm enjoying my somewhat-new teaching space, and I'm excited about the time we will spend in there doing school.

To make the start of school seem a bit more special, I took Lucy school supply shopping today. She doesn't need a whole lot, but it was fun letting her pick out fun colored pencils and erasers and a new pencil box. She was having a hard time deciding which one to get (poor kid has gotten my indecisive tendencies) and said, "I think we should get both of these." I said, "Lucy, we don't need two pencil boxes!" She replied, "No Momma, I think Gabriel would really like to have one, too." It totally warmed my heart to see her thinking of her brother! So, GP will awake tomorrow to an Avengers pencil box filled with brand new crayons,
 along with a preschool prep workbook. (That boy is obsessed with his letters!) and my sweet Lucy bug will have a Cinderella pencil box...filled with Avengers pencils! LOL! She truly is such a great mixture of her momma and daddy! I even picked up some new blocks and playdoh for Annie and Gabriel to be able to play (hopefully) quietly with as Lucy is doing her school work.

We also incorporated some of our previous before-school-starts traditions by taking Lucy out for cheesecake this evening. She enjoyed a HUGE piece of red velvet cheesecake with plenty left to bring home to enjoy later!
After we came home, we laid out her clothes for tomorrow (she has a new outfit that we have saved for her first day of school) and read the same book we read each year before school begins: "Petunia the Silly Goose."
I love how the moral of this book is simply stated in a quote towards the end: "It is not enough to carry wisdom under my wing. I must put it in my mind and in my heart." This so speaks my desire for Lucy's education--I want her to have knowledge always at her fingertips, and I want her to learn how to actually use it in her every day life. Even more than that, I want her to see how Jesus desires to enter every part of her life and show her how He can use that knowledge to work in and through her life if she will have a heart willing to follow Him. So not only will we study reading and writing and arithmetic, but we will also focus on God's Word and see how everything flows together so seamlessly. I'm so excited to embark upon this new journey as a family! Please pray for us as we seek to be organized and yet flexible. Pray for us to teach in a way that is exciting and clear, and pray for an eagerness in Lucy to learn and grow.

Good-bye summer, and hello second grade!