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I chose a nap today.

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I chose a nap today. Few things seem as luxurious, as absolutely extravagant as a nap these days. But I did. And it wasn’t the first time this month. Or week. I glanced right over the scattered toys and microscopic Perler beads on the floor. I laid the book I’d been reading on my chest and closed my eyes.

But I haven’t written in days. The laundry is sitting wet in the washer. Nothing has been marked off the bullet journal in at least three hours.

And I closed my eyes.

“You can’t write what you haven’t lived.” I don’t remember who said it or if she was the originator of that pearl of wisdom, but it lodged. And every time I hear the whispering scream to “do more, be more, have more, share more, say more,” I whisper back, “No thanks, I’m living this one small and wonderful, messy and beautiful life. This season–with a flurry of little girls around my feet and in my lap and barnacled to my left calf and with a wall held up in prayer and Scripture and drawings made by big sisters and a husband who somehow keeps getting more and more interesting, what with his fun socks and newfound love of fountain pens–it’s ripe for living. And then napping.

So, to the world it might look like less. Less productivity. Less doing. Less to show for all my effort. But to the heart and soul it looks like everything.

So you gathered with girlfriends and ate chips and salsa by the gallons and laughed until you thought you might need Depends but no one took a picture. Or you realize when your child is two that you never wrote a blog for her first birthday and you think surely you’re giving her material for the therapist she’ll visit in her 30s when she describes her third child problems. Or you close your eyes and nap. (Because sometimes the living happens in the middle of the night potty trips and tuck-ins.)

Just because the moment wasn’t captured on your phone or task list, doesn’t mean it wasn’t captured where it matters. In your heart and in your soul. 

 

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Word of the Year 2017

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Back in September when I was struggling in our wait for E, I read Psalm 43.

Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling! Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God. Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. (Psalm 43:3-5 ESV, emphasis mine)

The word altar snagged in my mind like a thread pulled so that you notice it over and over again.

Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him.From there he moved to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. And there he built an altar to the Lord and called upon the name of the Lord(Genesis 12:7-8 ESV, emphasis mine)

God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.” So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments. Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.” So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods that they had, and the rings that were in their ears. Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree that was near Shechem. And as they journeyed, a terror from God fell upon the cities that were around them, so that they did not pursue the sons of Jacob. And Jacob came to Luz (that is, Bethel), which is in the land of Canaan, he and all the people who were with him, and there he built an altar and called the place El-bethel, because there God had revealed himself to him when he fled from his brother. (Genesis 35:1-7 ESV, emphasis mine)

These I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” (Isaiah 56:7 ESV, emphasis mine)

And in the middle of the hardest days of this past year, the Holy Spirit whispered to me that the altar isn’t about my getting what I want. The altar is where God reveals Himself to me. The altar is His grace-covered invitation to dwell with Him. And when God reveals Himself, the only reasonable response is awe and worship. The altar is stacking the stones where He has shown Himself faithful.

Since those hard days of September, I’ve had the word altar lingering. I’ve been looking for it and studying its uses.

Merriam-Webster has these two definitions for altar. 

1:  a usually raised structure or place on which sacrifices are offered or incense is burned in worship 

2:  a table on which the eucharistic elements are consecrated or which serves as a center of worship or ritual

That first definition stands out because of the reference to incense. In Luke 1, a favorite passage for me, when Zechariah’s name was chosen to go into the temple he has a special encounter.

Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. (Luke 1:8-11 ESV)

When I was writing about my prayer journal, I started studying the relationship between prayer and incense, especially in the tabernacle. In this passage, we find Zechariah at the altar of incense praying when he encounters an angel with a message from God. God revealing Himself through prayer has been a huge theme in my life the past few years, and especially as we have walked this adoption journey. Also, “the whole multitude of the people were praying” reminds me of our tribe who prays so faithfully for E.

The second dictionary definition reminded me of the words I wear on a leather cuff around my wrist many days–break and pour. A visible reminder of my mission to break and pour like Jesus did.

I’ve got all of these thoughts swirling around as we begin this new year, and I’m excited to dig into them over the coming months. One thing I know for certain–He is always, always worthy of my worship. Gathered with my church family with beautiful songs or circled around the dining room table with my family or simply when I open the backdoor to see the sunrise–no matter my circumstances or my emotions, I can always go to the altar of God. I worship and remember and praise Him not only because of what He has done for me, though certainly the weight of that flattens me, but because of who He is.

Practically, I’m looking at our morning routines and changing those up a bit. I’m looking for ways to start our mornings with more meaning, more worship. My daily time with my Bible cracked and hot coffee in the morning has become my manna, my sustenance from God. I want to invite my girls into a morning space of worship as well. And when God gives us the call with a court date, I want our hearts and home to be full and ready to be a safe place for E to experience the love and joy of our Great God. For certainly He has used our journey to her to reveal Himself in new and life-changing ways. I pray this year you find us stacking stones and moving with eyes of wonder. We aren’t just building a life or a legacy. We’re building an altar. For He is Worthy of our praise, forever and always.

Psalm 43 says it well, “Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God.”

Word of the Year 2016

Word of the Year 2015

Word of the Year 2014

Word of the Year 2013

 

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An adoption update after our first court date

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Your prayers and texts and emails and sweet words of encouragement covered us last week. Thank you. Because of the type of case E’s is at this court date her file was opened and entered into the MoWA (Ministry of Women’s Affairs) court process. Our agency staff does not have to be at this court date. So, the update is that things went according to the standard plan. While we don’t have any earth shattering news, these small but significant steps are bringing us closer to bringing our girl home.

While this might seem like a tiny step when we were hoping for a part the sea miracle, our prayers were not in vain nor a waste. I can’t wait to tell our girl how on a specific day during Advent, hundreds of people prayed specifically for her. What a display of God’s incredible pursuit of her. And I’m reminded how we have no idea what God is up to beyond our sight in places and people and offices we cannot see. There’s a verse in Revelation that I have in the front of my prayer journal. “And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls of incense which are the prayers of the saints.” Last week, I kept imagining that bowl, and I just saw it getting bigger and bigger as our tribe interceded for E. Our prayers don’t disappear. They continually go before the Lord Almighty because of our Great High Priest Jesus Christ. These prayers you have prayed for E are eternal, and I get chill bumps when I think of how God will use the prayers you have prayed over her life. I believe He is at work right now in Ethiopia in specific and magnificent ways whether we can see it or not.

Yes, it is hard to wait, especially as our five year mark of beginning our adoption journey looms near in January. I’m feeling every one of those months, even more so as we see our baby girl grow bigger and look older with each month’s pictures and medical reports. But this journey has changed Matt and me and even our girls in a way we could never have imagined. In a thousand ways we are learning obedience, trust, dependence, and the never-ending goodness of our God.

“The essential thing in ‘heaven and earth’ is . . . that there should be long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.”

Quote by Friedrich Nietzsche in Eugene Peterson’s A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

Here are some specific ways you can pray for us in the coming months…

PAIR letter//This Pre-Approval Immigration Review verifies her US citizenship status upon entering American soil. We cannot receive our second court date until we get this. They told us it usually takes 6 months. We were submitted to PAIR late November.

Travel plans//We are making one trip and will be in Ethiopia about three weeks. E will join us after our court date at the beginning of the trip. We will hang out and bond in Ethiopia until her visa is granted by the US Embassy so she can travel. We are taking Lydia with us. Our other girls will stay with grandparents.

Bonding & Attachment//This is a huge prayer need. Our girl is going to go through much loss and separation in the coming months as she moves from her orphanage to our home. We are praying for God to supernaturally knit our hearts together and for the hard and patient work of learning to trust and depend upon each other.

 

As we enter into the final days of Advent, I read this in Ann Voskamp’s The Greatest Gift, “And when we sinned and weren’t satisfied with what God gives, as if we refused to breathe air and died, when we longed for something different, something more, something better, He came and gave us Himself.

To know and trust God’s sovereignty means to be satisfied with what God has given me in this moment. Certainly, He invites and encourages me to pray fervently but in the same breath to live satisfied in Him. He came and gave us Himself. May the wonder of that never leave me. May that be the focus of my worshipping heart this Christmas.

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Would you pray for December 15th?

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I’ve gone back and forth on whether to write this. I’ve shared it with the people on E’s prayer team, but I didn’t want to write it publicly. But Sunday my teaching pastor asked what our fear was and I immediately thought of this. My fear is that if I pray something crazy and big and bold and scary and God chooses to do something else that I’ll look foolish. My pastor’s other question was about our pride. I guess I got my answer to both.

So, I’m writing this here. December 15th, our E has a court date. Our agency tells us this court date is just a formality because of the specifics regarding E’s background and situation. But I can’t help but note that the court date is DECEMBER 15th, exactly six months after our referral date of June 15th. Within days of getting our referral back in June, a prayer warrior friend texted me saying she was praying for 6 months. I wrote about it here and quickly found out several other prayer warriors had also felt led to pray for 6 months. So, I can’t help but think this specific court date is ordained by God. We are praying that at this court date that is just supposed to be a formality, God will intervene and do what only He can do. That He will place a man or woman in that Ethiopian court house who will see E’s file and do the impossible. That we will receive a phone call that begins with “You aren’t going to believe it, but…” and we will smile because we do believe it. We believed it all along. Yes, we are the crazy fools who believe in a God who splits seas, commands waves, and delivers beautiful baby girls into the waiting arms of a momma and daddy.

Would you pray with us?

Photo by abideinhimphotography.com.
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He’s in the waiting.

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Last month, I thought December would be awful. If I’m honest, I expected Advent to be a season to be endured rather than celebrated. I remember the week before Thanksgiving driving down the road and telling Heather that I couldn’t do Christmas cards. The thought of sending out a family picture without her in it brought a lump to my throat and hot tears to my eyes. I told her we could send a Christmas card in February or March or right in the 100 degree weather of July, so long as it had her in it.

But in God’s grace, this month has been filled with joy. As we hung her stocking, instead of fear and dread, God gave me a bold prayer. She may not be here with us, but her name is on our mantel. We’ve waited almost five years to know her name, to see those crimson letters embroidered on snow white velvet.

My friend Annie sent a song last night–Take Courage by Kristene DiMarco. The chorus goes, “Take courage my heart. Stay steadfast my soul. He’s in the waiting. He’s in the waiting. Hold onto your hope. As your triumph unfolds. He’s never failing. He’s never failing.”

My Hope has come. In the dark of night to a humble manger, He came. This morning Lydia was writing the words to Matthew 1:23, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel, which means ‘God with us.'” With us. He is with us. No matter how our story seems to start or how it feels in the middle–Accident, Mistake, Broken, Lonely, Abandoned–He came and He is with us.

This morning I got a text from a friend who is praying for our E. She said, “I’m doing a study on the names of God and one in particular has stuck out to me for you and little E. Praying it brings comfort to you while you are not with her physically. Jehovah Shammah, The Lord is There. Praying that the Lord plants this truth deep in the heart of E as well.”

I immediately texted her back with a picture of a small white card with the name Jehovah Shammah written in Hebrew that hangs on the wall where E will soon sleep. And that’s why I love Jesus with all my heart. When every other religion gives a person a list of things to do to earn the favor of its god, my God left heaven, came down, humbled Himself, made Himself vulnerable to pain, injustice, and death, and dwelled among men. He came so He could be there–with the hurting and lonely, the broken and forgotten, the abandoned. When I could do nothing, He came.

In all that waiting, those 400 years of silence, many of God’s people had stopped hoping. But they forgot that God is not only a Promise Maker. He’s our Promise Keeper, and even more He’s our Promise. He’s in the waiting. He’s never failing. Hold onto your hope. Because He came. And He’s there. Jehovah Shammah.

*Top photo by abideinhimphotography.com. Thank you, Robyn, for capturing E’s story as only you can.

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The Moment Before

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In the silence of a midwinter dusk, there is far off in the deeps of it somewhere a sound so faint that for all you can tell it may be only the sound of the silence itself. You hold your breath to listen. You walk up the steps to the front door. The empty windows at either side of it tell you nothing, or almost nothing. For a second you catch a whiff in the air of some fragrance that reminds you of a place you’ve never been and a time you have no words for. You are aware of the beating of your heart. The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment. ~Frederick Buechner

I’ve been thinking a lot about the silence of those 400 years between Malachi and Matthew. Especially about what it was like at the end of that 400 years. Those days right before the angel appeared to Mary. The dark nights leading up to the star that led to the King. What were those like? After four centuries and many generations had come and gone, were God’s people desperate? Were they still clinging to hope? What astounded Mary more–the news that she was going to carry the Savior or the news that her Savior was finally coming?

Why would our God who has the power to speak a word and cause the seas to gather and the bush to burn and the stars to splay–why would He ever wait?

What if the wait is for us?

“Then Jesus became explicit: ‘Lazarus died. And I am glad for your sakes that I wasn’t there. You’re about to be given new grounds for believing. Now let’s go to him.” John 11:14-15, The Message

For those of us in the wait, we’re about to be given new grounds for believing. We are in the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent.

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Friday Favorites ~ Thanksgiving Edition

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A favorite Thanksgiving memory from two years ago. The firecracker wore her swimsuit inside out and backwards the entire day. 

My little kitchen has been a flurry today whipping sweet potatoes, chopping pecans, and making Matt’s grandmother’s broccoli cheese casserole. I took a moment in all the cooking frenzy to write that recipe in Lydia’s box earlier today. Matt’s late grandmother Kitty made it for me the first Thanksgiving I went to her house. Matt and I had only been dating a couple months, and I was nervous about the first holiday with his family. I really wanted his grandmother (and grandfather) to like me because I really liked their grandson. 😉 So when she passed me a dish and said it was broccoli casserole, I put a big spoonful on my plate even though I was very doubtful about how this would go down. But like everything Kitty made, it was delicious. I ate three servings that first Thanksgiving, and she loved to make it anytime she knew I was coming. We miss her so much, but I love making her recipes and telling my girls stories about her.

In case you have some reading time over this holiday, may I suggest…

The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp: I read this the week of the election, and it was the perfect quiet place for my brain and my heart that week.

A story about one of my most favorite homes ever. Mrs. Becky is the mom to one of my most favorite people, and her home is just about the coziest spot imaginable. (Jess and I call it the Hagood Bed & Breakfast.) I loved reading how she made this home their own. In a culture that says everything needs to be Pinterest-perfect in microwave speed, Mrs. Becky whispers a different story–a home that grows and changes as the people within it live out their God-given story.

There Is No Me Without You by Melissa Fay Greene: I bought this one because it was (and still is) $1.99 for the Kindle version and I saw that it was about Ethiopia. It was an eye-opening and emotional read for me. The book weaves together the author’s personal story of international adoption with the AIDS crisis that contributed greatly to Africa’s orphan crisis.

Wonderstruck by Margaret Feinberg: Feinberg invites us to “awaken to the nearness of God” which on the cusp of Advent seems perfectly fitting. I loved this one, and the Kindle edition is $3.

And if you’d rather watch something…

Make sure you have Kleenex before you watch this video about a Sudanese man being reunited with his family. Amazing.

The Crown on Netflix: Matt and I are a few episodes in, and we love it. All about the beginning of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, it’s fascinating stuff and I really like the actor who plays the queen. Perfect for turkey coma time.

And with that the girls are in bed (not asleep, but in bed), the food is all prepped for tomrorow, and Matt and I are going to watch more of The Crown. Happy Thanksgiving, friends.

And if Thanksgiving finds you brokenhearted or missing someone, that’s okay. I texted a friend earlier saying we can be both grateful and brokenhearted. Or grateful and sad. Or grateful and longing. Or grateful and waiting. Our God sees us. He knows what our hearts are feeling. Holidays don’t have to be all “happy” or all “merry.” Our God made us with wonderfully emotional souls, and I bet if we were honest each of us is a mix of emotions with every holiday we celebrate. One of the things I’m most grateful for are friends who are a safe place where I can share my real emotions even if they don’t match the sugar-coated expectations of a certain day on the calendar. Maybe we could each be that for someone else this week. A safe spot for another broken soul.