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34

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Processed with VSCO with a6 presetAnother cake in the candle. Another spin around the sun. I’ve been looking forward to this birthday for years. I was still a teenager sitting beside my cute boyfriend when I quickly did the math… if we went on our first date right before my 17th birthday that meant when I turned 34 I would have spent half my life with him. And now here we are, and it’s a thousand times sweeter than I could have ever imagined. I find it immensely rewarding to grow old with someone–to have known each other when gray hairs and wrinkles weren’t even on our radar, to have started our relationship with pagers (if Matt got a page that said 14389 he knew it was me) and my Nokia cell phone with the customizable cover and now have children who stare at us blankly when they see a commercial in the middle of the football game (Mom, what is that and why is it coming on in the middle of our show?), to have grown up beside each other and with each other and towards each other. It’s a gift, and this is a special birthday for me because of it. Thank you, Matthew Hudson Roberts, for spending half my life with me.

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A few highlights from this year… Running outside again. Wearing a watch. Learning French (just the beginning but it’s something). Growing heaps and heaps of zinnias. Mine and Matt’s epic victory dance when Bama won the national championship. Eve singing Amazing Grace. Teaching the Pre-K class at our CC community. God-chosen therapists for Eve. Seeing the little girls play for hours in the morning while the rest of us do school. Sticking to our budget. Casablanca tea, especially with dear friends. Bluebirds in our box. Exploring Seattle with Matt. Tulips abundant in the front yard. A king bed. Finding out my sister is going to be a mom. Watching Lottie ride her bike without training wheels. Hydrangeas that survive a late frost. A new church family. Our Missional Community. The rainbow arcing through the sky as we drove away from my uncle’s funeral. Watching the grass spots fill in after we accidentally used weed and grass killer. Getting book recommendations from Lydia (yes, she was right, and Harry Potter is as wonderful as she said it was.) Text conversations with my brother. Clearance plants from Lowe’s. Perfect ripe peaches. Cold watermelon. Pigtail braids in Peach’s hair. The six of us going round and round the lazy river.

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But the biggest and best thing from this year is we became a family of six. All the official stuff was the previous year, but it was sometime this summer when I was spying on the girls playing together that it hit me. We are a family. We don’t walk on eggshells anymore. Eve knows we aren’t going anywhere. We do all the normal things, and it wasn’t until this adoption journey that I realized what a gift the normal things are. This isn’t to say trauma doesn’t still show up. It does. And it will. In all of us. But it’s like deep in our core we know–this is family. This is us. And that’s a gift my 17-year-old self could never have imagined.

 

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Unfurling

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It’s been quite some time since I wrote anything here. After five years of writing every week, I just stopped writing here one day. This past winter and spring were incredibly hard. Things were hard for those I love. Things were hard for those I parent. While I wasn’t writing here, I was writing out my prayers to God, and I remember telling Him that it felt like everything around me was broken. I feel things deeply, and my heart felt like a bag of rocks.

It was a season where God called us to open our hands and release some of the things we had been white-knuckling. An invitation to hide once more under the shadow of His wings. I fought it, of course, wanting to believe things could all go back to normal. But He gently reminded me that normal might be my heart’s false security, but it wasn’t my heart’s true desire.

Watering my houseplants this morning, I paused next to the fern to observe a few fronds beginning their unfurling. This season has been my own unfurling. That slow surrender that the stories God writes don’t end with a fancy bow or a happily ever after. Everybody wants the feel-good ending, but the messy middle is where God is doing the hard heart work. I want to see the end. I want to know how it all turns out. But God gives manna for the day. And if I try to hoard, I’m left with maggots. A few Sundays ago I walked up for communion, tore off a piece of bread, dipped it in crimson liquid and walked back to my seat. I sat there and thanked God for this manna, this daily provision, His body broken, His blood poured out.

I look at the calendar and each day brings us one box closer to one year. One year since our girls were all under one roof. One year since one journey ended and another began. Many of the days have been harder than I could ever have imagined, but His manna has been certain. And on those days when I wrote telling Him that everything felt broken, He would gently remind me, “I know brokenness. My body broken. My blood poured out.”

This unfurling has led to sweet new friendships and fresh stirrings. God continues to push us out of our comfort zone, and I’m (stubbornly) grateful. For Him to leave me alone would be the biggest disappointment of my life. To be hidden in Him and with Him–that’s the manna. The bread on my lips. The crimson liquid that washes me clean.

 

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My Word for 2018

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Altar. A year ago when I chose my word for 2017, I could not have imagined just how that word would come to encapsulate this past year. It really wasn’t until the last few days in December when I sat jaw-dropped in front of my Bible with the Holy Spirit putting all the pieces together before me. I chose the word altar because that’s what I desire for my life, a place to meet with God, a place to draw near to Him, a space for awe and worship. During the final days of Advent, I was reading about Abraham and his testing, of his carrying his miracle child, the one he prayed and waited so long for, up the mountain and on the altar. There was the word I had focused on all year. And the pieces came together. The things we had walked through the past twelve months resonated with Abraham’s journey. While Abraham’s faith was mighty, mine certainly has never felt mighty. But I have a mighty tribe. I am surrounded by mighty warriors of faith who held me up when I was faltering. Who pushed me on when I didn’t think I could keep going. I got teary seeing Eve’s picture in the #bestnine photos of friends and family at the end of the year. You climbed the mountain with us. You believed in our Jehovah-Jireh alongside us. You let us borrow your faith when ours felt so weak. Together, we invited God to meet with us in our fear and begging. And He did. He drew near to us in ways that can’t be described.

And now we find ourselves in a new year, and I find myself thanking God for the ways He revealed Himself last year and praying for the ways He will reveal Himself this year. This word I pray for every year is no small thing. This year’s word is one the Holy Spirit kept bringing to my attention for several months, since my birthday in September really. Matt gave me a beautiful framed print by an artist whose work I love. In Clare’s tiny handwriting at the bottom of the painting is the title of the piece–Hidden. Reading its title reminded me of the book I had recently finished by Sara Hagerty called Unseen.

“Noticing and tending to my roots–my inner and hidden life with God–seemed secondary when there were important ministry branches to climb and spiritual fruit to produce and pick. But God was ever so gently inviting me back to the soil. To hide in Him rather than perform for Him, to shift my attention from branches to roots, from my visible work for God to my unseen life in God.”

Last year felt very much like a time for reaching–giving God my yes and letting Him take me far outside my comfort zone. But this year I’m feeling an invitation for rooting. Digging in. Planting. Nourishing the soil. Giving God my yes and letting Him hide me. My prayer for this year is that my greatest work will be done within these four walls we call home and within these four girls we call daughters. And that His great work will be done within these four chambers I call heart.

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Friday Favorites

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It’s been forever since I’ve done a Friday Favorites. For a while, my heart was so heavy my list would have read… Breathing, Sleeping, Keeping down food. If that’s the season you find yourself in, I wish I could make you a hot cup of tea and just sit with you in the silence. There aren’t words when your heart is breaking. I remember this spring Starbucks came out with some pink and purple drink–a unicorn frappucino, I think. Heather called to check on me and I was crying so hard I couldn’t even make out intelligible words, except these, “If I read about one more person’s opinion on a pink and purple drink, I’m going to LOSE it.” The irony being, of course, I had already lost it. But sweet Heather just laughed and cried with me. If that’s you today, I hear you, and I hope you have a close friend who is willing to listen to you lose it. But I promise that no matter how dark today is you’ll be able to laugh again one day and maybe even care about a drink named after a unicorn.

TeBella Tea– After discovering this tea at The Oxford Exchange in Tampa with Jess and Heather, I ordered a sampler this fall. Several times a week I’ll make a bath and drink a cup of tea, and it’s just the coziest. (As long as my girls left me some hot water.) My favorite flavors are blueberry pomegranate and carrot cake.

Charles Martin books– Jess introduced me to this author and thanks to the library I’ve now read nearly all of his books. I love the characters, and I was needing some fiction in a major way.

Crock Pot Cream Cheese Chicken Chili– We’ve eaten this a thousand times. It is so easy, and let’s give a big high five for recipes where you get to start with frozen chicken! (Because remembering to thaw your chicken is just asking a little too much these days. 😉 We eat it over rice, and nearly once a week. Oh, and the leftovers are just as delicious!

Magical Light Wand– This little magical wand controls your Christmas lights. You press a button to turn them on and turn them off. Last year every time Peach did it she would whisper in her little deep Southern voice, “Magic!” and it melted Matt and me every. single. time.

Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl Buck– We’ve been reading some new Christmas books during morning basket time, and this one is our favorite. It’s such a sweet story.

PowerSheets by Lara Casey– I know I’ve talked about these before, but these were a BIG favorite from 2017. I did every month but June. (June was the month we returned to Ethiopia with 36 hours notice and brought Eve home. And that whole month we had one goal–survive.) But all the other months I did my PowerSheets, and it made the biggest difference. I just can’t say enough positive things about these PowerSheets. In a season where there’s a lot of urgent that screams for my attention, this helped me locate my priorities and work towards those while letting other things, as good as they may be, fall away. Highly recommend!

It’s hard to believe a new year is around the corner. We’ve had the slowest Christmas I can remember, and I’m incredibly grateful. Based on wisdom from other adoptive parents we have tried to intentionally keep holidays and special occasions simpler and more low-key as they can be trigger days for big emotions from children who have gone through trauma. But really I think maybe there’s something there for all of us–a space that’s gentler, slower, simpler might be the best space for a heart to grow.

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A Pause at the Manger

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I pause at the manger. A thousand times a day I walk by carrying sippy cups and bows, returning blocks and books. But once a day I pause and stare at a piece of African wood carved to reflect a baby in a manger. You came.

Friday, I pulled out Ann Voskamp’s The Greatest Gift to read once again for Advent. As I started to read a song came to mind. I first heard these words at a concert with the Helsers just a couple weeks before we got our final approval for our Eve. I remember standing in my church’s auditorium and praying these words over our family. Never could I have imagined what the next few months would hold for us or how desperately I would need Him to come to me. I listened to the same song as we were descending into Addis Ababa. And at the start of Advent I listened once more.

You stood outside my grave
With tears still on Your face
I heard You say my name
My night was turned to day

You came
I knew that You would come
You sang
My heart it woke up
I’m not afraid, I see Your face
I am alive
You came
I knew that You would come

You said death’s only sleeping
With one word my heart was beating
I rose up from my grave
My fear was turned to faith

You came
I knew that You would come
You sang
My heart it woke up
I’m not afraid, I see Your face
I am alive
You came
I knew that You would come

“You Came” by Jonathan David and Melisssa Helser

This time as I listened I thought of a passage from Hebrews I recently read in The Message.

“Heads up! The days are coming when I’ll set up a new plan for dealing with Israel and Judah. I’ll throw out the old plan I set up with their ancestors when I led them by the hand out of Egypt. They didn’t keep their part of the bargain, so I looked away and let it go. This new plan I’m making with Israel isn’t going to be written on paper, isn’t going to be chiseled in stone; this time I’m writing out the plan in them, carving it on the lining of their hearts. I’ll be their God, they’ll be my people. They won’t go to school to learn about me, or buy a book called God in Five Easy Lessons. They’ll all get to know me firsthand, the little and the big, the small and the great. They’ll get to know me by being kindly forgiven, with the slate of their sins forever wiped clean.”

Hebrews 8:7-12 The Message

That passage has stuck with me because it feels like that’s what this year has been about more than any other year–knowing God firsthand in the little and the big. We’ve felt the carving on the lining of our hearts. We’ve been washed in mercy, wiped clean in His kind forgiveness. We watched one daughter come home and another come up from the baptism tank. We’ve known exhaustion we couldn’t have imagined and renewal that could only come from the Sabbath-Maker. So, when I pause beside the manger and sing in my can’t-carry-a-note voice, “You came. I knew that You would come. You sang. My heart it woke up. I’m not afraid. I see Your face. I am alive. You came. I knew that You would come” it feels like it isn’t just words on my tongue–it’s etchings on my heart.

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Mercy & Help when the world tells you to be Merry & Bright

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They were running through the leaves at the park. Big gusts of wind made it look like Someone from up high was pouring down big handfuls of fall confetti. Giggles and high shrills were in bounty. I hung back just a bit having one of those moments. Four daughters. Me, the woman who remembers being on her knees in her bedroom eight years ago, holding the ultrasounds of my babies who were gone. The same woman who penned in her journal, “Will I ever be a mom who gets to hold her babies?” As my girls ran ahead in the leaves, I pulled my sweater tight around me. But God. 

I know for some it’s hard to be grateful this Thanksgiving and you don’t feel merry and bright as we head into Advent. I know because I’ve walked that same journey. But could I whisper into your heart those two words, But God. Friend, please hang on. I know you wake up with a pain in your chest and you go to sleep with tears on your cheeks. I know you wonder how others can care about Black Friday sales or red coffee cups when your heart is smashed into a thousand pieces. I know you’re afraid to open the mailbox to see a Christmas card of another smiling family when something in your family is broken or someone is missing.

I’ve been digging into Hebrews with a few close friends and God has been etching this passage on my heart as I prepare for Advent.

Now that we know what we have—Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God—let’s not let it slip through our fingers. We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help. Hebrews 4:14-16, The Message

Take the mercy. Accept the help. We don’t have to come to him merry and bright. He invites us in our snotty-mascara-streaked-mess to come rest in His arms.

As I watched my girls play in the fall confetti fluttering from the maples above, I saw a snapshot of these past eight, nearly nine, years on my journey of motherhood–pain and joy, sorrow and celebration, the broken and the beautiful. Because while these four daughters are miracles, every single one of them, the even bigger miracle is what God has done in my heart. The woman who writes these words today has come face to face with her brokenness. She’s learned the pain and gift of surrender. She can’t make it one day, one hour, one minute without mercy poured on and help received. She needs it to be their mom, but she also needs it to remember that she is His daughter and she can walk right up to Him and get what He is so ready to give (vs. 16). That woman whispers to all the hurting hearts this holiday season, “You aren’t alone. You aren’t forgotten.” Put your arm in mine and join your fellow warriors who will whisper to your hurting heart on the good days and the dark ones, “But God.”

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Digging

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Processed with VSCO with hb2 presetI had to take a little break from the blog for another project. That project has been sent off, and there’s a lot swirling around upstairs. The last five months–wow–it’s hard to believe it’s been almost five months since Eve came home. So much has changed, and, yet, it’s hard to remember life before the six of us were together. Her dedication was this past Sunday and our friend Stephen said he had seen a picture of our family from February. He said it looked like there was a big hole in the picture, a gap where our Eve girl wasn’t there.

At dinner last night, Peach asked Matt for a “campfire,” meaning fire in the fireplace. So, after bath times and pjs we all sat in front of the fireplace reading books. Lottie wanted to give Evie her bottle. (Yes, we still do one bottle a day for her because it’s a bonding moment, and we missed 20 months of those.) I looked over at them and thought of this time last year when our first court date was coming up in December. We walked through so much this year. But the gifts throughout this hard year have been beautiful and plentiful.

Saturday, I planted nearly 200 bulbs in our front yard. The big girls helped me while the little girls played in the dirt. The blade of the shovel cut through the dirt and I tucked in bulb after bulb, each one hidden beneath several inches of dirt to protect it through winter. There is nothing to show for my work right now, except a bit of a bruise on my right palm from all that digging. But I’m believing that come spring tulips and narcissus and later in the summer anemones and ranunculus will bloom.

Somewhere around bulb #89 the obvious metaphor hit me. This is what growth looks like. There’s digging, and it’s dirty. There’s planting, and it feels hidden. There’s growth, and it feels slow. But wait. Because the beauty is there already. And in time it will bloom into something that reflects the glory of its Creator.