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A little reminder to myself as early voting begins…

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Have you ever watched someone become a US citizen? It’s incredible. One time when we were getting fingerprints for USCIS, I walked out of the fingerprint room in time to see a group of men and women standing with their hands over their hearts to say the pledge of allegiance for the first time as US citizens.

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Their families surrounded them and when they finished with “liberty and justice for all” they erupted in cheers and celebration. Tears sprung, and it was such a special moment to behold. May we never take the opportunities we’ve been given for granted. May we talk less and listen more to those around us, hear their stories, and appreciate the unique gifts they bring. My girls and I say the pledge every Thursday at our homeschool community day. That isn’t a me-centered pledge I take with my hand over my heart. It’s a commitment to the greater good. It’s a fire in my belly to fight for freedom and justice for all, not just for people who look like me or talk like me or help my bank account.

I’ll leave you with these two quotes I’ve been mulling over from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “We have flown the air like birds and swum the sea like fishes but have yet to learn the simple act of walking on earth like brothers.” And also, “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”

Father, show me how to use my opportunity to vote for the greater good, for the broader concerns of all humanity. If it should cost me something, may I give it freely and sacrificially just as you modeled for me. Help me make decisions not out of fear or mob mentality but out of respect for You and the life Your Son Jesus lived on earth. May I recognize the privileges I’ve been given and use those as a means to lift others up and give others a voice. Guide me, Father. Amen. 

 

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Changing Seasons

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Processed with VSCO with a6 presetLast month we went to the beach, and I didn’t have to take swim diapers. This might not seem like a big deal to you, but for eight summers I’ve had to mess with swim diapers. But now all my people use a potty, so I no longer needed swim diapers. Who would have thought that would feel like such an accomplishment? But it did.

These last few months I’ve noticed a shifting, the daily movement seems subtle like the darkness creeping up a few minutes earlier every night. Then, one day you look out your window at 6:00 and notice it’s nearly dark, and you realize just how much the seasons have shifted. This new season carries its own challenges and its own delight. My oldest is nearly half-way through her time at home with us. She is cooking dinner for us and giving me book recommendations. Sometimes when I look over at her I can imagine her at college, books and papers surrounding her and that furrowed look on her face she gets when she’s concentrating. She needs honest answers to her questions. She needs freedom to mess up and try new things. She needs an empty kitchen and the chance to grapple with hard things.

These seasons require much growth from my children, but they also require growth from me, the willingness to surrender control and embrace the messy. I remember when Lydia was a baby, and I would put out her outfit every Sunday so Matt could get her dressed since I would already be at church–a beautiful smocked dress, matching monogrammed bloomers, and a color-coordinated bow. Those days are long gone and not just because I got too tired, but because they grew up and they have an opinion and a style and a personality. I’m not here to make girls who grow up into women just like their mom. I’m here to help cultivate and nourish God’s unique purpose in each of their lives.

I hear a lot of times that girls always this and girls always that as though gender decides far more of our lives than it actually does. While I certainly think there are some things that inherently come with our femininity, one of the gifts of having four daughters is getting to see how different each of them was made. While we still have a heavy pink influence over here, we try to make sure the books and toys and shows we allow in our house remind our girls that they aren’t cookie cutters, they aren’t damsels in distress, and they aren’t princesses who need to be coddled. They are unique, woven in their mothers’ wombs for a kingdom purpose.

When I see one wanting to take charge, I can remind myself she is craving responsibility and leadership. When I see one whose room looks like a bomb went off after rest time, I can recognize she is merely trying to keep up with her explosive imagination. When I see one who needs a longer glance or a reassuring wink, I can acknowledge the value of her presence not for what she does but simply for who she is. When I see one take steps backward, I can remember that growth is hard and messy and sometimes we just need to be held and told it’s okay to try again.

It’s true what everyone tells you when you first hold your baby. You blink and it passes by. It’s also true that this parenting thing is hard and exhausting, and you mess up a lot. But somewhere along the way we realize those shards of growth we have fought for–the moments when we think we might lose it (or actually do, in fact, lose it), the moments when we just sigh and go to sleep so we can try again tomorrow, the moments when we look up and see a young lady where there used to be a child, the moments when we no longer have to pack swim diapers for the beach–have been fitted together just right to make the masterpiece the Father always saw.

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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.