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.


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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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.



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Processed with VSCO with a6 presetI saw this painting by one of my favorite artists, Clare Elsaesser, and my sweet husband gifted it to me for my birthday. Last week, I was reading Sara Hagerty’s new book Unseen: The Gift of Being Hidden in a World That Loves to Be Noticed. I remembered the painting that was in a box in our bedroom waiting for my birthday. Written in tiny font at the bottom of the painting is its title, Hidden. It seems this is a message God keeps whispering to me.

Even in these days where I feel buried beneath laundry and crushed Goldfish crackers, therapy evaluations and helping children learn how to self-regulate, He sees me. He hears my desperate prayers. He knows my every weakness. In Unseen Sara writes, “We haven’t been hidden by God to suffer or to be punished; we’ve been wooed into hiding to meet with the God who turns vulnerability into communion.”

These days aren’t the ones that win awards or earn promotions. These are the hidden days. The ones where my best work is done on my knees. I sent a friend a page from Unseen with this quote, “Nate and I found that the first, best tending to the hearts of our children was done in secret with God. So we prayed.” This morning, Matt gave me the best gift you can give a mom with a house full of littles. He took the kids to Panera for breakfast while I got to sip my coffee, read my Bible and pray in a quiet house. What a gift. I carried my mug from room to room praying over these spaces and these lives God has entrusted me with and thanking Him for this gift of life.


around the world to get our girl {chapter seven. home}

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In the days following our first trip, I woke up every morning long before the sun was up. I anxiously checked my email hoping for good news. We had been home for 13 days and jet lag had finally released its hold on us when we got word on June 7th that the single piece of paper that was holding us up was finally granted. We had our Vitals Letter. (The irony of the name of that piece of paper wasn’t lost on me.) There was still an issue with the passport office that we wanted to be sure was resolved before we headed back to Ethiopia. My girlfriends wanted to throw a shower for me, and they originally planned it for June 15th. When it looked like we could be traveling even more quickly than we thought, they moved it up and threw it with about two days’ notice. My tribe is amazing, and I’ll never forget the prayers they prayed over us that night. (Or the spread of yummy dips because this girl has never met a dip she didn’t like.)

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We went ahead and sent our girls with different family members in case we got to travel quickly. They left town on Friday morning, June 9th, and that same morning we found out the passport office issue had been resolved. We booked flights Friday afternoon to leave Sunday morning. Then, we ran around packing and buying and preparing. We were headed back to Ethiopia, and this time our daughter was coming home with us.

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The trip was very different this time. Matt and I went on our own. Since we had just returned home from our first trip, we decided it might be a lot for Lydia to do all that travel again so quickly. Plus, she wanted to spend some time with her cousins. Our amazing photographer and my dear friend and mentor Robyn had family obligations that meant she needed to be in Memphis. So, Matt and I headed off on this adventure just the two of us. And while it felt a little like deja vu having just made this trip two weeks prior, it also felt very different. During our first trip there was so much fear and uncertainty mixed in with the joy and anticipation. This second trip was pure excitement and gratitude. Every step felt flooded with our gratitude.

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We arrived late Sunday night in Addis. We got to the hotel and unpacked our bags. They had a crib waiting in our room, and that’s when it hit me. Everything I had been expecting our first trip and all the pain we endured when those things didn’t happen–God had brought us through all of it. And now He had a crib waiting on us. Waiting on her. We put her baby doll and blankets in the crib. We unpacked diapers and wipes and bottles, and we fell asleep.

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The next morning I packed her yellow backpack, and we headed out to meet Abreham to go get our sunshine girl. We spent most of our first day at her orphanage. We had to leave a little earlier than expected because we got word that her passport was ready, and we needed that information to request our embassy appointment. When we left, Eve was ready for her nap. She was exhausted physically and emotionally. She was leaving her orphanage family who had loved her so well. As I write this, it’s been nine weeks since we arrived home, and we are reaping the love they sowed in her. She knows how to love us because they taught her how to love. I’ll never be able to describe my gratitude to her orphanage nannies and volunteers. Our little girl was exhausted from saying goodbye, and on the drive back to the hotel she fell asleep in my lap.

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The next few days were a bit of a blur. I never really knew when one day ended and another began. I remember Matt and I ate a lot of room service Margherita pizzas and drank Ethiopian Coca-Cola from glass bottles with Amharic writing on the side. (I never drink soda, but I found myself craving a glass bottle coke every day in Ethiopia.) I remember Eve gobbling up the yummy shiro (traditional Ethiopian dish) during dinner our first night together at the hotel. I remember going to the Suisse doctor and learning she had giardia and an ear infection. I remember wondering how that would affect the long flight home. (Poorly is the answer to that pondering. Don’t let all those smiles fool you or the sleeping pictures. Notice the only pictures of her sleeping are in the airport.)



I remember Abreham pulling the van over and buying a huge bunch of bananas for Eve and her friend Nafi to eat.I remember her first bath where she was terrified and dug her fingers into my flesh so we opted for a towel bath instead. And her second bath where she felt a lot more comfortable because we blew bubbles the whole time. I remember waking up in the middle of the night that first night in the hotel and peeking over in her crib. It wasn’t a dream. She was with us.



I remember the Embassy appointment and our interviewer saying, “Once you touch down in Dulles, she’ll be an American citizen.” I remember holding her next to the window and pointing out at the American flag and telling her, “You will always be an Ethiopian and now also an American.” I remember her nannies and volunteers coming by the hotel to say goodbye one last time. I remember hugging her nanny Ayinalem and not wanting to let go.  I remember Ayinalem holding her and giving her an entire latte because Ethiopians love their buna. I remember thinking, “Does this mean she isn’t going to sleep on our flight tonight? (The answer was yes.)



I remember hugging Abreham goodbye and wearing Eve as we walked into the airport. I remember a very, very, very long flight and not sleeping a wink. (Seventeen hours.) I remember holding Matt’s hand as our plane touched down at Dulles and the other adoptive families cheering with us. American soil. We were finally on American soil. I remember going through immigration and our officer congratulating us. I remember eating Chipotle with lots of lettuce and ice and Eve chowing down on her rice. I remember walking through all the different flags in the airport until we found the stars and stripes. I remember landing in Atlanta absolutely exhausted after 36 hours without a minute of sleep. I remember falling asleep in a chair and waking up to hear Matt say, “Our flight’s been delayed several hours.” I remember wanting to cry and scream because how could we be so close and still feel so far away from home?



I remember late that Saturday night finally boarding our flight to Memphis. I remember landing and walking through a quiet airport until we saw our girls and our parents and siblings at the end of the corridor. I remember kneeling on the ground with all four of my daughters around me. I remember taking the escalator down to baggage claim and hearing the loudest cheering of my life. I remember my hands in the air and tears down my face. I remember someone a little later yelling out, “Happy Father’s Day, Matt!” and I looked over to the airport clock to see it was past midnight. It was officially Father’s Day, and my man had all his girls together. I remember putting all of them in the van and driving home with a quiet car because they had all fallen asleep.




I remember putting Eve in her crib with Georgia beside her in her toddler bed. I remember glancing up at the verses on her wall–the Word of God that had carried us through our Red Sea. I remember closing their door and walking to the kitchen and seeing all the “Welcome home, Eve” signs on our table. I remember Robyn, who had followed us home to document this last piece of this chapter of the story, walking into the kitchen and showing me her camera–a shot from the girls’ bathroom where four pink towels were hanging in a row. Finally, she was home.


*When you notice the photo quality increase midway through the blog (the one right after Eve and me under the US flag), that’s when Robyn ( joined us on our journey home. Trust me, you’ll know which ones are hers. 😉 Going back through these photos nine weeks later, I’m reminded of what a gift it was to have someone capture this story for us. There are so many moments I wouldn’t remember if not for her beautiful photos. Thank you, Robyn. 



around the world to get our girl {chapter six}

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9E3B1962We woke up the next day knowing we needed our daughter’s birth certificate before we boarded our flight that night. A process that usually isn’t too difficult was proving a bit more difficult because of the suspension. After waiting all afternoon the day before, we prepared ourselves for another long wait. This time we left Lydia with Robyn at our hotel, so they could sleep in and have a lazy morning. Matt and I spent several more hours in the van waiting outside the kebele. As lunchtime was nearing, Abreham told us our representative wanted us inside. We walked inside the small building and took two seats next to the government official issuing our daughter’s birth certificate. He asked us a few questions like what state each of us was born in and what religion we were. After sitting there for a while, our representative brought us a birth certificate to check over for accuracy. Everything was correct except my middle/maiden name was written “WentWorth” and that second “w” needed to be lowercase. We waited a while longer, and our representative brought us the new version where everything was accurate. It was surreal seeing our names listed under “Mother” and “Father”. We needed to sign several papers, and then we were done. Her birth certificate was in our representative’s hands. That was the last step open to us at that time. We had given God our yes, and He had brought us 8,000 miles, through our court date with a court decree and birth certificate in hand. We wouldn’t be going home with our daughter, but we had seen His presence over and over again. We knew His hand was guiding us, and we had to trust Him.


We went back to the hotel to pick up Lydia and Robyn and made plans to attend a meeting for families in country at the US Embassy in Addis. We sat in a room with other families who were caught in the same hard place we were, and we listened to the Embassy staff update us on what was happening. I have to share publicly how grateful Matt and I are to the entire Embassy team in Addis. They worked tirelessly for our family and other families, and they continue their work today to unify families. We left the meeting encouraged. They seemed to feel the tide was turning and used the word “weeks” when asked how long they thought it might be before children could come home.






We left the Embassy and headed to Eve’s orphanage to see her one more time before our flight out that night. It was late afternoon and the sunlight was streaming in the big window in the yellow playroom. I was sitting on the floor, and Eve was in my lap. A young man walked up and introduced himself as one of the volunteers. He asked us where we were from and we responded, “The States–Tennessee.” He said, “No way! My mom lives in Tennessee.” He asked us where in Tennessee, and we told him Memphis to which he said, “My mom owns a restaurant in Memphis.” I look at Matt with chill bumps because I’m in disbelief and ask him what part of Memphis. He leans his head back like you do when you’re trying to remember a specific detail and says, “Cor-cordova!” Matt and I both start shrieking/freaking out, and in a very high squeaky voice I say, “We know your mom! We eat at her restaurant! We love her food!” Then there are hugs and selfies and phone calls to his mom back in Memphis and a family in utter amazement at God. Because here we are 8,000 miles away from home in a city of more than 3 million people, and hours before we board a flight taking us away from our daughter we meet a man whose mom runs the Ethiopian restaurant a mile from our home. But God. In case I needed one more miracle to remind me that He has always been and always will be the One piecing everything together, He gave us Enderi and his mom Hareg. But God.



We hung out for a while longer and when the sun was low in the sky we hugged everyone goodbye. We kissed Hewan with a thousand kisses and placed her in the arms of Ayub. We stopped by Sishu for one more hamburger, and Abreham drove us to the airport. I had managed not to cry when we told Eve goodbye, but I couldn’t hold back the tears when we hugged Abreham bye. This man had become like a brother to us, and we told him we would see him soon. We boarded the plane exhausted and grateful, praying for the day we would return. Having no idea it would be a mere two weeks later. But God.






to be continued…

*All images by Robyn Smith of To see more images from our trip to Ethiopia, go to @abideinhimrobynon IG and scroll back to the end of May. 


around the world to get our girl {chapter five}

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May 23, 2017. The day we had been waiting for. The day we would stand before a judge and declare our love and commitment for this child. We woke up and put on the nicest clothes we had brought. Matt had on the African safari socks his dad and step-mom gave him. I had on the long dress Liz let me borrow. It was comfortable but still dressy enough for court. As always, Lydia had carefully chosen her outfit. Robyn had her camera. We weren’t sure if we would be able to take many pictures at court, but she was ready just in case.


When we got to Federal First Instance Court, we waited in the lobby alongside the other families from our agency. About 9 AM, our legal representatives arrived, and we walked upstairs. We waited outside the court room while each family was called. When they said “Hewan” it was our turn. Lydia, Matt, and I walked into the room. In the left corner was a heavy wooden desk where the judge in his leather jacket sat back lit by the sunshine streaming in from the large window behind him. In front of his desk was a long table with chairs on either side. We sat in three chairs on the right side with Matt closest to the judge. A clerk reviewed our passports as the judge proceeded to ask us a short series of questions.

“Have you met this child before?”

“How long has your process been?”

“Do you live in a city or the country?”

“Are you prepared to raise this child as your own?”

“Do you have any other children?” and then he asked Lydia if she was excited.

And finally as he turned the final page and started signing, he asked us one more question, “Do you love her?”

I couldn’t speak for if I did tears would surely fall, but I nodded. Lydia nodded. And Matt said, “Yes, we do. Very much.”

Less than five minutes and we were done. She was legally a Roberts girl, always and forever.


We waited outside the room for a few more families to go. When we were all done, our representatives said they would contact us as soon as we received our court decree. We went back to the hotel to get some lunch. We had been back at the hotel for maybe an hour when Abreham called to tell us they had already received our court decree. We needed to go to the kebele (government office) to try for our birth certificate.


We loaded up in the van and headed that way. When we arrived, we were instructed to wait in the car because the kebele was crowded and hot. One hour turned into two. And then three. And then four. Lydia colored in her notebook. Then Robyn colored a page. Then Matt. I was wishing I had brought my Kindle to have something to read. A breeze was blowing through the van. The wait was long, but we had waited 5.5 years. We pressed on.


Finally, they came out and told us we wouldn’t make it in that afternoon. We needed to come back the following morning. It was nearly 5 pm, and visitation hours at Sele Enat were ending. Abreham called the orphanage to see if they would let us stay a little later. We wanted to see our girl so badly. They agreed, and we quickly headed over there. Walking into Sele Enat feels like walking into a home you knew once before. It has this feeling of welcome familiarity that I can’t explain. I was glad to be there once more, and I was glad to tell our girl she was officially ours.





Eve and Ayub. She calls him “Ayi” with much excitement in her voice! Also, his screen is shattered because this cutie dropped it a few weeks before. He didn’t seem too upset. 😉

We played with her and the other children, and I got to feed her dinner. We got to talk for a while with Ayub and Ayinalem to find out more about our girl. The day had been long, but I was grateful for every miracle God had done in those 24 hours. Abreham joined us for a celebratory dinner at Sishu with burgers and fries for everyone, and we toasted each other with Ethiopian Coca-Cola and Pineapple Fanta. I’ll remember that meal as one of the happiest of my life.


Eve and Ayinalem. Ayinalem is one of Eve’s nannies and a strong believer. She is the answer to so many prayers, and I’m grateful we get to text daily. 

*All images by Robyn Smith of To see more images from our trip to Ethiopia, go to @abideinhimrobynon IG and scroll back to May 23rd.