Letting Them Go. Fear and our children.

Letting Them Go. Fear and our children.

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Taken August 31, 2012. After 8 months of work, our dossier was ready to go to Ethiopia. The guy at FedEx took this (blurry) picture of us right before we mailed it off. Lydia had turned two that summer, and I was pregnant with Charlotte. 

When we first started this adoption journey, Lydia was 18 months old. She pronounced Ethiopia E-E-O-O, and her favorite thing to say was, “Mo, mo babies!” while she attempted to carry a half-dozen baby dolls in her arms. Fast forward four-and-a-half years and that adorable toddler is now a beautiful, compassionate first-grader. Her dream of “mo, mo babies” surrounds her in the swirl of little sisters God has given her. Granted, they don’t always do just what she wants like the baby dolls she used to play with, but they love her and look up to her and want to be just like her.

When we switched agencies this summer, we learned that our new agency highly recommends we only make one trip to Ethiopia. Instead of doing the two one-week trips that are usually 4-6 weeks apart, they recommend one trip that is usually around three weeks long. The main reason they recommend this is because our Ethiopian daughter becomes legally “ours” upon our successful court hearing which happens in the first trip. So, if we do one trip and stay in-country she is able to stay with us, and we can begin bonding with her in her home country, in the city and culture she knows and loves. After a lot of prayer, Matt and I decided one trip was the best option for our family. It wasn’t long after we received confirmation of that decision that the question started circling in my heart, “Should we bring Lydia?” In my typical fashion, I mentally made a pros and cons list. After making the list over and over for several weeks, I realized all my cons were born out of fear–fear for safety and disease, fear of the additional cost, fear of a looooooong flight with a child (and two children coming back). But I’ve made decisions in the past out of fear, and I don’t want to do that anymore. I want to bring the fear to God and move forward in faith.

I pray all these big prayers for my girls, but I can’t pray those prayers and then bubble wrap them and lock them in their rooms. I have to give them back to God, much like Hannah did with her beloved Samuel. I have to see the purposes God has for them and encourage those even if they might scare me. The Holy Spirit is showing me a corner of the tapestry. He has lifted back a small piece for my eyes to take in, to see how He is knitting us together, our gifts and weaknesses woven together for the beauty of His Story.

The Lord is threading Lydia’s compassionate, sensitive spirit to a baby sister she has yet to meet. Her ability to see when people are hurting despite a happy facade will allow her to know when her baby sister is struggling but doesn’t want to say. Her gentle, nurturing hands will make her baby sister feel safe when they don’t speak the same language. And her sharp memory will capture her baby sister’s homeland in exquisite detail so she can tell the story over and over to reassure her baby sister of her roots.

And there’s just the full circle quality of it all. Lyd was our only child when we started this journey. Now, she is the oldest of four sisters, the servant leader. I believe God made her “for such a time as this.” And there’s her name from Acts 16–Lydia, the woman who had her heart opened by God and then led her family to know the God she worshiped. Never could I have imagined when I sat on the couch pregnant with this child I had begged God for and my Bible open to Acts that the name He would give me would carry forth to this day and this journey and this adventure.

Today, we go to renew her passport–her first step in this journey to bring her baby sister home. There will be vaccines and malaria meds and plane tickets and Dramamine. But above all I pray she tastes for herself the goodness of the Lord and the greatness of His adventure. This morning, I read these verses from Luke speaking of John the Baptist and wrote them on a sticky note for her page.

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:76-79). 

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For Bible this week, Lydia’s lesson said to write ways she “spies” God at work. Her faith spurs me on. 

 

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Taking Littles to the Beach

Taking Littles to the Beach

IMG_0743Our first trip to the beach with littles happened when Lydia was 5 weeks old. I don’t remember a ton from that trip due to the memory fog caused by newborn sleeplessness, but I remember her pajamas that were green and white striped and made her look like a slice of key lime pie. And I remember that every time we walked outside and she heard the ocean she fell fast asleep. I also remember my parents sending us out to dinner one night and eating not one but two recently caught lobster tails.

The beach with littles is not a vacation. It’s a memory-making trip. It’s an important distinction to let settle in your mind before you go. The former conjures up images of fruity drinks and hours spent with a good novel while the waves crash over your toes. The latter is more like wrestling Houdini snakes with sunblock and constantly counting heads to be sure no one has gone AWOL. But if you tell yourself going in that this is about making memories, then you’re in a better frame of mind to enjoy yourself.

Once you have the right mindset, here are a few more things I’ve learned to make your trip a little more fun and a little less pull your hair out.

Break the rules. Stay up late hunting crabs. Let them eat three donuts for breakfast. Binge watch movies on the ride down and back. Spend three hours digging a hole that will surely be gone tomorrow morning. My mom has this saying on vacation that was always her typical response to our crazy requests, “Of course you can! It’s your vacation!” It may take a few days, but the kids will readjust once you get home. Have fun watching their eyes get big when they hear a YES to their crazy request.

Trade off responsibilities. Our girls are part roosters, and at the beach they wake up before the sun is up asking, “Is it time to go swimming yet?” I love to sleep in, but after five years of waking up early my internal clock has reset so that the latest I can hope to sleep in is 7:30. (And when we have a tiny one I have to feed the baby anyway.) Matt, on the other hand, does not share that problem. So, we trade off. I get up with the girls in the morning and let him sleep in. My dad usually gets up early too, so we will all hang out on the balcony with him, or sometimes I take the girls on an early morning walk on the beach when no one else is out there. Then, during rest time he stays inside with the girls while they nap, and I get to go to the pool with my mom and sister. This gives both of us a little “vacation” time each day.

Date night. We are always at the beach with my family, and my sweet parents always tell us to go on a date while we’re there. Date nights at the beach are the best. If you’re traveling with family or close friends that you trust, ask them before you go if they wouldn’t mind watching your kids one night so you can have a date night. If you’re not traveling with anyone, maybe skip rest time one day and put the kids down early. Order some yummy takeout and have a date night on your balcony.

Sunblock and swimsuits. I think those rash guards are the best invention ever. They cut down drastically on the amount of area to apply sunblock–which is inversely proportional to your sanity But what about that cute little swimsuit baby girl has? Right before we leave the beach house, I spread a beach towel on the floor and slather baby up with sunblock while nekked. Then, I put on swim diaper and swimsuit and head out to the beach. All those little straps and rolls are way too hard to navigate around, so I find spreading the stuff while baby is unclothed is much easier. Don’t forget a hat, and if baby refuses a hat, sunblock the head too! We usually go out in the morning and late afternoon avoiding the midday scorching sun. Also, a beach umbrella or tent is a must.

All the gear. Gone are the days of grabbing a towel, a book, and a drink and heading out. Now, you’ve got enough snacks to feed a small country, so many beach toys you could dig a tunnel to China, and extra everything. Last year, we saw a beach cart for sale at Costco, and Matt wanted to buy it to cart all our junk. I said we didn’t need it. I’ll let you guess which one of us was wrong. You need it. Also, if baby is under one, bring your baby wearing device. You need both hands to carry essentials like iced tea and chocolate covered almonds from Publix.

Travel. Bless it. This is the hardest part of the whole thing. Getting there. And then, even worse, getting back. We have changed beach locations the last couple years to take a few hours off the trip, and we get the bonus of being able to break up our trip with a night at my parents’ house in Mississippi. But no matter what, that last hour is usually filled with tears–both in the front seat and back seat. We pack tons of snacks and books, and stories on CD are our lifesaver. I usually try to get a few new books or activity books that will hold their attention simply because they are new. You might want to split these up and give one at the beginning, one at the middle, and so on. Also, travel with a wad of old grocery bags to put trash, dirty diapers, etc. in. My friend Heather leaves super early in the morning (think 3 am) so that her kids are still groggy for the first several hours of the trip. Take several stops along the way, and try to find a place with a bit of green space so the kids can run around for ten minutes or so. That little stop may save an hour of screaming. (May–I said may.) In the end, just turn up the music and tell yourself you’re almost there–even if it’s still another five hours.

For all the paraphernalia-packing, gear-toting, sunblock-slathering craziness, those memories at the beach are priceless.

Favorites from the Windy City

Favorites from the Windy City

IMG_8593When I plan a vacation, my top concerns are breakfast, lunch and dinner… oh, and dessert. Several months ago, Matt and I realized it was time for us to have a trip just the two of us. We had not been on a trip alone since right before I got pregnant with Charlotte and after nine months of pregnancy and almost a year of nursing, all the logistics would finally work out. Plus, a certain someone was turning 30 December 22nd. We talked about several locations and finally decided on Chicago. Matt had been several times when he was a child, but I had never been.

Taking the train… taking a train somewhere was on our bucket list and the trip from MEM to CHI is a straight shot, so we thought this would be a good time to try it. The train to and from Chicago is an overnight train. We went for coach seats instead of the sleeper cars. It’s much like sleeping on an airplane. The seats recline but not all the way, so you’re sleeping in the semi-upright position the whole night. It’s not the world’s best night of sleep but it got us four full days in Chicago (we arrived at 8 AM on our first day and didn’t leave until 9 PM on our last day) and we only had to pay for three nights in the hotel. Plus, it’s way less chaotic than an airport.

Hotel… The same day we decided on Chicago I saw a Jetsetter deal for the Public Chicago hotel. It’s in the Gold Coast district. We loved, loved, loved this hotel. Ian Schrager took an old hotel and completely transformed it, keeping the character of the past but with modern furniture and finishings. The customer service was outstanding. Check-in was at 12 noon, so we went by when we got in town to drop our luggage off. We asked if it might be possible to get early check-in and they not only agreed but upgraded our room so we could go immediately. Any hotel with its own library is a winner in my book, and we wanted to move into this one.

Restaurants… Oh goodness, here’s where it’s at…

Our favorite restaurant (and dare-I-say-it best meal of my life) was Girl and the Goat. Chef Stephanie Izard (winner of Top Chef) had me at the name of the place (surely, by now you know my slight obsession with goats) but the food… oh, the food. It’s the kind of food that’s fun, different and perfect for sharing. Goat blue breads with fig butter and fennel-onion jam, loup de mer with goat sausage, crisp braised pork shank with shiitake kimchee, sauteed green beans with a fish sauce vinaigrette and for dessert apple buckle with brown butter gelato. Here’s the deal… you must make reservations early. We made ours 2.5 months out and still ended up eating dinner at 4:45 PM, not that I was complaining one bit though. Because then we went across the street and got two chocolate croissants from The Little Goat bakery for a midnight snack.

Now, you simply cannot go to Chicago and not consume vast quantities of deep-dish pizza. At least you can’t if you’re me and pizza is your love language. Hands down, our favorite was Lou Malnati’s. I’m not going to tell you how many times we had their Chicago Classic (sausage on their famous buttercrust) but I will say I consumed pizza every. single. day. (Thank goodness for that marathon training.)

If deep-dish pizza is a must on any trip to Chicago, a steak isn’t a bad idea either. Thanks to the recommendation of my friend Anna who had been to Chicago just a few months before, we went to Bavette’s. The place felt very Mad Men and I was wearing a leopard-print dress and red lipstick, so basically this night was the total opposite of my regular life. I think we spent more than two hours at dinner until we couldn’t stuff another bite into our mouths and thus couldn’t talk anymore for fear seams would start ripping. We both had filets medium-rare, and I had this scrumptious side called Elote Style Corn with chili, lime and parmesan.

Before the Bulls game, we went to Little Goat Diner. After our delicious meal at Girl and the Goat we wanted to try Izard’s take on an upscale diner. Matt and I split the Patty Melt with Slagel beef and caramelized onions on pretzel rye. And some goat chili cheese fries. Perfect cold-weather, pre-game food. Unlike Girl and the Goat, Little Goat doesn’t do reservations so you don’t have to think too far ahead. Just get there a little early since they get really busy.

Something about brunch just screams, “Celebration!” and Matt and I love us some breakfast style food, so for his actual birthday, the 22nd, we went to Perennial Virant. Matt had the french toast with carrot jam and candied pecans (think carrot cake meets french toast) and I had the artichoke and asparagus quiche with its flaky, buttery crust and delicate, cheesy center. Snowflakes were falling outside and we sat and toasted 30 and the man I love.

What we did… Even though it sounds like all we did was eat, I promise we didn’t. We walked all over Chicago, probably logging close to ten miles a day. We took a taxi a few times, but mostly we walked and talked and saw and savored the Windy City. We love us some museums. (Nerdy, I know, but we’re okay with that.) Our first day we went to the Chicago Art Institute. This place is huge and you could easily get lost, but our favorite was the Neapolitan Crèche exhibit featured for only a few weeks at Christmas each year. It’s from the mid-18th-century and features over 200 figures. I have this thing with nativities, and I’ll never forget the beauty of that piece. Another day we went to the Shedd Aquarium. Little known fact, before 5th grade when I decided I wanted to be a doctor, I wanted to be a marine biologist. I think it happened after our trip to Sea World, but I still love aquariums. We happened across a training session with the Beluga whales and it was fun to see these creatures up close. We got to meet Sue, a giant dinosaur at the Field Museum. They also had an interesting special exhibit on Nazi propaganda on loan from the Holocaust Museum. Having just finished The Book Thief, this was especially poignant to me. If you like museums, I highly recommend the City Pass. It saves you money and you get to go straight to the front of the line. I hate lines. So, this was a huge plus to me.

We also got to see the Bulls beat the Cavaliers, and we were wishing Derrick Rose wasn’t injured so we could have seen him play. (I’m pretty sure the Bulls wish he wasn’t injured too.) We went up the John Hancock building, played at LegoLand, stopped by American Girl Place (where I lamented the fact that they are retiring my American Girl doll, Molly,) walked down Michigan Avenue lit up with twinkly lights, drank 49 hot drinks (coffee for Matt, caramel apple spice for me) a day to keep warm and soaked in the sights and sounds and flavors of the Windy City.

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On Citrus and Friendship

On Citrus and Friendship

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 “Everybody has a home team: It’s the people you call when you get a flat tire or when something terrible happens. It’s the people who, near or far, know everything that’s wrong with you and love you anyways. These are the ones who tell you their secrets, who get themselves a glass of water without asking when they’re at your house. These are the people who cry when you cry. These are your people, your middle-of-the-night, no-matter-what people.”

Shauna Niequist in Bittersweet

Over the past five years, Jessica & Heather have become a vital part of my home team. We have walked through the darkest of days together, times forged by tears and silent-death-grip hugs. We have celebrated with every dessert imaginable, homemade carrot cake and chocolate fudge pie ranking as two of my favorites. We have shared books and desperate prayers and a million memories.

Saturday, Jess and I boarded a plane destined for the Sunshine State. After hearing all about sunny, idyllic Ocala, I couldn’t wait to finally see this sweet town that is once again home to one of my favorite people. The days flew by, a swirl of catching up and filling in, soaking in the gift of friendship. We read books peering through the glass panes every few minutes to admire the citrus trees just beginning to ripen. We feasted and feasted some more, fresh speckled trout and bacon-wrapped dove with asparagus drizzled with lemon vinaigrette one night.  Shauna Niequist’s Steak au Poivre and mashed potatoes another night thanks to the culinary master, Paul Bruce. After dinner, the three of us would go over to the hot tub at Heather’s parent’s house with the sky sprinkled with stars and the mossy oaks casting their shadows below and talk for hours and hours knowing that this friendship and these memories were something truly special.

Jessica & Heather, near or far, you are my people. xoxo

Fajitas & Courage

Fajitas & Courage

IMG_5494This past weekend in a span of 72 hours, Matt and I traveled over 1,100 miles through five states and consumed roughly 89 gallons of Starbucks iced coffee. I will remember many, many fun memories from this weekend. The most delicious being Pappasitto’s… with their homemade tortillas which reminded me of fresh baked pita bread. And the fajitas with the little ceramic ramekin of melted butter to pour on top of the sizzling steak and chicken. At the end of the meal, I unashamedly grabbed a piece of steak and dunked it right in the butter and savored every last bite.

But truth be told, we didn’t go to Fort Worth for the food. (Although I’d probably travel all that way just for an encore of those fajitas.) It all started a few months back when my best friend of two decades, Emily, sent me a text. She and her husband lead the college and young adult ministry at Wedgwood Baptist located about a mile from Southwestern Theological Seminary. Her text said she wanted to focus their summer Ladies Retreat on overcoming fear. You might recall fear is a little something I know all too well. We chatted back and forth for a few weeks and she asked me if I would come to Fort Worth to teach. I was simultaneously scared to death (ironic, huh?) and crazy excited.

The ladies and I had so much fun Saturday. We laughed and laughed and laughed. We cried. We became fast friends. And as I prayed our last prayer to end the day, I thought about this room full of ladies and the one word that kept coming to mind was courageous. In that room sat future pastors’ and ministers’ wives.  From that room two women were headed to be missionaries on the other side of the world. And within that room were beautiful stories, stories these brave women trusted me with. Stories of determination, pain, new adventures, overcoming and heartache. I can’t help but wonder just how many lives these ladies will touch and how many hearts they will show the love of Christ. I know they have already burrowed deep and found a special place in my heart.

Saturday night, as Emily and Ethan took Matt and me on a tour of Southwestern, the sun throwing its last brilliant flame behind the flag with its proud lone star, my heart was so, so full. Full of gratitude… for two decades of friendship, for these ladies and their contagious courage and for a God who uses our pain to become our passion.