Wednesday, December 30, 2015

the wonders of His love

But when the kindness of God our Savior
and His love for mankind appeared,
He saved us,
not on the basis of deeds 
which we have done in righteousness,
but according to His mercy...
whom He poured out upon us
richly through Jesus Christ our Savior...

Titus 3:4-6

Georgia Caroline Blackmon


December 23, 2015
11:42 a.m.

5 pounds, 15 ounces
19 inches

Take the hardest thing in your life -
The place of difficulty,
outward or inward,
and expect God to triumph gloriously
in that very spot.
Just there,
He can bring your soul into blossom.

Lilias Trotter

The very trials that threatened to overcome you with
discouragement and disaster
will become God's opportunity
to reveal His grace and glory in your life,
in ways you have never known before.

Streams in the Desesrt

God wins His greatest victories through apparent defeats.
Very often the Enemy seems to triumph for a season,
and God allows it.
But then He comes in
and upsets the work of the Enemy,
overthrows the apparent victory...

Consequently, He gives us a much greater victory
than we would have known had He allowed the Enemy
seemingly to triumph in the first place.

May we learn that in all the difficult places God takes us,
He is giving us opportunities to exercise our faith in Him
that will bring about blessed results
and greatly glorify His name.

Sorrows come to stretch out spaces in the heart for joy.

Springs in the Valley

But as for me,
I shall sing of Thy strength;
Yes, I shall joyfully sing of Thy lovingkindness in the morning.
For Thou hast been my stronghold,
and a refuge in the day of my distress.
O my strength, I will sing praises to Thee;
for God is my stronghold,
the God who shows me lovingkindness.

Psalm 59:16-17


As this wild and crazy year is drawing to a close, I wanted to take a moment to let you know how much I appreciate the many prayers that have been lifted up for me, this sweet baby girl, and for our entire family. The Lord has been so faithful to see me through some hard and difficult stretches, and I know, without a doubt, that your prayers made a difference. I am eternally grateful!


It was so bad we didn't think we were going to make it...
As it turned out, 
it was the best thing that could have happened.
Instead of trusting in our own strength 
or wits to get out of it,
we were forced to trust God totally - 
not a bad idea since He's the God who raises the dead!

And He did it, rescued us from certain doom.

And He'll do it again,
rescuing us as many times as we need rescuing.

You and your prayers are part of the rescue operation -

I don't want you in the dark about that either.
I can see your faces even now,
lifted in praise for God's deliverance of us,
a rescue in which your prayers played such a critical part.

2 Corinthians 1:8-11

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Ups and Downs

And He said to me,
"My grace is sufficient for you,
for power is perfected in weakness."

Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses,
that the power of Christ may dwell in me.

Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, for Christ's sake;

for when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Each of our kids, at least, the last three that make up our little crew, have gone through what I fondly call a Daddy Stage. Most of the time, I don't doubt that they still love me, and there are times that they do indeed want me, but it's not often, especially when they are upset. Their safe place, their secure place, the place they need to be when their world is not right, is up. 

Up in their Daddy's arms.

I can't pinpoint exactly when this phase begins. It's probably been a tad bit different for each one, but there's definitely a common denominator:

Growing a baby is hard work. At least it is for this momma. I've done it a bunch of times, and you'd think it would get easier each time. But, the truth is that it hasn't. In fact, each time I've been blessed to carry a child, it has gotten harder and harder. 

In most areas of my life over these last few years, I have been learning (sometimes slowly) to accept the hard things God sends. Even to welcome them. To see them as opportunities for growth. Precursors to blessings yet to unfold. Gifts from a gracious and merciful Father to gently teach me to quit relying on my own strength and determination and to learn to lean on Him. 

When I look into the big brown eyes of Sophi and Faith Ana, this is what I see. Good, good gifts wrapped in unexpected (and sometimes unattractive) packages. Hard things. Sometimes, very, very hard things, but good things. Things that have humbled me and revealed my weaknesses, yet things that have drawn me closer to Him. 

But this thing, this particular pregnancy, this growing a little life inside of me - this has been a hard thing unlike anything I have ever before experienced. Physically, this pregnancy has been difficult, especially coupled with anemia, headaches, varicose veins, insomnia, and exhaustion. Emotionally, many days and in many ways that perhaps one day I will find the words to share, this pregnancy has been a roller-coaster ride. And mentally, well, words just simply fail to describe how challenging these last nine months have been for me. There have been some dark, dark days. 

So, really, it's not a surprise that Haddon has certainly hit that Daddy Stage and has probably stayed in that stage longer than any of our other kids. He's definitely a daddy's boy. I'm not sure who is more anxious and excited to see Will when he walks in the door from work: me or Haddon. I think my memory of Haddon (at least during this second year of his little life) will be of him, climbing on my feet, wedging himself between me and the kitchen counter while I am trying to cook supper, pulling on my clothes, all the while repeatedly saying "up, up, up."

With tired arms, achy feet, a hurting back, and some days, a troubled and distracted mind, I don't always feel like picking him up or, quite honestly, I don't even want to pick him up. Tell me I am not alone. Some days, I distract him. {Hello iPad and snacks.} Some days, I give in, if only for a minute, hoping it will appease him, only to put him down a few seconds later when something on the stove starts bubbling over and looks and smells like an erupting, burning volcano. Some days (as much as I hate to admit it), I simply ignore him or I tell him he's ok and to go find his brothers or Evie. Thankfully, this kid loves his big brothers and sisters, and they love him and for the most part are great helpers! But it's a short-term fix, and for this boy, there's only one thing that makes all things right.

His daddy. 

The moment Will walks in the door, all is well in Haddon's little world. The tears stop. The fussing subsides. Even the full-blown, kicking, thrashing, and screaming tantrum of an almost two year old (sound familiar, anyone?) - it stops as soon as he walks in the door and scoops him up.

Some days, I find myself welcoming Will home with my own version of a two-year old tantrum, complete with tears and fussing. Maybe it's coming from a place of insecurity or feeling inadequate as a momma (the Enemy has been on the warpath lately) or maybe it's pregnancy hormones or maybe I'm just extra tired by the end of the day, but I'll find myself criticizing Will for picking Haddon up the second he walks in the door. I'll complain about Haddon's incessant fussing during the afternoon, griping about how he got woken up early from his nap by his loud brothers, and recounting the mischief that he and Evie got into and the disasters they created during the hours Will was away. I'll interject that he really shouldn't always pick Haddon up every time he asks. I don't. He shouldn't either. He's spoiling him and teaching him that this is how to get what he wants. And while there is some wisdom in this, generally, all it takes is about 15 seconds of me looking at this brown-eyed boy of mine held in his daddy's strong arms, and I rethink my position. His tears stop. His fussing turns into smiling. His demeanor changes. Mine does too, and the whole mood of the house shifts. I start breathing again, and Will reminds me that it's ok. It's going to be ok. He won't always need to be picked up or want to be picked up. Will points to the other four boys that are growing bigger (and stinkier) by the day, and I know he's right. Some days, they are so busy and distracted that they hardly notice when he walks in the door. He tells me that Haddon won't be the baby much longer (three more days to be exact!!!), and it really is ok. And, most importantly, he tells me that he doesn't mind, and I know he's telling me the truth! I love this guy's heart!

So when I read these words this morning, a post from a while back from a blog I haven't checked in months, I could relate on so many different levels. Maybe you can too! Can I encourage you to take the time to read the whole post

Here's a little excerp from it that I've been pondering throughout the day:

“Up, please” is dangerous for the child who’s not been tethered.

And for you. And for me.

Because somewhere in that grafting, when we said “yes” to Jesus — at seven or sixteen or twenty-three —  the inertia of humanity and life has taught us that “up, please” is for babies and we don’t know how to be babies to God.

I’d rather not be like a child. I don’t want to fumble over my words in a crowd or have my daughter’s wounds get triggered in public, for others to see. I don’t want to be the medical conundrum...I don’t want to be pushing forty and needing to ask the question: what broke at fifteen to make me still.keep.struggling. with that same issue? I don’t want to bleed, for too long at least...

I don’t want to need.

I’ll say it again: if I’m honest — I don’t really want to need Him.

I want to crawl out of weak skin and learn the five points on how to grow my passion for God — ’cause wouldn’t we all rather learn it in a sermon than with our lives? Yet He keeps inviting me to be bare with Him — to literally, sit before Him and let down my heart and ask the questions and wait on His answers. Be vulnerable and stay vulnerable is quite the invitation in a world where efficient mastery and polished appearances are praised...

The dozen moments in a day that I resent because they remind me that I’m weak are the ones when He wants to hear my faltering voice: “up, please.”

Needy tears have become a treasure here. When pain isn’t shoved back into submission through self-flagellation or masked underneath layers of “I’m fine!” but instead spills out through eight and ten and eleven year-old versions of “up, please,” we celebrate. We give long cuddles, just to re-affirm them that hearts that are bleeding raw before God are the ones on their way to coming alive. 

When I read these words, I thought about all the things that have happened this year. All the hard things. All the struggles. Mainly, all of my struggles. The mistakes I've made. The things I wish I could do differently. The ways I've failed. This year, more so than any other, I know what it means for a heart to bleed raw. As I look back and remember it all, my heart, bloody and messy as it is, is a heart overwhelmed with the faithfulness and gentle mercies of my own Heavenly Father. Time and time and time again, He just keeps pouring His blessings down on me. No matter how fussy I am. No matter how disagreeable I've been. No matter how the day has gone. No matter how badly I have blown it. As many times as I ask and even when I don't, His arms are always available. Today, He met me with these priceless and precious words that my heart so desperately needed as He patiently reminded me that His strong arms - my Daddy's arms - were made for this very thing. For reaching down and scooping me up. For holding me close. For not letting go. A year that started off with a miscarriage, followed by several months of feeling very, very badly but not knowing why, finding out I was severely anemic, then pregnant again, and then finally nine of the hardest, most challenging months of carrying a little person inside of me that I've ever experienced. It's been quite a year, but here's the thing: He has lifted me up and carried me through every bit of it. 

The great God wants our conspicuous crises to be occasions of conspicuous testimony;
our seasons of darkness to be opportunities for the unveiling of the Divine...

Make a pulpit of every circumstance...

Springs in the Valley

Is it just me or is it hard to be vulnerable and even harder to stay vulnerable once you drop the pretense and lose the pride? To quit pushing so hard, trying so hard, working so hard and simply to accept what is hard? To be weak, raw, messy, bloody, and exposed? To be like a child? To be like Haddon? This is exactly the place where the Lord has had me these past 12 months. And while in many ways, I'm still in the thick of it and still find myself struggling with the same things that I did yesterday and the day before, I'm just now slowly starting to see. I'm finally starting to see those little arms reaching up and those big eyes looking up, and I'm hearing that precious little voice, often sobbing, asking for up. 

If only I would always do the same. Every day. As many times a day as I needed to. If I would just look up and lift my arms up and whisper that simple, little word. Up.

To live in the wisdom of accepted tenderness is to let go of cares and concerns, to stop organizing means to ends and simply be in each moment of awareness as an end in itself...We can embrace our whole life story in the knowledge that we have been graced and made beautiful by the providence of our past history. All the wrong turns in the past, the detours, mistakes, moral lapses, everything that is irrevocably ugly or painful, melts and dissolves in the warm glow of accepted tenderness.

Brennan Manning
Ruthless Trust

My instinct, my modus operandi, the typical, learned way I respond to my Heavenly Father  is nothing like the way Haddon responds to his earthly father. When I'm sad, angry, hurting, scared, depressed, or simply when I'm just down and don't even really know why, I don't always look up. In the past, I might beat myself up. I might pull myself up by my own bootstraps and sheer determination (better known as stubbornness). I might tell myself to toughen up. More recently, I might just give up. 

Some days, I'm like Sophi and Faith Ana. I think deep down they both know and are learning to trust that the strong arms of a daddy are a good thing, but because of how they were wounded during those first six years of their life, there are still times when they bristle and push away from their daddy's embrace. They simply don't know what it means to be held, even when that's what their hurting, little hearts are crying out for. Other days, I'm more like my other brown-eyed boy. The one that is growing up so fast. The one who is passionate and wears his emotions on his sleeve, this one who is strong-willed and like his momma in so many ways. He's been on his own roller coaster this year and has had his own share of struggles. Adjusting to  homeschool and having his daddy for his teacher hasn't always been easy, and he and Will have certainly had some clashes, conflicts, and less than memorable moments. I cannot tell you how many times the Lord has given me a glimpse of my own heart as I've stood back and watched these moments play out. Like him, I've fought my Father. I've not liked what He's asked me to do. I've wrestled, and I've resisted. And, you know what? As I look back and reflect on this year - all the craziness, all my struggles, all the messes and disasters that I have found myself in - in all of it, His arms have always been reaching down, inviting me up. No matter how hard I put up a fight (or don't fight and simply give up - I'm not sure which reaction is worse, and I've done both many times lately), no matter how many times I push away, no matter what, NO MATTER WHAT, He's always there to pick me up. 

Dear friend, you do not have to understand all God's ways of dealing with you. He does not expect you to understand them. You do not expect your children to understand everything you do - you simply want them to trust you.

And someday you too will see the glory of God in the things you do not understand.

Streams in the Desert

This year, these hard things, all of this, it's helping me to learn how to see God just as Haddon sees his own daddy. Today, I'm safely and securely scooped up in His strong and faithful arms. Tomorrow, I might be wrestling and pushing away. Ups and downs are very much a part of the landscape of my heart right now. Like I said, it's been a roller coaster around here, and, yes, I still have so much to learn. Actually, I have even more to unlearn. I'm unlearning old ways and old patterns of thinking, and this has been hard. For me, it's been a painstakingly slow and unsteady process. One step forward. Many steps back. Thankfully, I have an unbelievably patient Daddy and kind Teacher who is helping me to unlearn the wrong ways of seeing Him and of seeing myself. And through this process of replacing the lies with the unchanging and timeless truth of His grace and acceptance and unconditional love, I've found myself clinging to Him as I've never done before. I've found that up in His arms is the very, very best place to be. 

God never wastes His children's pain! God loves much those whom He trusts with sorrow, and designs some precious soul enrichment which comes only through the channel of suffering.

There are things which even God cannot do for us unless He allows us to suffer.

He cannot have the result of the process without the process.

Streams in the Desert


P.S. Three more days, Lord-willing, until our arms have one more little person to scoop up! Will you join us in praying for a smooth (and quick!!!!) induction on Wednesday morning and for this newest little one to be healthy, strong, and ready to come home to a loud and lively house?

Friday, October 16, 2015

if I should speak

Men see not the bright light which is in the clouds...
Job 37:21

Much of the world's beauty is due to clouds. The unchanging blue of a beautiful, sunlit sky still does not compare to the glory of changing clouds. And earth would become a wilderness if not for their ministry to us.

Human life has its clouds as well. They provide us with shade, refresh us, yet sometimes cover us with the darkness of night. But there is never a cloud without its "bright light." God has told us, "I have set my rainbow in the clouds" (Gen. 9:13). If only we could see clouds from above - in all their billowing glory, bathed in reflective light, and as majestic as the Alps - we would be amazed at their shining magnificence.

We see them only from below, so who will describe for us the "bright light" that bathes their summits, searches their valleys, and reflects from every peak of their expanse? Doesn't every drop of rain in them soak up health-giving qualities, which will later fall to earth?

O dear child of God! If only you could see your sorrows and troubles from above instead of seeing them from earth. If you would look down on them from where you are seated "with heavenly realms" (Eph. 2:6), you would know the beauty of the rainbow of colors they reflect to the hosts of heaven. You would also see the "bright light" of Christ's face and would finally be content to see those clouds cast their deep shadows over the mountain slopes of your life.

Remember, clouds are always moving ahead of God's cleansing wind.

Streams in the Desert

The windows and doors are open this afternoon, and it's such a good feeling to see cooler days coming and to know the seasons will soon be changing. Today, the clouds are rolling in, and the wind is starting to pick up. The leaves are starting to fall, and, more and more, my little people are spending every free moment outside. Fall, most definitely, is in the air. 

Other than the sound of the kids' laughter coming in through the open windows, our home is remarkably quiet. {Kind of like this blog - I do apologize for the silence!} So many, many of you have faithfully and diligently prayed for our family and have followed along and supported us in our adoption adventures over the past few years. I am always amazed and blown away when I bump into somebody - somebody that I don't even know - and they ask how our family is doing. It happened just the other day. I was walking into my doctor's office, and someone stopped me and asked how Sophi and Faith Ana were doing in school. I had no idea who this woman was, but she told me that she reads this blog and had been curious how the girls were adjusting. So, thank you to everyone who follows along, reads our stories, and prays for our family!

For the most part, the girls are doing well. They have both had some ups and downs at school - Sophi more so than Faith Ana - but it's nothing that we didn't expect. We continue to be hopeful that school will be a secure, safe, and structured place for both of them. We are incredibly blessed by a group of teachers and staff that genuinely care about our girls. And can I just tell you that every single time I see a school bus, I thank the Lord! What a huge blessing it has been to have a handicap accessible school bus pick the girls up every morning and bring them home every afternoon. Compared to where we have been in the past few years and the challenges we have faced, it really is quite remarkable that they have done as well as they have! Especially, at home during the weekends and in the evenings, they are happy and content, often easier than their wild and rambunctious brothers! We were able to leave them with my mom recently while Will and I snuck away to the beach, one time by ourselves for a quick anniversary getaway and then another time with the kids (minus Haddon who stayed at home with the girls), and they both did such a good job here with my mom. It has taken a lot of time and training, but I finally feel like they are settled into a good, albeit very simple, routine. 

<<<insert big sigh of relief and a huge thank you to the One who has worked this miracle!!!>>>

Our other six are also doing well. They, too, have had their ups and downs, and homeschool for one child in particular has proved to be a tad bit more difficult than we had anticipated, but I'm pretty sure that this just goes with the territory of having a big family and lots of little boys growing into big boys. There's definitely a learning curve when it comes to teaching your own kids, especially when they are each so different. Thankfully, they have also settled into a good routine that works well with Will's work schedule, enabling him to do the bulk of the teaching and instruction.

<<<insert another big sigh of relief>>>

Of course, there are still battles over handwriting and tears over multiplication facts and days when they struggle to sit still. Almost every day includes a struggle to keep Haddon off the middle of the school table and Evie from singing and dancing her way in and out of the schoolroom, but Will and I both agree, that for now, homeschooling these little people has been such a huge blessing. I, especially, love not having to rush to get everybody out the door in the morning, with uniforms ironed, lunch bags packed, and homework checked and initialed. I love our slower, less frenzied life, and rarely do I feel guilty that most days, most kids are still in their pajamas at lunchtime. I do feel a twinge of guilt when I see the bottom of their feet at the end of the day and can't remember when the last time I gave the littlest two a bath, but even that guilt is incredibly fleeting! 

I know these days pass so fast, and I feel incredibly blessed by the sheer privilege of watching them grow and learn, seeing their minds come alive and watching the ways that the Lord is working in their hearts!

I am so grateful for this life the Lord has given me. A houseful of little people and a husband who is so incredibly patient. On days, like today, my heart is just so simply overwhelmed with the Lord's sweet mercies to me. 

Everywhere I turn, I see His fingerprints. 

His faithfulness. 

His mercy. 

His love. 

And His grace. Especially, especially His grace. 

And yet, somehow, I've struggled over the past few months to find my words. Because as overwhelmed as I feel today with the ways the Lord has provided and settled our family into a relatively calm and peaceful season, for me, this season has been anything but that.

I've struggled in ways that I haven't struggled in quite a while. And it's a humbling thing to admit, especially in light of how well everyone else has been doing, that I have been the one to struggle. The girls have had their ups and downs as have our boys, but the past few months have brought more downs for me than I've experienced in a long time. In retrospect, I can see how, even in this, the Lord has been so merciful. How kind of Him to allow everyone else to enter this new season and transition (relatively speaking) so smoothly into this new school year, in spite of my own difficulties.

The days are flying by quickly, and I can hardly believe my eyes when I look at the calendar and see that we are already halfway through October and that I'm more than two thirds of the way through this pregnancy. It really is no surprise that I'm struggling with swollen feet and varicose veins and headaches and insomnia or that I am so unbelievably exhausted some days that I can hardly function. Pregnancy {along with being a momma to lots of little and lively people} can do that to you! But as I've found myself struggling in other ways throughout this pregnancy, I have been surprised by the ways the Enemy has attacked as well as the intensity of these battles. 

It's here, in this place, that I've struggled to write the words and to tell this particular part of the story. It's been these challenges that have made all my other, more typical pregnancy complaints seem so trivial. It's a chapter that includes a struggle to balance the exercise and running that I love {and is a good thing in moderation} with the rest my body needs. Its pages include the difficulty I have of keeping both this little baby and myself growing healthy and strong. Its words, if I wrote them freely and transparently, would tell about a depression that attempts to take me out and many days has rendered me too weary and overwhelmed to fight these battles for my health that I know I must fight. And then there's the guilt that surfaces for all these ways that I struggle and falter and feel as if I'm letting all my little people {and especially this littlest person} down.

This pregnancy, this little life, is stretching me in ways I never could have foreseen. This baby that even now I can feel pressing {rather painfully} on my ribs and kicking away inside of me is being used by the Lord to press out more pride, control, stubbornness, and self-sufficiency than I care to admit. 

And this is all good. Painful. Humbling. Hard. Challenging. But good. Very good. 

Over these past few months, as I've wrestled and struggled to know how to share this particular chapter, the words to this song have been impressed on my heart...

If I told you my story
You would hear Hope that wouldn't let go
And if I told you my story
You would hear Love that never gave up
And if I told you my story
You would hear Life, but it wasn't mine

If I should speak then let it be
Of the grace that is greater than all my sin
Of when justice was served and where mercy wins
Of the kindness of Jesus that draws me in
Oh to tell you my story is to tell of Him

If I told you my story
You would hear victory over the enemy
And if I told you my story
You would hear freedom that was won for me
And if I told you my story
You would hear Life overcome the grave

If I should speak then let it be
Of the grace that is greater than all my sin
Of when justice was served and where mercy wins
Of the kindness of Jesus that draws me in
Oh to tell you my story is to tell of Him

This is my story, this is my song
Praising my savior all the day long
This is my story, this is my song
Praising my savior all the day long

When I'm reminded of these words, my own words flow so much easier - because I know what He wants me to speak. It's so simple. If I should speak, it will be to tell of HIS grace. It will be to tell of HIS mercy and how HIS mercy wins and will keep winning, no matter how intense the battle is. It will be to tell of HIS kindness, and how even in the storms, He draws us in. As I continue to tell my story, I know that I will be telling of HIS faithfulness. And, in all the pages that I write and the pictures that I show, my prayer is that, more than absolutely anything else, you will see Him and He will be glorified.

They looked...and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the clouds.

Exodus 16:10

Our trials are great opportunities, but all too often we simply see them as large obstacles. If only we would recognize every difficult situation as something God has chosen to prove His love to us, each obstacle would then become a place of shelter and rest, and a demonstration to others of His inexpressible power. If we would look for the signs of His glorious handiwork, then every cloud would indeed become a rainbow...

If we would look at our past, most of us would realize that the times we endured the greatest stress and felt that every path was blocked were the very times our Heavenly Father chose to do the kindest things for us and bestow His richest blessings.

A.B. Simpson


Sunday, August 9, 2015

milestones, mercies, & miracles

Keep walking with Me along the path I have chosen for you. Your desire to live close to Me is a delight to my heart. I could instantly grant you the spiritual riches you desire, but that is not My way for you. Together we will forge a pathway up the high mountain. The journey is arduous at times, and you are weak. Someday you will dance light-footed on the high peaks; but for now, your walk is often plodding and heavy. All I require of you is to take the next step, clinging to My hand for strength and direction. Though the path is difficult and the scenery dull at the moment, there are sparkling surprises just around the bend. Stay on the path I have selected for you. It is truly the path of Life.

Jesus Calling

Three years ago, this week, Will and I walked out the doors of an orphanage in Shumen, Bulgaria with our newest daughter in our arms. I don't think I've ever been so terrified in my life. This tiny, malnourished little girl, the one who attacked anything that resembled food or drink, the one who pulled out large chunks of her hair when she got mad, the one who stuffed her entire fist in her mouth and bit down as hard as she could when she was frustrated, this six and a half year old who was completely incapable of chewing, communicating, or doing anything for herself, this is the one who the Lord had hand-picked to be our child. The week we spent in Bulgaria with Sophi was one of the most challenging weeks of my life. There were moments when fear gripped my heart and I was convinced that we had just made the biggest mistake of our lives. The voice of the Enemy was loud. He uttered accusing and ugly lies that we had ruined our family, that this child was too wounded, too difficult, too much for us to handle. And while I knew the truth, that this child was an incredible gift and a blessing, it was very much a battle in my heart and in my mind to believe that He was able to work all things, even the brokenness that I witnessed in this tiny girl, into something beautiful and good.

The battle has intensified during the three years she has been home. The journey we began with Sophi as our little girl has felt very much like an uphill climb every single day. We have had many, many hard moments and very few things have come easy for her or for us as we have struggled to learn to love and care for this wounded, little soul. There were stretches that I honestly wasn't sure we were ever going to emerge out of. Nothing has revealed my weakness, my shortcomings, my sinfulness like being this child's momma. Sophi and I both have struggled in ways that I never could have imagined. There were many days during that first year that I wanted to quit, days that I wondered if our lives would ever feel normal again. Hard, hard days. I remember even before we brought Sophi home, after we had just committed to adopt her, telling people that we wanted this little child to hear the name of Jesus. Even if she was never able to learn and develop like a typical child, this is what mattered most and this was my prayer for our newest daughter. During that first year she was home, a year when I felt like my well-controlled, predictable world had been completely turned upside down, this child, without a doubt, heard the name of Jesus. Spoken, sung, cried out in desperation, I learned to cling to Him in ways that I had never before. 

Almost exactly two years ago, after much prayer and discussion, we decided it was time to put Sophi in school. She was to spend several hours there in the morning, and our hope was that she would receive the therapy that she desperately needed. After being home for a year, we were slowly beginning to realize and accept some hard realities about our little girl. We knew that we were facing severe cognitive limitations and behavioral challenges that were more than just a result of having spent the formative years of her life in an orphanage. Her doctors called it a "genetic predisposition," and warned us that she would most likely hit a plateau, developmentally, and not be able to progress any further. We wondered if we had already reached that point. Sophi had attachment issues that a year's worth of cocooning had done little to help. She was still almost entirely non-verbal and had shown an incapability to learn even simple sign language. Although she had made progress in some areas, we struggled to know how to help her learn and to reach her full potential, whatever that may be. We believed that school would be a good thing for her and for our entire family. However, we quickly saw massive regression in Sophi's behavior as she was unable to process this new change. It was incredibly disheartening and frustrating, and after a few short months, we pulled her out of school. Again, it was a battle to believe that this path that the Lord had chosen for our family was indeed a good one. There were many days that I wrestled with this truth and, quite honestly, wrestled with showing consistent love toward this precious child.

In the heat of the battle, that winter, after what felt like such a huge setback, Will and I clearly heard the Lord's call to adopt again. To say that I was terrified and overwhelmed would be an understatement. Adoption, for our family, had not been an easy path and to hear the Lord asking us to step out in faith and do it all over again felt like sheer craziness. And when the Lord led us to adopt a little girl with massive physical disabilities, I was quite convinced that our lives would never look the same again. I think I resigned myself to the idea that "in this life we will have trouble" and accepted that this journey would probably always be hard. As I was struggling to teach my girls the life-skills that they lacked and needed, the Lord was gently teaching me a truth that I even more desperately needed. That joy is possible no matter how hard or challenging our circumstances may be. The year that we added Faith Ana {and our littlest boy Haddon} to our family was a challenge on so many different levels. We would see breakthroughs, and it would appear like we were taking a few steps forward only to be followed by many more backwards. The Enemy was always on the attack. As Charles Haddon Spurgeon says, his method is to attack us at the point of our perseverance, and I found this so very true, especially as I was learning how to persevere in becoming a momma to these two. While I knew that giving up was not an option {we were in it for the long-haul with these two daughters of ours}, on numerous occasions, the temptation was so great to lose hope and to go through the motions of each day, detached and disheartened.

One year ago, this past summer, the reality of life with two special needs little girls had set in, and we were in the trenches. I was in the trenches, fighting a battle within and without. Sophi was struggling to adjust to her new sister, Faith Ana, and I was struggling to adjust to the demands and responsibilities that came with being a momma to eight little people. In many ways, it was very much a dark place, one of the darkest I had ever been through. I had doubted before, but this time, I really didn't know if we were going to make it through. 

The Lord was so incredibly faithful during that stretch. I struggle to put it into words, but when I look back and acknowledge how intense the battle was for my heart and the hearts of these precious little girls, it takes my breath away. He carried me when I didn't think I could take another day of stinky accidents and stinky behavior. He strengthened me and gave me the patience and direction that I so desperately needed. He equipped me and enabled me, providing rest and respite, hope and healing. He was so faithful.

And we made it through. Praise the Lord. Here we are just a few days ago. Just look at my two big girls...

The Lord God is my Strength,
my personal bravery,
and my invincible army;
He makes my feet like hinds' feet
and will make me to walk
[not to stand still in terror, but to walk]
and make [spiritual] progress
upon my high places
[of trouble, suffering, or responsibility]!
Habakkuk 3:19 (The Amplified Bible) 

This week, we reached another milestone. A great big one! On the morning that Sophi and Faith Ana both started school, I read these words. I was overwhelmed with gratitude and thanksgiving, and I can hardly believe the transformation I see when I look at these two. To look back and remember where they have been and how far they have come {where I have been and how far I have come} is nothing less than witnessing a miracle. That morning on their first day of school, when I looked at their smiling faces and bright eyes, when I looked in the mirror at my own, all I could see was mercy. I was blown away with the multitude of milestones, mercies, and miracles that had transpired over the past three years to get us to this day.

As the three of us were sitting outside waiting for their bus with the morning sun shining brightly behind us, the reminder of His steadfast faithfulness swept over me. And I knew I needed to share it here, for my own sake (as we will most certainly go through more difficult days in the future and it's always helpful to be able to remember the victories along the way), and, hopefully, for your sake as well. Maybe you are in the middle of your own difficult season and wonder if you will make it through. I've been there, and I know. Our stories might be different, but the struggle, the depression of spirit, that hopeless feeling is the same. My prayer today is that this little glimpse into our story will encourage you and remind you that nothing is impossible for our Faithful Father. When circumstances are difficult and daunting, when the way is dark and you can't see how it's going to turn out, He wants nothing more than to take you by the hand and help you through your own high, hard places of trouble, suffering, and responsibility. And He is able. These smiles are proof.

The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.
Psalm 126:3


Saturday, June 6, 2015

one year later

Forewarning: it's been a while since I've written and these words are unedited and typed out between diaper changes and tantrums and catching up on loads of laundry! Five of our kids are hanging out with their grandparents this afternoon, so with only three on my watch, I finally gathered the courage to start writing again. Can I tell you that it's been a wild few months! I didn't even realize until just now that it's been one year to the day since Faith Ana arrived home. It's hard to believe she's been with of us for an entire year...

What I'd like to write today is how well we are all adjusting, how Faith Ana has seamlessly fit into our family, and how we can't remember life without her silly and spunky self being part of it. And while all these things are some what true on some days (well, honestly, a few very rare days), today, one year later, these words are not even remotely close to our reality.

If I had to pick three words to describe what this year has been like as we have learned to love and care for this precious child, these would be my three:

Hard, humbling, & hilarious.

It's been quite a year!

I struggle to know how to share about Faith Ana. Honestly, some days I struggle to just know how to care for her.

She's such a complicated little girl, and I'm not sure that anything could have adequately prepared me for what life would look like with a child who has such profound physical needs.

From the very first time I met Faith Ana, she had such a funny and endearing personality. Her first six months home, in many ways, were like a walk in the park compared to Sophi's first few months at home. Faith Ana was happy-go-lucky, easy to entertain, content watching the world around her, and she seemed to adjust so quickly. She rarely fussed or cried. She enjoyed learning and surprised us with how quickly she picked up the language and how much she loved to talk! It was such a contrast from Sophi who 2 1/2 years later is still almost entirely non-verbal.

I always attributed Faith Ana's easier adjustment to the fact that her first six years in life were spent in a much better orphanage than Sophi's. She was well-cared for and was much better prepared for how her life was about to change. But despite how well she had done during those early months, in my heart, I knew that there was more to this child and so much more to her heart.

This became very evident to me back in January when we spent that day at Children's Hospital waiting for the surgery that never happened. It was such a hard and frustrating day, and I knew that any of my other children would have lost it on numerous occasions with all that day entailed. But, Faith Ana, she was such a trooper. She was so tough and brave, and while I was so thankful for her ability to hold it together, inside, my heart was weeping for her. A few times during that day, she got upset. I would see little tears trickle out of those big brown eyes, and as I tried to comfort her, she would quickly pull herself together (and away from me) and distract herself back into her happy, little world. 

Although it played out very differently with Faith Ana, I quickly realized that it was so similar to what we experienced with Sophi. Sophi would physically pull away from me when I would try to comfort her. Sometimes she still does. When she was first home and still small enough to hold (something we did quite often), she would resist. She would fight and bite and pull hair and for the longest time would absolutely refuse to make eye contact. She would (and still does) distract herself with any number of self-soothing and stimming behaviors, such as sucking her tongue, rocking, rubbing her fingers together, and doing strange things with her eyes. The list is endless with the ways this child has learned to escape reality. It's what she did for the 6 1/2 years she spent in her orphanage, and we have come to know it well and are slowly learning to accept that this is just the way Sophi is and probably always will be unless we are constantly directing and correcting her.

Faith Ana, on the other hand, came to us with very few of these types of behaviors, or so we thought. She had a few obvious quirks (for lack of a better word), but they were mostly things she did with her eyes. It was hard to know whether this was stimming or just something related to a condition listed in her original medical report called vertical gaze palsy (it turns out that she doesn't have this particular eye condition after all). However, that day at the hospital, I learned so much about my girl, especially that well-guarded little heart of hers.

I'm not sure why it took me six months to realize this. In hindsight, those first few months that Faith Ana was home were so hard for Sophi that I think I was just so incredibly grateful that Faith Ana was so happy and content. It was such a sharp contrast to Sophi who, during that stretch, was so difficult and angry. Regardless of why I didn't recognize it sooner, I remember very vividly that day in Birmingham watching Faith Ana laying on the hospital bed and listening to her talk (or rather repeat the same thing over and over) and realizing that there was so much more to this child than the smiling, happy, jibber-jabby little girl that was our daughter. I began praying that day specifically for her heart, for walls to be broken down, and for healing to come in those deepest, most hidden parts. While I was aware of the brokenness in this child (and in any child who has come from such a hard place), I don't think I recognized the depth of it in her until that day.

It's so easy for the needs of this little crippled and broken body to overshadow the much deeper needs of her heart. And, honestly, this is something that I've struggled with in ways that I never imagined possible.

Attachment is one of those words you hear so much about in the adoption community. How is attachment going? What are you doing to foster attachment? Do you think she's attached yet?  And I've talked about attachment here, specifically about Sophi's difficulty attaching to us and her possible (or obvious) reactive attachment disorder issues. It's so complicated, but then how could it not be for these kids who spend their first years in life with zero consistency, rotating caretakers, and untold abuses and traumas that they experience firsthand or witness? Goodness knows, their whole existence in an orphanage, in my opinion, is a trauma! How could a child come through that without having attachment issues?

Faith Ana surprised me. She quickly knew me as Momma. She never reached out toward other adults (as Sophi still does frequently 2 1/2 years later), and she seemed to quickly grasp the concept of family. I felt like attachment was going so much smoother with Faith Ana than it ever did with Sophi. Both her towards me and me towards her. I was surprised with myself too. Maybe it was the two weeks we spent together in Bulgaria all on our own. Or maybe it was that her disposition was so sweet and she seemed so easy to love. Even with all of her medical needs and the increased demands of caring for her (including some very unpleasant things) that fell on my shoulders, she was so much fun and I truly enjoyed caring for her and loving this newest little daughter of mine.

And then a year passed.

Today, there are so many unknowns with Faith Ana. So much that I don't know.

I don't know if she is happy. Some days, she seems happy. Some days, she is clearly not.

I don't know if she loves me or even likes me. Some days, I'm pretty sure she strongly dislikes me.

And can I be honest with you? 

Some days, I don't know how I feel either. I do love her. It's a fierce and relentless love, a love that has to be chosen and a love that's not dependent on my mood (or hers) or how I feel. It's a love that I'm learning well. I know that I'm unwavering in my belief that this is what the Lord has called us to do, that this little girl was chosen to be our daughter. I know all these things in my heart, but the feelings don't always match up. There are days that I get tired of the fight, tired of the catheters and enemas and the stinky messes, days when I just get plain tired. And I know (or at least I'm learning to know) that this is ok to admit and important to acknowledge.

So many unknowns. 

Today. One year later, and it feels like there are are more unknowns and more uncertainties than this time last year.

But there are a few things that I do know.

I know now, when I only had the slightest inkling then, how demanding and challenging it is to care for a child with physical needs. I mentioned earlier how I've found that it's so easy for the physical needs to overshadow the emotional, heart needs, and this is something I personally struggle with on a daily basis. Much more so now than in those early days.

I know that we've been through a rough and rocky stretch. I know hard in a way I never could have imagined one year ago.

I know that weariness, exhaustion, and burnout are very real things for those who care for children with special needs. I know this firsthand. I know it all too well, and while it's not what I wish I was saying in this one year later update, it has without a doubt been my experience, especially during these past few months.

I share this for several reasons:

First, I'm not even sure if anyone reads this blog anymore, but if you do (we've been so blessed by all the support and prayers for our family these past few years), I would be so grateful for your continued prayers as we navigate through yet another rough stretch.

Second, for those of you who are in your own hard places and feel like throwing in the towel, I just want you to know that you are not alone. Especially those of you who are journeying along a similar path with special needs kids from hard places, your story might look different from ours, but we share common struggles and can be an encouragement to one another to keep persevering even when it's hard.

Third, I want you to see how the Lord is strong and faithful in our weakness. In my weakest and worst moments over this past year, He has never once left my side. He's been so merciful and compassionate to me, providing the respite and rest for my heart, even when I was too prideful or stubborn to admit how much I was struggling. Sometimes this came through a friend or family member taking some of the kids so that I could have a quite afternoon while the girls and littles rested. Lately, it's come through a wonderful college student who is on mission with us this summer! What an unbelievable blessing and gift "Miss Anna" has been to our family. Most recently, the Lord has provided the rest that I've needed through more extreme measures. The past two months have been some of the hardest I've ever walked through. I've spent a dozen mornings at the hospital hooked up to IVs, receiving iron infusions to treat an anemia that has quite literally stopped me in my tracks. There have been horrible headaches, indescribable fatigue, and well, let's just say, a little surprise in the midst of it all that had made these past few months incredibly memorable. But the point is, He has provided. He is providing, and I know that He will see us through this season.

Fourth, I want you to see that there is absolutely nothing "special" about our family. People always say, "oh, we could never do what you guys do. I'm not patient enough to have that many kids, and I sure couldn't handle special needs kids." But here's what I want you to know one year later. When I said it's been a humbling year, I meant it. I have blown it with all my kids, but more so with Sophi and Faith Ana, than I could even begin to count. There have been some ugly moments, with things said and done that I am not proud of. Anyone who knows me well knows that neither patience nor compassion are my strong points, but this is where He comes in and this is how He gets the glory, enabling and strengthening me to do something that is completely beyond myself, beyond my abilities, and beyond my strength.

So, yes, June 2014 through June 2015 will definitely go down in the books as one of the hardest and most humbling years that I've been through, but thanks to Faith Ana {and all these kids}, there's been plenty of hilarious moments mixed in. Plenty of reasons to smile and an abundance of opportunities to laugh. No wonder the wise writer of Proverbs said that a happy heart is good medicine.

Faith Ana definitely has the ability to make us laugh (equally she has the ability to make us want to pull our hair out), but I am so very thankful for this child. Even on her bad days (and we've had quite a few these past six months), she can bring a smile to my face. And I know this is a priceless and special trait for this special child.

Laughter lightens your load and lifts your heart into heavenly places. Your laughter rises to heaven and blends with angelic melodies of praise. Just as parents delight in the laughter of their children, so I delight in hearing My children laugh. I rejoice when you trust Me enough to enjoy your life lightheartedly.

Jesus Calling

Learning became increasingly challenging for Faith Ana after the first six months home she was home. In this video clip, she was trying to learn to ask for things in a "big girl" way. (Up until then, when she wanted something, she would just yell out what she wanted.) I didn't video all the fussing and the numerous tears as she learned to ask politely, but even when she was as mad as a hornet, she was still hilarious. I cackle everytime I watch this! How in the world did I get to be the momma to this funny child!

Faith Ana picked things up so quickly when she first was home, and we were shocked by her verbal skills (especially in contrast to our experience with Sophi). She genuinely seemed to enjoy learning and the first half of the year, she was like a sponge, soaking things up, surprising us at random times by repeating things back that she had learned. But when things became increasingly harder and more challenging, we began to see her struggle. This played out on many fronts, but especially with her ability to actually converse and answer questions as opposed to just repeating back what we said. Over time, we began to see a different side to Faith Ana. And while it brought up a whole slew of unknowns about her cognitive functioning, there was one thing that stood out above everything else. One thing I know with certainty.

Rewind back to that day in January. The hospital room. The happy-go-lucky child that should not have been happy that day, the one who escaped the reality of that day by distracting herself with her own version of stimming (mostly talking to herself). That child, that day, and this Momma's prayer that the Lord would break through the hard places and the walls that surrounded what I knew was a very confused and broken little heart. A heart that I knew had been wounded by her past. A heart that I knew must struggle to understand why her two little legs didn't work the way the other boys and girls' did. A heart full of questions, full of such sadness and grief, and full of anger that I can't even begin to imagine...

As I think back on that day, I know this: I know that He heard that prayer, and wow, oh wow, is He answering that prayer! I had no idea what I was asking for that day. No idea all that the next six months would entail. No earthly idea how I would witness my little girl struggle and fight and grieve. I had no idea then just how hard it would be for her now and how hard it would be for me to learn to love this new version of my Faith Ana.

We are very much in the trenches now. Faith Ana has done a remarkable job of learning to do things for herself (something she never had to do during the six years she spent at the orphanage or the first six months she spent here with us). She has learned to pull herself up in her wheelchair completely on her on. She can dress herself. She is learning to use her teeth and actually chew her food as opposed to swallowing it whole. She is learning to ask for things politely and use her words appropriately. And it has been hard. Brutally hard.

She has cried and screamed and raged, and I'm confident she has hated me for what I've asked her to learn to do. I've done my share of crying and screaming as well. I have seen tremendous progress as well as massive setbacks. I've witnessed a child learn to do something that I never dreamed she would be able to do, and I've also seen her stubbornly refuse to do something that I know she's perfectly capable of doing. And through it all, I've seen the hard exterior begin to crumble and the heart of this little girl become exposed and vulnerable. It's been painful for both of us. But, friends, the Lord is at work. I know this with absolute confidence. He's working in her heart and in mine, and, thankfully, He's not through with either one of us yet. Transformation takes time. I know this. I also know that she and I both are going to come through this, and that there are good chapters yet to be written. In the meantime, I'm whispering these words throughout the day, praying for supernatural love to fill my heart for this super special little girl...

May the Maker pour on the love
so it fills your lives and splashes over on everyone around you...
May you be infused with strength...

I Thessalonians 3:11-13, The Message

Over the past few months when I've been too tired to read or write or think or pray, I've let these words, His words, infuse my weary heart. My prayer today is that they will encourage you in your own hard places...

I have strength for all things
in Christ Who empowers me
I am ready for anything
through Him Who infuses inner strength into me;
I am self-sufficient in Christ's sufficiency.

Phil. 4:13, The Amplified Bible

I love the idea of a redo in June. After these last few months and all that I've been through, I've felt like I've needed a fresh start. Maybe you do too. When I read this post, I knew I wanted to pass it along.

I also loved this post. Here's a little excerpt that I especially loved, but the whole article is a great read:

Before my toes even feel the cold morning floor I have to use my voice to declare His Word over me if I’m going to live on the offense.

At the break of day, noon, night and a dozen times in between, His Word is your weapon. Use it. Read it. Say it. Sing it. We can’t just clean the house of our minds and expect sustained clean-thinking without filling it with Truth. To live and thrive in God in this age, amidst all the competing noise and voices (the worst of which are in our heads), we will have to find a new way to engage with His Word.

Give yourself permission to try a new approach. Dust off your Bible and make it your food. You can’t live without it.

(Before long, it won’t just be your dreams that die if this Word doesn’t have a PICC line into your veins. The enemy — that voice — is after more than just having you quit your dreams; he wants you to quit God.)

Sara Hagerty

Just as my body has been unable to function without iron, our spirits can so easily become depleted. I, for one, am desperate for His Words to have a PICC line straight into my heart! (I actually discussed getting an actual PICC line put in my arm for all the infusions I needed, but opted against it. Thankfully, today, I had my last iron infusion and my blood levels are back to where they should be!) I'm so thankful that He meets us just where we are and gives us fresh strength when we need it most. 


P.S. And the little surprise I mentioned earlier? It was definitely one of the more hilarious moments of 2015. The day I found out about my iron deficiency anemia is the same day I found out about the newest Blackmon. My doctor called me into his office and said, "we need to talk!" Apparently, my lab results revealed a little something more than either of us anticipated! It was definitely unexpected timing, but we are so excited that the Lord has chosen to bless us with another little baby.

For God knows what's going on.
He takes the measure of everything that happens.
The weapons of the strong are smashed to pieces,
while the weak are infused with fresh strength.

I Samuel 2:2-5, The Message