Saturday, October 18, 2014

endurance {and when grace abounds}

You look at the weather-beaten sailor, the man who is at home on the sea: he has a bronzed face and mahogany-coloured flesh, he looks as tough as heart of oak, and as hardy as if he were made of iron. How different from us poor landsmen. 

How did the man become so inured to hardship, so able to breast the storm, so that he does not care whether the wind blows south-west or north-west? 

He can go out to sea in any kind of weather; he has his sea legs on: how did he come to this strength? 

By doing business in great waters. 

He could not have become a hardy seaman by tarrying on shore. Now, trial works in the saints that spiritual hardihood which cannot be learned in ease. 

You may go to school for ever, but you cannot learn endurance there

you may colour your cheek with paint, but you cannot give it that ingrained brown which comes of stormy seas and howling winds. 

Strong faith and brave patience come of trouble

and a few men in the church who have thus been prepared are worth anything in times of tempest. 

To reach that condition of firm endurance and sacred hardihood is worth all the expense of all the heaped-up troubles that ever come upon us from above or from beneath. 

When trial worketh patience we are incalculably enriched. 

The Lord give us more of this choice grace. As Peter's fish had the money in its mouth, so have sanctified trials spiritual riches for those who endure them graciously.

Charles Spurgeon

We had a wonderful time at the beach a few weeks ago. As I was looking back at our pictures today, I couldn't help but smile as I remembered how much fun we all had. Our time away was truly a gift on so many different levels, and I am so thankful…

I am also so very, very grateful to my mom and a sweet friend who stayed here at home with Sophi, Faith Ana, and Haddon. I struggled with the decision to leave them, especially Sophi with her multitude of behavioral and attachment issues, and also Faith Ana, since she's only been home for such a very short time. And my sweet boy Haddon! I hated leaving our littlest guy behind.

But as I've shared openly and transparently about our ongoing struggles with Sophi, the Lord has been impressing several things on my heart…

First, He's been teaching me all about endurance. I'm learning what this word means and especially how it applies to parenting special needs kids. These past few months have definitely called for an endurance unlike anything I've ever experienced...

But more than just enduring these trying days, my heart's desire is to learn to endure them with a graciousness and a patience that can only come from above. It certainly doesn't come from within. There's no telling how many times I have said this over the past few years, and I'm sure the Lord will continue to teach me this lesson many times in the days ahead: That hard is good, and I'm finding it true all over again. These hard things have uncovered so much about my own heart. Namely, my own pride and my self sufficiency. And I know this is a mercy. I'm so grateful for how the Lord is using these things to humble me as I learn to acknowledge my need for help. He's reminding me that to be able to walk through these challenging days with endurance, He must be my source and my strength. To give grace, I must receive grace. To be able to effectively and graciously love and care for these children, especially these two little girls with such profound needs, it is vitally important for me to take time to take care of myself. The past few months have made me realize how very important rest and renewal are for my soul. And the timing of this trip couldn't have been more perfect. I was drowning and didn't even realize it. I needed a chance to catch my breath and how grateful I am that I was able to listen to the Lord's gentle nudgings {and my boys vehement pleadings} and be able to spend five full days with five of my most favorite little people in the whole world. Of course, I was glad to have their Daddy tag along, too!

Our days were lively and full. We woke up early, stayed up late, and spent most of our time down on the beach kayaking, fishing, building sand castles, and going on adventures. It wasn't exactly restful, but spending time simply playing with these precious little people did my heart so much good. The Lord used those days to renew my heart, refresh my spirit, and remind me how much fun it is being a momma. I am one very blessed woman.

Sophi and Faith Ana did extremely well while we were away. Sophi had her moments, but both girls asked for MaMa and DaDa often, which, of course, is a healthy and encouraging sign. I fully expected Sophi to struggle when we got back home, so it didn't come as a surprise to see her angry, confused, and defiant. She has re-tested boundaries in ways that she hasn't done in a long, long time and regressed again with her potty-training. Once again, I feel like I'm in the middle of stormy {and stinky} seas as I struggle to care for and love this precious daughter of ours.

I'm asking the Lord for sea legs. I'm asking Him to work brave patience, strong faith, and firm endurance into every fiber of my being right now. I'm asking Him to fill my heart with compassion and love. To give me strength for what's hard, to provide rest when I'm weary, to fill me with hope when I'm discouraged, and to shine His light when all I see is darkness. I'm asking Him for wisdom and direction in several specific areas issues relating to Sophi. And not a day goes by that I don't find myself on my knees asking for forgiveness for the many ways I blow it, which I do quite often. It's so easy for hard days to make a hard heart…

Parenting this child {and all these children} is very much doing business in deep waters. It's exhausting. It's draining. It's an overwhelming responsibility, and sometimes it's just plain scary. And I know it's not just me. Parenting, in general, is hard work. It doesn't matter whether you have eight children or only one, healthy kids or girls like mine with special needs. Parenting is not for the faint of heart.  

There are days when I feel like I'm barely keeping my head above the water. Days when I long to be like the "weather beaten sailor" Spurgeon talked about in his sermon, at home in deep and rough waters, but by the end of the day, I just feel plain beat. Worn out and worn down. Maybe I endured the day's challenges, but I certainly wouldn't call it gracious endurance.

My words often come out louder, quicker, and harsher than I intend. I fuss too much or discipline too severely. My spirit is too critical or my standard too high. It's such a temptation to focus on little people's faults instead of celebrating their victories. This is especially true when parenting kids who came from hard places. The victories are often so small that if my eyes aren't open and my radar isn't up, I'll blink and miss an opportunity to speak the words of affirmation and blessing that I know these children so desperately need. 

Yesterday was one of those days. Just as Sophi struggles to use her words, tonight I am struggling to find words of my own to adequately describe how hard that day really was. Unpleasant, miserable, and stinky don't do it justice. And I'm not talking about her accidents or her behavior. I'm talking about my own heart.

When this very long and tiring day finally came to an end and all the little bodies were tucked in their beds {minus the two who were at the beach again with their grandparents}, I knew it was time to lay my heart bare before my Father. Of course, He knows it all without my saying, but nonetheless I told Him about my hard words and my critical spirit and even worse, my hard heart.

And can I tell you what He said? It was so simple, but so, so perfect...

Grace abounds in deepest waters.

The words come from a song I must have listened to ten thousand or so times when I was flying over the middle of the ocean on my way to Bulgaria to pick up Faith Ana earlier this summer. Words that the Lord used to strengthen and encourage my heart when I was alone, overwhelmed, and anxious. When I wondered what in the world I was doing, these words gave me direction.

The same was true for me last night. When I wondered what in the world I was doing and especially when I wondered how in the world I would be able to keep doing it, those words were the truth that my overwhelmed heart needed to hear. Like a light blinking brightly on top of a lighthouse, the words from that song, His words to my heart, pointed me to Him. To Grace. 

Parenting special needs kids {parenting any kids} without giving grace to them {and to myself} will ultimately lead to disaster. 

When I run into those rocks and hard places that otherwise would have shipwrecked me, grace protects me

When the the storm is raging {or the child is raging}, grace keeps me anchored

When I have no energy left and I feel myself being pulled under by exhaustion and hopelessness, grace keeps me afloat

When I've tried so hard and everything that I can possibly think of has failed and I no longer know which direction to take, grace is always the way to go

Grace is the lifeline I must hold on to as I'm doing business in these great waters, being a momma to all these precious little people

Praise the Lord, His grace is sufficient. That in my weakness, He is strong. That through my failures, He brings about good. That in all these things that are hard, even when it's my own heart that is the hardest of all, His grace abounds. 

And can I share with you one more thing? This morning when I woke up, His mercies were new. Miracle mercies. My heart was softened toward this sweet girl and I had my sea legs on, prepared for whatever the day might bring. I was expecting stormy weather {and stinky smells}, but the Lord surprised me. Sophi had one of the best days she's had in over four months. No rages. No tantrums. No accidents. In fact, the only time I had to correct her was because she was laughing so loud I was afraid she was going to wake up the baby.

Today I had a chance to catch my breath and when I did, I breathed in deeply His grace. It was a good day, and I'm so thankful for His faithfulness to answer our prayers and for His grace that abounds in deep waters.

Praise the Lord!
For He has heard my cry for mercy.
The Lord is my strength, my shield from every danger.
I trust Him with all my heart.
He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy…

Psalm 28:6-7


P.S. And just for the fun of it, I'm going to include a few more of my favorite pictures from our trip...

Saturday, September 27, 2014


Inheritors of joy for ever, 

we have foretastes of our portion. 

There are streaks of the light of joy to herald our eternal sunrising. 

Our riches are beyond the sea; 

our city with firm foundations lies on the other side the river; 

gleams of glory from the spirit-world cheer our hearts, 

and urge us onward...

Charles Haddon Spurgeon,
Morning And Evening, September 27

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights...

James 1:17

Quite possibly, the best birthday ever...


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Joy {and when adoption is hard}

I am glad for adrenaline; I suspect it gets me through lots of Sundays. But it doesn't do much for Mondays. I am even more thankful for my heart. It just keeps on being a humble, quiet servant  - during good days and bad days, happy and sad, high and low, appreciated and unappreciated. It never lets me down. It never says, "I don't like your attitude, Piper, I'm taking a day off." It just keeps humbly lubb-dubbing along.

Coronary Christians are like the heart in the causes they serve. Adrenal Christians are like adrenaline - a spurt of energy, and then fatigue. What the church and the world need today is marathoners, not just sprinters. People who find the pace to finish the (lifelong) race.

Oh, for coronary Christians! Christians committed to great causes, not great comforts. I plead with you to dream a dream that is bigger than your families and your churches. Un-deify the American family, and say boldly that our children are not our cause; they are given to us to train for a cause. They are given to us for a short season so that we can train them for the great causes of truth and mercy and justice in a prejudiced, pain-filled, and perishing world.

John Piper
Life As A Vapor

One night last week, one of my boys just couldn't seem to fall asleep. The first two times he came out of his room, he was complaining about his little brother making too much noise, but the third timeI knew there was more going on. He started to cry and told me that he was sad but he didn't really know why.

I know the feeling.

We talked, trying to figure out what was really going on in his heart. 

For starters, it was Sunday night, which are always a tad bit rough here at our house. He was not looking forward to a new week back at school. He does great in school and has a bunch of good friends, but school is hard. For this child, it's not the academics. He's a natural at almost everything he does, but self control, sitting still, having to spend the majority of his day inside, this is what's hard. 

Secondly, he was missing Henry. The dog we all love has had to spend two weeks at the vet, and we have missed him so much. Especially this boy.

Thirdly, he was missing me. 

He wasn't the only one crying by that point.  And he didn't have to explain what he meant. I knew. Because I've felt the same thing deep in my heart for the past few weeks. Like him, I've struggled to put it into words, but I knew just the feeling he was trying to describe.

As we talked about the challenges and changes that we have all experienced these past few months {and really the past few years}, the more I realized that this eight year old boy of mine was verbalizing almost exactly what I have been unable to express myself. Maybe even unable to admit.

I've been trying to write about joy for the past month, and, in my heart, I know what I believe. That joy is always possible. That joy is not dependent on our circumstances. These are truths that I know, and truths that I believe. They are truths that are purposefully placed in every room of our house. Truths that I want my children to learn!

And, yes, we talk about them. We talk about them all
 the time. These kids hear me say often that more Legos, more toys, more gadgets, more stuff, more vacations, bigger houses, bigger cars don't equal more joy. I talk to myself about it too. I need as many reminders as they do. Less toys, less gadgets, less stuff, less mess, less laundry, more help, or simply just a little more time for myself won't bring me more joy either.

But when I see these precious hearts confronted with struggles of their own, trying to make sense of this life, full of its challenges, disappointments, and heartaches

Can I really say these words and know them as truth.

Consider it all joy...

Joy when his best friend is moving away in two weeks, and he is sad. Joy when he is afraid he won't have another best friend?

Joy when handwriting and subtraction are hard and things don't come quite as easy for him as they do for his little brother? Joy when the grade on his paper makes him feel like a failure? 

Joy when life disappoints? When things don't go as they planned or hoped or expected ? Joy when it is hard?

I know all about this.

Boys, I know what it's like to struggle with self-control. I know how hard it is to sit still, and I understand fully how miserable it can feel to have to sit inside doing something you don't want to do when all you want to do is soak up this September sunshine. 

I know how it feels to miss Henry. Palmer, he might have been your birthday present, but during the day when you're gone , he never leaves my side. He's my running buddy, and these past few weeks I've missed him too. 

Hank, I understand losing friends. Our family has grown and changed a lot these past two years, and it's affected every facet of our lives.  Taking two special needs children to Sunday school, birthday parties, and play dates just hasn't been feasible. And by the time all of you kids are finally fed, bathed, tucked in, and asleep, I hardly have any energy left for  things like meeting friends for Bible Study or dinner out or coffee. Some friends have understood, some haven't. So, yes, I know a bit about how your heart must be hurting over losing a friend.

Web, I understand all too well what an F feels like. Not a single day goes by that the Enemy doesn't mark a failing score over my parenting of you, your brothers, and your sisters {especially the two that have such significant struggles}. Nothing has pointed out my weaknesses and my sinful nature like being a mom, and the Enemy loves to point out the many, many mistakes I make with you guys.

And, kids, though it is incredibly rewarding and I absolutely would not trade this life for anything, I'm not going to lie. This season, these years, it's been exhausting. So, yes, I also understand what you boys feel like on Sunday nights as you look ahead to the upcoming week at school. I know what it's like to lie in bed at night, unable to fall asleep, because you can't stop thinking about the week ahead, or simply the day ahead. 

And, Palmer, a few nights ago when you said that you missed me and that you were sad, you didn't have to explain, I knew. I've felt the same thing for a while now. A sadness. A heaviness in my spirit. A realization that the effort and energy required to care for your 2 sisters has left me drained, exhausted, and plumb worn-out. It's been such a crazy four months! Over the past few weeks, as I've spent multiple days traveling back and forth to Birmingham with Faith Ana for doctors' appointments, I've finally had a little bit of time to reflect on this particular chapter of our story. Like you, Palmer, I've struggled to put into words the multitude of emotions I have been feeling. But, right now, more than anything I feel a deep and profound sadness over the time that I have missed with you and your brothers and Evie. 

In a way I feel like I'm living a double life. The majority of my time, my energy, my love, and my patience is devoted to these two little girls who have such very, very unique and special needs. Often, the rest of you kids get whatever is left over. Some days, it's not a lot. And it makes me sad. 

{And I know I'm taking a risk right now of having my words and my heart misinterpreted. In no way whatsoever do I regret Sophi and Faith Ana's adoption, but in complete transparency, I'm going to share a little more of what I told Palmer (and Web whose ears are always listening) that particular night.}

Sometimes I wonder how different our lives would have been if we hadn't adopted Sophi and Faith Ana.  There are many things that we used to be able to do all together as a family that we can't do now. Vacations, church, even something as simple as going to the park - most often we have to split up. Your dad and I take turns staying home with the girls, and I know sometimes this makes y'all sad. Me too.

This has been hard for me, harder than I ever could have imagined, and I know it's been hard for you guys too. And it's ok to acknowledge it. It's ok to admit it. It's ok to tell me that you are sad and that you feel like sometimes I spend so much time caring for your sisters that I don't have enough time for you.

You boys have been so incredibly brave. You've been willing to share your home, your toys, and, most importantly, your momma and daddy with two little girls who had nothing of their own, and by doing this, I want you to know that you are obeying Jesus. When Jesus says that whatsoever you do unto the least of these, you do unto Me, that's what you are doing. Every time you engage your sisters. Every time you try to talk to them, even when all you get in response is a blank state. When you jump on the trampoline with Sophi or help push Faith Ana in her stroller, it is as if you are doing it all for Jesus. And, yes, all this has taken great courage and much sacrifice, and I am so very, very proud of you all.

I've been asking the Lord to show me how to be a better momma to you and your brothers and sisters, and the Lord is faithfully answering. Jesus is helping me, and He's helping me see that it's ok to need help with your sisters. He's giving me lots of ideas and showing me specific things that we need to do differently. We are going to figure this out, and it's important that you keep being honest with me about how you feel. It is going to get better.

The Lord is making you boys brave and strong. He's making me brave and strong too. These hard things are good things. He's faithfully giving us all we need, and He's teaching us how to find joy along the way.

After our conversation, my two biggest boys gave me goodnight kisses and hugs, and when I checked on them a few minutes later, they were sound asleep. Precious, precious hearts! They have grown up and matured so much during these years of transition.

But well into the wee hours of the morning, I was still thinking about our conversation, trying to sort through the truth and the lies that were still swirling around in my head, wondering if I really believed any of what I had said. Could I really look at my children square in the face and tell them that I consider it all joy and that they can too. Even when things are hard. Even if things were to get harder.

All it takes is about five minutes reading the headlines or watching the news to ignite fear in my heart. Men and women beheaded for their faith. Persecution. Human trafficking. Deadly viruses. Epidemics. Wars. We live in such a broken and scary world.

Consider it all joy? Is that really possible?

As I wrestled with these words, questioned and doubted, with faith so small, the Lord met me. And in the darkness of that night, His light broke through. He made it so crystal clear how it really is possible to consider it all joy in the midst of these various trials...

So very simple. Just one little word. 


Joy comes from knowing.

Knowing Him. Knowing His heart, and knowing that His heart is both completely loving and perfectly sovereign. Knowing that He's always, always working all things together for our good and for His glory. Knowing that the testing of our faith produces endurance, and knowing that endurance will have its perfect result. Knowing that one day, one glorious day, we will all be made perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Heart, did you hear that? 

Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials,
knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1:2-4

For the past few months, as I've been in the trenches and in the thick of diapers and dishes, toddlers and tantrums, I've been whispering these words, consider it all joy, and it has become like second nature to me. But the truth is that some days they just seem like empty words. The voice of the Enemy can be so very loud. Day and night his mission is to spew forth lies that keep us from hearing and believing these words. Because when we know the truth, the truth sets us free. And in this freedom, there is great, great joy.

We will all be made perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. How unbelievable is that?

One day I will not struggle with self-control. I will not lack patience and compassion. Not a single sharp or careless word will come out of my mouth.

One day there will be no more sadness. No more tears. No more goodbyes.

One day there will be no more failing grades. No more red marks on handwriting pages. No more negative and critical thoughts about ourselves or others.

One day there will be no more sickness. No more spina bifida. No more surgeries. No more catheters. No more medication. No more medical bills. No more reactive attachment disorder. No more violent rages. No more foul smells and soiled sheets. No more genetic predispositions and low iqs. No more struggles. No more unknowns.

One day there will be no more weariness. No more exhaustion. No more nights unable to fall asleep, anxious about the future or dwelling on the mistakes of the past. 

One day there will be no more worrying. No more fear. No more desperate prayers. No more little faith.

Lord, open my ears. Open my heart. Let me hear these truths, believe these truths, and then boldly and bravely proclaim them to these little people I love so much.

I want them to know that fear is a thief. That it sneaks in and steals our joy. That this life will be hard, but no matter what, this life is just a vapor. A blink of an eye. A drop in a bucket, compared to all that is yet to come. I want them to know that if they have placed their faith in Jesus, then there is nothing, absolutely nothing, to fear. I want them to know that a perfectly, completely, and unimaginable joyful eternity awaits them.

And, yes, He gives us happy and joyful moments along the way. Little glimpses of heaven, a foretaste of all the joy that is yet to come. Even in the midst of the hard, we have so much to be thankful for! So, around here, we will continue to count mercies and celebrate grace, acknowledging the challenges, but always seeking to have a proper perspective. This means that as our eyes are opened to see a hurting and broken world, we will always seek to have have willing hearts to do the hard things. And, for us, right now, in this season, this means loving two hurting and broken little girls. 

Just as He has poured out His blessings on us, we can be a blessing to others. Giving thanks and giving ourselves is how we respond to all that He has given us. I want my children to see this in our home and in our lives, and I want them to know that grateful, obedient hearts are also joyful hearts. I want them to know that there is absolutely nothing in this world that can bring fulfillment like the joy that comes from willingly surrendering our lives to the Lord's plans and purposesAnd, one day when the Lord calls them to do hard things, I want them to be able to say yes, knowing that not only will His strength be sufficient, but that the joy He gives when we obediently surrender will be abundant!

Do not pray for the hard things to go away, but pray for a BRAVERY TO COME that's bigger than the hard thing.

Ann Voskamp