Saturday, December 6, 2014

when the path is hard

O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps… 
Jeremiah 10:23

Many people want to direct God, instead of resigning themselves to be directed by Him; to show Him a way, instead of passively following where He leads.
~Madame Guyon

Thou has showed Thy people hard things
Psalm 60:3

I have always been glad that the Psalmist said to God that some things were hard. There is no mistake about it, there are hard things in life.
Some beautiful pink flowers were given to me this summer, and as I took them I said, "What are they?" And the answer came, "They are rock flowers; they grow and bloom only on rocks where you can see no soil."
Then I thought of God's flowers growing in hard places; and I feel, somehow, that He may have a peculiar tenderness for His "rock flowers" that He may not have for His lilies and roses.

~Margaret Bottome

I said: "Let me walk in the field";
God said: 'Nay, walk in the town";
I said: "There are no flowers there";
He said: "No flowers, but a crown."
I said: "But the sky is black,
There is nothing but noise and din";
But He wept as He sent me back,
"There is more," He said, "there is sin
I said: "But the air is thick,
And fogs are veiling the sun";
He answered: "Yet souls are sick,
And souls in the dark undone."
I said: "I shall miss the light,
And friends will miss me, they say";
He answered me, "Choose tonight,
If I am to miss you, or they."
I pleaded for time to be given;

He said: "Is it hard to decide?
It will not seem hard in Heaven
To have  followed the steps of your Guide."

I cast one look at the fields,
Then set my face to the town;
He said: "My child, do you yield?
Will you leave the flowers for the crown?"
Then into His hand went mine,
And into my heart came He;
And I walk in a light Divine,
The path I had feared to see.

~George MacDonald

Lead me in a plain path 
Ps. 27:11
I love these beautiful words, and they were just the reminder that I needed during this whirlwind of a month...

 It will not seem hard in Heaven...

Tired and weary heart, can you remember this? Can you remember these words when you don't think you can take another step? Can you remember them when you don't understand the way He's taking you?
it will not seem hard in Heaven
it will not seem hard in Heaven
it will not seem hard in Heaven
it will not seem hard in Heaven, to have followed the steps of your Guide.

These words are ringing in my ears tonight and resonating deep in my heart. They are strengthening my soul, and I'm praying they do the same for you, dear friends. Blessings of rest and renewed strength for each of you as you journey on the paths the Lord has chosen for you and your families. We are so thankful for you and the many ways you have supported, encouraged, and prayed for our family.

What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is evidence of things we cannot yet see.

Hebrews 11:1

…they saw it all from a distance and welcomed the promises of God. They agreed that they were no more than foreigners and nomads here on earth. And obviously people who talk like that are looking forward to a country they can call their own. If they had meant the country they came from, they would have found a way to go back. 

But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a heavenly city for them.
Hebrews 11:13-16

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily hinders our progress. 

And let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us.
Hebrews 12:1

We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus,
on whom our faith depends from start to finish.
Hebrews 12:2

So take a new grip with your tired hands and stand firm on your shaky legs. 

Mark out a straight path for your feet. 

Then those who follow you, 
though they are weak and lame
will not stumble and fall but will become strong.

Hebrews 12:12-13

The tests of life are to make, not break us. Trouble may demolish a man's business but build up his character. The blow at the outwards man may be the greatest blessing to the inner man. 

If God, then, puts or permits anything hard in our lives, be sure that the real peril, the real trouble, is what we shall lose if we flinch or rebel.

~Maltbie D. Badcock

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Momma See

Dear friends, don't be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad - because these trials will make you partners with Christ in His sufferings, and afterward you will have wonderful joy of sharing His glory when it is displayed to all the world.

I Peter 4:12-13

I have a new respect and admiration for every single person who cares for children with special needs. It requires tremendous amounts of persistence, determination, relentlessness, and strength coupled with an unending supply of love and patience. 

I have absolutely no idea how someone could do this job without the Lord's help. 

Fortunately for me, my supply of love and patience ran out a very long time ago, and even the character traits that most people would consider my personal strengths {a strong-willed, determined, never-giving-up spirit) began to wane a long time ago as well.

Fortunately for me. Yes. that's right.

A Mercy. 

A humbling blessing for a prideful, perfectionistic heart.

When I reach the frontier of need and know my limitations, Jesus says - "Blessed are you." But I have to get there. God cannot put into me, a responsible moral being, the disposition that was in Christ Jesus unless I am conscious I need it…

Oswald Chambers

Parenting these two special needs little girls has brought me to my own frontier of need. Caring for their needs and recognizing and accepting their limitations has revealed my own set of needs and limitations. 

And this is mercy. Such great, great mercy.

The learning curve has been steep as we navigate this unchartered territory of parenting special needs children who come from hard places. Our home, although a happy place, in many ways has become a hard place. We have good days. We have bad days. We have hard days, and we have excruciatingly difficult days.

It didn't take long for me to realize that caring for these two - loving these two - is simply beyond me. 

There are catheters every four hours and enemas every other night. Medications in the morning and then more again every night. There are on-going doctors' appointments, therapies that need to be scheduled, decisions to be made about possible surgeries, and many medical unknowns that affect the future of these little girls. Simply caring for their most basic needs is a daunting and overwhelming task, as is the reality that, most likely, neither of them will be ever be able to live independent lives as adults.

But all of this pales in comparison with the responsibility of caring for and loving their wounded and broken hearts. This is the hardest, most difficult, thing I have ever been called to do. Choosing loveAs we take steps toward fostering attachment, building trust, and learning what family is all about, it seems that every single tiny breakthrough is followed by a massive setback. For every one step forward, it feels as if we take five backwards. It's so easy to lose heart, to become frustrated, and to feel like a failure as a momma.

On top of the medical, emotional, and behavioral issues, there is a battle in the spiritual realm over their very lives unlike anything I have ever before experienced. I've shared before my thoughts on the orphanages where they each spent the first six years of their lives. Places of darkness. Enemy territory. Even Faith's orphanage, a "good" one by Bulgarian standards, is an environment that does unspeakable damage to countless children. {Not the people who care for these precious children. There are many good and kind people, doing the absolute best that they can with the limited resources that they have been given, and I will always be incredibly grateful for the men and women I met at Faith Ana's orphanage who genuinely seemed to care for my little girl.} But the bottom line - it's a very, very broken system, and as a result, these are very broken children with very real wounds. I see the lingering effects every single day when I look into the beautiful brown eyes of my Bulgarian girls. There are such deep wounds and so many scars, and it breaks my heart for these two precious little ones and for the many still left behind.

Simply bringing these children into a loving environment, providing the nutrition their little bodies need, the safety and security they have been without, and the love they desperately crave is not enough. Of course, we knew this when we began our adoption journeys. Our expectations were not unrealistic. We knew it would be full of challenges. We knew there would be hard things. We read all about reactive attachment disorder, developmental delays, and the long-term effects of abuse, trauma, and neglect. But nothing could have prepared us for the reality of life with an incredibly wounded child. I've shared before about the spiritual warfare that has surrounded the adoptions of our girls, but what I probably have not shared, what you should know, is that it does not let up once they are finally home. For us, it has only intensified. There are never-ending, on-going attempts by the Enemy to discourage, defeat, and destroy. There are strongholds to be broken, walls that must be torn down, and intense struggles that are constantly being fought. 

These children know suffering in a way that most of us could never comprehend. And we, as their family, have been called to share in these sufferings with them. It is an immensely humbling experience and privilege...

If you are going to be used by God, He will take you through a multitude of experiences that are not meant for you at all; they are meant to make you useful in His hands, and to enable you to understand what transpires in other souls so that you will never be surprised at what you come across…

God's way is always the way of suffering, the way of the long, long trail.

Are we partakers of Christ's sufferings? Are we prepared for God to stamp our personal ambitions right out? Are we prepared for God to destroy by transfiguration our individual determinations?

It will not mean that we know exactly why God is taking us that way…

We never realize at the time what God is putting us through; we go through it more or less misunderstandingly; then we come to a luminous place and say - "Why, God has girded me, though I did not know it!"

Oswald Chambers

The friend who helped my sweet momma care for Sophi, Faith Ana, and Haddon while we went to the beach in September, spoke these words to me after we got home...

I heard your days back from the beach were hard. And the question of was it worth to leave may have entertained a thought or two. I want you to know that I felt so blessed to be able to help Sophia with three of your precious children so you could love on five of your other precious gifts without distraction…

I used to train with a man and his wife who were counselors in a trauma abuse clinic for severely impacted children. Let’s just say the atrocities those kids experienced were beyond nightmares imaginable. I learned so very much about the children and their families from watching this man connect and teach often new foster parents the very hard and daily life that they would endure because they were the parents of these kinds of kids. Children that the world, society, and everyone they would have trusted, had forgotten. And though I was only with them for a year before continuing my own education, I soaked up every bit that I could about working with “those kinds” of kids (and their heartbroken families). After all, it was not supposed to look like this to have to choose to love so HARD every day. EVERY. DAY.

What I learned was that regression to dark places was probably more of the norm than progression to anything that appeared normal. And that small, even minuscule victories were to be celebrated because sometimes it felt like that was all there was. There would be no walks in a park without rages and there were not moments to let your guard down for fear of what might happen. BUT I also learned not to give up hope. That more often than not, those small things turned out to be the really big things that mattered. The structure that had to tirelessly be implemented was the tool to connect (though it so did not feel like it) with the heart of a child.

I have thought about these words so many times lately. October and these first few weeks of November have been full of many ups and downs. And, quite honestly, the "ups" have been so small that if the Lord had not given me eyes to see, I probably would have missed them. Sophi, in particular, has been in a very dark place. Reminiscent of the little girl we first met in the orphanage more than two years ago, I have seen behaviors in her that I have not seen in a very long time. For reason that I don't even begin to understand or know, Sophi continues to struggle. She has days when she is angry and experiences violent outbursts and rages, and then other days, when she cries and fusses for the majority of the day. Other days, she is laughing so hysterically, also for reasons unknown, that she can hardly function. She has days when she in incredibly lethargic, days when the sadness and depression suck the life out of her little body, days when she makes herself physically sick, days when all she wants is to be left in her bed…

Hard, hard days for her. For me. For all of us. 

But sandwiched in between, I have seen glimmers of light. Bright moments. Little victories

Sophi has been interacting with Haddon, more so than she has ever done with any of the other kids.

She is beginning to recognize the letters in her name.

She attempts to count to five and can count to two using her fingers.

She can sort blocks by color and sometimes can even say their name when prompted.

During our morning school time, I recently added a few new activities - new puzzles that Sophi hated. But after a week or two of great resistance {and very loud screaming}, she finally mastered them and now can do them with minimal assistance.

We've been able to get out of the house a few times. We've gone for walks. We've gone to the grocery store. We've gone to Target. Sophi even tagged along with me to a few of Faith Ana's doctors' appointments, and in all these outings, she did great.

She's been accident free almost a week {until today, oh dear, I spoke too soon}.

Little victories that could very easily get lost in the midst of the very big challenges that we face every single day.

And as the Lord opens my eyes and strengthens my heart, as He equips me, and as He fills me with fresh and unending supplies of His love and patience, I begin to see:

These little things aren't so little.

They are big, big, big victories.

I just needed new perspective. 
I needed special and unique lenses for my special and unique girls.

Faith Ana got glasses this week, and I loved seeing her reaction when she put on her new glasses for the first time.

Faith Ana see. 

It's what she immediately said, and it was such a sweet and priceless moment.

And it made a difference. 

A big difference. 

She noticed things, especially the little things, that before she had missed. 

She was more alert, more aware, more focused, and more engaged. And she liked her new glasses. She liked the little girl that she saw in the mirror. She liked how her new glasses looked, and she liked how her new lenses helped her. The tasks that had been hard and challenging were suddenly much simpler. For example, she used to struggle during book time. Often her books were turned upside down, and she quickly lost interest and got bored. 

She could see the big pictures, the big things, but it wasn't until she put her glasses on that she was able to see all of the little details. 

She has spent the majority of the past few days naming every single letter and number that she recognizes on every single thing that she sees. She has loved looking at her books and pointing out all the little things that she is finally able to see. It really is remarkable. 

As much as they are helping, though, I'm sure you can imagine all of the reminders she has needed to leave her new glasses on. It's hard work for her to learn to wear them. The glasses are probably a tad bit uncomfortable, and for her it's something new and very unfamiliar. I remember {not that long ago} when I put sunglasses on her for the first time, and she was terrified. She hated them, but slowly she realized that they were a good thing. They helped her to see when we would go for walks in the bright Bulgarian sunshine. She no longer had to squint or use her hands to shield her eyes on our many adventures in Sofia. She learned to love them, and I'm confident that she will become more and more accustomed to her new glasses in the same way. Right now, she tends to push them down on her nose, like someone wearing bifocals. {The boys say she looks like a little librarian.} And we are all having to constantly encourage her to look up and to look through her new lenses

Another learning curve. 

So many learning curves for these sweet girls. So many learning curves for this momma. 

My dear sweet girl,

Faith Ana, I understand. I see joy in your big brown eyes because you can see clearly. But I also see the frustration. It's good to be able to see, but it's equally hard because you are so used to the way things used to be. Joy and frustration. I know them both so very well.

I understand. Or better said, the Lord is helping me to understand. He's helping me to understand how to see you and your sister more clearly, to see your limitations, to celebrate your victories. Even the little ones. Especially the little ones. And to understand that these little victories aren't really so little after all. They are huge!

I understand because I have my own new set of lenses that I'm trying to get accustomed to. A new perspective. A new way to look at you girls. Really, a new way to look at all you children. And I like it. I like that I am finally beginning to notice all of the little things that I missed before. I think it's helping me be a better Momma, and I am so grateful. He's helping my eyes {and my heart}, and it's making a difference for me just as your new glasses are making a difference for you!

But also like you, I find myself countless times throughout the day pulling my new lenses off, and looking at things the old way. Thankfully, we both have someone to help remind us. I'm here for you, to tell you how pretty you look with your new glasses on, to gently encourage you to leave them on, to remind you to look through your new lenses. And He's here for me (for all of us), telling me the same things I'm telling you. Look up, dear one. Look up to Me. Remember, sweet child, you have to look through your new lenses to see most clearly. And, Faith Ana, we are both getting the hang of it. Day by day, we are learning to see, and this is such a beautiful thing.

Just as your new prescription is best suited for your beautiful eyes, so my new prescription is most suitable for me...

For these circumstances, these days, this season.

For you two girls - Faith Ana and Sophi, each with your multitude of special needs. 

For all you children - Web, Palmer, Hank, Barrett, Evie, and Haddon, each with your own unique and special gifts and personalities. 

For the whole bunch of us - dog, cat, and myriad of fish, frogs, and lizards included {for which I have delegated the sole responsibility of their care and well-being into the capable hands of your father}...

Oh Lord, have mercy.

And, He is!   <<<big smile>>>   He is so incredibly merciful! 

Full of grace and patience, endless supplies of love and ample strength for all that is hard. And, Faith Ana, you and I both know, there is much that is hard. But there is also much that is good. Much that is beautiful. Much to be celebrated. Much to be seen. 

So much to be seen.

And, as always, the hard is good. These hard tasks, these afflictions, these sufferings, although so minuscule compared to what others around the world are experiencing just now, are producing for us an eternal weight of glory. Something more beautiful, more wonderful than we have ever seen, or imagined, or even dreamed of.

What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see.

Hebrews 11:1

Lord, help this momma to see. To see beauty in the pain. Glory in the hard. Joy in the suffering. Help me to see You in all things. Help me to see all things as You see. And, help me to have hope for all that I cannot yet see…


P.S. And just in case you need a good laugh... 

This child is hilarious!

And she loves to dance!

{Ignore the sound of the paper cutter in the background. The boys were getting into the Christmas spirit a tad early this year and spent the afternoon making ornaments and paper chains.}

The song Faith Ana is dancing to. I think it's her favorite! :)

In His kindness, 

God called you to His eternal glory by means of Jesus Christ.

After you have suffered a little while, He will restore, support, and

strengthen you, and He will place you on a firm foundation

All power is His forever and ever.

I Peter 5:10-11