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

Friday, April 17, 2015

unfolding grace for bleeding hearts

SO, Sophi, 

you and me, 
we're not giving up. 
How could we! 

Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us,

on the inside where God is making new life,

not a day goes by without His unfolding grace.
2 Corinthians 4:16

So, Sophi, you and me...

We went to church on Sunday. I count this a big victory even though we only lasted for the first three songs before we had to slip out. But it was definitely worth it, seeing you so happy and smiling. You were very proud of your new birthday dress and necklace, and I was very proud of you.

You and me, we both loved the music at church that Sunday. You rocked back and forth and lifted your arms up high in the air. Your attempt at dancing got you quite a few stares, but you didn't care and neither did I. You opened your mouth, trying to sing. And, me, I stopped my singing and just couldn't stop looking at you... 

Sophi, we've had our struggles. You and me, we know struggle very well. I've struggled to love you in a way that you can grasp, and, you, you've struggled to receive my often faulty and flailing attempts at love. Bless that broken and bleeding heart of yours. How could you possibly even begin to understand what love is? 

And that's why I stood there just watching you. Because I knew that I was staring at a miracle. 

You reached your arms toward me and said "up" (a miracle that you can actually use a word and use it appropriately) and how could I resist? Of course, you are much too big to be picked up and my back is much too tired, but I did it anyway. You cupped your hands to my face and your big brown eyes looked straight into mine, and that, in and of itself, is another miracle. How many months (years?) you refused to make eye contact, I can't even remember. But, this day, you hugged and kissed me and held on tight, and I did the same. All the wounding and trauma your precious heart endured during those first six years of your life without a momma to love and care for you? And all the ways this momma has let you down over the past three years? 

Children, drop your chains and sing...

Somehow in that moment, I knew that Love was winning. I saw love. You for me and me for you. And I knew I was living and breathing a miracle. A miracle wrought in my heart and in yours by the One who saw fit to make you and me, mother and daughter. 

Chains have been undone and we are singing...

Ours is a messy love, and I have faltered and failed you more times than I can count. There's a weakness in my love, and I am so, so sorry for the many, many ways I have wounded your already gaping heart. But here's the thing I've learned since the day I first heard the pitter-patter of your little feet and you walked into my world. His love is stronger. Stronger than how I feel. Stronger than how I fail. Strong enough to sustain and strong enough to keep giving and giving and giving. Strong enough to not give up.

There's no other way to possibly explain it. 

His love has made a way for your heart to love me in spite of the many times I have blown it with you. And this blows me away. I stand humbly amazed by the way the Lord has worked a miracle into that heart of yours, enabling you to learn to forgive and love and keep reaching those arms up toward me. Again and again, Sophi, you have shown such grace and courage, and I have learned from you, more than from anyone else, what it means to truly love.

And His love is making a way in my heart, too. It's just as much a miracle. He's helping me accept you, and He's showing me just how to love you. Sophi, your love language is different from anyone else I've ever known, and it's taken me a long time to learn it, but the Lord is faithfully showing me just what you need from me. It's been my heart's cry for a while now, Lord, show me how to love this child in a way that she can understand. And He is. 

Our stone hearts become flesh that's beating...

Some days, I am the one learning how to give you the grace and space you need to be exactly the special and unique little girl that He has made you to be. Other days {most days}, you are the one giving me the grace that I desperately need. Sophi, there have been many days that I haven't known whether to laugh or to cry at the sheer craziness of the Lord giving a child like you to a momma like me. But there's one thing that I do know and at the end of the day, no matter how miserably either of us have messed up, these words are just what we both need to hear: Not a single day goes by without His unfolding grace


Sophi, that day we celebrated your ninth birthday, when I watched you in your pretty white dress, opening your mouth, and trying to sing, the Lord gave me a glimpse of eternity... 

Encourage the exhausted, 
and strengthen the feeble. 
Say to those with anxious heart, 
take courage, fear not...

Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, 
and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. 
Then the lame will leap like deer, 
and the tongue of the dumb will shout for joy.

Isaiah 35:3-6

I've claimed these words from Isaiah many times before. For you and your sister, for me, for all of us. And this day, your ninth birthday, I claimed them all over again.

Sophi, you will sing, and your sister will dance, and me, there will come a day when I'm not exhausted! And, oh my, what a day that will be! I can hardly imagine it.

And that's why we're not giving up. How could we? On the outside, it might look (and feel) like things are falling apart all around us. But that's ok. Because on the inside, I know, He's making new life. He's changing your heart and mine and giving both of us all the grace we need to keep going, one day at a time. SO, Sophi, happy 9th birthday! I'm believing this is going to be the best year yet!


***Fellow adoptive mommas, or, really, any of you who feel a bit like love is a strugglethis post is a must-read. I have been so blessed by the words of Sara Hagerty, both from her new book, Every Bitter Thing is Sweet, and her blog. Can I encourage you to check it out? And a special thanks to the sweet friend who loaned me a copy of her book. The day that I took Faith Ana to Birmingham for her surgery back in January, I devoured this book! The next day, the day I miscarried, the Lord knew that this is exactly what my own bleeding heart would need to remember.***

There's a wreckage, there's a fire
There's a weakness in my love
There's a hunger I can't control
Lord, I falter and I fall down
Then I hold on to chains You broke
When You came and saved my soul. Save my soul

We are free to struggle
We're not struggling to be free
Your blood bought and makes us children
Children, drop your chains and sing

So, why, Lord, do I still fail,
Do I wear thin?
Why do I still give in to temptation?
On my own, I am bankrupt,
I don't trust You or take You at Your word
What You've promised, yeah.

We are free to struggle
We're not struggling to be free
Your blood bought and makes us children
Children, drop your chains and sing

Death is overcome and we are breathing
Our stone hearts become flesh that's beating
Chains have been undone and we are singing
The fire has begun. Can you feel it?

Tenth Avenue North
"The Struggle"