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


Saturday, August 23, 2014


Thankfulness takes the sting out of adversity. That is why I have instructed you to give thanks for everything

There is an element of mystery in this transaction: You give me thanks (regardless of your feelings), and I will give you JOY (regardless of your circumstances). 

This is a spiritual act of obedience - at times, blind obedience. To people who don't know me intimately, it can seem irrational and even impossible to thank Me for heartrending hardships. Nonetheless, those who obey Me in this way are invariably blessed, even though difficulties may remain.

Thankfulness opens your heart to My presence and your mind to My thoughts. 

You may still be in the same place, with the same set of circumstances, but it is as if a light has been switched on, enabling you to see from My perspective. 

It is this Light of My Presence that removes the sting from adversity.

Jesus Calling

TEN things that made me smile this week...

1. Henry

2. Pink daisies and pigtails.

3. My three big boys, their first day of school, and the reminder of all the ways that He is faithfully providing for our family.

4. A birthday present and the newest member of our family. 

5. Sunglasses and a sweet {and spunky} spirit. This is one brave little girl! {I will share more about Faith Ana and our trip to Children's Hospital in Birmingham after we go back next week for a sedated MRI of her brain and then the following week to have her fitted for her wheelchair.}

6. Hand-me-down clothes, curly hair, and these crazy two who are constantly getting into mischief and constantly making me laugh!

7. Haddon and the way he reminds me to smile even when it hurts. {Cutting teeth is no fun!}

8. This girl's determination. {The doctors might consider her non-ambulatory, but I think the way Faith Ana is able to move is pretty remarkable.}

9. Small victories and the ability to celebrate even when it's hard. 

10. Ten years sharing life with this guy. 

I hope you have a happy and joyful weekend!

A thief comes only to steal and to kill and to destroy. 
I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.

John 10:10


P.S.  Coming up soon, more on what the Lord is teaching me about joy...

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

All In All

Lately, the sights, sounds, and, especially, the smells in our home have been a bit on the intense side. All the kids have handled these transitions, including this particular rough {and stinky} stretch wonderfully, but Will and I felt like it might be a good opportunity for him to take the boys on a few special trips before they start back school.

Over the past few weeks, they've been able to enjoy lots of fresh air and plenty of wild adventures. It's just what these guys love the most! The older two boys went camping, hiking, kayaking, and trout fishing , and the younger two took a trip to an alligator farm, went fishing in Mobile Bay, and got to hang out with their grandparents. All in all, they have had a really fun and action-packed summer!

Of course, Haddon, my littlest boy, and Sophi and Faith Ana have no idea what they are missing out on. But Evie…

If she asked me once when the boys were gone, she must have asked me 1000 times.

Where are "Bear-tret" went?

Where are boys went?

Where are Daddy went?

It's what she says all the time

This girl loves her Daddy and her big brothers! It doesn't matter what they are doing, she's typically right in the middle of them.

"Mountain" climbing. 

Fort building.

Building fires.

Yesterday I caught her "carving" her doll bed with the large butcher knife that she somehow managed to get out of the dishwasher. 

Most days she ends up shirtless like the boys or with her diaper off, attempting to tee-tee standing up just like she sees her brothers doing.

So, when they are gone, she's not a very happy camper.

Where are they went?

Her grammar might not be exactly correct, but I know just what she's saying...

Where did they go? 
Where is my best buddy Barrett? 
What are they doing? 
When are they coming home? 
And, most importantly, why didn't they take me? 

She doesn't say it explicitly, but I know just what she means. 

Grammar is not my strong point either. It never was my favorite subject in school...

And like Evie, I've had my own grammar issues this week.

Consider it all joy...

I've been stuck on the word all. Is it a noun or a pronoun? An adjective or an adverb? Or is it a predeterminer? Whatever that is? {I must have missed that lesson in English class.}

There are multiple definitions for the word all, depending on what part of speech it is.


1. the whole of (used in referring to quantity, extent, or duration)
2. the whole number of (used in referring to individuals or particulars, taken collectively)
3. the greatest possible (used in referring to quality or degree)
4. nothing but; only
5. dominated by or as if by the conspicuous possession or use of a particular feature

1. the whole quantity or amount
2. the whole number; every one
3. everything

1. one's whole interest, energy, or property

1. wholly; entirely; completely
2. only; exclusively
3. each; apiece
4. even

I've also checked out a whole slew of translations for James 1:2, and each one is a little bit different:

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy…  

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy… 

Regard it all as joy, my brothers, when you face various kinds of temptations…    

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,whenever you face trials of many kinds   

My brethren, count it exceeding joy, when ye fall into divers temptations

Consider it wholly joyful, my brethren, whenever you are enveloped in or encounter trials of any sort or fall into various temptations.

I don't know the original Greek or what part of speech James actually intended the word all to be, but I'm fairly sure I know what he was getting at.

Consider it all joy...

It's what the Lord has been teaching me all about these past few months.

All day and all night. There's been no shortage of opportunities.

All the little moments that have made this summer so full and so very lively...

All are sheer gifts.

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.

It might not always feel like a gift, especially when it's coming at me from all sides {or coming out all sides.}

But, yes, a gift.

~ Oversized diapers. 

~ Plastic underwear.

~ Super absorbent puppy pads.

~Heavy duty, professional strength, all-purpose cleaner that supposedly eliminate all odors {It is helping, but I wouldn't say it's eliminating…}


Sheer gifts.

Giving thanks always for all things unto God.  
Ephesians 5:20

No matter what the source of the evil, if you are in God and surrounded by Him as by an atmosphere, all evil has to pass through Him before it comes to you. Therefore you can thank God for everything that comes, not for the sin of it, but for what God will bring out of it and through it. 

May God make our lives thanksgiving and perpetual praise, then He will make everything a blessing.

We once saw a man draw some black dots. We looked and could make nothing of them but an irregular assemblage of black dots. Then he drew a few lines, put in a few rests, then a clef at the beginning, and we saw these black dots were musical notes. On sounding them we were singing,

"Praise God from whom all blessings flow,
Praise Him all creatures here below."

There are many black dots and black spots in our lives, and we cannot understand why they are there or why God permitted them to come. But if we let God come into our lives, and adjust the dots in the proper way, and draw the lines He wants, and separate this from that, and put in the rests at the proper places; out of the black dots and spots in our lives He will make a glorious harmony. Let us not hinder Him in this glorious work!

Streams in the Desert

Lately, I've felt a bit like a broken record. Like I'm stuck on a wrong note. Like I keep repeating the same minor key over and over again.

This is how it feels. But...

Would we know that the major chords were sweet,
If there were no minor key?
Would the painter's work be fair to our eyes,
Without shade on land or sea?
Would we know the meaning of happiness,
Would we feel that the day was bright,
If we'd never known what it was to grieve,
Nor gazed on the dark of night?
Many men owe the grandeur of their lives to their tremendous difficulties.

C. H. Spurgeon 

The truth is a beautiful song is being written. Note by note. Chord by chord. One line after another.

To my untrained ears, it may sound a little off key right now. But I know and am fully confident that one day it will all make sense and all come together. 

I don't know what the finished result will sound like when all the notes are finally blended together, but I hope that it's one of those songs that puts a smile on your face and makes you want to turn the volume up just a little bit louder. Kind of like this one that I especially love right now

Feels like it's been miles and miles
Feels like it's an uphill climb
Sometimes I get weary on the way
But when I look back at where I've been
When I look back, I'm sure of it
I was right there in Your arms and I can say

Every moment of my life
God, You never left my side
Every valley, every storm
You were there, You were there
I don't need to know what's next
You'll be with me every step
Through it all, through it all
I can see You carry me

There are days I wonder if
You can fix the mess I'm in
Times when nothing seems
To go the way it should
But then I look back on every season
I can find there's ten thousand reasons
To trust that You can work all things for good

Through the wind and waves
Through my worst mistakes
Through the times I thought I walked alone
You were holding me
You were whispering
I will never leave you on your own

All things considered, we really are doing well. The summer has flown by, despite the fact that many of the days and nights have felt incredibly long. It's hard to believe that we only have one more week before we shift gears and get back into school mode. 

The three oldest boys will go back to the same small Christian school they went to last year. The other five will stay home with me, and we will do some very simple and basic homeschooling with Faith Ana and Sophi. I think it will be good for us all.

Our final week of summer is going to be a busy one. On top of the typical back-to-school stuff, I will also be taking Faith Ana to Children's Hospital in Birmingham. She will be evaluated by a group of doctors and specialists, and I am very eager to hear what they have to say as they help us come up with a comprehensive plan for her ongoing care. I'll be sure to share more in the coming weeks, but in the meantime, here's a little more about our newest girl…

She continues to have a sweet, laid back personality. She occasionally shows us her slightly stubborn and strong-willed side, but, so far, it is nothing like her Momma or two sisters. She is learning more and more words everyday and is able to appropriately put them together in simple sentences and phrases:

I like my sunglasses.
Move Henry.
Bless you Sophi.
Careful "BeBe."
Hush Faith Ana.

One thing that I noticed this week was that she has never answered a question with yes or no or even with a shake or nod of her head. 

Faith Ana, do you want milk?

She will either repeat the word milk or say all done, milk. I'm pretty sure she understands what I'm asking her, and I know she knows the words yes and no, but she rarely, if ever, uses them. 

So we spent this past week working on it - me asking her lots of yes and no questions, trying to teach her the appropriate way to respond when asked a question. I wasn't sure that we were a making any progress until yesterday. After she finished her lunch, I asked her to drink her milk. She looked at me and perfectly and clearly said NO.

I'm glad we worked so hard on that all week! :)

She has mastered all of our chunky wooden puzzles. She likes to color and play with stickers. She is able to pretend play and enjoys playing with Evie's dollhouse and babies. She loves watching Barney and Elmo. She knows everyone's name. We practice counting every night during diaper time {I will not elaborate on the specifics, but I will just say that I've learned to do things I've never done before…}, and she has learned to count to five and sometimes higher all by herself. She loves to sing, and she really loves to talk. She rarely gets upset or fusses, although she dislikes getting her ears cleaned out and she definitely doesn't like it when Henry barks loudly. Surprisingly, she has the ability to show empathy and compassion and if someone is upset or crying, she almost always attempts to comfort them. {This is very different from Sophi who laughs hysterically when any of the other kids are hurt, sad, or being disciplined.} She encourages Sophi all the time. Bravo, Sophi. And sometimes corrects Sophi. Hush Sophi. No fuss. {We praise her when she is an encourager but are also trying to help her learn that Momma and Daddy are the ones who reprimand the other children, not Faith Ana.} She loves taking baths, which is a good thing because she needs one every single morning. She still enjoys getting her nails done. Most nights, she sleeps soundly and falls asleep quickly. She's gaining weight, and she is slowly becoming less picky and tolerating more new tastes and textures.

Just today, she was sitting at the table eating her mush, and I noticed she was intently watching Evie munching away on her Cheerios. I put one in her mouth and while she usually spits out anything that's not soft or puréed, this time she left it in her mouth. She actually chewed with her teeth for the first time! And a few hours later, I decided to forego the mush, and I put a plate of finger foods in front of her. I've tried this before with no success, but today she gobbled up every bite of her peanut butter and jelly sandwich, baby goldfish, banana slices, and even a few MMs. I could hardly believe my eyes!

She's been home now for a little over two months, and I can honestly say that she has transitioned beautifully! I am so very, very thankful, especially in light of the difficult days we've had this summer with Sophi.

This week is another important milestone. August 13th marks two years since we carried Sophi out the doors of her orphanage in Shumen for the final time. With this precious and wounded little girl, the transition continues to be very much a challenge.

We take steps forward and then steps backwards. We try one strategy and then another, struggling to know how to help her learn and thrive and, right now, just to simply have multiple days in a row that do not involve major rages, fits, and meltdowns. Ultimately, we spend a lot of time on our knees, seeking wisdom and compassion. We see such hopeful progress and then experience such major setbacks. It's a confusing cycle as we watch her spiraling so far backwards. Right now, she reminds me of that little girl that we first brought home two years ago. She's back in diapers all the time, eating pureed mush, and showing many of the same self-harming behaviors that we dealt with those first few months she was home. And, if I'm honest, it's been hard and incredibly frustrating.

But, can I share something more with you? Out of all the experiences of my life up until this point, having the privilege of being this little girl's momma has taught me more and  drawn me closer to the Lord than any single other thing.

And that's just one of many reasons that I really can…

Consider it all joy...

When the musician presses the black keys on the great organ, the music is as sweet as when he touches the white ones, but to get the capacity of the instrument he must touch them all.

Streams in the Desert