Thursday, July 14, 2016

the floodgates of heaven

It was by Him that everything was created...
All things seen and unseen...

Colossians 1:16

I believe that children are a gift, given by an all-wise, all-seeing, all-knowing, and all-holding Father. That even before they were each formed in the womb, the Lord already knew and ordained each day that they would live. I believe that He has a plan and purpose for every single soul He creates. 

The one who lived for only a few weeks.

The one who's little heart is still beating strong.

I believe that there are no mistakes, no accidents, and no surprises. Surprises for us, yes, but for Him, no. 

Every detail was crafted through His design,
By His own hands,
And for His purposes...

Colossians 1:16

I believe in His perfect sovereignty. I believe in His loving heart. 

I believe He's the most kind and wise Father. 

I believe He's a very good and gracious gift-giver.

I believe that these gifts that He gives are precious treasures, that this calling is a sacred stewardship, and that this responsibility of being a parent is an incredible privilege.

I believe that there are hard things we are all called to do. Hard and holy things. Things that are both sacred and scary. 

For all those times that living out our convictions and our callings turns out to be harder than you imagined and scarier than you anticipated...

For the times when our beliefs fly in the face of common sense and cultural expectations and times they are contrary to even the most well-respected wisdom... 

For all those days {and nights} when the responsibility feels too heavy and when the load feels like it's more than a person is meant to handle... 

For all those times when everything feels like it's falling apart...

For when I am falling apart...

He gives this promise:

It is His hands that hold everything together.

Colossians 1:17

When I found out this spring that I was pregnant again, this time with two, I struggled to find the words for all the emotions in my heart. Sometime around the 8 week mark, we lost one of the twins, leading to more uncertainties and unknowns. Over the past few months as I've wrestled, wondered, and waited, there have been plenty of times that I've questioned what I believe. But in the midst of all my doubts, the Lord just continues to remind me over and over again:

His hands hold these children.

His hands hold this family.

His hands hold us all together.

And I believe these words and cling to them {and the Author of them} with every fiber of my being. These simple words take the weight off of my shoulders and give me the freedom to watch His plans unfold for our family. I can trust Him that He knows best, and I can accept the gifts that He gives with a glad and grateful heart. 

I used to think I knew what I wanted my family to look like. First, a little boy named Web. Then a second, named Palmer, and a third, we named Hank. Then there was the fourth, Barrett, the one we prayed and waited for. This baby changed everything. 

The vision we had for our family changed and instead of it being OUR vision, it became HIS. 

His vision for our family doesn't look anything like what I ever imagined. I never could have dreamed of a family that would include an Evie, Haddon, Georgi, Sophi, Faith Ana, another little Blackmon baby, and the tiniest ones I believe we will meet one day in Heaven. 

Quite honestly, some days my hands feel so full that I need eyes of faith to truly believe that His vision is good {and not just plain crazy}!

Right now, it feels hard. It feels heavy. It sounds loud. It smells stinky. It looks messy. Its constant, all-consuming, and, yes, most days, it is indeed crazy.

It is exposing my weaknesses. It is uncovering my shortcomings. It is revealing my secret struggles.  It is showing that instead of having it all together, I'm really just falling apart. 

These children. These adoptions. This pregnancy. It's my undoing. 

A gracious undoing. 

Undoing me of my pride. My self-sufficiency. My striving. My controlling. My unrealistically high expectations for myself and for others. 

Lovingly and patiently, He has been prying my hands from the things that I grasp too tightly, and, faithfully and consistently, He's been reminding me that it's not my job to hold everything together. 

It's His. 

He's mercifully and meticulously undoing me of me, and He's making more room for Him

And that's why I can be confident that His plans for my family, for my life, really, truly are good. Good for me. Good for every single member of our family. And must importantly, I believe that this is all the for the greater good of His Eternal Kingdom. 

It's all for His glory and because I know this in my heart of hearts, I can believe and trust and look to the days ahead with hopeful anticipation.

Of course, there are plenty of doubters and naysayers out there. There are plenty of people {family and friends included} who think we are crazy and have lost our minds. Ironically, I've shared the same sentiment from time to time over the past few months. I'd like to blame it on pregnancy hormones or a lack of sleep, but the truth is I've had many of my own moments of unbelief.

"Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief" is my midnight cry, my early morning cry, and my middle of the afternoon {will this day ever end?} cry. 

I'm so glad, though, that even our own doubts don't alter His faithful and steadfast love. That our questions and concerns don't inhibit the perfectly timed unfolding of His plans. I'm so thankful that His patience doesn't run out and that His mercies meet us in our weakest moments. I'm incredibly grateful for His grace and His mercy that He just continually pours out on us. Lavishing on us. Overflowing on us. Overwhelming us.

When people ask Will about our family, he always tells them the same thing...

He tells the story of our first three little boys and then of the fourth that we wanted and prayed for, but had to wait for. He tells how that season of waiting taught us that no matter how much we thought we could control the outcomes and determine what our family should look like, ultimately He was in control. As we relinquished ours and yielded to His, this is what happened. 

The floodgates of heaven were opened! 

And this makes me smile because it's true on so many different levels. 

It was the beginning of a season of lots of babies and lots of blessings, including but hardly limited to: two little girls from halfway around the world joining our family, financial provision during both of their adoptions, three healthy little babies and another one on the way. We've been blessed with a wonderful {albeit becoming quite crowded} home surrounded by great family and friends. There have been so many tangible gifts that I can hold and touch and see with my own two eyes. 

Some have been obvious. Others have come wrapped in packages that took me a little more time to recognize as blessings. There have been so many ways, both good and hard, that the Lord has grown my faith. Plenty of ways that He has taught me to be thankful for the good things and to find the joys in those hard things. There have been countless times that He has shown Himself strong when I have been at my weakest, turning those very weaknesses into tremendous blessings. There have been so many, many mercies. He has indeed opened the floodgates of heaven, and I am, most definitely, one very blessed woman.

Although my own words have been few and far between these past few months, His words have been plentiful. Here's a few of those truths that have steadied my heart and encouraged me along. Hope they do the same for you. 

Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Put My yoke upon your shoulders - it might appear heavy at first, but it is perfectly fitted to your curves. Learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble of heart. When you are yoked to Me, your weary souls will find rest. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.

Matthew 11:28-30

My grace is sufficient for you
{my loving-kindness and mercy are more than enough}
{always available - regardless of the situation}
For my power is being perfected
{and is completed and shows itself most effectively}
In your weakness, 
so that the power of Christ may completely enfold me and may dwell in me.

So I am well pleased with weakness, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, and with difficulties, for the sake of Christ;
For when I am weak {in human strength}, then I am strong {truly able, truly powerful, truly drawing from God's strength}.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

{From a blog post that I read recently. I loved these words so much that I wanted to include them here along with the link to the entire post at the bottom of the quote...}

People like to tell me, “I don’t know how you do it all.”

You know what?  I don’t even come close to doing it all, and that’s just how God wants it to be.
If I had unlimited resources at my disposal, and if God hadn’t come along and interrupted our vision for our family and replaced it with His, I would have wasted my life futilely trying to make our family fit my former idea of perfect.

He had to stretch me so far beyond what grown-ups consider prudent (prudence is overrated!), so far beyond my ability to control processes and outcomes, to move me and my small-minded vision out of the way and accomplish His.

His vision for our family was to become a haven where His kind of love rules and His kind of healing can take place...

As a mom of many children, I have many limitations.  Additionally, as a mom of kids with special needs, I have taken their disabilities onto myself, bringing further limitations into my life.
Every single limitation in my life is a gift from my Maker custom-designed to move my strong-willed self aside so I can see Him work.  A gift indeed!

Therefore I will not just “try to accept” but will embrace my human limitations, my frailties, my inability to get it all together, and my tendency to flub things up all the more gladly, so that Christ’s power may rest on me and work through me.

Christ’s power working through our weakness.  That about sums up our family."

{Also, I realized as I was looking back through all of my pictures, I have very few new ones of either Sophi or Faith Ana. Hopefully, I can take a few more and post a more detailed update soon. 

People ask me all the time how they are doing and if there's anyway they can help. The short version - they both had a very good spring and adjusted easily to Georgi joining our family. We were able to leave them with my mom twice while Will and I took the other kids on a few fun little getaways. One time, we even got very brave and took everybody for a week out in the country. Faith Ana did fine being away from home and her familiar routine; Sophi struggled, especially adjusting to life and routine back at home afterwards.

Overall, Faith Ana has continued to make headway and great progress with her self-help skills and, for the most part, continues to be her happy, chatty self . Sophi, however, has gone through another rough patch. It's definitely been one of the more difficult stretches we've had with her since she came home. Right now, she's back in diapers and on medication to help with the behavioral and emotional issues that have resurfaced. It has been unusually challenging, especially since the worst of her "episodes" also coincided with the worst of the first trimester of this pregnancy

So, friends, how can you help? You can pray. For strength and patience and His love to flood my heart, especially for these two precious girls. 

I'd be so grateful if you join me in praying these words. For your own family, your own callings as well as for ours:

We {I} pray that you'll {I'll} have the strength to stick it out over the long haul - not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful He has for us...

Colossians 1:11-12
The Message


P.S. A song I've been loving lately - newsboys "you hold it all" - check it out if you get a chance!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

blessings overflow

It's written on a sticky note, tucked away in the back of my Bible, this little gem. A quote I've loved for years. Back when I was in college, I had the privilege of hearing Elisabeth Elliot speak, and those words, scribbled on that yellow post-it, have remained in my Bible and stored in my heart ever since.

It is in our acceptance of what is given that God gives Himself.  

Elisabeth Elliot

I smile when I think back on how simple and carefree my life was back then. It makes me giggle to try to remember what I was "accepting" during that particular season in my life. Surely there must have been something that seemed hard or overwhelming or unusually challenging, something that made me hear those words and hold on to them for so many years. 

Or maybe the Lord just knew that those words needed to be planted in my heart, knowing how the years would unfold, how my story would turn out.

That college girl had no earthly idea. The same person who {briefly} considered majoring in special education but quickly realized she wasn't cut out for that... 

The same one who also considered getting her degree in elementary education, but decided she wasn't patient enough for that either...

That girl, I'm pretty sure, she never could have dreamed up a life for herself that looks even remotely similar to this picture.

The past few months have been a bit of a whirlwind! 

It included the last trimester of a very challenging pregnancy and an especially hard stretch where I was on the verge of being hospitalized. I can't even begin to tell you how overjoyed and relieved we were to welcome into the world our healthy and beautiful Georgi girl. 

Christmas, this year, was wild and wonderful. It was one that I will most certainly always remember. It's not often you get to bring a new baby home on Christmas Day!

All of the kids love Georgi and can't keep their little {and big} hands off of her! It melts my heart to watch them with her. 

Pretty much, my heart just melts every time I look at her. She is such a precious picture of the Lord's mercy and grace. The Lord is using this little girl in such big, redemptive, and powerful ways. 

December and January brought birthdays for Faith Ana (8), Barrett (5), and Haddon (2). Thankfully, I have a houseful of party-lovers {and cake-lovers}!  

We had the opportunity to sneak away to the beach for a few days. I'm so thankful for my mom and her willingness to keep Sophi and Faith Ana so that I could have a bit of respite from caring for them. Who knew a few days at the beach with seven kids including a five week old could be so relaxing, but it certainly was! I came home refreshed and recharged, and for this I am so, so grateful!

True to Your word, You let me catch my breath
and send me in the right direction...
You revive my drooping head;
my cup brims with blessing.
Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life.

Psalms 23, The Message

Another big adjustment we've made this winter has been bringing Sophi and Faith Ana home from the public school they were attending. Within days of writing this post back in October, we began seeing an increase in some of the old orphanage behaviors {especially in Sophi} that we haven't seen in quite a while. And while it was a very difficult decision, one that has certainly impacted our days, it has proved to be the best thing for both of our girls. Their routine at home consists of doing simple and structured activities. Puzzles, picture books, Elmo, Barney, and afternoons on the trampoline are mainstays here at our house, and for the most part, Sophi and Faith Ana are both happy and doing well. We are still trying to figure out just exactly what "school" should look like for each of them, but the longer they've been home (and the more we accept their disabilities), the more we realize that we need to continue focusing on basic life skills. Any academic gains are just icing on the cake.

It's most certainly been a full season. Full of long, lively days and baby-filled nights. Full of more grace and mercy than I could ever possibly begin to express. Full of constant reminders of the Lord's faithfulness, as He carried me through one of the roughest patches I've ever walked through. 

And in the midst of it all, all my wrestlings and wanderings, all these changes and challenges, this truth, these words, have ministered to my heart and encouraged me in so many ways.

It is in our acceptance of what is given that God gives Himself. 

As I accept myself (my weaknesses, my shortcomings, my mistakes, the places I downright fail), the Lord gives Himself. He tells me His heart, for me, and He speaks kind and gentle words. He reminds me that I am His child. He pours out His grace and mercy. He gives His forgiveness and offers fresh starts. Lots of lots of fresh starts.

As I accept my children (their struggles, their unique personalities, their early morning wake-up calls), and especially as I learn how to accept Sophi and Faith Ana with all of their unique and often challenging needs (their limitations, their disabilities, their attachment issues, their difficult pasts), as I accept them just as they are (yet not giving up hope for all they can become), the Lord gives Himself. He gives me the patience {His patience} that young twenty-something could never have dreamed of. 

As we accept our callings, the Kingdom Work the Lord has for each of us to do, as we accept this, He gives Himself, far exceeding anything we could ever dream of. 

Not long ago, someone left a comment asking me how we handle the criticism or concern that people sometimes express about our large and growing family. Maybe one day I will share more about our convictions and how the Lord impressed them and continues to impress them on mine and Will's hearts. But the short and simplified message is this, these words yet again.

It is in our acceptance of what is given that God gives Himself. 

We believe that children are a gift, given by an all-wise, all-seeing, all-knowing Father. We trust Him as the Gift-Giver, accepting and believing that He knows best what our family should look like. We accept with grateful and thankful (and, yes, sometimes with scared and overwhelmed hearts) these gifts that He sends. The ones from my womb and the ones from the other side of the world. And as we accept this as our calling and our ministry, what we have found (and I'm convinced we will continue to find) is that He gives Himself. He gives His patience and His love. He gives His wisdom and His guidance. He gives His provision and His resources. In small ways, like boxes of diapers and wipes mysteriously showing up at our back gate, He provides. And in big ways, like the car and house we've outgrown, we can trust Him to continue to provide and keep giving us just what we need.

God does not open paths for us before we come to them, or provide help before help is needed. He does not remove obstacles out of our way before we reach them. Yet when we are at our point of need, God's hand is outstretched...

Streams in the Desert

I tend to over complicate things and over think things. I like to have a game plan, a contingency plan, and an emergency back-up plan. I've been known to go to great (and ridiculous) lengths to feel like I am in control. I like to know in advance just exactly how things are going to turn out. But when I remember this truth {and choose to believe it}, everything is simplified. I might not understand the whys. I might not see the how's (how is this all going to work out? How are we going to afford a bigger vehicle? How are we going to fit everybody in this house that feels like it's shrinking?) 

But I can trust the Who behind it all.

I accept what He's given (and what He might or might not give in the future), and no matter what that is, I can trust Him that He will always give Himself. 

He has given in the past, He is giving just now, and He will give in the days ahead. Regardless of what the days ahead may bring, they will most assuredly bring more of Him with all the help, strength, power, love, patience, and energy that I could ever possibly need. 

And as sure as the sun finally does go down and all these nine little people finally settle in for the night, He faithfully gives. He gives His energy. He gives Himself. He sees me through. One day at a time. One step at a time.

He gives everything we could possibly need and then just keeps on giving. 
Blessings overflow!

This is the blessed life - not anxious to see far down the road nor overly concerned about the next step, not eager to choose the path nor weighted down with the heavy responsibilities of the future, but quietly following the Shepherd one step at a time.

Streams in the Desert

Over the past few months I've been studying different translations of the 23rd Psalm, and it relates so well to this truth. I've especially spent a lot of time pondering and praying over one particular little phrase:

You set a table for me
    right in front of my enemies...

Psalms 23, Common English Bible

I love this image of Him setting our table. During this season, I've done my fair share of wrestling and questioning His particular taste and style, sometimes wondering what He was thinking when He was choosing my place settings. But what I'm learning more and more is that I really can trust Him to choose best. It might not be the crystal and fine china that I pictured for myself. {This is certainly not the family I envisioned I would have twenty years ago.} It's not what I thought I wanted, but I know now, most assuredly, that what He chooses is good. Breathtakingly beautiful, and so very, very good. 

In the same way, I can trust Him to know just the perfect table and the right combination of chairs that we will need. I used to think I wanted a small(ish) table with decorative chairs {maybe four, and definitely no more than five} I never dreamed I would need such a large table with so many chairs, and chairs that looked quite like these. {One that is sparkly hot pink and with wheels??? }Yet, still, He's the One who sets my table, and He's the One who knows best. I can trust Him. 

I can trust Him in the presence of enemies and Enemy attacks. I can trust Him when I feel overwhelmed and uncertain. I can trust Him in the face of criticism, fear, and doubt. I can trust Him with my future and with theirs. And as learn to trust Him more fully, embracing and accepting what He gives, you know what I'm finding? I'm finding that He always gives Himself, which means we always have a feast.

Here's a few other bits and pieces of things the Lord has been impressing on my heart that I wanted to pass along. 

First, this blog post. All you adoptive mamas (or anybody really who feels like they're in a bit over their head), can I encourage you to take five minutes to read this? It encouraged me, and I think it might do the same for you.

Second, this family. I love how when God calls us to do a hard thing (and we accept that calling), we get a front row seat to watch the miraculous ways that He works. I can't wait to see how God pours out His blessings and provides for this sweet family. 

Third, this little girl. I haven't done a lot of advocating here in quite a while, but this little girl??? Last year at Christmas, each of my four big boys picked out a child from Reece's Rainbow that they wanted to specifically pray for. We cut out their pictures, put them on the Christmas tree, and then eventually stuck them on the refrigerator. All but one have been adopted. 

Meet Mary Ellen.

This was Web's little girl and bless that sweet boy of mine. He still remembers to pray for her. I checked Reece's Rainbow recently, and her bio and picture have been updated. She reminds me so much of both Sophi and Faith Ana. 

I know how overwhelming and daunting it feels to even consider adopting a child with so many physical and mental disabilities, but I can't help but look at this little face and think about her future if she is never chosen. When I'm up in the middle of the night with my littlest girl, I find myself thinking about her. Praying for her. For a family to step up and accept her and accept their calling to be this little one's momma and daddy. 

I wouldn't even begin to tell you that it would be easy. 

In fact, I can only imagine how this little one would rock your world and turn your life upside down, that she would expose every single one of your inadequacies and weaknesses, but this, this, I can guarantee:

It is in our acceptance of what is given that God gives Himself. 

God giving Himself. That's an offer hard to turn down!

Fourth and finally, here's a few more translations of the 23rd Psalm that I've loved. (The last one is my favorite!)

The Lord is my shepherd.
    I have everything I need.
He gives me rest in green pastures.
    He leads me to calm water.
He gives me new strength.
For the good of his name,
    he leads me on paths that are right.
Even if I walk
    through a very dark valley,
I will not be afraid
    because you are with me.
Your rod and your shepherd’s staff comfort me.
You prepare a meal for me
    in front of my enemies.
You pour oil of blessing on my head.

    You give me more than I can hold.

Surely your goodness and love will be with me
    all my life.
And I will live in the house of the Lord forever.

Psalms 23, International Children's Bible

Because the Lord is my Shepherd, I have everything I need!
He lets me rest in the meadow grass and leads me beside the quiet streams. He gives me new strength. He helps me do what honors him the most. Even when walking through the dark valley of death I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me, guarding, guiding all the way. You provide delicious food for me in the presence of my enemies. You have welcomed me as your guest; 

blessings overflow!

Your goodness and unfailing kindness shall be with me all of my life, and afterwards I will live with you forever in your home.

Psalms 23, Living Bible

The Eternal is my shepherd, He cares for me always.
He provides me rest in rich, green fields
    beside streams of refreshing water.
    He soothes my fears;
He makes me whole again,
    steering me off worn, hard paths
    to roads where truth and righteousness echo His name.
Even in the unending shadows of death’s darkness,
    I am not overcome by fear.
Because You are with me in those dark moments,
    near with Your protection and guidance,
    I am comforted.
You spread out a table before me,
    provisions in the midst of attack from my enemies;
You care for all my needs, 
anointing my head with soothing, fragrant oil,

    filling my cup again and again with Your grace.

Certainly Your faithful protection and loving provision will pursue me where I go, always, everywhere.
I will always be with the Eternal,
    in Your house forever.

Psalms 23, The VOICE

That's all for now, faithful friends! Thank you for following along and for praying for our family!