Saturday, August 23, 2014

Ten

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


XOXO,
Melanie

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.



ALL

adjective
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

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

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

adverb
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…}



Gifts.

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

XOXO,
Melanie

Monday, July 28, 2014

It

I had a feeling that it was going to be one of those days...


She woke up grumpy that particular morning. Earlier than normal. Louder than normal. Intent on waking everyone else up in the house.

Stubborn, strong-willed, more feisty than any of her brothers. I love this little girl of mine, but once she wakes up in the morning, she doesn't stop. And that means I don't either.




Wild and curly hair. Wild and spunky personality. Her Daddy has nicknamed her Brownie, and I can't help but smile every time I look into those big brown eyes of hers. It's like looking in a mirror and seeing a miniature reflection of myself.




She didn't want her diaper changed. I insisted. She was mad, kicking me, telling me "no, mommy!" and that's when it happened. When I knew it was going to be that kind of day. She took one look at my Bible verse taped to the cabinet door behind her and yanked it off





Consider it all joy 

My reminder ripped in half. A crumpled mess on the kitchen floor.

This was a minor incident. Major for Evie. {Kicking Mommy always results in discipline.} But very minor in the grand scheme of all that would come later during that day.

It did in fact turn out to be one of those days. A day when I needed every single one of my reminders. A 
day when I had to break out the ice cream {again} for breakfast for two of my more mischievous ones so that I could deal with it




IT
pronoun [nominative it, possessive its, (Obsolete or Dialect) it, objective it; plural nominative they, possessive their, theirs, objective them.]

1. (used to represent an inanimate thing understood, previously mentioned, about to be mentioned, or present in the immediate context): 


for example:  a bed covered in throw-up, a floor covered in throw-up, another bed covered in throw-up, a mattress soaked through with urine, a pair of pajamas soaked through with urine, a pair of shorts soaked through with urine, another pair of shorts soaked through with urine, another pair of {my} shorts soaked through with urine {not my own}, a dining room floor covered in throw-up and urine {multiple times}, a washing machine and dryer that have not stopped running in three days, a mattress airing out on my back patio, a pillow thrown away in the trash pile because of the aforementioned vomit and urine, a smell that reminds me of a nursing home, a smell worse than that of a nursing home...





2. (used to represent a person or animal understood, previously mentioned, or about to be mentioned): 


for example:  a little girl who is making progress learning to chew her food, but enjoys her pasta so much that she swallows most of it whole and then throws it all back up during her nap {and then lays in it for the remainder of her nap without crying out or even attempting to call me for help}, another little girl who throws up later that night for no apparent reason {and laughs about it the next morning when I find her covered in throw-up), that same little girl who finally stops making herself sick after multiple incidents and instead decides to wet her bed (or me if I'm holding her during a raging fit) although she has been fully potty-trained for well over a year, and then the following night decides to…

{I will leave that sentence unfinished because it is more information than I'm sure you care to know. I also edited the picture so it was not quite as distasteful. Forgive me if it is too much information.}




Stinky, filthy messes. One after the other. Day in and day out. This is my it.


Consider it all joy...
James 1:2

My it may look different than yours. Mine might be stinkier or messier than yours. Yours might be harder or easier than mine. It really makes no difference, and it never does any good to compare our own its with another person's its. But what does matter and what's critically important to the well-being of our souls is that we remember that it is possible to find joy in the midst of all our its



Whatever it may be!


Even when it is hard. Even when it is frustrating. Even when it is exhausting and constant and I don't possibly see any sign at all of it letting up. Even when it stinks, and, yes, friends, if I'm perfectly honest, it stinks right now. But what I'm learning in the midst of it, in the midst of these messy, messy days, is that He is enough. His grace is sufficient. That joy is possible, not because these circumstances warrant a joyful and glad heart, but because His joy fills my heart, and that joy is my strength.


And now, more than ever, I desperately need that strength. Because I have no doubt that the Enemy would love for me to become embittered and resentful and angry at my two little girls who have such broken hearts, minds, and bodies.



As much as I would like to tell you otherwise, the truth is that at times he succeeds. My response is not always a joyful one. There are times when I have lost my temper and raised my voice. Times I've responded in anger rather than compassion. Times I've reacted too harshly or disciplined too severely. Times more than I can count when I've had to look into those big eyes, brown and beautiful just like my Evie's, and ask for forgiveness from ones who cannot even understand the words I am saying. 

It's been a humbling week.


But what I am finding is that no matter what the Enemy throws at me {or on me}, the Lord is faithfully and consistently giving me the strength I need to do what needs to be done. Is it always with the right motive, the proper perspective, and a joyful attitude? Far from it. But, more and more, I see how He is changing me. I see how He is creating in me a clean heart and renewing a steadfast spirit in me. {I have prayed Psalm 51 so many times over the past few days that I know these words by heart.} 

Be gracious to me, O God, according to Thy lovingkindness;
According to the greatness of Thy compassion blot out my transgressions.

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
And cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions, 
and my sin is ever before me.
Against Thee, Thee only, I have sinned,
And done what is evil in Thy sight,
So that Thou art justified when Thou dost speak,
And blameless when Thou dost judge…

Behold, Thou dost desire truth in the innermost being,
And in the hidden part Thou wilt make me know wisdom.

Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Make me to hear joy and gladness…

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me…

Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation,
and sustain me with a willing spirit

Psalm 51:1-12


And I see Him cleaning up my own messes and dealing with my own filthy junk. Because, yes, it is there. In me. In all of us. It might not be as noticeable or evident as what comes out of Sophi, but it is there, tucked away, hidden deep in my heart, places that need His healing touch. Anger, frustration, fear, insecurity, stubborness, pride, control. All sorts of yucky messes in me. I need His help as much as she does.

Much like what I have experienced with Sophi, the Lord deals with one area of my heart. There might {or might not be} progress in that particular area. And just as I think a break-through is on the horizon, before I know it, something else comes to the surface that needs the be dealt with. Scrubbed. Sanitized. Disinfected. Washed clean. But all too often, I find myself back in the same spot, in the same filthy mess, all over again. More cleaning. More scrubbing. More messes. 

Praise the Lord, His patience never wears out. His grace never stops washing over me. His love for me never wavers. He never ceases to forgive, and He constantly gives me second and third and fourth and one thousandth fresh starts. His mercy always abounds. This alone brings me such great joy and hope.


As I've dealt with the messes and cleaned up the accidents, there have been times that I have literally had to hold my breath and turn away to keep from getting sick. {My other kids have actually gagged at the sights and smells they have witnessed this past week. And as you can tell from the pictures below, they have spent a lot of time outside where the air is fresh!} 

One of the things that always comes to my mind when I'm in the trenches doing this dirty work are these words from Charles Spurgeon. They've been highlighted and underlined, the page turned down for many years, but never have I understood them as fully as I do now


We were mingled with the mire: we were as when some precious piece of gold falls into the sewer, and men gather out and carefully inspect a mass of abominable filth, and continue to stir and rake, and search among the heap until the treasure is found...and when mercy came after us with the gospel, it did not find us at the first coming, it had to search for us and seek us out; for we as lost sheep were so desperately lost, and had wandered into such a strange country, that it did not seem possible that even the Good Shepherd should  track our devious roamings. 


Glory be to unconquerable grace, we were sought out! No gloom could hide us, no filthiness could conceal us, we were found and brought home. Glory be to infinite love, God the Holy Spirit restored us!


The lives of some of God's people, if they could be written would fill us with holy astonishment. Strange and marvelous are the ways which God used in their case to find His own. Blessed be His name, He never relinquishes the search until the chosen are sought out effectually. They are not a people sought today and cast away tomorrow. Almightiness and wisdom combined will make no failures, they shall be called,"Sought out!" That any should be sought out is matchless grace, but that we should be sought out is grace beyond degree! We can find no reason for it but God's own sovereign love, and can only lift up our heart in wonder, and  praise the Lord that this night we wear the name of "Sought out."


And that's why I know it is going to be ok. That's why I know it's possible to keep going and to keep cleaning up the messes and to keep giving fresh starts and to keep pouring out the grace {and the cleaner}.  

That's why it's possible to... 

Consider it all joy...


Here's another song that was part of my playlist when I was in Bulgaria. In fact, on Faith Ana's Gotcha Day, this was the song I set my alarm clock to play. And since that day, this continues to be the song that I turn on when I go into Sophi and Faith Ana's room to wake them up every single morning.





When I pray for a smile and a cheerful voice. When I pray for love to fill my heart for these two little girls. When I pray for all the patience that I will need and the grace and the compassion for whatever it is that awaits me when I open their door. This song in the background. These words filling their room and filling my heart.



When doubts and fears creep in. When I become anxious and worried about how it is affecting all of my other children. Again. These words. {Especially these.} Through the fire and the flood, He draws His children in. The gentle reminder that comforts this momma's heart. He loves these children more than me, and He is using it all  {especially these hard things} to draw not only my heart but also each of their precious hearts closer to Him. 

So, I will keep singing it out and shouting it loud...



Sing it out, shout it loud
Cover all the earth

Let the sound of the saints
Everywhere be heard

Praise the God who has come
To cure every broken heart.



He is Lord over all
His reign will never end

Through the fire and the flood
He draws his children in

He's the light of the world
Brighter than the brightest star.



The God of brilliant lights
Is shining down over us

Breaking through the darkness

Covering all the earth
Oh, His love is like an ocean
Oh, forever overflowing

The God of brilliant lights is shining over us


Sinners come to the cross
And lay your troubles down
At the feet of the one whose mercy will abound

He's not afraid of our filth
He will never turn away


The God of brilliant lights
Is shining over us

Like the morning rises
God your light is shining
Shining over us
Is shining over us

Like the morning rises
God your light is shining
Over us



Praise the God who has come to cure every broken heart!!!



XOXO,
Melanie

P.S. As I was finishing up this post early this morning, I came across these words and knew I should include them...

The Lord hath His way in the whirlwind and storm... 
Nahum 1:3

I recollect, when a lad, and while attending a classical institute in the vicinity of Mount Pleasant, sitting on an elevation of that mountain, and watching a storm as it came up the valley. The heavens were filled with blackness, and the earth was shaken by the voice of thunder. It seemed as though that fair landscape was utterly changed, and its beauty gone never to return. But the storm swept on, and passed out of the valley; and if I had sat in the same place on the following day, and said, "Where is that terrible storm, with all its terrible blackness?" the grass would have said, "Part of it is in me," and the daisy would have said, "Part of it is in me," and the fruits and flowers and everything that grows out of the ground would have said, "Part of the storm is incandescent in me."

Have you asked to be made like your Lord? Have you longed for the fruit of the Spirit, and have you prayed for sweetness and gentleness and love? Then fear not the stormy tempest that is at this moment sweeping through your life. 

A blessing is in the storm, and there will be the rich fruitage in the "afterward."

Henry Ward Beecher