Unrushed Moments

Two days ago, I was driving home from the grocery store with both girls. The sun was shining and the girls were singing and dancing in their carseats as we told Selena Gomez to go love herself.  We were having so much fun that I decided we could chance a few more minutes in the car to hit up the Starbucks drive through.

After ten minutes of sitting in the line, I expressed impatience with how slowly it was moving.  Zoe said “mom, it’s okay. Want to play a game while we wait? We can find some letters!” and identified an A and a B in the Starbucks sign.

Riley shouted “B!!!”

Both girls erupted into a fit of giggles.

And I thought: I’m so glad I didn’t miss this. 

In our area, there is a lot of pressure to put kids in preschool early.  I was an outlier when I didn’t start Zoe at 1.5.  I felt countercultural when I didn’t put her in this fall at 2.5.

But I didn’t think Zoe was ready for it at 1.5, and I didn’t think she needed it at 2.5.  While I knew it wouldn’t be detrimental, I also knew that I would be putting her in preschool so I could get a break from her—not to meet a particular need of hers.

I had also just spent a year trying to teach her to be kind to Riley–and she was finally getting it! I wanted to give her a chance to ENJOY being with her sister, and for Riley to have the chance to enjoy playing with a nurturing, caring sister.

Also, after spending a year in survival mode simply meeting the constant barrage of needs, I wanted to give myself a chance to enjoy my girls as they entered less-needy stages and were finally on the same schedule.

On paper, it made sense to send Zoe to preschool—all of my friends were doing it, and I was tired! But whenever I thought about sending her to school, I felt a pit in my stomach.  When I thought about keeping her home, I felt peace. I decided to trust that if God was leading me to spend another year at home with both of them, He would give me energy to keep going.

I knew there would be some mundane moments (exhibit A: this particular morning in which we went to Jazzercise, the grocery store, and Starbucks—the SAHM trifecta) but I believed that I was being called to share those mundane moments with both girls this year.  Even if no one else in playgroup was doing it. 🙂

It turns out that these mundane moments have been some of the best moments of my life.

IMG_4892

Playing in the yard…checking books out of the library…choosing strawberry jelly for Daddy at the grocery store…painting…reading…cuddling and sharing a blanket on the couch…driving in the car together…giggling over Riley’s latest trick…waiting in the Starbucks line together, deciding together to be patient and have fun while we wait…

The smallest moments of the smallest time of my life have brought me immense joy.  And I could have missed these unrushed moments because I was too tired and didn’t trust God to give me energy or because I felt pressured by what my peers were doing.

This definitely isn’t an anti-preschool or anti-peer rant…it’s just me sharing how grateful I am that I was obedient to what God called me to do, and hopefully encouraging you to run YOUR race, whatever that looks like for you! There are great rewards along the way.  IMG_4978

(Postscript: a large deposit from my bank account says that I am putting both girls in preschool two mornings a week next year.  Although part of me will be so ready for a break after 3.5 years of full-time loving and nurturing and educating and cruise directing, I am already sad about the reduction of our time together and the fact that Zoe will be starting on a school pipeline that she won’t get off of until she is an adult! How did this happen already?!)

Mother’s Day Thoughts

Every Mother’s Day weekend, I get a little weepy about the amazing blessing of being a mom. I’m beginning to realize that the hard work might not ever go away and that there might always be parts of my day as a mom that are mundane and duty-driven instead of fun, but still, my overwhelming feeling is that being a mom is a a get-to, not a have-to—and that being a mother is one of the most amazing journeys I’ve ever been on.

Here’s one example.

A few nights ago, Riley began wailing around 1 am.  I rolled over, looked at the time, and foggily prayed, “Holy Spirit, comfort her and help her go to sleep.”  Immediately, I felt a rush of energy and heard inside myself, get up.  She needs your comfort to fall asleep.  The voice reminded me that she had rejected her 6 pm bottle after eating a minimal dinner, and instructed me, She’s hungry.  Go feed her.  Then she’ll fall asleep. 

I made a bottle, walked into her room, and was greeted with delighted baby sounds as I picked her up, changed her diaper, and sat down to rock and feed her.  She guzzled the bottle, then lay in my arms as she cooed her baby words of thanks and gratitude.

I couldn’t put her right back to bed.  The moment was too sweet.

And as I sat there rocking her, I was struck with this realization: I had asked the Holy Spirit to put her to sleep, meaning do it for me so I can keep lying here.  I’m so tired.  

But the Holy Spirit wants something better for me then a good night’s sleep.

The Holy Spirit hears every prayer I pray.

IMG_4413
The prayers for my daughters to have a secure bond with us and for them to know how much they are loved.

The prayers for the ability to lay myself down and serve my children with humility, sacrificial love, and willingness.

The prayers for parenting wisdom.

For me to know how to meet and serve my husband’s needs.

For insight into my children’s needs.

For growth and maturity in my faith.

For the ability to find joy and purpose in even the mundane moments of life.

To help me submit to God’s plans for my moments, days, and life.

The Holy Spirit weaves all of these prayers together with the needs and prayers of others, and then gives me opportunities to live out what I asked for—to have that insight and wisdom, to sacrifice, to show love, to submit to God’s plan for my 1 am (and 5:40 am, and…)IMG_4404
I can choose to roll over and ignore the opportunity, making my prayers meaningless and my growth non-existent.  Or I can choose to embrace the opportunity, and be given abilities and insight and wisdom beyond my own.  (Not to mention that my actions can also be used in ways I don’t even understand by God! Who knows what He does on a cosmic level with my daughters’ sense of self when they realize “I call and someone answers,” “I don’t understand my own emotions but my mommy can help me,” or “I can be forgiven even when I had a morning full of bad choices.”) 

Gloria Furman writes that motherhood is full of “calls to worship,” adding “if we have ears to hear these invitations, then we have opportunities to worship the Lord, who is nearer to us than we often realize.”

I would add that the “calls to worship” of motherhood have opened my eyes to the inadequacy of self-sufficiency…and my ears to the One who says, “let me help you.”

Yes, motherhood is full of challenges.  But i do not want an easy life.

I want a meaningful life—a life of growth and adventure, passion and purpose, joy and peace, maturity and authenticity, love and humility.  These do not spring up overnight or through exclusive pursuit of my own self-interest; they are cultivated over time through joyful surrender to the processes and paths that the Lord desires for me.IMG_4406

C.S. Lewis writes, “We are, not metaphorically but in very truth, a Divine work of art, something that God is making, and therefore something with which He will not be satisfied until it has a certain character. Here again we come up against what I have called the ‘intolerable compliment.’ Over a sketch made idly to amuse a child, an artist may not take much trouble: he may be content to let it go even though it is not exactly as he meant it to be.

But over the great picture of his life—the work which he loves, though in a different fashion, as intensely as a man loves a woman or a mother a child—he will take endless trouble—and would doubtless, thereby give endless trouble to the picture if it were sentient. One can imagine a sentient picture, after being rubbed and scraped and re-commenced for the tenth time, wishing that it were only a thumb-nail sketch whose making was over in a minute. In the same way, it is natural for us to wish that God had designed for us a less glorious and less arduous destiny; but then we are wishing not for more love but for less.”  (The Problem of Pain)

Admittedly, as I was writing this post this afternoon, Riley woke up from her nap earlier than expected and I said in my nicest voice to her sweet nine-month-old face, “I guess you kids just don’t want me to have any hobbies or complete a thought ever again!!” As my embarrassing sarcasm reveals, it is so hard to surrender all the time (it’s even hard when you’re writing a blog post about why surrendering is ultimately good!)

But I put the laptop away and tickled her and played with her anyway.

Because I choose to respond to the call to worship.

Because that is the kind of person God is making me to be.

Because every “interruption” is actually part of the best get-to of my life.

IMG_4324 IMG_4325 IMG_4327 IMG_4328

Musings on Church

There was a boy who came to youth group, just because a girl invited him.  He had nothing else to do that night, and she invited him, so he came.  The leaders were friendly and the kids were friendly and over the night, his tentativeness turned into laughter and his hesitance into participation.

And when the night was over, the leaders and some of the kids said “are we going to see you next week?” and he said, “this happens every week? Is it here? Same time? Yeah, I think I’ll be back!”

And he was.

That night, the youth group was focused on planning “Youth Sunday.”

So a week later, he helped the youth group lead the congregation in worship.  He hadn’t been to church in a long time and didn’t understood much of what was going on, but it was “Youth Sunday”—and he was a youth.  He stood with the other teens and sang with the congregation.  He wore a Youth Sunday t-shirt.  He passed out bulletins.

He was back the next week.  That week, he signed up to lead a middle school mission week later in the summer.

That night, the girl that invited him asked me, “do you think it would be okay if I bought him a Bible? He’s asking a lot of questions and I don’t know how to answer them all. Oh, and did you know he signed up for our high school discipleship trip this summer?”

And I smiled.

In high school, I attended a church where you couldn’t sign up for summer trips without providing the trip leader with your written statement of faith.  Youth Sunday was the work of a small group of teens with polished testimonies and sterling reputations.  When I tried to make friends in the youth group, I was gossiped about for being “too popular” and having “too many friends at school,” with the dramatic punchline “and most of them aren’t even Christians!”

I’m glad I’m at this church now, with these Christians, with these non-Christians.

I’m glad I serve a God who is big enough to be glorified by the worship of a kid with no clue about His magnitude—only that he feels something and wants to know more.

God welcomes us extravagantly to the table that is set for all.  And although I did not set the table, it is my joy to pull out chairs for others and tell them I hope they stay for dessert.

My Daughter and the Gospel

Today was a full blown “toddler day”—full of ALL the negative behaviors you would associate with toddlers (with a bonus naptime boycott)!

Normally on days like this, I’d throw in the towel on going anywhere else by about 3 pm, but we were almost out of R’s formula and a number of other household necessities, so I reluctantly piled the girls in the car and settled in for a questionable experience.

As I drove, I told God that my day had felt purposeless, boring, and defeating, but affirmed that I KNEW He had purpose for me in spite of my feelings, and asked to experience His presence during my trip to Target.

I got out of the car to see that Zoe had dumped an entire container of Puffs on herself and the backseat, and mashed them up for good measure.

I opened the car door, looked at her disheveled appearance and the crumbs everywhere, sighed heavily, and said “you are a MESS.”

And that sweet little girl smiled at me, opened her mouth, and sang,

“I couldn’t run, couldn’t run from His presence, I couldn’t run couldn’t run from His arms…Jesus, He loves me. He loves me, He is for me.”

My frustration melted and I smiled back as I remembered that God saw me at my absolute messiest, most frustrated, most defiant, worst self and didn’t just tolerate me. He LOVED me.  And I was covered with much worse than Puffs!

I looked into her beautiful eyes and told her I loved her too, and thanked her for loving ME when I’m messy too.  And I thanked God for showing me His presence, right there in the Target parking lot.

unnamed

I know that my husband is a preacher, and yes, he is eloquent, but I think the gospel is most amazing when it comes out of the mouth of our 2 year old.

Happy Birthday, Dear Zoe

Two years ago today, I was meeting this sweet girl for the first time.

IMG_0035

IMG_0041

IMG_0058

It’s funny, the things you hear over and over again as an adoptive parent.  Some of the most commonly repeated phrases I hear are, “what a blessing you are to this little girl!”

“She’s so lucky! She hit the jackpot!”

“You changed her life forever!”

Over and over I reply: she’s a blessing to US.  WE hit the jackpot and it wasn’t luck; it was the purposeful design of our gracious God.  SHE changed OUR life, and we are so grateful.

IMG_0900

IMG_0934

IMG_1101

IMG_1384

IMG_1453

IMG_1658

IMG_1777

photo 2

IMG_2320

IMG_2314

IMG_2705

IMG_2805

IMG_3282

IMG_3785

My favorite explanation of adoption ever was something my friend’s almost-three-year-old said when she met Zoe for the first time.  She said, “Miss Sarah wanted a baby, and prayed for a baby, and the Spirit of God came and gave her a baby!”

Thank you, Spirit of God, for this beautiful baby—for all she has taught me, for all she will teach me, and for how she has changed my life forever.

Our Journey to Riley: Part Three

“Oh, how slow grief is to come to understanding! When the grieving women were sitting there ‘opposite the tomb’ (Matthew 27:61,) did they see the triumph of the next two thousand years? Did they see anything except that Christ was gone? The Christ you and I know today came from their loss.  Countless mourning hearts have since seen resurrection in the midst of their grief, and yet these sorrowing women watched at the beginning of this result and saw nothing.  

What they regarded as the end of life was actually the preparation for coronation…but they did not see it.

It is the same with us.  Each of us sits ‘opposite the tomb’ in our own garden and initially says, ‘this tragedy is irreparable.  I see no benefit in it and will take no comfort in it.’  And yet right in the midst of our deepest and worst adversities, our Christ is often just lying there, waiting to be resurrected.”
–from Streams in the Desert, by L.B. Cowman 

***

A few days into our grief process, I decided I was sick of hiding.  So I wrote about what happened.   And then I kept writing—about what sadness physically felt like, about how difficult it is to grieve with a child always watching you, about how I didn’t understand anything that was going on, about the sweetness that we found in our marriage in the midst of this loss.  I admitted to feeling angry with God for seemingly leading us to a dead end (an an expensive one at that), for not acting in a way that made sense to me, for allowing a child to have such a poor start to her life when there was another option for her.   I confessed my inability to understand the answer to the question, what now?

What I didn’t write about was that we re-entered the adoption process.

In February, I had a counseling session with a social worker from our agency.  During our call, she gently commented, you have everything ready for a baby and your hearts are ready for a baby.  Adoption takes a while and typically involves a lot of waiting, so why not start the wait now and grieve while you wait instead of waiting until you felt ready and then face a long wait? In the meantime, you can say “no” to a situation if one comes up and you don’t feel ready for it.

I was kind of shocked by the suggestion, but when I shared it with David, he agreed with her.  I talked with her again, saying I just wasn’t sure, and she said, re-entering the process might produce some closure to the failed adoption—a way of saying, “we know this situation with Zoe’s sister is over and we’re ready to accept that.”

David was enthusiastic about re-entering the process.  I was still hesitant, but was comforted that we could turn down a situation if we didn’t feel ready, so I updated our family profile and dropped it off on March 18.

As I drove away from our agency, I felt numb.  But the next day…I felt lighter.

I felt hope.

IMG_2415

I began praying for the baby we might have in addition to the baby we didn’t have.  This time, my prayer looked like this: God, for reasons that seem increasingly beyond my understanding, we felt you clearly calling us to adoption in October.  I don’t know what the heck You have been doing, or what any of this was, or why you let things go badly like this here on earth, but scripture says You work all things for our good.  All things means ALL THINGS, and “our good” means that you’re working for our good and for Brianna’s good too.  I want to believe.  Help me believe.  

My daily prayer became, I do not want the fastest adoption.  I want the RIGHT adoption.  Make it clear.  Bring peace when it’s right.  

A week after re-entering the process, we got a call about a baby due in a few weeks.  It was a bit of an unusual situation, so we had 24 hours to decide whether we wanted to be considered for it.  It was exciting to be considered so soon, but as the 24 hours ticked by, I felt increasingly like I wanted to throw up.  I didn’t feel peace—I felt the complete opposite.  I felt panic, anxiety, discord.

This is NOT right, I finally told David.

I feel the same way, he confessed.

And here, I began to feel thankful to God again—not just for the obvious blessings like family and friends that I had never stopped thanking Him for, even in the hard times—but because we had heard His guiding voice again.

Since that day in January when my heart shattered, I had felt His presence and His comfort, but His guidance felt nebulous and far away.  But here, I had evidence that He was still guiding—that I hadn’t messed up or misheard His directions—and with this little bit of encouragement, it became easy to trust that He would keep guiding us to the right situation.

I began to take small steps to ready ourselves again, as our agency was hoping to provide us with a shorter match or a “stork drop” situation after our failed adoption (a “stork drop” means the baby is already relinquished or is about to be relinquished when they call you…so you get a phone call that says “hey, come pick up your baby RIGHT NOW.”)  

I applied for an adoption grant to make up for the amount of money that we had lost in our failed adoption.

I updated our hospital bag.

IMG_2673I continued to feel lighter and happier and more at peace.  I still had questions about why God allowed this, yet recognized that these questions probably wouldn’t be answered in this lifetime and that I had to make a decision about whether I was okay with that or not.  I decided to surrender them, reminding myself over and over again, “all things means ALL THINGS.”

I decided to trust the process He was leading me through.  I decided to thank Him for what I DID have—His presence and His guidance and the assurance that He was with me and for me.

And I kept praying for our future child.

In June, Zoe and I went to Minnesota for a few weeks to teen-sit my siblings.  A day after my parents left, I began feeling deep angst.  It’s tough to describe, but my soul felt rattled and scared and unnerved.  All of the questions and doubts that I thought I had surrendered about our adoption were coming back up.

I asked David, pray for me.  I am processing something big.  

I felt deep in my soul that changes were about to happen in my life.  I just didn’t know what they would be.

A few days into this, I went to my best friend Whitney’s church.  The sermon topic was “God of the storm,” about how God is in control of the physical and metaphorical storms in our lives—a fitting topic.  During worship, I felt the presence and comfort of Christ so strongly.  I continued to feel like my heart was opening to something.

After the service, Whitney’s sister asked me something about our failed adoption and I broke down crying.  I don’t know why I’m crying! I said.  I’m so sorry.  I haven’t cried about this in months!  She apologized for bringing it up and I said no, no, it’s so strange.  I usually can talk about it.  I don’t know what’s going on here.  

Embarrassed, I fled to my car and went home.

Later that afternoon, during Zoe’s nap, Whitney came over.  We sat on my parents’ porch and I told her about how confused and unnerved I was and asked her to pray for me.  And that friend of mine said, “how about right now?”

So with our lattes in hand and the  summer sunshine warming our bare feet, she prayed: God, You know what You’re doing in Sarah’s life, and I thank You that what will happen next in her life is not a mystery to You.  Give her patience as she waits, and clarity about what You’re doing soon.  

The next morning, Zoe and I set out for our usual morning walk.

Rochester country

To keep her happy as we walked, I sang her the song she had recently become obsessed with.  Its lyrics:

In my wrestling and in my doubts, 
In my failures, you won’t walk out
Your great love will lead me through
You are the peace in my troubled sea.

In the silence, you won’t let go
In the questions, your truth will hold
Your great love will lead me through
You are the peace in my troubled sea.

I won’t fear what tomorrow brings
With each morning I’ll rise and sing
My God’s love will lead me through
You are the peace in my troubled sea.

My Lighthouse, My Lighthouse
Shining in the darkness, I will follow You
My Lighthouse, My Lighthouse
I will trust the promise: you will carry me safe to shore.  

That morning, as I walked and sang, I realized the truth in Whit’s prayer and in those lyrics: that God was with me in every question, in every doubt, in every moment of wrestling.

He wasn’t surprised by them.

He wasn’t judgmental of them.

He was with me, loving me in them.

And He knew what came next.

That meant I didn’t have to know.  I just needed to keep seeking Him.  The rest would follow.

The next day, June 17, I wrote a blog post about learning to live with the mystery.  I said:

I feel God working in me as I surrender this time to Him and though I don’t quite understand yet what He’s doing, it’s enough to feel His presence with me and trust that He will sort it all out.

There is always room [in my life] for God to do something NEW, something different than what I pictured. And I continue to want to step out of the way to allow Him to work.

I pushed publish, almost an “amen” in my mind.  I was still sitting at the desk twenty five minutes later when my phone rang.

It was Tammy, our case manager. Don’t get excited, I told myself sternly.  It’s probably just a paperwork question.

But deep inside, I knew it wasn’t.  I knew I was about to get the answer I’d been seeking.  

“Hi, Sarah!” Tammy said breathlessly.  “Is David around?”

“No,” I said. “I’m in Minnesota…”

“Oh!” she said.  “Well…I can’t wait.  I just have to tell you! I’m just leaving a birth mom’s house, and she and the birth dad have selected you and David!”

“As parents?” I said, just to make sure.

“Yes!” she said.  “She’s due July 9.  And it’s a girl!” 

To make a long story short, over the next five weeks we rejoiced, prepared, met with the birth parents, loved the birth parents, filled out a ton of paperwork, learned we had to move, found a great housing situation within 24 hours, learned we had been awarded THE MAXIMUM GRANT AMOUNT from the adoption funding foundation even though I had only applied for what we had lost in our failed adoption, packed up our house, organized a move for the first week of August, prayed a BUNCH, and waited.

Photo on 6-28-14 at 8.25 PMAnd waited.

And waited.

It seemed like our little girl was quite cozy in the womb and wasn’t coming out anytime soon.  So we used the time well.  We kept packing.  I finished two of my three summer consulting projects.  I hung out with Zoe.  And we kept waiting.

We hadn’t told many friends about our potential daughter because of our previous failed adoption.  However, I told a few.  On July 20, one of those friends asked me, aren’t you going out of your mind with anxiety?!!  

And what I said surprised even me.  I am not anxious, I replied.  I felt that God was doing something in June when I was in Minnesota.  I didn’t know what He was doing, but I knew I wasn’t alone.  I told Whitney and David I needed prayers.  Whitney prayed over me and two days later, I found out about the baby.  I haven’t felt anxious since.  Through our failed adoption and again in this process God has been with me in every question, every feeling, every doubt, and I have learned that I can be entirely honest with Him.  THAT is the treasure.  Not this baby.  Of course I want this baby, and it would be wonderful to get her.  But if I don’t…I still have Him.  And I know He will be with me and give me what I need to make it through.   

The peace I had been praying for? Had been there through the entire process.

This really might be our daughter.  

The next afternoon, we got the call to head to the hospital.  A sweet little girl was about to make her appearance.  Forgetting half of the practical things we should have brought and almost forgetting to say goodbye to Zoe (oops!) we giddily hopped in the car.

On the way, David and I talked, reiterating our desire to enter into this situation with open hearts.  It would be hard, because we knew what it felt like to love a little girl and then lose her, but we wanted nothing more than to surround this precious creation of God’s with complete and unguarded love for her first few days of life—even if we didn’t get to take her home in the end.

We prayed as we drove.  And then looked at each other, beaming, goofily saying variations of the statement over and over again:  “let’s go meet our daughter.”

IMG_2733

IMG_2735

IMG_2734

IMG_2736

The final post in Riley’s story—in my opinion, the coolest part of this entire story—will be coming soon!

The Sweetest Sound

“Hep, pees.”

This is my new favorite sound.  For months, I’ve been working with Zoe on communication. First, she just cried indiscriminately while I scrambled to figure out what she wanted.  Then she learned how to point to things that she wanted.  Then, she learned to say some of the names of things she wants (“ball!” “cheese!”) with some sign language sprinkled in.

Despite all of these exciting developments, one skill eluded her: how to clearly and calmly communicate that she needs help.

I can figure out most of her needs, but sometimes, she wants to do something that isn’t obvious to me.  Sometimes, she has dropped something that I can’t see, is having a problem I don’t understand, or has an idea that she wants to try out.

In those situations, she winds up going from “calm and collected” to “OVERCOME WITH RAGE AND FRUSTRATION” in seconds.  As she screeches and throws things and flails, trying to communicate, I find myself frantically going through a list:

Is your appendix bursting?
Is your finger slammed into a door?
Are you about to go into cardiac arrest?
Oh, you just dropped your water. Cool.  I’ll pick that up right away.  

So, for the last two months, I’ve been working with her on “help please,” hoping it might empower her to ask for help without the rage and give me a few seconds to assess the situation and understand what she needs before the hysterics begin.

And this week…it clicked!

For the rest of the week, I’ve heard a lot of “hep pees,” along with approximately 50% less screaming than in any recent week.

The few times that she has reverted to screaming, I have reminded her to take a deep breath and say “help please.”  She immediately does so with a big smile, knowing that I will come immediately to help her, happy to have a more productive way to deal with her problems.

Watching this all reminded me of my own journey into learning how to ask for help.  And I’m about to get awkwardly personal, but I just feel like someone out there needs to hear this.

I’ve alluded to it here before, and will maybe spell it all out in detail at some point, but the first 19 years of my life were all about striving—striving to be good enough that I would deserve love, trying to deal with my problems myself so that I didn’t turn God off or bother Him (what?!! I know it’s crazy,) trying to cover up my problems and stuff them inside of myself, hoping they wouldn’t come out.  They ate me up inside, leaked out anyway, and wow, it is so exhausting to even remember what this life felt like.

My world changed in a weekend.

One Friday in early 2006, my body shut down.  I lay in bed for the next few days, barely able to eat or drink.  I was exhausted and sick and just couldn’t do it anymore—the endless striving, the hiding of the problems, the trying to be everything to everyone.  This was where it had landed me—in bed, sick on multiple levels, worn out at 19.  And I said…help, please.

That weekend changed everything for me.  In asking for help, I finally admitted: I can’t do life alone.  I need God, and I need others.  

“Help please” was the phrase that changed my life.

Anne Lamott says, “[help] is the great prayer, and it is the hardest prayer, because you have to admit defeat — you have to surrender, which is the hardest thing any of us do, ever.”

And YES, it is freaking hard to have the humility to say I made a mess of things, I make a mess of things, I can’t save myself, and I need You.  

But once you ask for help, you won’t go back to trying things alone ever again.

Because when you ask for help—when you utter a phrase as simple as “help please”—all of Heaven rejoices as He lifts the heavy burden of striving and and self-reliance and failure and isolation and pride and whatever else you carry off of you.

This is the beauty of the gospel: that we are invited to Him not in our independence, not in our competence, not in our self-reliance, not in our abilities, not as those who have figured it all out, but as those who desperately need a Savior.  

We gasp out help please and find that our old efforts—the ones that never quite worked right, the ones that never really solved our problems—are no longer needed.

He is here, and we are no longer alone.

Little Moments, Large Photographs

The other night, I had to admit: I officially have a toddler.  My baby no longer looks like this…

IMG_0599

Instead, my little one is ready to take on the world…including, apparently, the working world.

IMG_2116

Life with a toddler is basically nonstop running around and although I actively enjoy most of the day every day, there aren’t a lot of opportunities to reflect on the things I’m enjoying.  So, I’ve been trying to pull out my camera more to help me remember these little moments.  Here are a few of my favorites lately!

1. Mother-daughter baking.  

Zoe and I have been having a lot of fun in the kitchen together recently.  She loves to help with meal preparation and although involving her makes things messier and slower, it’s fun for both of us.

Zoe baking

On this particular morning in photographic history, we made blueberry-banana muffins. We had a blast stirring, sifting, whisking, and pouring the batter into the muffin cups.

As we watched them rise in the oven, I was awed by my own parenting skills (baking together=precursor to math! Developing fine motor skills! Teaching cause and effect! Providing opportunities to practice helping! Showing that patience pays off in delicious ways!)

I am ROCKING at parenting, I thought smugly as I surveyed the scene without even a twinge of frustration at the thin layer of flour now covering my floor.  I am hands on, creative, enthusiastic, flexible, and willing to provide learning opportunities at 7 am.  Plus, FRESH BAKED MUFFINS FOR BREAKFAST?! Where is my “mother of the year” trophy?! 

20 minutes later, I looked at my sweet girl’s muffin-covered face and wondered, why are you covered in hives? 

Oh yeah, because she’s allergic to blueberries, you idiot, and you just made blueberry-banana muffins.  

I put that imaginary mother of the year trophy back in its box real fast…

2. Zoe’s balloon obsession.  

IMG_2131

A few weeks ago, a friend ding-dong-ditched a Valentine’s Day balloon and some cupcake mix on our doorstep.  The balloon was a source of tension for Zoe for a while, as she REALLY wanted to touch it but was simultaneously terrified of it.  Two weeks after Valentine’s Day, she has finally grown used to it and now enjoys walking around carrying it.

The other morning, she woke up at 4:45 am and wouldn’t go back to sleep.  After gulping down her bottle, she catapulted off my lap and immediately raced to turn on the iPod docking station and grab her balloon.  Morning priorities, you know.

Zoe balloon2

3. Playing in the yard. 

Whether we’re walking or running down the street, riding in her Cozy Coupe car, pushing her doll in her toy baby stroller, blowing bubbles, “making it rain” with leaves, waving at cars, stomping on manholes, imitating bird noises, pointing at squirrels, barking like dogs, playing with her water table, picking up sticks, or playing with flowers…we have fun in our yard.

Outside collageI’m thankful we have such a safe and fun place to play.  And I’m thankful that our neighbors aren’t openly judgmental of the bizarre stuff they see us doing (let’s just put it this way: my manhole stomp and “leaf dancing” are a bit…loud.) 

What Is True

Oh, y’all.

I am starting to feel a little bit better.

Praise be to God.  Seriously.

I realize there are huge chunks of this story that have been missing for the casual reader.  Like, I never told you guys that our case was still open for 3 weeks after the birth mom took the baby home because she wasn’t sure she had made the right decision.  I never told you the back story behind why we were so worried and distraught when she brought the baby home with her.  There’s a lot in this story that needs to be hers and ours only, and unfortunately that means no one else can ever fully understand the journey that David and I have been on for the last four months.

But I’ve tried to convey what I could.  And you’ve tried to understand.  And for that I am grateful.

I thought that today, I’d share the things I can share.  The things that aren’t missing, the details that aren’t fragmented, the truths that are mine to share.   And here’s what I came up with.

-Truth one: God doesn’t always do what we expect or want.  But what He DOES do is work good out of all things.  All things means all things.

-Truth two: It’s frustrating, sometimes agonizingly so, when we don’t know or see how He’s working good out of a situation.  But faith means trusting Him to work good out of even the worst situations and releasing those situations into His care.  That does not mean continuing to grasp and wonder and try to figure it out for ourselves.  It means releasing.  Letting go of.  I now know even more deeply what it feels like to be Moses.

-Truth three: Everything I’ve learned in the last few months is now part of me forever.  While I would have preferred NOT to learn some of it if it meant going through this pain, this growth can’t be taken away from me.  This time, this frustration, this pain matters—if I allow it to matter.

-Truth four: The sweet little girl I care so much about isn’t mine.  But that doesn’t mean that I can’t love her.  That doesn’t mean I can’t pray for her.  It does mean that I need to accept the situation, though.  From now on, I am calling her by the name her mom gave her.  Brianna.  

-Truth five: This little girl’s story isn’t over yet.  And our family story isn’t over yet.  A song I found this week says, “You didn’t know…[but] a thousand things are happening in this one thing.”  I don’t know what God is doing but I know He can and will do something from these stories.

-Truth six: So the best thing we can do is to share our story, to share what we are learning, to share where we are broken and where we are being fixed and most importantly who is fixing us.  This is what David and I feel called to do in our respective ways.  For him, this meant getting more personal with his sermon this week (prescheduled topic: loving your enemies…nice one, God) and sharing authentically about how hard this can be to do in real life by disclosing what we’ve been going through.  For me, this meant encouraging him to share it before he asked me, because I knew he didn’t know how to ask me in my grief.  It also means sharing here through my writing.

I can’t be stingy with our story.  It’s not ours.  It’s His.

-Truth seven: God is still showing His extravagant love and comfort in the midst of our pain.  We found out on Friday afternoon that our agency has refunded 3/4 of our money.  I had no expectation we would get any of it back and was genuinely so overwhelmed with joy that I didn’t know what to do.  God was addressing my strongest-lingering regret and fear.  Another adoption can happen now, when He is ready for it to happen and helps us be ready for it to happen.

I got up off the metaphorical floor this week.  I’m not lying there anymore in pain, passively knowing God is there.  I’m walking towards Him, and even though I can’t see where we’re going next, I know He will walk with me into the life He has for me–the life that isn’t exactly the same as before, and isn’t the future I pictured, but is still something beautiful.

IMG_2105

-Truth eight: I am beginning to heal.

Grace in Unexpected Places

For the last 1.5 weeks, I’ve been in Minnesota on a working vacation.  And I’m kind of having a love affair with Minnesota right now.

Here’s why: I can sit outside without risking immediate death from suffocation.  I’ve been eating delicious veggies nonstop (who knew swiss chard was so amazing?! The geniuses who put my CSA box together, that’s who!) Wild turkeys and their adorable babies.  Bunnies.  Deer.  Wildflowers.  People gardening in their own yards (someday, we’re going to visit and Zoe is going to incredulously say “people garden without getting paid for it?!” Heavy sigh…)  People biking everywhere.  Outdoor markets.  People who have known me for years (this morning, one of my mom’s friends called me just to say that I am a great mom and that she has had so much fun watching me grow over the years.  Seriously.)  Popcorn from our favorite popcorn spot, the one Google can’t find.  Coffee from Caribou.  Getting to see my best friend.   Newspaper headlines about rattlesnake bites and a grocery store remodeling instead of rape and murder.

And the casualness.  Oh, the casualness.

Usually, the lack of glamour in Minnesota makes me roll my eyes.  But after spending the last 11 months in my proudly pretentious area with no real break from its constant drum of “look cool” and “act cool” and my constant inner drum beat of “I will not give in to this, there are more important things, gahhh maybe my life WOULD be better if I had those Tory Burch flats…” let’s just say that I find the silence and lack of inner conflict refreshing.

People, I’ve been taking daily walks in ugly T-shirts and a freaking camouflage hat advertising an exterminator that I stole from my brother and no one even looks at me funny.

I’ll pause and let you re-read that sentence.  And then maybe look for return tickets for me because I’m clearly going a little too far with my newfound freedom.

Anyway.

In the past I haven’t always been as charitable towards Minnesota.  At times, I’ve referred to being here as “doing time” or “being trapped.”  And it’s true.  Minnesota has never been my choice.  My parents moved me here against my will three days before I started high school.  I never felt very attached to the state, even when I grew close to the people.  I got out of here as soon as I could and came back only for what I viewed as forced periods of time in between exciting adventures.  After my freshman year of college, I didn’t even bother changing my laptop clock back to central time.  All summer, I calculated two hours difference instead of having to admit that I was here.

But there came a time when I HAD to admit it.  I had to come home for a while to deal with some really ugly things in my life.  And even though I didn’t want to be here, I eventually had to face the truth: I was in the place I least wanted to be in, in a situation I didn’t want to be in…and maybe there was a reason for it.  Maybe there were things for me to learn that only this place, these people, could teach me.  And so I stopped running and stayed still.  Finally.

That year, I watched the frozen ground turn soft again.  I watched the dead come back to life. And I slowly felt my heart thaw.  As winter turned to spring and then the warmth of summer, I walked these hills on stronger legs and marveled at the salvation I had found here.  When it came time to leave, I actually cried.

A few days ago, I went through a box in the basement.  A box from that time.  It would have been triggering at one point, and at another point it would have made me cry in sadness, but this time, I just pulled out item after item from my life and smiled.  Here was the photo of my best friends from our junior year of high school and the shawl a friend gave me on my trip to Greece.  Here also were the letters my friends wrote me during that winter.  The books I wish I never had to buy.  The photos that show a girl so in need of grace.  The journal, full of punishing writings I no longer feel condemned by.  And a pair of jeans I had forgotten about.

I tried them on.  Perfect fit.

I’m not wrapping this post up in a bow because…life is not like that.  But those jeans made me smile.  This place has surprises for me still.

He has surprises for me still.

Now if you will excuse me, I have a middle school baseball game to attend.  I’ll be the one in a camo hat.

Want more? This song says it all.