When you make God's glory your purpose, His will your aim, His heart yours - He shows He is mighty to save and His steadfast love to be so precious.
When God asked me to expand my heart and home temporarily to include a preteen (and when I say "preteen" I mean only with a week left of that age.... feel with me: t.r.e.p.i.d.a.t.i.o.n.), I knew the road would be a new, rocky one. Brad and I felt no hesitancy between us.
This is what we want our home to look like, we said several times. Biblically we felt like we were standing on rock solid theological ground. But these two precious 9's in our home. What about them? Was the timing right? That was where the hesitation laid and our conversation and prayers swirled with these questions constantly.
It's hard when you are working through life stuff and making progress and the unknown smacks you in the face.
This could go either way.
The two 9's were in groove. Family life was becoming a manageable routine. I chuckle because while this groove still requires dependence on God, adding an unknown 12 to it makes it more like the category of "prayer and fasting" type dependence.
The girls' play therapist said, "O, nooooo. I'm not so sure about that," when I asked her opinion.
I wasn't either.
But as Brad and I talked and prayed, we only felt, "Yes," from God. And since we answer ultimately, solely to Him, we said yes.
We are a week into this and already are witnesses of God's hand moving in ours and the girls' hearts. Everybody moves over to make more room in our hearts and at our table and in our schedule. It doesn't sound like a very big move over. One more person.
But, some moments are bigger than others.
And that's when I find out that it's true.
His hand is mighty.
His love, steadfast.
The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing. Zephaniah 3:17
How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light. Psalm 36:7-9
I witness miracles.
As I make peanut butter and jelly, and pig tails, and bandaged scratched knees, I see them. Many times I blink away tears of gratitude when I see them and sometimes tears of helplessness when I don't. This parenting stuff is like my own little version of scraped knees and even broken bones.
Taking in a child as my own has been a monumental privilege. It's life altering, as you might expect, but in many ways that I could never conceive of before the event.
I didn't know I would watch transformations before my very eyes. I didn't know how beautiful it would be to watch hearts enlarge, or that such lovely space would be given to each other to be our very own imperfect selves, or that we could stay afloat on such difficult waters as the Ocean of Adoption.
I didn't know how lovely it could look to turn a completely frustrating child's ADHD moment into a supernaturally patient, hilarious parenting moment.
I didn't know how conflict-resolution tools given to young ones could show up randomly and play continue without intervention.
I didn't know that all the "time-ins" and patiently, repeated phrases like, "You may not talk to me or others that way," do begin to form new habits.
I didn't know how much kids would teach me. I didn't know I would learn that dirt is good, bugs are amazing, and body functions are apparently hysterical. How gracious of God to give me such loving, forgiving, beautiful, creative, hilarious teachers in my children.
We are still the most ridiculous group of sailors you've ever seen floundering away with oars out of sync and at times everybody wanting to be captain. But, I love it. I wouldn't trade my fatigue, unfinished projects, or laughs - deep, hard-to-stop ones about absolutely nothing.
I wouldn't trade seeing God work miracles in our little boat.
"Don't even knock," I say firmly, shutting my bedroom door and locking it. Sometimes a mom just can't. I curl up on the bed for a moment to escape another emotional outburst of today's two brokenhearted girls.
My life is simple. It's the typical innocuous daily grind of mostly parenting with some other stuff sprinkled throughout. I have no super powers. I don't even have normal powers. I don't have any secret insight into life or original ideas about how to raise kids well. I am certainly no expert in any field. I have no great aspirations to counsel someone. However, if you are like me, you are looking for all types of help from all types of sources. If something I have written has ever spoken to you, that's great. However, that's not why I write. Not even remotely.
I write to honor my journey. I write to tell my little story within God's grand one. I write to somehow show that God takes a totally unsuperpowered girl and gives her grace and strength and hope. I'm not sure I could number the people who have said they could not do what we do. By that they mean, take in a girl who is not biologically related and raise her as their own. Well, I'm sorry to say - we cannot do what we do- at least not without help. Our families have embraced, loved, and babysat. Our friends have embraced, loved, and babysat. Therapists, government workers, librarians, other adoptive parents, foster care websites, mommy bloggers and gymnastics instructors have empowered, supported, and encouraged.
It takes a village to support a parent sometimes. Thank God for my village. His hands are the hands of those who are walking down our path in life with us. (Sometimes I feel like we have forced them to, but they seem willing enough so far.)
Really I've heard it regarding other things in our life: downsizing, apartment living, long-term disease battling, infertility mourning, whatever. "I could never do that... I couldn't handle that..." Truth is, you could, you can, and you probably do (or maybe should do) whatever version God has called you to do.
However, the bigger truth is that we don't do it alone – or, we don't have to.
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our afflictions, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God."
I've been lingering here in 2 Corinthians chapter 1. I have been contemplating whether I know how to go to God for comfort or if I just go ahead and comfort myself in the little ways I know how. I can lose myself in entertainment or a bowl of ice cream - (yes, even almond ice cream can drown some sorrows for a while). I can distract myself by helping others or in exercising or in my friends or a good book. I have actually hidden in our car to cry and eat cookies. (They were organic - so that's okay, right?)
How easily I can forget the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. ALL comfort.
I often want delivered from whatever it is that is uncomfortable or inconvenient. God can and does deliver from. Though, often He delivers through something. These deliverings are the ones when promises of our never leaving, never forsaking, rest-giving, eternal-promising God should be deep, powerful welcomed comforts.
Any true comfort I can ever offer someone will come from an experience of God comforting me. So I must keep going to Him. He comforts and empowers through all kinds of life storms we survive.
Yesterday I ate ice cream. Today I am sitting with God's Word in my lap.
It's the same as every day, but not. It's muted sounds and grayed color tones. It's as if the whole world went sepia or maybe Instagram inkwell. I still have to prepare for the day the same as every day, but it just feels wrong. My voice is a little quakier, my decisions a little slower, my appetite suppressed. Then finally I'm off.
We could hear the distant thunder rolling in. Still the guide assigned a horse to each in our group. We watched the gray clouds heading our way, threatening us with rain. Still we sat, waiting for our guide to lead the way. Then, off we went towards the woods to try to block out the impending storm and enjoy our moment away.
The rumbling thunder grew a little louder. I pleaded, "Lord, what are You up to?" I watched our two 7-year-olds just ahead of me ride with pride and excitement. I looked at the sky and frowned. I glanced over my shoulder at my husband. We exchanged a worried look and a nervous chuckle.
I probably wouldn't have gone through with it, but our graphted-in daughter has never ridden a horse before. It was promised and predicted the week before – one of our surprises planned over break – horse back riding! My natural daughter has ridden several times. I might have tried to coax her into waiting for another day, and probably she would have agreed though disappointedly.
But - here we all plodded along, not listening to logic, but instead encouraging a brokenhearted little girl to lead us into the unknown, on an adventure. (Yes, it's very symbolic!) To complicate my own hesitancies about possibly riding in a storm, this youngest, newest romper of ours is terrified of storms. She clearly recalls and mentions often last year's tornado. One of the first things she asked when she moved in was the details of our family's tornado plan. She repeatedly has told us of her fear of storms. It's with a certain amount of dread that we have waited for the coming summer storms. Even noises like dump trucks and water heaters invite her to worry, create fear, and have often disrupted her sleep. However, on this day, she didn't seem to notice the rumbles of occasional thunder - at least at first.
Ten minutes in, it was drizzling. Our newest horseback rider looked over her shoulder and asked timidly, "Do horses get scared of the rain?" A moment later it was, "Do horses get scared of thunder?" Unfortunately, those were followed soon by, "Emily, do horses get scared of lightening?"
Yes, we were in an all out downpour at this point with thunder and lightening to boot. She looked back at me – I flashed a huge smile, "This is awesome!" I reassured her. It was several times at first I could see the hesitation. I could see that there was fear behind those eyes. She looked at me, and I offered her bravery by being present with her. I commended her courage as Jesus helped her work through her fears. And, she did it!
When we got back soaked and covered in horse hair, I hopped off the horse and immediately went to the girls. "Sweet Girl, God gave you such a gift today. You thought you were afraid of storms, but you rode your horse in one. Wow! Thanks, God." Our new adventurer beamed. It was a perfect gift for her. My oldest one had a different gift. Maybe because she was not so afraid of storms. Her horse sometimes had a mind of his own. She had to listen as the guide coached her on how to get him to go faster and stay on the trail. It was a gift to her to be the one in control. She used her listening skills and applied his instructions to get results with her horse. It was awesome gift; and we thanked God too.
As I stood up and walked hand and hand with the girls to the van (and by the way, the rain had stopped! Of course!), I felt gratitude. I repented to God for thinking I knew best, and I thanked Him. A verse from Psalm 119 ran through my mind that I have often pondered, "I know...that in faithfulness You have afflicted me." Only God would know that the perfect way for my newest kiddo to face one of her greatest fears is on the back of a horse with all of us right in the thick of it with her, soaked to the bone. What felt like an "affliction" of sorts at the time, ended with a beautiful memory for us all, newfound courage for the our little rider, and a song of His grace and gratitude in my heart.
Hubby and I think none of us will ever forget that ride. This mom will always remember and be thankful for the lesson. Yes the lessons for the kids, but maybe most especially for the momma.
A return on my investment. Actually, I've been getting a lot of those, but this one was super significant. This one is my dream come true for today. A dream that lives in momma's hearts everywhere.
It's all my patient, and repentant when not so patient, parenting paying off. It's all the overcooked dinners and unread books because I have to stop many times to help work through conflict/resolution issues.
All parents must feel a special need to have their children love and care for each other. I imagine lots of parents discussing into the night: "how do we help these kids not hate each other".
I know Brad and I have despite the fact that they are wonderful friends and playmates. I feel the responsibility keenly. Maybe it's because my brother and I struggled. I am ashamed about how I treated him growing up. We drove each other crazy - on purpose. Or maybe it's because we are blending families here. I want both the girls to have such a good experience in bonding. I carry that responsibility as their caretaker.
I have thought of and prayed for blended families more since blending someone into my own. I have thought of and prayed more for families who adopt and foster. Not because loving a kiddo is hard - that's easy. But I can't heal heart wounds on either side of this blend. I can't put my hope and 35-year-old wisdom into these littles.
Life is theirs to discover. Life is theirs to learn. This is their journey.
And as it is, I'm their journey guide right now. For better or for worse. I'm what they get.
So often I must stop cooking dinner, and I go plop down on the living room floor. I take a deep breath and say again, "Can I help you two somehow? Would you like me to help you work through this?"
My forever, tearful Amia shakes her head yes and our graphted-in girl does too. I listen. Everybody gets a turn to talk, and I say, "You are allowed to say how you feel, but it matters how you say it." And I say again for the hundredth time in these past months, "How could you say that nicer? Can you try a different tone? Can you think about how she feels? Can you apologize? Could you forgive her? Could we move on? This relationship is too important to fight over this. Loving each other is worth more than ________."
These type of conversations are a daily part of our routine for months, sometimes more than once a day. Then today, there was a return.
I overheard a small disagreement in the living. Nothing major. Nothing to dry my wet dishwater hands about. Still, I held my breath.
And I heard one say, "How about we just quit arguing and move on?" Then, I heard the other reply, "Okay."
I heard, "Okay".
Be still my heart.
They resumed their play and that was that. I continued washing dishes beaming. I called into them after a moment of quiet thanks, "Good job, girls! You did a good job letting that go and moving on!"
I can't put into words my joy and gratitude. Months of pleading, praying, and teaching turned into a moment of, "okay". It probably won't tomorrow. It may not in 5 minutes. But, it did now. It's a glimpse of what is to come.
What I am going for here is the life long friend, the sisterly bond that is joy and giggles, the forever love of two blended girls becoming one family.
We will see what they will discover, and learn, and choose for themselves. I think today was an inkling. I think today was a promise of love.
I loved it.
"By giving to You what You do not need, and what I might enjoy, I am saying more earnestly and more authentically, 'You are my treasure, not these things." - John Piper
"God may ask of you far more than you planned to give, but He can give to you infinitely more than you dared ask or think." - Timothy Keller
These are two quotes I read a couple of months ago, and they just won't let me go.
I still have to remind myself at times that God needs nothing from me. He maintains His supremacy, His nature, His sovereignty, His worth all with or without my praise, my sacrifice, my service. However, in my laying down of my life, I say that He is more precious than all other desires.
Tonight I gave up something I would have TOTALLY enjoyed – a few moments of sane, silence without the littles. God doesn't need anything I have, and certainly not my moments of mindless suduko or knitting. Because I am human, I do need rest and moments away. However, tonight I gave it up.
Here, God, it's all I got – I lay it at your feet. I will dispel fights, play with Polly Pockets, sing again the silly song, laugh at the joke I've heard literally a hundred times, and enforce the bedtime routine. I won't run away. I will stay and follow through on the loving discipline. I will pray prayers aloud of thanksgiving for the girls and this day. I will confess my weakness to 7-year-olds and ask for forgiveness. I will help build their tomorrows by investing in their today.
God, these girls are treasures. Your love, Your compelling love, is my strength and Your grace my sustaining power. All my strength lies in You as I deny myself all sorts of things I want, and choose the higher calling You've invited me into. As I work to kill my self-absorption and self-centeredness, I thank You for Your mercy. This mercy which sustains me and helps me see the return on my investment – at least at times. A look of complete love, a huge hug, a reconciled moment, a hearty laugh. It's like Your "yes" to me. It's the joy of choosing best over good. It's investing in the profitable and not just the permissible. It's believing that eternity weighs in this moment. It's embracing that what I say and how I say it influences who these kids are becoming. We are growing people here. That responsibility, that calling, that gift - I do not take lightly.
I didn't know what God would ask of me. Years ago, if you would have told me I would be in this place, doing what I am doing, I would have been surprised. Because I had envisioned a table surrounded by my own biological children, a counter full of broccoli seed sprouts, and walking barefoot to my garden (in the middle of a beautiful, bug-less summer, nonetheless). I thought I might be growing as a seamstress and a top-notch coupon clipper. I imagined children finger-knitting while I knitted and looking at books while I read. (Sigh - o, the idealism.)
Instead, I love children like they were my own and do not even think about sprouting seeds - broccoli or otherwise. I have "adopted" families and children who love me, and I them. Everybody helping each other; and sometimes "helping" means getting on my nerves so that I see just how desperate for grace I really am. (Without a doubt, it also means me getting on others' nerves too, because Jesus loves humility. Which, shocker, is a full-time job reminding me of that. Sorry, Lord!)
So, I lay down moments of reading, writing, or, for heaven's sake, sometimes just sitting; and I pick up moments of patient parenting. Swallowing my pride, I pick up moments of repentance. I find God's grace sustaining, His work in progress, His strength my own.
The whole time I am saying, "God, I want You to be my treasure."
And His reply? "I am worth it - the wait, the search, the sacrifice. I am Your great reward and you will find that I am all you ever wanted."
She's upset again.
All new rules.
All new ways.
I get you, Kiddo. I feel like throwing a fit too sometimes. In fact, I may just go a head right now and cry.
As I look in her eyes, as she questions all the reasons why she is in our home, why we have certain rules, why we create structure - I see her future life. I imagine who she is growing into and what this moment is making her.
I look at my biological daughter. She too questions why we have an additional kiddo in our home, why we continue to ask her to share so much of her life, how we can love other children with such warmth. I look into those eyes and see her future life too. I imagine who she is growing into and what this moment is making her. I take a deep breath and explain again our great love, our great life, and our great gift to share to them both. I pray simple, straightforward prayers in their ears while I cuddle them on my lap, and then the heart wrenching, deep soul cries while they sleep.
I know God is doing deep meaningful work in all of us as we share our family and share our home. It's easy to embrace when it's laughter and shrieks of delight. It's a heavy weight as you know you are upsetting a delicate internal balance in the psyche of a child. I know people say they are resilient; and I know that's true because we are a society of survivors – so, so many survivors. Yet, we only do childhood once; and so I feel that weight of this moment. This one moment that melds into so many, many others that become the tool that shapes their little God-given personality. It's the nurturing of the nature. I find myself in that moment, humbled by its responsibility and my complete finite ability to understand what they need and what God is doing. I find this experience a most precious gift. God uncovers my independence and arrogant ways I parent and packages it as the most beckoning of invitations into dependence on my Savior.
The invitation into an easy burden, a light yoke – amazing.
The invitation into a life where rivers of living water come from the Jesus spring inside of me – astounding.
The beckoning of my filthy rags for His perfect righteousness – humbling.
These great exchanges are the epitome of rags to riches. It is the most amazing gift to get a new heart. It's the most mesmerizing moment to walk in relationship with Almighty God.
And in this moment tonight when I cuddle our grafted in girl and repeat our love to her, I feel God's life-giving love springing from me. The confusion and anger from just a few minutes before is melting away; and I find myself so thankful that God gives patience to me - this one little, learning nurturer.
emily... just plain emily.