The Gift

As December is almost here, Christmas shopping is well under way, my inbox and mailbox are overflowing with deals and coupons, my bins of decorations are begging to be unpacked, and my children are chatting about all the things we love to do in this season. We bake, make abstract gingerbread houses, decorate, buy gifts…..these are all good and wonderful things, but every year my husband and I try to remind and show our children that we celebrate Christmas because of the hope and promise Jesus brought to the world when He became fully human.

In the past we have done advent calendars that incorporated some special family time and ways to serve others. This year we have chosen to go through Ann Voskamp’s devotion for families, Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, A Family Celebration of Christmas.    You can find it here:

The devotional consists of a daily reading for every day in December leading up to Christmas. There are also introspective questions and suggestions for family activities.  It contains printable ornaments that are hung on a Jesse Tree branch. The readings trace the amazing miracle of Jesus’ earthly lineage and the loving  way that God the Father gave us this gift of His only Son. He gave this broken world a perfect and redeeming gift of love. We do not deserve, nor can we do anything to earn, this gift.  In spite of all our brutal mistakes Jesus still came to save and deliver.

I am so excited about learning alongside my whole family, and I am praying that it will become a tangible way my children will come to see and acknowledge how much God loves us in the magnitude of Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection.

I hope your family will be encouraged to find some simple ways to remember and celebrate Jesus. Do not think you need anything fancy or complicated; strive for connection. You can simply read passages from the Bible, spend time with each other, and serve the people around you. Don’t miss getting to unwrap the most precious gift anyone could ever receive and accept.

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My niece’s adoption story

Today, our guest blog post comes from my sister, Andrea. She shares the beautiful adoption story of my precious niece. You can follow Andrea’s blog at http://www.hopethroughadoption.wordpress.com.  ~Angela

Welcome to National Adoption Month! This may be the last day of the month, but better late than never, as they say. In honor of this great month, I invite you to read my favorite adoption story to date.

There is a story of a little girl that began long before she was ever born. Nine years before she came into the world, her forever mama was sitting in the car listening to the radio when an interview with Mary Beth Chapman came on about the adoption of her daughter, Shaohannah Hope. This mother was so interested, hanging on every word Mary Beth said; from their daughter Emily’s desires for the family to adopt, to Steven and Mary Beth’s hesitations, all the way through the end when Mary Beth said how she loves Shaohannah as much as her biological children. The little girl’s mama never forgot the words she heard on the radio that day. Around that same time, the mother and father attended Steven Curtis Chapman’s Live Out Loud tour concert. That night changed their lives forever. Their hearts were so touched by the Chapman family, their journey, their being the hands and feet of Christ, receiving a little girl into their home as their own. With tears in their eyes, they decided then and there that God was calling them to adopt someday, as well. They immediately started gathering adoption information, but being 20 and 22 years old, only married a year, the husband in school getting his doctorate, it just wasn’t the right time.

 

Well, five months went by after the concert, and that mother found out she was pregnant. They gave birth to a beautiful baby girl and spent the next three years content with her alone. Long story short, after a few years of secondary infertility, God used several people and circumstances to tell them “the time is now.” It was truly amazing. People who didn’t even know them personally prayed that God would direct them to adopt. Parents would approach them to share that their children had began praying the couple would adopt. The forever parents of that little girl had a real heart for children in their own country, so they contacted New Hope Family Services, an adoption agency in their state, beginning the process.
After two years of saving money, yet still not having enough to adopt, the husband and wife went through a time of discouragement. Feelings of despair were setting in. They hit this rut of not wanting to think about it anymore. After a period of a several months like that, God began restoring some things in them. Through other people, and through His Spirit, He began putting little encouragements in their path to steer them back to the adoption process He called them to.

Many times, in the adoption process, people would tell the couple what a noble thing they were doing, giving a baby a home that wouldn’t have one otherwise. The husband and wife had such a hard time with that thought because, going through an agency, there were plenty of people to “compete” against them who were in line for a baby. In foster care, however, it would feel much more like they would be caring for the orphans.

The wife had a very difficult time considering foster care, worrying that their baby would be taken away after a time of caring for it. One day, in prayer, she cried out, “God, You wouldn’t give us a baby just to take it away, would You?” Immediately a line from C.S. Lewis’s book The Silver Chair entered her mind. “Aslan never told Pole what would happen. He only told her what to do.” At that moment, that future forever mama surrendered her will to the will of God. The couple completed paperwork with the state, and proceeded to call their adoption agency to inform them that they would be going a different route. On the phone with their caseworker at the agency, the words she spoke shocked them. “We really need you. See, there are only three families like you willing to do an interracial adoption, and if you drop out, we won’t have enough.” Hold on a minute, they were NEEDED with the adoption agency? They had thought only going through foster care would they be needed or doing something meaningful. But the caseworker had just informed them that there was a real need for families willing to adopt interracially. That caused them to pause and reconsider what the Lord was doing. From that moment on, monetary gifts towards their adoption started pouring in, and the couple decided to proceed as originally planned with the adoption agency.

It took that family a long time over all to save enough money, but finally, as soon as their payments were up to date with the agency, they were chosen within a week by birthparents to raise a baby girl who had already been born. She was one quarter Native American, which technically made it an interracial adoption that many families were not willing to do. Though the birthparents courageously chose to give her up, that baby was a real rescue situation. There was no way she could stay with them, and she needed a home as desperately as any child in foster care did. At two months old, Baby Girl was placed in her forever mama’s arms for the first time. Mama knew they belonged together from the moment she laid eyes on her. This child had grown in her heart for so many years that the bond was instant. They were a family formed by God’s perfect direction and great design.

This is the adoption story of our daughter. The day after her first birthday, we celebrated our adoption finalization at the court house in our home town, and the legal changing of our daughter’s name. The name we chose for her is Evangeline Hope. It was only fitting. The first nudging of our hearts was because of Shaohannah Hope. Then, our adoption agency was New Hope. And the story of our lives and our adoption is Hope. How could we not incorporate the name? My husband loves the wording of our legal papers regarding her name. “It is ordered that this child will forever be known as Evangeline Hope.” She is given a new name, just as God will give us one day when our adoption is “finalized” and we are in Heaven.

“This is my story, this is my song, Praising my Savior all the day long.”

 

longing for Paris

Our book club started the book, Longing for Paris this past September. Little did we know that our last meeting, planned out with a French inspired dinner, was to fall exactly one week after Paris was attacked by terrorism. It was definitely with a different feel that we met and prayed for peace and protection for our world.

The book challenged us to yes, follow the dreams that God has placed in our hearts, but to find “Paris” in our everyday lives, as wives, moms, teachers, friend….whatever roll we may find ourselves in. To be present in the moment and see and feel and experience the love and beauty around us, yet knowing that the desire for something greater is God given. Because of the hope we have in Christ, we know there is more than just this life. So, as I stood in front of my stove cooking for that night, I had feelings of gratitude. Because even as the beautiful city that inspires so many was still reeling from violence and grieving it’s loss, my family was safe. This violence had not touched our lives. My dear friends were on their way over to spend an evening with me, laughing and crying, sharing our hearts over this meal.

Coming into Thanksgiving, I can find the wonder in two lost teeth in one week, or a day spent with Nana cooking for the big meal. We can’t know what is coming, but for now, the piles of laundry, the legos all over the floor, the sleeping teenagers in their beds…this is all a wonderful thing, because it means we have life here, we are together. And for that, I am so thankful. ~Claire

Sometimes I have hard days where I want to run away. I hate those stories where the mother abandons her family. I could never do that, but sometimes I flirt with the what if questions found in that idea. Author Sarah Mae’s dream is to sneak away to visit Paris. Maybe with her family, maybe not. It depends on the day. My longings aren’t usually for a place but rather for a season of life.

I long for the day my family can go on short term missions trips together or travel the country and pray for people to be set free, anything where my kids can learn about the power of God by experiencing it first hand.

I always thought that would happen when we no longer had preschoolers or babies in the home. My big kids were past that age and it still didn’t seem like it could happen. Then my little ones came along. Now that dream seems even further off in the future.

Longing for Paris challenges me to really live life to the fullest in each season I am in, even if I can’t pick up and go to the place or time in my life that I desire most. I can make beauty, find joy, and decide to thrive right where I am.

What does this look like for me? That’s the question I’ve been asking while reading the book. Sarah Mae tells of how she and her family regularly partake in little tastes of her desires until she can one day physically go to Paris. I can read stories of God’s faithfulness to my kids, expose them to testimonies of miracles and heroes of the faith, help them understand and memorize Bible verses that may later become life verses to lead them, take them to services where the Holy Spirit is moving in power, etc. I want them to share my desire to see God move in power through them and through us as a family. In working on this list, I think I’ll find that much of my dream is becoming a reality right before my eyes! ~Angela

 

As I began reading, Longing For Paris, I thought to myself…I don’t have a desire to do something grande like moving to Paris, I wonder if this book will speak to me. The further I read Sarah Mae’s thoughts, the more I realized that our “longings” don’t have to be grande. Her writing encouraged us to be more intentional in our daily life. To look for the joy and beauty around us. For me, it became about reframing the every day. I’ve been trying to start the day with the thought of positive possibilities instead of thinking of the long to do list. The list still gets done (hopefully) but I try not to dwell on the negatives surrounding it. Emphasis on…try. We are all works in progress, right?
Taking time through the day to be thankful…even a ” thank you, Jesus” as I do the laundry or make lunch…seemed to lighten the weight of that long list.

I wondered more about my longings. Was there a dream God placed in my heart? To be honest, I’m still figuring that out. What I do know is that as I allow Him to guide me, true longings or desires of my heart are becoming more clear to me. I’m enjoying the right now and becoming excited for the possibilities and hopes of the later on.  ~Mary

 

Longing for Paris affirmed the verse “without vision, the people perish.”  It was an easy read, which flowed with stories and humor, and devotions at the end of each chapter. Enjoyably, the book created an excitement about Paris, or any historic destination.  The anticipation of a vision or goal helps to live focused and goal oriented. Living intentional is both biblical and motivating. Thank God for His vision and goals, laid out in His Word, that call us to live focused and make life an adventure!   ~Ginger

 

While reading Longing for Paris (ashamedly I have to admit that I have not completed the book, but please do not tell my fellow book club mamas, I fear I might get the boot!) so far there are a few things that I have really been mulling over. By nature I am a doer and I find it difficult to be still, let alone meditate. Sarah Mae encourages the biblical practice of meditation. Meditating to seek the face of God, to immerse yourself in his presence. In my current season of little children and all the many tasks they bring with them, I long desperately to be in God’s presence. I want to just be with him, to rest and rejuvenate in his glory and to feel fully alive in the midst of the one true God. I know in my heart of hearts that this is what God longs for too, because my worshipful meditation will shape me into a better wife, mother, friend and human. In reading this book I have a better handle of what my quiet time with God can look like as a mother of young children. I am praying that I can consistently adopt these practical tips into my daily longing to seek the Kingdom of God first.   ~Deborah

4 a.m. Hope

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It is 4 a.m. and I am awake. Is it normal for a mom to be up at 4 a.m. on the day before Thanksgiving?  I am praying. Praying for my friend who graduated her daughter to heaven in February.  These will be hard days  and difficult months for her.  I am praying for my friend diagnosed with breast cancer in May.  She is bald, yellow (chemo) and a little burnt (radiation.)  Do they have hope?  I am also thinking of my “to do” list. Can I get it all done?  Is there enough time in the day?

“But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” I Corinthians 15:57

Here is a new life verse.  God is an ever present help in trouble, and His word sustains us.  He has the victory in the face of hopelessness, despite abuse, with regard to cancer, and in the midst of brokenness.  We have hope because HE IS HOPE!  His death and resurrection have made it possible to THRIVE, despite circumstances.

This has been a rough year.  There have been several family members who have graduated to heaven, family members experiencing the sudden loss of a job, and more negative reports from doctors than I can describe.  It seems like the holidays can make us extra sad since we miss those family members and long to be with them.  But despite the sadness, we have hope.  We CHOOSE hope because we have faith.  Will you choose faith today?  If, suddenly, your world is turned upside down by illness, fear, doubt, or pain…will you choose faith?  Will you choose hope?  We can only choose hope by the power of the Holy Spirit, even at 4 a.m.  Thanks be to God!!

 

 

Because of Adoption

Because it’s National Adoption Month, I sat down today hoping to write and to share about our adoption journey. I think it’s actually a very neat story filled with unexpected “angels”, the speed of time that can only be from God, and the blessing of a double gift. I try to encourage people when they are waiting for something and the waiting feels like it’s taking forever….we waited 12 years to become parents and ended up with 2 unexpected gifts. Adopting twins….with less than 30 days to prepare for their birth.

twins laughing
I started writing about all the details that led to our twins’ adoption, and then I started thinking. Though the story of how we found our boys and all the little things that happened is so important to us, what was really on my heart as I wrote about our journey is how thankful and proud I am to be a family formed through adoption.

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One of the hardest things about adoption for me, is that not a day goes by that I don’t think about the boys’ birth parents. I wonder where they are and who they’ve become. It’s hard because, though I am forever grateful to them and we are connected, I sometimes wonder….will they show up at my door one day wanting our boys? A million other questions and thoughts will pass quickly through my mind, and then life goes on.  Adoption is a beautiful and deep thing.  I know that I’m their mom, but I don’t know what it’s like to carry them in my womb and give birth to them. I’ve had to let the sadness over that fact go because, quite honestly, it is what it is. Another woman carried them in her womb. It’s strange because at the same time, and as years pass, I forget that I did not give birth to them. We don’t know what those days were like for her or our babies. All we know is the moment that she and the boys’ birthfather chose us ….and all the days after that moment. Though the birth parents have chosen to have minimal contact {we never know when they will send an email and then disappear, it happens every few years}, we know that the adoption changed them, as well.

greg and boys
Adoption is a complicated thing. When I look at my boys , I see her …or him. I wonder, when they struggle or excel in an area if it is because of genetics or nurture. A combo of both, maybe? What is their health history…where are their ancestors from? When I look at my boys I also see God’s gifts to us. I believe each of our children are chosen for us, whether adopted or birthed. He chose our twins for us….and He chose us for them.

The other day, one of my boys thanked me for adopting them. He thanked me? Oh my word, dear boy, I am the one who is so very thankful. I feel so honored to be a mom through adoption.

I know that each person’s adoption journey is different. I’m not pretending that it is always roses and butterflies. My sister’s adoption journey took 3 years and included lots of complications. Adoption is an amazing, unique to each, hard to explain thing.

Because of a choice by the birth parents, we are parents. Because of adoption, I am a mom. I’m still in awe when I am called mom. Because of adoption, we are a family. A priceless gift that has changed all of us forever. Quite frankly, adoption rocks.

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Mondays hate me, so I quit

Tomorrow-is-MondayMondays hate me. They do. I am thoroughly convinced that Monday is a living, breathing thing destined to make homeschooling a nightmare for me. As each of the first 6 Mondays of the school year ended, I was looking for the hidden cameras in my house. I really shouldn’t complain. Nothing really terrible happened…just life with four boys and a puppy, and my always patient and loving reactions. Not. Thank God for no cameras. Oh, a small recap, you ask?

I seem to remember the one morning where I had just finished washing the kitchen floor from a puppy accident, while attempting to do math with two of the children, when another one ran up behind me and with a kiss on the back of my head said something about the bathroom. That something I found out about an hour later when the 5 year old decided that flushing the clogged toilet over and over would fix it, and then his brother helped him by using the entire linen closet to sop up the water. Don’t you just love doing laundry?

Or there was that time that the teenager dropped an advil tablet on the floor and the puppy decided to eat it right up. Bet you didn’t know that it’s toxic to dogs, huh? I kind of thought that the hydrogen peroxide that I had to turkey baster down her throat to make her throw up was, too, but apparently it saved her very expensive purebred little life. Of course this happens when I’m supposed to be out the door in 15 minutes. (Apparently, having a dog again is good for the family. I’ll have to get back to you on that one.)

Add on everyone waking up overtired from the weekends, to bad attitudes, to the laundry still sitting in the washing machine from like…last Thursday, to it being my hubby’s longest day so reinforcements were not coming, it was not a recipe for success. And success was the goal for this certain letter type, list addict, task orientated girl.

My calendar is organized.

My school planner is planned.

My to do list is freshly updated.

And it was becoming more important than the people I was doing it all for. I was putting my list and my need to accomplish it all before the relationships in my life. My reactions to normal life stuff was showing it. And this was not who I wanted to be…definitely not what I wanted for this school year.

A friend introduced me to this book, Teaching From Rest, and there are some amazing nuggets in there….the things YOU KNOW, but FORGOT THAT YOU KNOW. Like…

Surrender my idea of an ideal day…

…or relationship, situation, experience…..

and give it to the Lord, trusting Him with the outcome

The being and becoming needs to come before the doing and checking off

…being in the moment, undistracted and focused on the people in my life

Do less to do it well

…simplify, simplify, simplify so that what I do choose to do can be done with excellence

Whose “well done” am I working for?

…work, serve for the praise of God, not man

It’s not about being “successful”…God is looking for our faithfulness

…to keep going, keep at it, persevere through it all

Every task, each assignment is an offering of love to God

…no matter how small or insignificant it seems

And most importantly, put relationships before anything else. This one. I mean, this is why I decided to homeschool in the first place…my children’s hearts.

 

So, I decided to quit. I quit Mondays.

Practically speaking, I redid the planners to make Monday an easier day, I emptied the calendar of any Monday appointments, I got up earlier and I let go of my start time a whole half hour. Listen, small steps, my friend. 🙂  And peace reigned in my home. No, everything did not go perfectly. The computer crashed, I got sick, the puppy…well, let’s just leave that unsaid. This is all just… life. I still have my lists, my planner, and my beloved calendar, but I put them back where they belong. I saw an immediate difference in my children and remembered the amazing gift I have in being able to stay home and school them.

My thing is the homeschooling, but I think those little reminders apply to anything we start putting in the “doing and checking off” list as being more important than the “being and becoming.” I know I’ll need to be reminded of this very often…at least every Sunday night.

a season to remember

TreesNovemberI was already a mama to my own little boy when I met him. I can still remember his little peach fuzz head, perfect little cheeks that I loved kissing. The first born son of one of my dearest friends, we had waited with so much excitement and anticipation to meet him and hold him. I went up to the hospital as soon as the news of his birth came, and I adored his little face from the moment I first saw him, never realizing at that moment how he would change me.

It wasn’t supposed to be like it was. We should’ve been rocking him at home, bringing meals and chocolate to a first time mama struggling with sleep deprivation, not sitting in the neonatal intensive care unit, not rocking him with tubes and machines beeping around us. But even there he was so loved. Peace surrounded him as family and friends never left him alone for a moment. His brave mama smiling and loving every single moment that she had with him.

He went home for a while, not even close to long enough. And then he went to his forever home, and I watched my dear friend, his oh so brave mama, bury her very own heart in the ground. His pooh bear sitting in his crib where he should’ve been. His mama going home to rock in the chair with empty arms.

It’s been many, many Novembers that his life has been remembered in my heart. I have watched as his mama has had more beautiful babies with perfect cheeks for kissing. I have watched her treasure and love her children in a way known to those who have lost. I have watched her go and sit with the other mamas as they said their goodbyes. She sat by my side, comforting me with the thought that our sons were together, grieving with the hope of our reunions.

November and December, as we celebrate the holidays and all that we have to be grateful for, I always think of it also as “his season”, for in these two months, we had him for a short time and then said goodbye. Goodbye for a short time as well. So tonight I remember how he felt in my arms, how honored I was and still am that my friend shared the gift of being able to spend time with him, and I am grateful.

 

He Fails Us Not

There are certain songs that just give me butterflies. You know, the kind that make you feel so deeply, that make you want to move and sing along. If I’m driving in my car and one of my favorite songs come on I sing out loud, very loud. This is one of those songs. I dare you to listen to it and not start singing. Ok, maybe I don’t dare you, but I encourage you to watch and listen.

Along with making me want to sing….this song speaks to me. Loudly! It touches my heart and fills me with compassion. It puts things in perspective. Read the words that pop up as the music plays. They are words of heartache but also seem filled with hope. And I believe hope is contagious.

We all have something going on, something we might be struggling with, or a loved one is struggling with…but…. He is bigger than the battle. Our hope is secure. He fails us not.

Brave mamas needed

ocean_waves_ventura_california_usa_20120704Oh, the stories. There were so many that I have been just letting them sit, pondering them in my heart, letting them inspire me. When I first got home from the mom’s conference I went to, I couldn’t figure out which part I loved the most. I had three days in a row with 4 dear friends, the other mamas of this blog, time away from the craziness of home to rest and recharge, delicious food, wonderful worship and music, so many gifts given to us that filled our swag bags many times over, and amazing teaching from God’s word. But, when I really looked back over the weekend, I realized it was the stories shared that impacted me the greatest, touching my heart and challenging me in a way I wasn’t quite prepared for.

You see, starting this blog was not an easy thing for me to do. Even if my mom and my bff were the only ones who ever read it, it is still a really scary thing to put my thoughts, feelings, and stories out there! (and they know all my stories!) Telling my stuff gives the chance for someone to judge me or criticize me. But, as I sat listening to the speakers at the conference, I was in awe of their courage, their authenticity, and transparency as they told of heartbreak and rejoicing, in small events and life changing ones. I recognized myself in their words, drawing hope from those who had gone before me on similar roads I travel, and inspiration from stories so very different than my own. I saw that the real power came in the fact that they shared openly and honestly about their struggles and how God had brought them through.

I want to be brave like that. I love the song, You Make Me Brave, by Bethel Music. My poor children are forced to listen to it over and over. Just to have the courage to step out of the boat, out into the waves, and open up my heart and life to others, even with the fear.  After all, that’s where Jesus is.

Brave to do whatever Jesus is asking us to do. It doesn’t have to be awe inspiring to other people. Every one of us have different paths, different stories, different seasons. Right now I am a stay at home, homeschool mama with four boys. This is a very challenging (and awe inspiring) adventure for me, one that requires me to lean ever so far out of the boat and reach for HIS hand every day, so that I would be able to get out and walk with Him.

And so, I was challenged anew. I had been sitting kinda quiet on our blog…questioning if I really had anything worthwhile to share. So, I’m officially inviting some of you to hop on out of the safe boat with me. Will you share your stuff with me? Let’s see what He can do with some brave mamas and their stories.IMAG2773

On Finding My Thing

JM-9341There’s this thing that I just realized. I guess I realized it years ago but somehow forgot for the past couple of years. Or maybe I started focusing on other things, often without realizing it, and slowly lost my direction. Instagram, books, blogs…basically the internet and all its fancy pictures and great advice stole my attention. What is this thing I’m talking about? Well it’s simple, but hit me deep…..do your {own} thing.

That’s it. Probably very obvious. But I am telling you it’s amazing how you can think you are doing your own thing, but realize that it’s really a combo of her thing, or that thing you read about, or the thing you think you should be doing. Mostly that one. Doing things how you think others think you should instead of figuring out what your own unique path should be, the path that God wants to lead you on.JM-9342

I think for me that comes from being surrounded by some legalism in my early twenties. Back then I wanted so badly to be accepted, so I listened when certain people told me exactly how I should do things. I figured that if I did as they directed I would not only gain God’s approval, but I would gain theirs as well. Looking back I realize that I already had God’s approval, and no matter what I did I would never gain theirs.

To truly live your life in the way the Lord is leading you is freedom. And you know what else? When you find your rhythm, your style, your groove….well, it brings peace. Ask me how I know.

Through watching dear friends go through health scares and crisis, I am reminded that I want to live this life to the fullest and in the way God directs me. I want to guide my boys to listen to the Lord above all others, to have confidence in Him, and not seek it through people’s approval. Hopefully, by living life that way peace will follow.

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                                           Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
      lean not on your own understanding, but in all your ways acknowledge Him
                                     And He will direct your steps.      Proverbs 3:5