Wednesday, March 31, 2010
I've shared some firsts before (here is a post of some special firsts before Daniel even came home), but today I witnessed a major milestone.
You see, I used to love it when my kids would start a sentence with "when I was little. . . ." I'd chuckle at whatever this miniature person shared because, as they stood there in training pants with baby teeth, they were still far from classifying as big. But I had grown to hate those four words once Daniel came home.
His "when I was little . . ." was always followed by a heartbreaking remembrance. Like last week when I was cooking and warned him not to get too close to the flame on the gas stove, he responded with: "When I was little, my bad mom put my hand in the fire . . . and then laughed."
Every story tragic, horrifying, heartbreaking. Often he'd share things with tears. Other times he'd talk about something seeming completely numb to the pain it caused.
So today I was making lunch. The boys we're sitting at the table eating grapes and Daniel said those dreaded words . . . "when I was little." My stomach instantly turned to knots, blood pressure began to rise, my heart raced as I wondered if I should take Brady out of the room so Daniel could finish this thought in private. But the words spilled out before I could shut his lid.
"When I was little . . . , I remember coming home on Christmas Eve. I remember that our neighbors had put balloons on our door and a sign that said welcome home. I remember you put that little Christmas tree in our room. I remember that you gave me a bath with bubbles."
I tried to hold back the happy tears. All these things happened just 3 months ago, yet his mind is finally able to look back and remember something good. He has new pages in the book of "when I was little." My heart rejoiced thinking that he might be able to one day say that he had a happy childhood.
There are days when he seems so big. Capable of making a big noise. Eating a big meal. Making a big mess. But when I tucked him in bed tonight, he looked so small. He had a stuffed animal snuggled up against his cheek. He asked if he could sleep in my bed if he had a bad dream. He thanked God in his prayers for giving him a family.
I told him a bedtime story and sang a lullaby. I tucked him in and pulled the covers up high. Most boys his age don't need such things, but my big boy is still beautifully little.
And today, for the first time I didn't grieve the childhood that was lost, but celebrated the childhood that was found.
More Than Lots,
Monday, March 29, 2010
My dear grandmother (my mom's mother) was truly special. She endured a life of hardship and heartache by God's grace and through prayer. In fact, she prayed so much that everywhere she lived, she made indentations in the carpet where her knees had been. I share more about her and the impact she still has on my family's life here.
Well, many years ago she moved from her house to an assisted living community. As she was trying to streamline her worldly belongings she called to ask what I might want of her possessions someday when she went to be with the Lord. She mentioned her china, her silver, her jewelry, . . . all things that had monetary and sentimental value, yet the one thing I wanted wasn't offered. I figured she had already set it aside for one of her five children or many grandchildren and I felt selfish even asking about it. But . . . I mustered up the courage with, "Grandmother, if someone hasn't already asked, I'd love to have your Bible."
I heard crying on the other end. "Really, that's all you want?" she asked. I assured her that it would be one of the greatest treasures of my life and something that would be cherished for generations to come. She finished the phone call with, "Consider it yours."
Several years passed. I remember another special phone call. We live in Georgia and she lived in Alabama, although we visited as often as we could, we used the phone to keep in touch. It was Mother's Day 2003 and I called to wish her a happy one. This conversation was sweetly different though. She told me how much she loved me, how proud she was of me, what a blessing I had been in her life. Oh my, I'm crying just thinking about it.
We talked about my mom who was battling cancer. We reminisced about our recent trip to Disney World and looked forward to her coming to visit the next weekend. When we said our I love yous and good-byes, I had no idea that it would be the last time I'd ever speak to her this side of heaven. But I think somehow her spirit knew.
Days later we got a phone call from my dear uncle. My grandmother had missed an activity at the assisted living home. They got concerned and opened her apartment when she didn't answer. She was a very young 82 years and had never been sick a day in her life, so we were surprised to find out that she had gone to be with the Lord. But we weren't surprised by how they found her. She was kneeling in prayer by her bed with her Bible open.
We went to Birmingham for a beautiful celebration of her life. After the funeral, family gathered at her apartment to divvy up her belongings. My precious aunt pulled me aside and said, "Grandmother Little asked me to give this to you." Then she placed in my hands my Grandmother's treasured Bible. I couldn't believe after all those years, my grandmother had remembered my request. I couldn't believe that I had been given such a special gift. I wept all kinds of ugly tears.
This wasn't just any Bible that my grandmother had dusted off to take to church on Sundays.
This pink Bible was her "love letter" from God. She had read it so many times that the gold leafing had been rubbed off the edge of the pages. She had written so many notes in it that it is hard to find a page without her handwriting. She had cried so many times over these verses that sustained her, that on many pages the ink had smeared.
And then my aunt showed me the page the Bible was open to when she died. When Grandmother's spirit left her, her face hit the page and tore it over Revelation 4. The scripture passage has the subheading "Around God's Throne." This is the passage that the song I posted yesterday is based on. And in it you'll find the beautiful words of those who will worship around the throne of God:
"Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come. Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for that hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created." (From verses 8 and 11.)
My grandmother wrote at the end of that chapter "How wonderful!"
I believe she was so overcome by the thought of worshipping around God's throne that she told her Creator she was ready to go. I also believe she wanted to be in heaven to welcome my mom when she joined her at the feet of Jesus nine months later.
What I didn't know when I asked my grandmother for her Bible years earlier was that this wasn't going to be just an item I would treasure, this Bible would be my companion through the darkest time in my life. The coming year was the deepest valley I've ever walked--my "valley of the shadow of death."
This wasn't just a gift from my grandmother--I believe it was God's gift to me. It was that Bible that I read for many months during my mom's steady decline as she battled cancer. It was that Bible that I read during my difficult pregnancy of our third child. It was that Bible that I read after the sudden death of a friend and the split of our church. It was that Bible that Brad brought to the hospital when we delivered a baby that would never cry. It was that Bible that I read at my mother's bedside in her last days. (The story of Baby Luke and my mom is here.)
It wasn't just her love letter from God. Because of all she had written in the margins and underlinings of all that fed her spirit, it was also her love letter to me.
I currently keep it in a place out of reach of little hands, but it will be the centerpiece of our Memorial Box. (For now I have a little pink child's Bible holding its place there.) It reminds me of the legacy of faith and prayer passed down from my grandmother. It reminds me of God's provision during the hardest time in my life--His Word was never more alive, scripture was never more comforting, His faithfulness never more evident.
But this Bible also convicts and inspires me. If I had died in 2003, the Bible I would have left behind looked in embarrassingly good condition. The spine wasn't broken, margins missing written notations, pages free of tears. I want to leave a legacy behind just like my grandmother. I want the Bible that I carry through my days to be evidence of a life that glorified God. I want my Bible to be worthy of being placed in the Memorial Box of one of my children or grandchildren.
And I want my life to be a living reply to His beautiful love letter to me.
Sunday, March 28, 2010
But I would loved to have been there for triumphal entry. To give praise for all He has done. To recognize Him as the One and Only King. To bow down in worship with palm branches. What a beautiful day that must have been.
Although I missed the triumphal entry, I will some day be able to worship at the feet of Jesus. Today I'm rejoicing because of the Lamb of God. Who took my sin, sorrow, and sickness.
This week's Sunday Dinner scripture is (the idea behind Sunday Dinner is here):
"Behold the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world."
I've got two desserts of song today. The first one is "Revelation Song." It's one of my favorites and tomorrow I'll share why. Phillips, Craig, and Dean also has an amazing version of this, but I'm posting Kari Jobe's because it echos how I would want to worship before the Lord--it's soft and reverent and broken and pure. (And I'm hoping when I get to heaven, God will give me a voice like hers.)
The second song is "Agnes Dei." This is another song that I'm sure is sung around the throne of God. I was able to hear Third Day in concert last fall. They finished the concert with this song. It was Mac Powell and the band accompanied by an orphan choir from Africa. It was beyond beautiful. I had taken my girls to the concert for a "mommy date" and we just sang and wept together. Such a sweet memory.
As you go about this week of observance of Christ's crucifixion and resurrection, remember the Lamb of God. Worship with your words, your actions, and your life.
Grateful for His Sacrifice,
Friday, March 26, 2010
Monday, March 22, 2010
This story takes place about the same time as the story I shared last week (click here to read that story and past Memorial Box stories), November 2008. Although at the time we were a year and a half into our adoption of Daniel, I'd still have those middle of the night panic moments of, "What are we doing adopting an older child that we know little about?!" We had visited many times and knew he was so precious, yet I had been reading a lot of books on older child adoption and attachment disorders. Some of the experiences others had described made me concerned about challenges that might be ahead.
If I had been one of Jesus' disciples, I'm afraid that I probably would have been Thomas. Yep, I would have been "Doubting Kathie" asking to see the nail-scarred hands. I was praying for peace and for a sign that Daniel would fit beautifully into our family. My biggest concern was how Brady and Daniel would interact. We would be messing up the birthorder and thus far they had not met. I worried that Daniel would be too rough not understanding that he is older and bigger than his brother. I worried that he might have been abused and might act out that abuse in our home. I worried about the boys sharing a room that for 5 years had been just Brady's. But I also worried about Daniel not feeling like a true member of our family.
And while all this was going on, we were thinking about getting a pet. We had previously had an old cat who passed away several months before. Although I loved Yogi Bear dearly (the old man kitty), he had not been the world's best pet. Since he had been in our home several years before we had kids, he was afraid of them. He'd hide under our bed all day and would not surface till the kids went to bed. He also had "potty issues." Sometimes he'd use the litter box and other times he'd relieve himself on the carpet or a pile of laundry. He also had frequent hairballs. He seemed to time his projectile offerings for when we had dinner guests. Bon appetit!
So, when Yogi Bear went on to his reward (and we are thinking that his "reward" wasn't too great), Brad was thrilled to be done with shedding, furballs, and potty presents. Yet our kids wanted a new pet so badly.
We found a cute little tree frog thinking this might meet the need to have something to care for. But when I went to PetsMart to buy it food and they told me it would only eat live crickets, I got the attention of every customer and canine with my, "Are you kidding me?!"
So I found myself on weekly trips to feed our little green friend. And often these trips would coincide with Pet Adoption Days. Do you see where I'm going with this? One post-PetsMart trip left my three kiddos sulking in the backseat. Brady summed up their feelings with, "We don't have a doggie. We don't have a kitty cat. We don't have nuffin'."
That night I had a heart-to-heart with Brad asking if we could get a pet other than Pickles the frog. And after negotiations worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize, he finally gave his blessing to get another pet. One that was potty trained, didn't make noise, was completely hairless, and could be returned if we had any trouble. (I'm guessing we were in the market for a bald mime.)
The next Pet Adoption Day, we were there bright and early. And within minutes the girls found an adorable little calico kitten. We all took turns holding her and with her sweet little meows, game over . . . she won our hearts. Even Brad's, although she broke two of his criteria (she had fur and made noise).
The little kitten's "foster mom" told us that we could reserve her but couldn't bring her home for two weeks until she was big enough to be spade. It worked out nicely because I was leaving for my trip to Guatemala the next week and we could get her when I returned.
Then, the foster mom put the little calico back in the cage with another cat. (The girls had already named her Snickerdoodle because she was the color of a sugar cookie with spots of chocolate and caramel.) And the other cat was so happy to see his friend that he licked her head and started purring. We assumed the big kitty was our kitty's mom but the foster mom filled us in on the story.
"Many think that Snuffles is her mom, but he is just one of the other cats I'm caring for till I can find him a home. I'm not sure why, because they aren't biologically related, but there is a special bond between them that I can't explain. Although I'm fostering several cats, these two are always together. It's a shame I can't find Snuffles a home."
At this point Brad knows he is in big trouble. He looks at his wife and trio of children listening to the story. Then he looks inside the cage of two kitties and one big explosion of fluff. The foster mom continues, "Few people are interested in Snuffles because even though he's only a year old, he's almost full grown. Most want a small kitten. I found him several months ago in a dumpster behind a grocery store. Someone threw him away like garbage. In spite of his rough start, he's one of the sweetest cats I've ever had."
Her words reminded me so much of Daniel. A boy thrown away like garbage, yet one of the sweetest children I had ever met. A child that because of his age is typically hard to place. Statistics show that a boy over the age of five has only a 20 percent chance of being adopted. And as Snuffles and Snickerdoodle snuggled together, I kept hearing the words, "Although these two aren't biologically related, there's a special bond between them."
Brad saw my teary eyes and said, "You want both of them, don't you?" I nodded. The kids nodded. Praise God that my husband is such a softy. We were giddy filling out the paperwork to make them ours. Ava commented, "Oh, how I wish Daniel's adoption was this easy!"
We brought them both home the day after I returned from Guatemala. And the foster mom wasn't exaggerating--these two cats are so sweet together. They usually sleep together, always eat together, and often bathe each other. It gave me a glimpse of the kind of sweetness that our children might have once Daniel came home. It was that "sign" I needed and gave me peace that everything would be okay.
We have a million photos of the cats, but here are are few that are proof of how close they are to each other.
And here's one of the kids with them the Christmas before Daniel came home.
Fast forward a year. Daniel finally comes home and meets the kitties for the first time. He had never seen a domestic cat and called them "little lions" for the first few weeks. The cats were apprehensive of him at first. That first month home I washed Daniel's hair with tea tree oil in case of lice. (He had had lice in the orphanage, thus I nuked dandruff. Not taking any chances. FYI, tea tree oil is great for killing those suckers.) It must smell like cat nip because the cats were all over him after his baths. He'd exclaim, "Look, Mama, they love me!" Soon they truly did love him.
This is Daniel with Snuffles.
He loves them dearly. He worried about them when we went out of town and loves to care for them.
This is Daniel with Doodle.
A few weeks after coming home, he asked why Snuffles is bigger than Doodle since they are twins. I explained that they aren't twins and aren't even from the same mommy. I saw the wheels turning and wondered what he was thinking. He said, "They must be brother and sister because they love each other so much." I added, "Well they are 'brother and sister' because they are in the same family." Then all kinds of fireworks went off in his head and he said, "Like me and Olivia, Ava, and Brady!!! We love each other because God put us all in the same family!"
I know Brad would agree that Daniel's realization that love makes a family made cleaning out the litter box well worth it. (Although I don't have the heart to tell Brad that the kids are now praying that we'll get a dog. ) And just like our cats, you'll often find our four kids snuggled up reading a book, playing together, just being silly--evidence that you don't have to be biologically related to have that special bond.
We plan to put two kitty figurines in our Memorial Box as a reminder that God makes families, not just by birth, but with love. What a wonderful God to provide this life lesson for a mom who needed peace that her children would have a special bond and for a child who needed reassurance that he truly belongs.
More Than Lots,
Sunday, March 21, 2010
With the exception of my mother's health when she was battling cancer and Daniel's adoption, I haven't prayed this long or this passionately about anything else in my life.
Last summer, I felt conviction that I wasn't praying fervently--about Daniel, about this request, about my family. But we had been running a marathon that seemed to never end. My legs weren't just tired--they were cramping.
I noticed that in my prayer life I had lost my passion, my fire, in going to God. Part of it was perhaps because I knew God would answer my prayers in His way in His time. What would my little prayers truly do to change the outcome? I think I also began to wonder God's will in it all. Daniel's adoption was so hard--one ridiculous mountain after another. I began to wonder if it was even God's plan that we adopt him at all. But now that Daniel is home, I see that we were in a spiritual tug-of-war for his life.
We saw firsthand the power of prayer as we brought him home. It brought us even closer to God and into a sweet dependency on Him that we have not had since we lost my mom and our first son. So as the prayer for Daniel's adoption was answered, we have focused much of our prayer efforts on this other burden. (Forgive me for not being able to share what that prayer is right now. For many reasons I need to keep it private.)
One of my favorite scripture passages--one that makes me laugh every time I read it--is the parable of the persistent widow found in Luke 18:1-8. It's the one where the widow kept going to an unmerciful judge with a plea for justice. For a long time he refused, but finally gave in because he was so sick of hearing from her. Jesus goes on to say, "Will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him night and day?"
So a few weeks ago, we stepped up the prayers regarding a situation that has been hopeless for 29 months. We even have a chart on our fridge that reads, "Fervent Prayer for . . . " and every time we pray about that situation I record it. Even if God's answer to this prayer is no, I can't tell you how beautiful it is to have the boys stop me at breakfast and ask to pray, or have my girls ask in the car or at bedtime to say one more prayer about it, or to gather as a family on our knees just for this burden.
Often in our prayers, we've asked God to "move this mountain." Daniel asked about the phrasing--I think he thought we were literally praying for God to move a mountain. We explained that this was not a real mountain but represented a big obstacle. That sometimes the mountain seems too big to climb or walk around--so tall that it seems impossible to reach the other side. And we need God to remove the obstacles so our request can be answered, but also to show that He was the only One who could have done such a miracle.
Well, for 29 months the mountain has grown . . . and our strength to climb has diminished. March 11, I wrote on our chart: "2 a.m.--Mom prayed with tears." I was the widow before a judge, pleading for mercy. But I was also Abraham laying Isaac on the altar and asked God to take this desire from me and make something beautiful from the situation if it was not His will to answer yes.
And late that afternoon, we got some news. Not big news, but it was a definitely the size of a small rock rolling down that giant mountain. You had better believe our prayer chart is filling up quickly now. God is good.
So today's Sunday Dinner of scripture is:
" . . . I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." (Matthew 17:20, NIV)
My challenge to any of you who have a burden on your heart, is to not give up praying for it. You might even want to keep a chart or journal recording your prayers about that situation. (If you want to read about one of the greatest prayer warriors in my life, her story is here.)
The dessert of song is "Mighty to Save" by Laura Story. We have known and loved this song for a long time because Laura Story is part of the worship team at a local church and our daughters attend that church's school. Anyway, we have heard and sung that song so much that it was like a piece of gum that had been chewed a lot--it had lost it's flavor. But this morning, we sang it at our church. And I had Daniel next to me. He hopped up on his chair so we were shoulder to shoulder, arm in arm. I heard him belting out "My Saviour, you can move the mountains, You are mighty to save, You are mighty to save."
The tears began to flow because I had in my arms living proof that God can move any mountain. And that will be our theme song in the coming weeks as we pray, and wait, and watch what God will do in that situation.
In the coming week, may you go to the God who can move mountains and experience firsthand His saving grace.
Thursday, March 18, 2010
I've heard parables described as "earthly stories with heavenly meaning." I'm so glad that Jesus spoke in parables because I'm one of those people who needs the spiritual Cliff Notes for life. And in my daily walk I often find some kind of lesson from everyday life (some past posts about them are here). Sometimes I think it's God tapping me on the shoulder with something He's trying to teach me (other times it's more like a kick in the rear when I'm being stubborn). And sometimes my tired brain comes up with an analogy to help me teach my children a life lesson.
My children are precious . . . but even precious children need correction, guidance, and an occasional dose of perspective. Often when I'm talking with them, they look as glazed as a Krispy Kreme donut. I'm yapping away like Charlie Brown's teacher (wamp wa wamp wa wamp) and their little cartoon bubbles are saying "Hmmm, I wonder what's for dinner" or "I'm going to nod my head in agreement with the hope that she'll stop talking."
So I make up stories to help them "get it." And today I'm going to share the one that seems to be the most effective with my kids (and one I actually used this week). This story is usually told when my children are not acting responsibly, or are expecting much of me and/or my husband yet offering little in return, or I see a pattern of poor habits and am trying to get them back on track.
My talk starts with: "Life is like a ride in a boat. Right now the boat you travel in is with your family. And in the boat of life there are three kinds of people. First, there are the ones who row. They keep the boat moving forward and on the right course. Then there are people who just sit there as passengers. Not rocking the boat, yet not contributing to move it forward. Last, there are those who continually tip the boat over or row in the wrong direction."
At this point if I hear the mental crickets chirping, I ask them to look me in the eyes while I'm talking. (Then the cartoon bubble reads: "Man, those are some dark circles." )
I continue with, "Dad and I are primarily the ones who row. It is our responsibility and privilege to move the family forward and keep it on course. But sometimes Dad will be traveling for work and I'll be rowing by myself. There may be times that I'm sick or busy with something (a sick child, a writing project, a church/school event) and Dad will be doing much of the rowing."
"Most of the time this isn't a problem because the waters are calm and the load is manageable. But sometimes there's too much loaded in the boat and it's more weight than any one person can carry. It can also be exhausting when the same one or two people do all the rowing by themselves."
"When you guys were younger, we did not expect you to row. It would have been too much for someone so small. So we were content just to have you as a cute little passenger. And we knew that often you would rock the boat by not sleeping through the night or make a mess that you weren't able to clean up. But as you have grown, your weight in the boat is greater thus the need for you to help row has also grown. There are times that it's fine to sit as a passenger--it is a joy to serve you--but there are also times it would be appreciated to have that love shown through service from you. And on occasion you rock the boat with your words or actions. This is difficult because you are now capable to tipping the boat over, adversely affecting the whole family."
At this point, I might have one of my children tune in long enough to say, "I don't get it. We don't own a boat." And that is the time I would be tempted to whack him or her with my figurative oar. But I refrain because I am a woman of great self-control. (My husband is not allowed to comment on this post.)
So I will give some examples to help him/her understand. Some starters would be: "If a child has the blessing of being fed a home-cooked meal, he/she is capable of putting his/her plate in the dishwasher. If he/she is granted the privilege to participate in a sport/activity that requires mom to spend massive amounts of time driving this child to practices, then this same child should use their time wisely with school work and household chores to show that they can manage both and to free mom up to spend time with the other children when home. If this child has a mom willing to do his/her laundry, then the child should put soiled items in the hamper instead of leaving the PE clothes in the backpack to marinate then complain on PE day that the items are not clean. (Of course, my children would NEVER do that.) If he/she would like to have a friend come over to spend the night, then he/she is responsible for making sure the condition of that room does not give their guest nightmares."
The appropriate response to my "Now do you understand?" is "Yes, ma'am." An even better response would be, "Thanks so much for all you do. I'll try to help out more." Words that are not allowed in our home are "it's not fair." I rarely hear those three words because my kiddos know I would let out a moan similar to a cow giving birth, then proceed with another analogy from my mental mommy stash filed under "It's Not Fair Analogies" involving a story about a pitcher of water, or a tube of toothpaste, or if I'm really frustrated maybe the one about toilet paper. (Okay, I don't really have a life lesson about toilet paper, so don't tell them. They haven't yet called my bluff.)
Anyway, the boat analogy was quite effective yesterday. Brad is out of town and it was Arts Festival Day at the girls' school and I was a parent helping with it. I had to get the five of us out the door by 7:15 a.m. (three of us in Wild West attire), drop the boys off (thanks, Martha, for watching them!), and sit in crazy traffic trying to get there. One of my kids gave me a "parenting opportunity" and all I had to say was, "Do. Not. Tip. The. Boat. Over." I heard that much needed "Yes, ma'am" and suddenly, all oars were in the water rowing in unison.
As much as I would like to think this little story only applies to my children, I must admit that this analogy comes in adult-size, too. As I question what I'm doing with my life I must also question what I'm doing in the boat. Am I content to just sit in the boat, in the pew at church, on the sofa at home? Embarrassed to share my faith or unwilling to go outside my comfort zone to serve others--thinking I'm glorifying God by just "being a good example." Or am I tipping the boat over by missing opportunities to witness, or ignoring others in need when it would require sacrifice to help, or choosing my way over God's plan. I need to be willing to row, even when the waters are rough and I don't know where the Almighty Current will take me.
Okay, I know I'm not Hans Christian Anderson so thanks for making it this far. If any of you have your own "Lessons from the . . ." kinds of stories, I'd LOVE to hear them. Feel free to share in the comments section or send me an e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) with your story or a link to your blog and I'll share them in a post.
Gotta run. I need to get the kids to bed and the boat to the dock.
Wearing My Life Jacket,
Monday, March 15, 2010
I've shared two "Memorial Box Mondays" in the past (you can read here), but this story is a bit different from the others because instead of God answering the prayer directly, He answered this prayer through the help of others.
This story takes place in November of 2008. We were nearing a year and a half into our adoption of Daniel and I was days away from visiting him at his orphanage in Guatemala. Brad and I visited as often as we could so he would know we hadn't forgotten about him.
Well, with all those visits, not only had I grown very attached to my sweet son, we had also grown to love many children from his orphanage. So when my friend Anna (who adopted 2 children from the same children's home) organized a mission trip to do an "extreme dorm makeover" for a dorm housing 27 girls ages 8 to 10, I wanted to be Ty Pennington, umm, without the facial hair.
Well, two days before leaving for this trip I got an e-mail from a friend already down there. She wrote, "Kathie, it's cold and the kids don't have coats." (Although Guatemala is in Central America, the orphanage is in the mountains and it can get quite cold especially at night.) After finally surrendering that there was no way to fit 450 coats in my two suitcases for all the kids at the orphanage (much less pay for them), I bought coats for Daniel and the two girls we sponsor. But oh how I wished I could do more.
It was the girls in "V's" dorm (the older girl that we sponsor) that I ached the most for. They were the same ages as my girls and were so appreciative of anything we gave them. I would be around these precious girls all week painting in their dorm and I so badly wished I could give them each something to keep them warm. (And I was leaving in two days so there was no time to ask for donations.)
I had my kiddos with me at Wal-Mart helping me buy stuff for my trip. We walked past the fabric department and they had hanging on display a poncho made from fleece. My girls thought it was beautiful and the lightbulbs went off at the same time, "We'll make 27 ponchos for the girls in V's dorm!!!"
But if you've ever stood at a craft store checkout, heard that your grand total was something close to the national debt, and screamed "but all I bought was scrapbook paper and pipecleaners", you'll understand that I wanted to be careful not to spend more than it would have cost to just buy jackets. So I prayed that if God wanted us to do this, that He would provide affordable fleece.
A sweet lady overheard our plan and with a wink wink directed me to some bolts on sale and some that were low enough in yardage that she could price as remnants. We also went to Hobby Lobby and Jo-Ann's and with some carefully used coupons soon had enough fleece in all kinds of colors and patterns to make about 30 ponchos.
The girls stayed up late with me the night before my trip to help make the ponchos. And we had just enough time to make (drumroll please) . . . three. Hmmm. This quick, no-sew craft took a bit longer than we had thought. So I put the fleece in those vacuum storage bags and loaded them into my suitcases. I figured I'd have plenty of time to work on them once I got there. (I'm hearing chuckles from everyone who has gone on a mission trip.)
But as soon as I arrived, my time evaporated as quickly as my energy. We spent most of our time cleaning and painting the girls' dorm. I would spend much of the day loving on Daniel and worked into the night on the dorm with the other women on our mission team. (I got the fun job of painting flowers and butterflies in the girls' bathroom.)
Although it looks like I'm leaning over with the girls (the one we sponsor is in the pink leopard print--another thing my girls picked out from Wal-mart), at this point I'm not able to stand upright.
Unfortunately, all the time I thought I would have to do the ponchos just wasn't there. The other women were just as tired as I was and I didn't want to ask for help since this had been my crazy idea.
I worked on them a bit at a time, but in my four days there I had only completed three more for a grand total of six. I had one full day left and would be leaving the next morning . . . returning home with about 50 yards of fleece and leaving behind girls who were shivering.
I had accepted that the ponchos just weren't going to happen and was just focusing on finishing my painting in the bathroom. My friend Judy was done with her project so she brought one to work on in the dorm while the rest of us painted. One of the girls spotted the poncho in progress and said, "It's so beautiful!!" Ugh! My heart ached that I wasn't going to be able to give them all one.
Although I had about finished my painting, I was feeling all kinds of defeat because of those silly ponchos. I should be accustomed to craft projects gone awry--like the time I Bedazzled the front and back of a shirt together. Or the Christmas of 1998 when I thought I'd save money replicating an expensive wreath that I saw in a magazine only to drop enough dough on the bowmaker, ribbon, and supplies to have decorated the tree at Rockefeller Center. Yep, there have been enough crafting fiascos that Brad has come home from work and said, "Put down the glue gun and nobody will get hurt."
But this time was different. It wasn't about fleece. It was about my girls at home starting this project with me and who were so excited to hear how it ended. It was about God providing an abundance of beautiful fabric at an amazing price. It was about me wanting to leave something with each girl before I had to hug them good-bye. It was about 27 girls with so little having a little something that says "you matter."
I finally left the dorm about 1:00 a.m. with two friends who stayed late with me to finish up. My feet, shoulders and hands ached like never before after 5 days of painting. But I told Kim and Anna that I was going to stay up and try to do as many ponchos as I could before my flight. (Yes, they know that I'm quite the assortment of nuts.) My plan was to work till 9:00 a.m. leaving some time to say my good-byes before leaving for the airport at 10:30 a.m. They wished they could stay up with me but they were just so exhausted.
Well, we opened the door to the mission house, not wanting to wake anyone from the other mission teams who had been working hard on their own projects. There was little light, but as we walked in, I could see my fleece in neat piles on one of the dining tables. I thought, "How sweet that someone has helped gather it up for me to pack." But as we stepped closer, I saw that these were not piles of fleece, these were piles of ponchos!!! I cried and laughed and cried some more.
It was like the elves and the shoemaker story. I wanted so badly to know who had done them, but knew I'd have to wait till morning for the full story.
It turns out that two women from our team in Georgia--Judy and Lynn, decided that they would make as many ponchos as they could. Then some women from teams from Arkansas and Alabama pitched in and soon they had an assembly line of poncho makers. (Oh, forgive me for not sharing everyone's name. I would try to list everyone but know I would certainly leave someone out.)
The next morning as I was saying my good-byes, I was able to not only give V a gift, but she was able to help distribute a gift to every girl in her dorm.
One by one, each little girl just giggled in picking out her poncho.
I wish I had more pics of the girls and the precious poncho makers. Angels on earth, all of them!
Everyone seemed to get their first choice and we had some left over to share with some teens who help care for the girls. When my husband visited 2 months later, he reported that the girls were still wearing their ponchos proudly.
I have a little square of fleece in my Memorial Box.
It's a beautiful reminder of how God provides through the love of others--from the lady in the fabric department at Wal-Mart, to my daughters who came up with the idea, to a precious group of women who were such an answer to prayer.
It's also a good lesson for me to remember to accept the help of others (I struggle with this one). By trying to do this alone, I was depriving them of the joy of being part of this gift.
I think when we are blessed by the care of human hands, we often forget the One from whom these blessings flow. But sometimes God wows us through the work of His hands and other times He wows us through the work of other's hands. So today, I want to not only give thanks for God's blessings, but also give thanks for the dear people He places in my life who have blessed me.
More Than Lots,
Sunday, March 14, 2010
This post is kind of a P.S. to yesterday's. As I chew on God's plan for our life, I keep coming back to something Jesus said that is actually recorded in all four gospels. Since Matthew comes first, I'll use his quote for this week's Sunday Dinner scripture.
Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Matthew 10:39, NIV
I guess that's what I've been chewing on lately. Exactly how does God want me to lose my life for His sake?
I plan to share later this week what my mother's last words were to me. Just four words, but profoundly life-changing. I know each day I'm shaping what kind of mom my kids will remember. I'm deciding what kind of legacy I'll leave to my grandchildren. I'm choosing what kind of difference I'll make for eternity.
Most days I feel profoundly flawed and inadequate. Like that funny little butter knife in a drawer of fabulous forks and spoons and knives with serrated edges--I'm just sitting there trying to figure out what I was made for. I want to be used in a mighty way, yet I'm comfortable just hanging with the butter while it softens at room temp. Kind of a "here am I, send me . . . anywhere but the mission field, or to a country that requires a flight with a layover, or to parent a child with significant needs." Such a pitiful offering to the Lord to say I am willing to lose my life figuratively, but hold on for dear life all that gives me comfort and security.
I did catch a glimpse of a bit of my legacy the other day that made me smile. I came downstairs to find Daniel and Ava were already awake. They were sitting together looking at the computer. I figured they were playing some kind of game and panicked for a minute that they had been surfing the web without me. But as my near-sighted eyes got closer, I discovered that they were looking at an adoption photolisting. I asked what they were doing and they simply said, "We're looking for more brothers and sisters." They were so focused on their mission that I was able to take this pic and they didn't even notice.
This week's song is an old favorite of mine--Nichole Nordeman's "Legacy." This week may you be challenged to lose your life for Christ's sake and make a difference for eternity.
More Than Lots,
Saturday, March 13, 2010
But my thoughts lately have been about how to change the ending of someone's story--including mine. I remember doing one those assignments in high school where you write your own obituary. It had significance then as I was just trying to figure out who I was and what I wanted to be. But if I wrote my obituary now, the task would have even more meaning. I'm at an age of making major choices for how I will spend the second half of my life (or whatever days God grants me)--the beginning of my story is a distant memory and I'm shaping today what I leave behind.
I've attended some funerals lately--the average age of these friends is inching closer to my own age--so perhaps that's why I've been doing that mental obituary writing. Last Thursday was also the anniversary of my mother's passing. (I shared about the significance of that day here.) But perhaps the greatest influence of this life-evaluating has been having Daniel in our lives.
We can't change the beginning of his story, but we have changed his ending. It's like watching the DVD of a movie and clicking on "Alternate Ending." He knew what kind of ending he might have had after spending his childhood in an orphanage in Guatemala. With his adoption, the script was edited and his heart rejoices that now his story includes a family and a future. He's so precious. When I ask him what he wants to do when he grows up he says, "Great things, Mama, great things! But I don't ever want to move far away from you."
He was so sweet on Ava's birthday last week. Here's a child who has never had a birthday with a family, who went to great lengths to make sure Ava's day was special. He made her 14 cards. He made banners and displayed them around the house. He even gave $5 of his own money to Ava as a gift. It's hard to remember not having him as part of our family. He's like an instrument added to our family band and, even though his tune can sometimes be a bit off-key, I can't imagine our song being played without him. He is changing the ending to our story as well.
It is convicting as Brad and I pray about the future of our family. We know there are other children who need homes. We know we have the ability to change the ending for other orphans. Right now we are focusing on getting our four settled after two years of crazy, yet it is hard to look the other way. Knowing what we know. Seeing what we've seen. How can we say that the plight of 147 million orphans is not our problem? It is. As Christians, God has called us to change the endings of their life stories.
Last Christmas I had wanted to post my past Christmas letters that tell the story of our family. Because I was in Guatemala much of the holiday, then busy trying to get ready for Daniel to come home, I only made it to 2004. Although I realize it's mid-March, I'm adding one today. (The letter and photo below are from Christmas 2005.) And although I don't think this one is a big tear-jerker, some of you might need a tissue. (Some readers have requested Kleenex warnings.) It includes a story about my mom and talks about how love can change any ending to any story.
May you experience life-changing love in your own lives!
More Than Lots,
Dear Family and Friends,
I began writing my annual Christmas letter December 1 with the goal of getting my holiday greetings out early. But by Dec. 2 my life resembled a bad rendition of the “Twelve Days of Christmas” (no need to sing along): 12 loads of laundry, 11 trips to Kroger, 10 days of antibiotics, 9 Christmas parties, 8 years old when my daughter figures out that mommy is making everything up as she goes along, 7 hours spent trying to get a photo with everyone’s eyes open, 6 strings of lights that burned out after I hung them on the tree, 5 mystery stains on the carpet (and company is coming), 4 hours sleep a night, 3 nervous breakdowns (which is actually a low number for me), 2 girls singing “Feliz Navidad” at the top of their lungs, and 1 husband who travels as if he’s running from the law. So add a partridge in a pear tree and I’ve got a holiday letter that will be ready by Easter.
Anyway, to those of you who billed me for the Kleenex from my last letter, I promise to go easy on you this time. This year we have nothing but happy to report--we’ve gone from “goodness and mercy shall follow” to “my cup runneth over.”
It’s been almost a year since the arrival of our New Year’s baby and this precious gift of life has brought so much joy. He fits into our crazy family quite well, although he frequently has a look of concern. I’m hoping God gave him a pre-earth pep talk along the lines of: “Okay, buddy. The good news . . . this family wants you really bad. The bad news . . . they’re all nuts.”
When Brady was just days old, the girls commented: “He’s more fun to watch than TV!” They absolutely delight in him and he in them--his biggest smiles and loudest giggles are in response to his big sisters. The only thing he lacks is personal space. His mini-mommies love to hold, sing, read, play peek-a-boo, and tickle him. He loves music--which he dances to with a Stevie Wonder-type head move--and gives a toothy grin and round of applause for everything. His first word was appropriately “uh-oh” and he took his first steps Thanksgiving weekend trying to escape from his sibling fan club. He’s become the family mascot and adds sweet sunshine to our home.
Ava turned five last March--the highlight of her year has been being a big sister. As far as she’s concerned, Brady is HER baby and we are just helping her raise him. She has bestowed on him hundreds of nicknames and does a multitude of voices to communicate on his behalf. She keeps us busy with her extracurricular schedule of ballet, gymnastics, and soccer and loves her half-day Kindergarten. Her appearance has changed quite a bit this year--she lost eight teeth and her hair has grown half-way down her back. (If you remember, two years ago her sister gave her a crew cut.) We call her “Speaker of the House” because her life is one never-ending show-and-tell. But our clown is full of compassion and she adds humor and a tender heart to our home.
Olivia, who turned eight in April, also loves her role as a big-big sister. However, she’s a bit more deliberate in her care for her baby brother. For example, while Ava carries him in a wrestling hold that resembles the Heimlich Maneuver, Olivia will inquire about the status of her brother’s diaper and the frequency of the spit-up before she showers him with affection. She is enjoying life in the third grade and continues to love to paint, sing, and cook. This year she has discovered a love to be onstage while participating in school productions and Walk Through Bethlehem at my dad’s church. (Motto: There are no small parts, only shy actors.”) This has been her year to try new things and gain independence with some old ones. It’s a joy to watch her bloom and she adds courage and creativity to our home.
Brad is well into his fifth year of working with his company. The upside of having your own business is that he can steal toilet paper from the office without an ethical problem. The downside is that he’s had to travel quite a bit. (I was suspicious of my Frequent Flier the first half of the year because Brady didn’t sleep though the night till he was six months old.) There’s nothing more endearing than a man who loves his children with every fiber of his being, which is why the time away is so hard and the homecomings are so sweet. He’s the one we all run to when we want to share our victories and it’s his should we cry on to unload the disappointments. He adds patience and encouragement to our home.
And I am deliciously tired savoring every golden moment with this crew. It’s been an adjustment having three kids in such different stages of childhood. For an old mother, I’m learning new tricks--like caring for a colicky baby while making a Betsy Ross costume, helping one child who has lost her library book while another is losing his umbilical stump, and nursing in the minivan while wrapping a birthday present in a Chuck E. Cheese’s parking lot. But I’ve learned that it’s okay to lower some standards (Hamburger Helper is considered gourmet in these parts) if I remember to raise others. (Well, who am I kidding--everything’s pretty much been lowered.)
If last year’s theme was “Goodness and Mercy Shall Follow” than this year’s is “He Restoreth My Soul.” But it’s a long road back to green pastures and still waters. I felt like I spent 2004 seeking shelter from the storm and 2005 rebuilding from its devastation.
The funny thing about the holidays is how joys and sorrows seem to be magnified under the Christmas lights. How wonderful it is to hang three stockings on the mantel this year, still my heart aches that there’s a little person missing from our family. How special it is to celebrate Brady’s first Christmas, but, oh, how I wish my mom and grandmother were here to share it with us. Yes, fa la la can quickly turn into bah humbug for those who have experienced loss.
On those days when the absence of my mom seems unbearable, I keep my spirits up and her memory alive by sharing stories about her. The other day when I was reminiscing I remembered a special Christmas. I must preface this account, for those of you who didn’t know her, by explaining that my mom was known for her storytelling. E.F. Hutton had nothing on her because when she spoke, everybody listened . . . and laughed . . . and cried . . . then begged her to tell another one. Her audience understood that her tales were “based” on actual events, but seasoned with a lot of Dixie.
Unfortunately, my dad, my sister, and I had heard all her stories numerous times. In fact, we’d heard them so much that we had them numbered like songs in a jukebox. There was one story in particular, I’m thinking it was number 237, that she dusted off every time my sister and I complained about the conditions in our household. It was kin to the “I walked 10 miles to school in the snow each day . . . barefoot . . . uphill both ways” tale that most parents told, but my mom’s “16th birthday story” was much more original and always had us in tears.
“I grew up in a blended family with five kids, “ she’d begin. “We were so poor that the poor kids of our rural Alabama community felt sorry for us. I spent my childhood wearing hand-me-downs and leftovers not only described the food, but our way of life. But this day was to be different. It was my 16th birthday and I just knew it would be special. I remember waking up with big hopes and was giddy with excitement when I was given a present. But disappointment soon followed when I opened it discovered the gift was a jar of Noxzema and ponytail holders. I thought it was a joke. No party, no singing, no special. I went to bed in my clothes with the hope that as soon as I drifted off, I’d hear ‘surprise!’ I wanted to be ready just in case there was a sweet 16 celebration. But I awoke the next day to discover that my birthday had come and gone.”
Well, this story tore me and my sister to bits. There were no funny parts, no happy ending, no way to fix her pain. How I wished that somehow we could turn back time and give her something special on her birthday.
Skip ahead to the early ‘80s, our family was sitting around our Christmas tree surrounded by opened gifts and piles of wrapping paper. My dad announced there was one present left and he handed my mom a small box. She removed the wrapping to discover a jar of Noxzema. She let out a chuckle, being a good sport, and pondered, “I wonder if it still smells like it did when I was a teen.” She removed the lid of the jar to find that it didn’t contain pungent smelling face cleanser. My dad had replace the contents with a beautiful pearl and diamond ring.
The tears first started down my mom’s face, then mine and my sister’s. Although most women would prefer their little blue box to say “Tiffany” instead of “cleansing cream,” to my mom it was perfect. We understood that with this gift of love, my dad hadn’t erased story number 237--but he had changed the ending. This is a truth I have carried my life, that a gift of love can change any ending.
There are parts of my life that I wish I could erase, but have discovered that my trials weren’t meant to be deleted. Through Christ’s gift of love, the were to be overcome. (“In this world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer for I have overcome the world” John 16:33.) And I’ve learned to be thankful for the blessing of brokenness. Had I not endured life’s winters, there would never be springtime. Had I not had earthly good-byes, there would be no heavenly reunions. Had I not grieved at the foot of the cross, I would not be able to stand in awe at the empty tomb of our risen Lord. Had I not felt the pain and sorrow that comes with living in a fallen world, then I would not understand my desperate need to have a Redeemer who can change the ending of my story.
And so I’m ending 2005 very much the way I began the year. Most nights you’ll find me rocking one of my three (sometimes all three) singing “God is so good, He’s so good to me.” I continue to be grateful for precious family and friends who have carried us through the bad and rejoiced with us through the good. And I continue to be amazed at how the best part of my story is woven with the “greatest story ever told.”
“Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given” (Isaiah 9:6). And this Christmas we’ll be giving thanks for the birth of two babies. One name Brady whom we call “Chubba, Little Man, Boo-Boo, and Sweet Potato”--a little boy sent to heal a broken family. But most of all, we’ll be grateful for the birth of Christ, whom we call “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace”--the Son of God sent to heal a broken world.
May you have a wonderful Christmas (or Easter, depending when you finally get this) and a blessed New Year.
With Much Love from the Williams Family
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
(This pic was taken at school today. This post will be a quicky because we're on our way to take her out for a birthday dinner.)
Ava has one of the sweetest spirits and tender hearts of any person (child or adult) I've ever known. She is the daffodil in the garden that is our family. She's the one who leaves love notes on everyone's pillows and is the originator of all the nicknames of our family members. She loves every living creature--fuzzy or slithery--and has such empathy for others well beyond her years. She is sweet sunshine and am so grateful that she's my daughter.
When she was seven, she said to me, "Mom, out of all the mommies in the world, I'm so glad God gave you to me." And out of all the families God could have placed her in, I'm so grateful God chose ours.
Happy birthday to our ballet-dancing,
gift from God.
We love you!
Mom, Dad, Olivia, Daniel, Brady, Snuffles and Doodle
Sunday, March 7, 2010
It's Oscar Night and although the only movies I've seen this past year have been animated (and most of them I saw in Spanish when I was in Guatemala), we like to have our own party. The kids dress up and walk the "red carpet"--which right now is Brady's Thomas the Train blanket. Our Academy Awards dinner was bow tie pasta with "red carpet" marinara sauce, green bean almondine and garlic bread. We finished with "Yes, We're Bananas" splits for dessert. Daniel (well, all four) loves the silly things we do around here.
Here are a few pics taken by the paparazzi. I decided to share these on Snapshot Sunday where Stefanie from Ni Hao Y'all and other bloggy folks share their favorite photos from the day. She shared a sweet photo about togetherness and as I watched my girls help dress up the boys (complete with a lot of hair gel), that's the word that kept coming to mind. After waiting two and a half years to get Daniel home, "togetherness" is one beautiful word. (And after this long weekend, "bedtime" is another good one.)
Since this is the first time Daniel has been sick since coming home (although he sure did perk up for Oscar night), it's been nice to pamper him. A little Vicks vaporub on the chest, cold washcloth on the head, spoonfuls of medicine, and large doses of love. Brad asked him the other night if being home was what he thought it would be. His response: "Oh, it's so much better than I ever expected." It makes me feel good knowing that he feels his home is a refuge, just like the verse he quoted in one of his letters before coming home.
Which is this week's Scripture:
"I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer: my God is my rock in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold." Psalm 18:1-2
God's refuge--when I am sick, when I am hurting, when I am afraid--oh, it's just so much better than I ever expected (to quote one very special little boy).
This week's dessert of song is a beautiful one by Sandra McCracken. There are a lot of great songs about God being our refuge and shelter but I chose this one because you may not have heard it before. I just love her voice. My weekly selection is limited to those listed on playlist.com. If you like this one, be sure to check out others by her and her husband Derek Webb.
Thanks for coming to dinner. Sorry it was thrown together and reheated in the microwave. I'm heavily medicated. (The idea behind Sunday Dinner is here.) I'm now going to close my laptop, fold a pile of laundry, and see who wins best actor/actress/picture. (That is unless the cold meds knock me out.)
May you find shelter and refuge in the coming week.
More Than Lots,
Friday, March 5, 2010
The first five years of his life (before being taken to the orphanage) were nothing but extreme poverty, hunger, abuse, and neglect. I will not share the details, for this is Daniel's story to tell, but he's shared things that I'd expect to see in a movie or read in a novel. Not things told by a child who calls me mommy. Who laughs at my dinner table. Who snuggles up with me in my bed.
I remember renting the movie "Slumdog Millionaire", but halfway through I just had to stop watching because it was too heartbreaking. Even though I knew it would certainly have a happy ending, I couldn't hang on long enough to get there. I guess I wish I could do the same with Daniel. I know what happens later in his story, that he finally gets a family, but I want to pretend that the years before he got here were just a bad dream. I want to rewind his life and erase the bad. I wonder why this little boy had to go through so much before coming home.
It reminds me of one of my favorite poems. It more eloquently says what I was trying to write on Sunday.
My life is but a weaving
She had won it at a fundraising auction and thought of me. She'll never know what an encouragement this gift was. It was June 2008. We were almost a year into our adoption and just weeks earlier found out that our dossier (completed in October 2007) had never been submitted to the Guatemalan government. We had missed critical deadlines, the Hague had gone into effect December 31, 2007 closing adoptions to Guatemala, and it looked impossible to ever bring our son home. There were some dark threads woven in those months. All we could see was the tangled mess of the underside.
But I knew God's hand was working on this tapestry. Our hearts were already tied to Daniel's. We knew God could fix man's error and provide a way for Daniel to come home. Oh how I wished then that I could have had a glimpse of the finished tapestry of our adoption and what beauty is being woven now.