Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Deep and the Shallow: Lessons from the Ocean

I haven't had a chance to share much about our trip to the beach the week before last. Few times have I been so grateful for such a sweet getaway. I was grateful because this time last year we drained our savings living in Guatemala trying to make progress on our adoption and trying to make memories with Daniel. We were two years into our adoption and just broken that we still didn't have him home.

So to have him with us--seeing him dive in the waves,

build sand castles,

search for shells and laugh with his siblings.

Well . . . it was a beautiful sight.

Some people are beach people. Some mountain people. Some country people, some city people. I think Daniel is definitely a beach person. It's like the air and water and sand renewed his spirit. And watching him renewed mine.

So grateful for my precious girls.

And my precious boys.

I occasionally write about lessons gleaned from everyday life. One about God's love for us is here. Another about trying to understand why sometimes God doesn't answer our prayers the way we want Him to is here. (Others can be found under the sidebar label "Lessons from the . . . ".)

Today, I thought I'd share some thoughts about how trials in our life are like the ocean.

There have been hard times in my life that I have felt like I was swept into the deepest part of the sea. It can be petrifying to look around and see nothing but miles of endless ocean. You don't know which way to swim, which direction might lead you to land. You stay afloat as best you can, sometimes with arms and legs paddling feverishly to keep you from drowning. Other times just lying on your back floating in surrender--trying to find rest . . . about to lose hope. One of the worst things about being in the depths of the ocean is that you don't know what is lurking beneath. Knowing at any moment you could be eaten by a shark or another predator.

There's also overwhelming loneliness. The water is eerily calm and at times dangerously cold. Hopeless thoughts begin to surface. Is there anyone who knows I'm even here? Is there anyone who is going to rescue me?

I've been in the deepest part of that ocean--with the loss of our first baby boy and then the loss of my mom (that story is here). But I know many of you have probably experienced depths of the sea that I can't imagine.

It can also be dangerous close to the shore. Even when the water is shallow enough to stand in, sometimes the waves can be overwhelming. You run to the safety of the beach as fast as you can, only to be swept by the undertow and beaten by crashing waves.

There are people on the shore oblivious to your plight. You might even be embarrassed that the ocean has yanked down your bathing suit and filled every crack and crevice with sand. You try to compose yourself so no one will know that you are hurting or in distress. You finally get your footing only to be hit by another wave.

I've been there, too. I've been hit with financial problems, adoption ordeals, friendship hurts, parenting struggles, health issues. Yes, it's shallow enough to wade through the depth of these problems, yet trials close to the shore are just as hard and often just as fatal as the ones in the middle of the ocean.

While in the deepest ocean, I had full prayer support--a lot of people sending S.O.S.'s to the Almighty Coast Guard on our behalf. But in the shallow waters I was often too prideful to let others know I was in trouble--too embarrassed to let others know I needed help. I often thought my request was unimportant in light of others who were in their own deep blue seas. Sometimes others don't understand how hard a situation can be when the pain only rises a few feet--few understand that we don't have to be in over our heads to drown.

So I guess this life lesson is twofold. One, to remember that God is with us when we feel the vastness of the sea will swallow us whole. When it seems rescue will never come and drowning is inevitable. And two, that sometimes our greatest struggles will be close to the shore. And we need not be too prideful to cry for help--to God and to the body of Christ.

It is also a reminder for me to not only try to help those deep in trial, but to also look for those who are being beaten by crashing waves in the shallow water.

I will always remember His faithfulness when the high tide washed ashore taking me to places I couldn't survive without His mercy. It is by God's grace I stand on the shore right now, celebrating His goodness.

So Grateful,

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sunday Dinner: Always There

Well, we packed a lot in this past weekend. Saturday morning we saw "Toy Story 3" (LOVED it), spent an afternoon with my side of the family at the lake on my dad's old pontoon boat, had a family picnic after church today, attended a fun wedding shower for my sister-in-law, and have some little friends over for a sleepover now. I'm thinking we milked this summer weekend for all it's worth.

Daniel is thrilled because his special buddy from Guatemala, adopted by friends of ours, is spending the night. The girls often have friends over and he has put up with fashion shows/nail-painting/karaoke singing, and is so happy that now it's his turn (but the evening involved sword fights and Star Wars battles). He made a menu of what he wanted me to prepare for the meals, did a fabulous job helping clean up, and thanked us all day for the treat of overnight fun with his friend. It's fun being his mom.

It's Sunday dinner time (the idea behind Sunday dinner is here) and the scripture for the week is:

"I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you."
John 14:8

It's such a short and simple verse, but I think one of the most beautiful ones in the Bible. I remember when we were trying to get Daniel home, we visited as often as we could during that two and a half year ordeal. Each time I'd arrive in Guatemala and my driver would pull up to the front gate of the orphanage, my stomach would turn into knots wondering if Daniel would be happy to see me. Oh how I wished he could understand that we would never forget about him, never leave him to live his days as an orphan.

When I'd walk through the front gate, his buddies would start screaming, "Danilo, Danilo!!! It's your mama!" He would catch one glimpse of me and come running. And all would be right with the world with him in my arms.

Sometimes I feel that way with my Heavenly Father. Sometimes I allow the world's noise to reach such a volume that I can't hear His voice. I wander so far in my own will and own way, that I don't feel His presence. Sometimes I feel lost, like a child in a department store and there's not a familiar set of kneecaps in sight. But all it takes is for me to seek His face and call on His name, and I see that He was there all along.

The dessert of song is "Find You Waiting" by Decemberadio. I heard it the other day when we were driving back from the beach and thought it was beautiful.

This week, may you celebrate the love of your Father who is always with you.

More Than Lots,

So Grateful

Thanks so much to all who took the time to leave a comment on my last post and for your encouraging words. Thus far we have 55 comments. Wooooo hooooo! Many of you hopped over from Stefanie's site and already knew about An Orphan's Wish, but I'm tickled that some of you hopped from here to AOW's site and have seen for the first time what a special ministry it is.

We've had a busy weekend here, but I plan to write more later tonight. Just wanted to thank you all for taking the time to visit and say hi. I LOVE discovering new blogs and making new bloggy friends and I can't wait to visit you guys, too.

God Bless,

Thursday, June 24, 2010

My Heart Is With . . .

First, thank you all (bloggy readers and Facebook buddies) for you sweet birthday wishes. I have survived the first few days of being 40 (and thus far haven't needed medical attention). It has actually been a fabulous start of a new decade and I can't wait to see what God has in store for our family in the coming years.

I've often said my heart is with the people of Guatemala. When we adopted Daniel last year, I left a piece of it there. It felt like I left all of it there. There are children in that country (mentioned here) that I will always love as my own, ministries that we will continue to support monetarily and with mission trips, and a country that I will always feel loyalty to because it gave us our sweet son.

But over the past several months, I've realized that I didn't leave my heart in Guatemala. I gave it to all 147 million orphans in the world. It's not just the beautiful faces of Guatemala that I ache for, it's the children in China, Kazakhstan, Uganda, Ukraine, Ethiopia, Haiti, India, the United States, and any country that has a child longing for a family.

In our search for seeking God's will for our role in caring for orphans, I came upon a wonderful ministry called An Orphan's Wish. (Click the bloggy button below to visit their site.)

An Orphan'sWish

They care for orphans in China who have medical needs that can't be met in a regular orphanage. The children range from infants who need surgery to older children with cerebral palsy. I've been helping write this and that for their new newsletter and we are sponsoring the cutest little guy named Cooper. People can help by sponsoring children and soon there will be a listing of needs that people can give to for one-time donations. And if you sponsor a new arrival to AOW, you get to pick his or her English name. How cool is that?!

In just the last several months of watching the work at An Orphan's Wish, I have been blown away by what I have seen. The quality of care, the amount of love, well, I'd trust my own children to their care. Because it is a smaller ministry, it has been fun to see firsthand how my donations are used. I get amazing updates on the little guy we sponsor--monthly reports via e-mail with lots of photos that make my kids do their "awwwws."

I don't plug a lot of things on my blog, but this cause I felt was worthy of it. Right now Stefanie from Ni Hao Y'all, also the director of AOW (also one of the gals behind Wild Olive Tees--see the bloggy button on my sidebar), is celebrating her 1000th post by matching dollars for every comment. (That is one brave lady.)

Well, I'm not celebrating a 1000th post, but I am celebrating. My birthday gift from my husband was his official blessing for us to start another adoption. We are in the process of updating our homestudy and will share in the coming months as God leads us to the child who has been waiting for our family.

For every comment you leave below, I'll also donate a dollar to An Orphan's Wish. (That means I want all you loyal lurkers to come out of the shadows and say hi!)

Thanks for the blessing you all have been to me!

So Grateful,

Monday, June 21, 2010

Mom's Last Words

Okay. I'm going to fess up. Tomorrow I'm having a birthday that starts with a 4 and ends with an 0 (or perhaps that should be an "oh no"). Really, I'm handling this aging thing just fine. (It's my kids growing up that I struggle with.) I think I'm just so very grateful for every year God blesses me with that birthdays are a victory, not a defeat.

When I think about Christ's life--that His ministry didn't really begin till he was about 30 years old (Luke 3:23) and only lasted about 3 years--it humbles and convicts me that I've been granted 39 years and 364 days (hey, I'm not owning up to my new digits till it's official). What have I done and what am I doing that will really matter for eternity? I think that's my "mid-life crisis." I'm not feeling regret about the years past but urgency for the years ahead.

Today I'm going to share about an item in my Memorial Box. It's an item that represents one thing that is significantly shaping the second half of my life. It was my mother's last words to me March 10, 2004 after a long battle with cancer.

I've shared this story with close friends. (I included it in the 2006 Christmas letter and plan to eventually post them all here, but I feel kind of silly sharing December stories in June.) By the way, Memorial Box Monday was started by Linny at A Place Called Simplicity. Click on the bloggy button below to read her precious stories (the one she posted today is one of my favorites) and link to other wonderful stories of God's faithfulness and provision.

Deep breath. Here goes. (There should probably Kleenex warning with this one.)

Few things have impacted my life more than my mother's last words. In her last hours, I curled up in bed with her. I sang to her, read scripture to her, reminisced with her. It was painful to be with her--because she was in such pain and her face was so thin and jaundice that it hardly resembled the woman who had been my mother. Yet it was painful to be away from her knowing every minute could be the last this side of heaven. It had also been only eight weeks since the loss of our son (that story is here) and I needed my mom more than she needed me.

A few days before going to be with the Lord she said something precious to me and my sister. She said, "The best thing I ever did for you girls was to marry your father." This was in the midst of my dad taking care of her. He said it was a privilege to care for her in her last days so she could have her wish of dying at home. What a blessing it was to see their love for each other right to the end.

But it was what she said to just me in those last hours that were life-changing. She was barely able to talk at this point and I knew these golden moments with her were few. I'll never forget she turned to me and--although her voice was barely above a whisper, she spoke as if she was screaming from a mountaintop. Each word its own sentence: "Make. Your. Life. Matter!"

I didn't know what to think. Of course, in my world as a wife and mom I did my best to make my life matter, so why was she telling me this? Then I looked at her withered body and saw a tear spill down the side of her face. Then, I realized why she said it. She never thought her life mattered.

Although she was a talented pianist, she never played at Carnegie Hall. Although she was beautiful, she was never on the cover of a magazine. Although she was a hard worker, she never earned a high-paying salary. Although she spent her life serving others, her passing would not be front page news.

One advantage to losing a loved one to a long illness is that you get the chance to say thanks and I love you. We had already told her so many times what a blessing she was and, although it seemed ridiculously redundant, I knew I needed to tell her one more time how much she mattered. As I searched my heart for the right words, I thought about my Savior. I thought about how His ministry began when He was about 30 which means that most of his life may have been spent as a carpenter, teacher, a son, a friend.

Some might wonder why the Son of God "squandered" so many years doing such everyday things that there's little record of His life between His birth and His baptism. But maybe it's those years of "growing in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man" (Luke 2:52) that make our life matter and prepare us for greater things. And by Christ's example, we should understand that a life of surrender, service, and uncelebrated sacrifices is more important than a life of great achievement and recognition.

Then it occurred to me that my mother had not missed her calling. Her piano concert hall was our church's sanctuary. Her audience of dignitaries was a dozen elderly people at the nursing home calling out their favorite hymns for her to play each week when she visited.

She was never more beautiful than when she was bald--refusing to let her cancer rob her of her radiance--never more triumphant than when she walked down the runway for a breast cancer survivor fashion show. She was the CEO of making others feel special, of making every day feel like a party, of being the first to meet the needs of others and the last to take credit for it.

And so I did my best to articulate to her how much she mattered to me, to others, and to her Heavenly Father. But I knew my words would soon seem trite, for in just hours she would hear her Creator say, "Well done, good and faithful servant." With tears flowing down my face, I ended our last conversation with: "Don't ever forget that there's a difference between a life wasted and a life given."

That was not only the day that my mother told me to make sure that I lived a life that mattered, but it was also the day that I really understood God's definition of what that truly meant.

So I have this in my Memorial Box.

Next to this.

Words spoken by my mother. Defined by my Heavenly Father. Lived beautifully, perfectly, sacrificially by my Savior.

Thank you, Merciful Father, for every day granted. May I use each moment to glorify you.

Thirty-Something for a Few More Hours,

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Day of the Father!

We're back! We thoroughly enjoyed our first trip to the beach with Daniel. I'll share more later, but he LOVED every minute of it. He loved the ocean, the sand, the pool, the time with family. The oil threatened but never hit us. And our coming home was so sweet. He walked in the door and said what I always feel after being away, "I love you beautiful home. I love you beautiful kitties and fish and frog." It hasn't taken him long to learn that vacations are fun, but there's no place like home.

Today is Father's Day or what Daniel calls "The Day of the Father." (That's what they call it in Guatemala.) Brad prefers the Daniel's version. Sounds much more important.

I have much to be grateful for on Father's Day. I've been blessed with a wonderful father, father-in-law, and father to my children. Most of all, I've been blessed with a good and merciful Heavenly Father.

Years ago I was shopping for Father's Day cards with someone close to me. She was looking for a card for her step-father who had not been a good father--he was angry and verbally abusive and she was afraid of him most of her childhood. She was looking in the "simply stated" section trying to find something along the lines of "well, you're getting this card because I'm supposed to pretend I'm honoring you."

She said that as a little girl she had a hard time listening to people describe God as our Father. Her only example of a father was more kin to monster than Savior. She didn't need another father to fear, another father to tell her she was worthless. It wasn't until she understood that our Heavenly Father is a father of sacrificial love that she was able to cling to Him as the father she had longed for. She said, "I got a second chance to have a daddy."

I know if I was purchasing a greeting card for our Heavenly Father, I wouldn't be shopping in the "simply stated" section of Hallmark. (Because He's the only one who truly "cares enough to send the very best.")

The scripture for Sunday dinner is what I'd write on the outside of my handmade card to God:

"How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!"

I John 3:1, NIV

The dessert of song for today is an old favorite--"How Deep the Father's Love for Us." Joy Williams does a wonderful rendition of it. I've also included a video below from Sovereign Grace Ministries. It was shared at our church this morning and I thought it was such a beautiful tribute to the One who adopted me. (You will need to pause the playlist at the bottom of the blog so you won't hear both songs at the same time.)

Thank you, Heavenly Father, for the blessing of my husband, my dad, my father-in-law, and the legacy of my grandfathers. All are beautiful reflections of your love.

So Grateful,

Monday, June 14, 2010

Life's a Beach (and Pool)

Saying hi from Rosemary Beach, Florida!

Sorry I haven't posted in a while. We arrived on Saturday but haven't had internet for a couple days.

We've been enjoying every minute of Daniel's first trip to the beach. I don't have many pics to share yet because I left the thingy that connects my good camera to my computer at home, but here are a few from Olivia's pocket sized digital one.

This is Ava, Daniel, and Brady enjoying kayaking fun with cousins.

This is a quick pic before going to dinner.

And this is with a large stuffed alligator at dinner.

After two and a half years of mentally Photoshopping Daniel into our family memories, it's such a blessing to have him sharing it all with us.

My belated Sunday dinner of scripture is simply one about the sea:

"Mightier than the thunder of the great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea-- the Lord on high is mighty."

Psalm 93:4
Few things make me realize God's greatness like the ocean. I awe it, fear it, revel in it, delight in it. Just like I awe Him, fear Him, revel in Him, and delight in Him.
I have many thoughts about the ocean that I'll share later, but one small thing I love about it is its healing power. We all came on vacation with our scraps and cuts. I have a cut on my hand that reminds me that I'm long overdue for a tetanus shot, the boys' knees look like they have been grated like a piece of cheese, and my teen's legs look like she's been shaving with a chainsaw.
On the drive down, I reminded all the injured that the salt water would heal our wounds. And, you know what, two days into our trip and you can hardly tell where are boo-boos were.
It reminds me of God's love. I know if I just immerse myself in the healing power of His grace, I find healing of wounds that I thought would always be raw and infected and bleeding. Sometimes it stings at first, but I know that is the first step toward restoration.
As I soaked in the sea playing with my kiddos, I saw healing--not only in body, but in spirit. Primarily Daniel's spirit. It's a beautiful sight to behold.
This week's dessert of song is "Ocean Wide" by The Afters.
May you celebrate God's greatness and experience His healing.
More Than Lots,

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Daughters of My Heart

There's a little girl who calls me mama who turned 12 yesterday. But I didn't bake her a cake, or sing to her as she blew out her candles, or watch her smile from one ear to the other as she opened gifts from her mom and dad and siblings.

Simply because, although I love her as my daughter and she loves me as her mother, the world only recognizes me as her sponsor through a charitable organization. (I guess I should post some kind of "Really Depressing" warning on this one.)

I was prepared for many things when we started our adoption of Daniel, but I wasn't prepared to fall in love with two little girls at his orphanage. Children who aren't adoptable because they have an aunt who visits a few times a year. (This aunt loves them dearly but is a very young single lady and can't afford to adopt them herself. We asked the girls if they wanted us to help their aunt to financially be able to care for them and they cried that they didn't want to live with her but wanted to be part of our family.)

I wasn't prepared to meet these sisters who would show me that my heart had the capacity to love them as much as I do my biological children. I wasn't prepared to watch them cry as I left from my first mission trip almost three years ago. I wasn't prepared for that love to grow each time we visited (16 times in the past 3 years). And I certainly wasn't prepared to take Daniel to say good-bye to his friends at the orphanage only to face their tears and cries of, "Take me, too! Take me, too!"

I've had some hard days in my life. I've buried a child. I've lost a mother. But trying to explain to two precious girls who I love as daughters why I can't bring them home . . . well, it moved that day last December into the top three of days that I would never want to relive.

I mentioned in a past post here about something we were praying fervently for as a family. It was about these girls. I've cried out to God to move mountains and part seas so they could be adopted, but right now the mountains remain and the seas seem too deep and never-ending. And so I try to move on, knowing that there are 147 million children in the world who are adoptable and desperately need homes. I look at photo listings of precious faces, but can't help thinking "but they aren't Vivi and Eluvia."

And you know that unsettled feeling a mom has when one of her kiddos is at a sleepover elsewhere? I feel that every night because two are always missing. Daniel reminds me on an almost daily basis saying, "Don't forget them, Mom." And I tell him I never will--there's no expiration date on love.

I ask God why. Why out of 450 children from Daniel's orphanage did I fall in love with these two? Perhaps our role was only to be their sponsors. But it doesn't seem to be enough for children whose hearts long for a family.

So this week I've been sad. I looked through photos of a party we gave her when she turned 10. (I'll share those and an amazing story about that party on another day.)

Then I looked at photos of the one we did for her dorm when she turned 11. Our whole crew was there because we spent most of June last year living in Guatemala. Viviana wanted a Hannah Montana party. My girls insisted there must be a blonde wig involved.

This is the only photo I have of us all together. Even though I'm as green as my shirt (I had a bad stomach bug that day), it is one of my favorite photos because our family looks whole.

I couldn't bear the thought of her birthday coming and going without anything. No cake, no candles, no card--nothing different from every other day of the year. I e-mailed our favorite driver in Guatemala who was such a blessing to us during Daniel's adoption and has become our dear friend. I asked if there was any way he could take a cake and some balloons to her orphanage. I attached this photo so he would remember who I was talking about.

(A year ago, he drove us to an amusement park where that photo was taken.)

Well, last night I got these photos. This is what he blessed me with.

Apparently Viviana was allowed to choose a few friends to join her at a picnic table to have some birthday cake. And I was so happy to see they let her little sister (who lives in a different dorm) join her. But the photos are also hard to look at. They've grown up so much in just a year.

I cried happy tears. Happy knowing that she understands that we remembered her birthday and wish we could have been there. I also cried sad tears. Sad knowing what kind of day she would have had here with our family. (Here is the post about Daniel's first birthday home.)

Thanks for letting me cry on your cyber shoulder. I know many of you are adoptive parents who love children that you had to leave behind.

Happy 12th birthday, Viviana--the daughter of our hearts! May you know how loved you are all the days of your life.

Much Love,
Your Sponsor Mama
Still Praying You Home!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Traveling Mercies

Please don't pass out upon seeing two posts today. I know. It's as rare as a solar eclipse. Try not to stare directly into the computer screen or it might blind you.

As I was sharing about my sweet husband in my last post, I remembered a story of God's goodness that is great for Memorial Box Monday. This wonderful tradition was started by Linny at A Place Called Simplicity. Click the bloggy button below to read about her inspiration behind this idea and to link to other stories of God's faithfulness in their lives.

This story takes place August of 2008 in Guatemala. We were one year into our adoption of Daniel (that ended up taking two and a half years). We visited as often as we could so he would know we hadn't forgotten about him and to build our relationship with him. It was Brad's "turn" to visit. I remember waiting each night he was away for a phone call with the full report of what they had done that day. Sometimes I'd even get to hear Daniel's little voice on the phone saying, "Hola, Mama. Te amo mucho." (Hi, Mom, I love you so much.) I'm so grateful I can hear that precious voice all the time now.

But this particular night when Brad called, his voice was different. It surprised me because I knew he had planned to go with friends and the children they were adopting/sponsoring to a waterpark. I knew something was wrong. My mind went in all directions wondering if a child had drowned. Oh, dear God, what if it was Daniel. I could hear him choking up as he spoke. I patiently waited for the words to come, hoping this story ended happy.

Fortunately he opened with, "Kathie, God was with us today." With those words, I let out a sigh of relief.

He continued, "We had a wonderful day at the waterpark. Daniel and V. [one of the girls we sponsor] had such a precious time. It was the first time either had gone swimming. They loved the bathingsuits you sent. Anyway, the kids were worn out from our day of fun. Doug [one of our friends] was driving for our hour and a half trip back to the orphanage. I was sitting in the front next to him with Daniel asleep sitting in my lap."

Okay. Just a little side note that we would never normally let our children sit in the front seat on our laps. But when you find yourself in a van without seatbelts, trying to cram 10 people in for a day of fun, well, you find yourself doing some "when in Rome/Guatemala" kinds of things.

Brad went on, "Then out of nowhere, some people hiding in a ditch on the side of the road threw a rock, the size of a small watermelon, at our van. By God's grace it hit the bar that separates the windshield and door window on the passenger side. It shattered the windshield but miraculously the rock bounced off the bar and didn't break through. If it had, the speed and impact would have been enough to have killed me or Daniel."

We certainly rejoiced over God's protection that day. It was heartbreaking to imagine getting a phone call from Guatemala from one of our friends letting me know that Brad or Daniel had been killed. But I don't think we really understood exactly what God spared them from that day till a couple months later.

I was reading on a Guatemala adoption website a link posted from the U.S. Department of State with a travel advisory. They mentioned that stretch of highway that Brad and our friends had traveled on that day. They said that some people had been hiding in ditches, throwing things at cars. When the tourists stopped to survey damage or see what happened, these people would rob them and often even physically and sexually assault passengers.

When I read that I wept. I thought the thrown rock was just a silly prank. But not only had God spared Brad and Daniel from possibly fatal injury, He protected that entire van of two men, three women, and several little girls and boys from unthinkable violence. Praise God that the rock didn't come through the windshield and that our friend Doug had the wisdom to just keep driving instead of stopping to assess the damage.

I have put a small rock in our Memorial Box to remind us of God's protection that day. It also reminds me to pray fervently for my friends and family who are on mission trips or are traveling to complete adoptions.

Thank you, Mighty Father, for never ceasing to guide and protect us.

Gratefully His,

Sunday Dinner: Eighteen Years Ago Today

Okay. I do still own a calendar and I am aware that it is now Monday. But I have a really good excuse for not posting Sunday Dinner on an actual Sunday. It was our 18th wedding anniversary. One gift to hubby was spending minimal time on the computer this weekend.

I'm actually technically not late on wishing my husband a happy anniversary today. When we were doing our adoption paperwork, I requested a copy of our marriage license. They couldn't find us anywhere in the system for June 6, 1992. I started to get nervous. Fifteen years and three kiddos into this and we aren't legally married?!

Then they did a search by name only and found that our license stated our marriage date as June 7, 1992. I'm thinking the secretary at the church who filed our paperwork accidentally put the wrong date. So on our adoption paperwork, we have June 7 listed. I think it gives us permission to celebrate our anniversary for 48 hours.

So the scripture for the week is:

How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?

I Thessalonians 3:9, NIV

Little did I know 18 years ago all God had in store for us. Our last anniversary we spent having dinner in a Pollo Campero in Guatemala. Nothing says "I love you" like fried chicken in a Third World country. We were there with our whole crew trying to make some sweet summer memories with Daniel. Even though it wasn't what most would view as a romantic way to celebrate, it was so fitting for our life. (And if you want to feel close to your husband, spend some time in a foreign country where he's the only adult around who speaks your language.)

We've experienced laughter and tears, grief and joy, blessing and loss. And there's truly no one I'd rather go on this crazy journey with than him. And just like the verse above, I can't thank God enough for the joy Brad has brought to my life as my husband and the father of our children.

The dessert of song was a hard one. Many of my first choices aren't offered on playlist.com. But I do like this one by Brandon Heath called, "Let's Make It Last." I'm guessing he wrote this sweet song for his wife. The relationship he describes reminds me of mine and Brad's.

Happy (two-day) anniversary, Brad! I can't wait to see what God has planned for the next 18.

So Grateful,

Friday, June 4, 2010

Survivor: The Family Vacation

Whoever coined the phrase "the lazy days of summer" was obviously not a mother.

Don't get me wrong. I LOVE summer. I'm enjoying every single minute and am grateful to be moving at a considerably slower pace. I can't express how wonderful it is to have Daniel home for his first summer. I'll share more about these special moments in another post. But as we look ahead at the possibilities for our family, sometimes I just have to look back at the sweet years behind us.

I don't know about the rest of you, but sometimes looking back at photos when my kids were younger is painful. I look at them in all their dimpled cuteness and wonder if I fully appreciated every single minute. And then I look at Daniel and it hits me that I've missed so much of his childhood. But instead of grieving what has passed, I must savor every moment of today. For some day, I'll certainly look at photos from this summer and wonder if I fully appreciated every single minute. I want to be absolutely certain that the answer would be yes.

It's raining here and we are cleaning up and getting started on our summer reading. I came across this piece below that I wrote years ago and it made me miss those toddler days, yet grateful for the stage in life we're in now. It isn't a real account of our family vacation--but instead a caricature of a typical family vacation. I haven't watched the show "Survivor" in years (do they still let contestants have a luxury item?) but the only prerequisite to appreciating the experience detailed below is having vacationed with young children.

I've sprinkled in a few photos of our 2006 summer beach trip. These were taken at Edisto Island Beach in South Carolina. We've taken an annual week-long trip there with my extended family for about 30 years. My girls were 9 and 6 and Brady was 18 months. Daniel was about 4 years old living in unthinkable conditions in Guatemala. How I wish I could turn back time and rescue him from that life sooner. Oh, how grateful I am that he won't miss another summer with our family.

Under the title I've added "Preschool Edition." There certainly should be a "Grade School/Teen Edition" as well. I'd love for you to share your own family vacation stories in the comments or share a link to your blog of your own summer fun.

Happy Summer,

Survivor: The Family Vacation
(Preschool Edition)

I didn't mean to get hooked. I started watching "Survivor" because I heard they were eating things like rats and maggots and thought by comparison I'd get fewer complaints about dinner.

As I watched these contestants brave the elements and each other, I realized this Survivor game is nothing new. It's called the family vacation.

The similarities are uncanny. On the TV version, contestants (known as tribe members) eat almost nothing but rice, sleep in crude huts, and try to get along with people who often annoy them--all for the chance of winning a million dollars. On the family vacation, contestants eat fast food and fried seafood, sleep in crude rental facilities, and try to get along with people who often annoy them--all for the chance of spending what feels like a million dollars.

The latest season of "Survivor" may have ended weeks ago, but for many the adventure is just beginning. I can almost hear the tribal theme song playing as American families load their minivans. Join us for "Survivor: The Family Vacation" where the slogan "Outwit, Outplay, Outlast" has never been more appropriate.

The Contestants

Dad: Official driver/referee. Luxury item: A pair of ear plugs (not necessarily for the pool).

Mom: Official nurse/activity coordinator. Luxury item: Same book she's tried to read the last 5 vacations.

Baby: Most likely to have a diaper explosion after passing sign that reads "Last exit for 57 miles." Luxury items: One of everything sold at Babies R Us.

Two-year-old: Most likely to cause scene in restaurant. Luxury items: Thirty-two of his/her favorite dolls/animals and whatever older sibling has. In spite of limited vocabulary, is able to whine in 16 languages.

Five-year-old: Most likely to pout about above tribe member bothering him/her, restaurant scene runner-up. Luxury items: An assortment of toys marked "choking hazard ages 3 and under" and the one forgotten item that Mom and Dad will hear about all week. Able to kick back of Mom's seat till Mom threatens to strap the young tribe member to the luggage rack.

Day 1

Mom finishes marathon of washing and packing, finding pet sitters, assigning mail pick-up. The average wedding takes less preparation. Dad is loading the family vehicle--a task that requires an engineering degree and a lubricant.

The tribe will barely be out of the driveway before the two tallest members start to question choosing a destination 7 hours away. The journey will include visiting every public restroom and fast-food play facility that can be spotted from a backseat window. There will a Magna-Doodle incident that will upgrade Two-year-old to "most likely to get head injury."

Mom will offer Dad $100 for his ear plugs. He pretends not to hear over the hour-long rendition of "The Wheels on the Bus" with Baby doing back-up vocals of "Get Me Out of this @*!# Car Seat."

The tribe members arrive (4 hours later than estimated). They have just completed their first reward challenge. The reward is now they can start their vacation with fun things like unloading the van and going to the grocery store.

Mom starts looking for the port-a-crib then Dad explains there wasn't enough room to bring it and his golf clubs. Mom calmly informs that she will not put her cherub in the rental crib/death trap and Baby will have to sleep with them. Dad realizes the only action he'll be getting is with Big Bertha.

Days 2 through 7

On the TV "Survivor" things start to get interesting when the tribes merge. On the family vacation this dynamic unfolds as extended families get the wonderful idea to vacation together. The brilliance of this plan seems to fade as tribes without small children discover they're sharing a confined living space with a traveling circus.

For example, even a simple task like going to the beach/pool seems like a "Survivor" immunity challenge. The first hour is spent applying SPF 430 to naked bodies that only stop running when they hurt themselves. Then parents wrestle with greased piglets long enough to double bag them in swim diapers and swimsuits. Quick call to Poison Control to find out if ingested sunscreen is toxic. Baby due for feeding and everyone else (especially Mom) due for naps.

This tribe finally arrives at the beach/pool armed with a cooler of refreshments and armloads of aquatic accessories. Preschool Tribe will enjoy the sand and surf until someone gets knocked over by a wave, the sky opens in a thunderstorm, Baby needs a new swim diaper, or the children have lost interest and want to do something else. This usually happens in the first 15 minutes.

This same group--as soon as they've been de-sanded and de-chlorinated--will beg to return to the scene of the crime.
This challenge is repeated each day, except the day Dad plays golf. Mom will be the lone child-ranger where the highlight is a special trip to the store for headache medicine. Dad will finish his suspiciously long golf game with an emotional outburst of, "Please don't make me go back!"

Dinner is always an adventure on family vacations. There are two options: an overpriced seafood restaurant where parents take turns escorting children outside for the "Appropriate Restaurant Behavior Lesson" or cooking in a cramped kitchenette where parents take turns escorting children outside for the "Appropriate Kitchenette Behavior Lesson."

The only thing missing from this version of Survivor (other than prize money) is that no one gets voted off. Otherwise Mom would form an alliance with those who can be bribed with candy and have them eliminate her. (Don't judge until you've walked a mile in her flip-flops.)

Day 8

This is Day 1 in reverse. Except instead of the optimistic dream of a relaxing vacation ahead, there's an overgrown lawn, a pile of mail, 104 answering machine messages, and a week's worth of dirty clothes waiting for their return.

It's a bittersweet good-bye as tribe members board a vehicle that will forever carry a sticky film of snow cones, sand, and sunscreen. (They say a new car depreciates 20% when you drive it off the lot. My guess is that you lose the remaining 80% after a road trip with preschoolers.)

Some may question why this young family would even attempt a vacation if it's so much work. Well, an amazing thing happens as you drive away. You only remember the good stuff.

Little explorers searching for seashells and budding architects building sand castles.

Angels with water wings shouting, "Look at me! I can swim!"

Sweet smiles covered in ice cream,

dimpled legs chasing waves,

priceless commentary from miniature travel guides.

Special moments captured on film and in hearts.

For one week a year, life surrenders to a slower pace--no work deadlines, packed schedules, phone interruptions, endless to-do lists.

It can all wait because this time is reserved for playing,


and feeling blessed.

"Do you think it'll be easier when the kids get older?" Dad inquires.

Mom surveys the backseat of little people deep in vacation-induced sleep. She savors this scene knowing how much they'll change by the next vacation--wishing they could forever stay like they are right now because a year of growth couldn't possibly improve on such perfection.

"Yeah, it'll probably be easier," she replies, "but I can't imagine it being more fun."

They extinguish their torches from another vacation. This Mom has spoken.