Saturday, November 11, 2017


It's 1:20am on November 12, 2017.  Today is my 40th birthday. 

I distinctly remember my own mom turning 40 and I recall how, at the time, I felt like I was light years from EVER turning forty.  I mean, good grief, I'd never be THAT old.  Would I?  Tickled.  My mind has been reeling for the last few days nonstop.  So many things I am processing, praying over, desperately seeking His guidance for.  In all of the praying and thinking and pondering, I have grown more and more convinced that aging is such a blessing.  When Mark and I were engaged and newly married, we dreamed about being able to grow old and gray together.  We had lengthy conversations about the trajectory we hoped our life would take together.  Let me be the first to say (tearfully), "Jesus has exceeded our every expectation."  I want to say it louder for the people in the back. In all our youthful dreams, which at the time seemed too big and grand to ever possibly come true we couldn't have dreamed for this life.  It isn't a perfect life saying it louder again for the people in the back.  But, my goodness, it sure is beautiful.  Beautiful isn't always easy and most assuredly not always pretty.  As most anyone knows who has trod on the sod of planet earth very long, beautiful rarely  doesn't always equal pretty.  It gets messy, this life.  It gets heavy.  It also gets wearisome.  But, it never stops being beautiful and it never stops being a life I want to live.  I want to live it well and full with Mark Daniel McKeehan by my side every step of the way.  I want to spend it sharpening these arrows in our quiver so the 5 of them can be shot out farther, faster for the gospel than we could even hope, ask, or imagine.  I'm FULL ON trusting Jesus to do it.   He has been too faithful to me in forty years to stop asking Him for big things now. 
As my 40th has been approaching, it has caused me to think back over the years. If I live to be 120, not one birthday will ever top my 39th.  Ever.  It was the day we arrived home from Ethiopia with Tyson.  now I am literally sobbing.  Jesus, I can't get over You. Even more than having him home was the fact that the night of my 39th birthday all 7 of us were sleeping under the same roof at HOME. It was on my 39th birthday that Hudson and Corbin got to meet and hug and kiss and smother Tyson for the first time.  WHAT A GIFT.  I got emotional talking to someone this afternoon about it right there at the Holiday Hoedown.  In all the wandering wondering, deep valleys, long years, tearful nights... through all of that, Jesus knew.  He knew the mourning would burst forth with great dancing and that doubts would give way to sight.  He knew all along that on my 39th birthday we would land in America, ride down that escalator, and be greeted home by our friends and family who are all basically family. ONLY JESUS DOES STUFF LIKE THAT.  Human minds can't manufacture this sort of thing, try as they might. 
There are a few important (to me) things I wanted to share on this monumental post.  They are in no particular order well maybe they are, but it's too early/late to try to figure out which is which...
First of all, I want to tell y'all something.  At 40, I can whole heartedly confess to you that I am more comfortable in my skin, more acquainted with Jesus, more confident in His faithfulness and goodness, and more grateful for the little things in life than I have ever been before.  So, would I trade going back to insecure, more anxiety-filled days just to be younger? HECK NO.  I am ready to see what Jesus has for us as the next decade unfolds. He can't be unfaithful.  And, that truth alone, as I have chosen to reckon it to be true, has offered me more freedom than a million years living could bring apart from Him.
Secondly, my visits to see Brooke she is my friend who also happens to do my hair might be more frequent as my age as increased though I am most certain there is no correlation between the two, but, there is something really powerful about watching Jesus just flat out come through for you.  In the past three to five years, I can say without hesitation, I have lived my best days and my worst days. Without fail, even when what my eyes could see wasn't the answer I was praying for, Jesus sustained me.  And, when He chose to move mountains and answer, He confirmed in a trillion ways that He had never missed a single prayer, tear, or heartache.  His mercies over me have been so personal, so intentional, and so unmistakeable.  Hear me out on this:  it wasn't all "just" adoption answers.  There were friendship answers, marriages of dear friends that were doomed without a miracle, friends who needed supernatural healing, friends battling infertility for years who were tired and bitter.  I will take a few more visits to Brooke to cover up the glitter any day of the week to be able to live a life that sees Jesus come through in all His glory, parting the sea and making a way where we couldn't see a way.  I am about to have church in here.  Except everyone is asleep and that might wake them up.
Next, fighting off tears, there is something that happened in Ethiopia one year ago this past Friday that I have never written about on the blog.  Last year, it was too raw and personal.  But, as the year has gone by and as our lives have continued to be an open book, I am at peace with sharing it with you now.  It really isn't something most of you will think is a big deal.  No big juicy secret is lurking in here somewhere.  But, it is deeply personal to us and to Tyson's journey.  As most of you know, Jesus parted what felt like the Red Sea for us performed a HUGE miracle for us last
November 10.  You can read about it here.  Everything about the day had gone all wrong from what we could see.  Nothing was working in our favor to get us on  a plane for home before the long weekend.  What seemed to be dead end streets everywhere we turned with mistakes on key documents, wrong birthdays, misspelled names, were actually setting us up to watch THE WAY-MAKER MAKE A WAY.  hindsight is so powerful. Had we had it all together and everything had gone perfectly smooth, we wouldn't have been positioned to let Jesus do what only He could do.  And, what He did was allow us to the be the very first case to EVER that is such a big word have to have corrections made (and translated) to those key documents, have them (after they were corrected and translated) stamped by the MOWA office the office that took a literal year to sign our final document that allowed us to travel, and get said documents back to the US Embassy in time for them to be approved and then have them print Tyson's visa all in one day! I am exhausted just recounting that day.  After we left the US Embassy that morning with great disappointment because of all the mistakes on paperwork (we hadn't seen those documents in advance to notice the mistakes previously) and realizing what kind of delay it would cause, we headed back to the Bethany offices.  We had eaten lunch out and Menge (we love you, Menge!) had asked us if we would mind waiting there while he worked and while we prayerfully waited to hear back from Tesfahun (our attorney who was working powerfully to get all of THAT accomplished in one day).  Menge's thought was, if for some reason they needed us somewhere to facilitate faster processing, we would already be with him and a driver, so we could get there quickly at least as quickly as Addis traffic will allow.  While we were waiting there in the offices, I saw Meselu walking towards us Meselu was Tyson's amazing social worker in Ethiopia.  I noticed she was carrying something in her hand. When she came in she greeted us with hugs and her big, contagious smile.  She knelt down and greeted Tyson in Amharic.  Then, she sat down and her words stopped.  After a lengthy pause she finally said, "I have something for you all."  silence.  eyes down seeming to fight off tears.  Finally, "Maso (Tyson's birthmom) loved meeting you and seeing Tyson.  After she met you yesterday, she asked if I would give you these."  Then, she carefully unfolded two pieces of copy paper.  When she opened them, my eyes filled with instant tears until they couldn't hang onto my eyelids anymore.  Each paper had one of her hands traced on it.  A right one.  A left one.  I looked at the papers and then up at Meselu.  "Oh Meselu.  She wanted him to have her hands."  She quietly nodded, "yes."  I ran my hands across each page, hoping to grab hold of any scent or DNA that might still be embedded in the ink.  Meselu finally said, "She thought of this on her own and wondered if you would be ok with her giving it to him.  She loves him so much."  Yes, she does.  We know this well.  I can't tell you the number of times I have pulled out those folded pieces of paper and ran my hands across them.  Those are the hands that rubbed a growing, pregnant belly, likely sweated in labor giving birth to the son we have in common.  Those hands were the first to hold him, first to stroke his face, first to wipe his tears, first to comfort him.  They are also the hands that likely caught tears as she agonized over what to do with growing financial demands and a son she couldn't feed.  Those are the hands that dressed him, scooped him up, and carried him to an orphanage, knowing it was his only hope to survive.  Those hands are full of bravery.  Courage. Hard work. Pain.  Love.  As we have recounted each day what we were doing a year ago, November 10th was that beautiful day that wasn't pretty.  My heart and mind have been missing her so much the past few days.  I watch Tyson reading or laughing, or riding his bike. Or I hear him singing praise music in the car or I watch him learn something new and I think of her.  She wouldn't believe her eyes if she could see him.  When I think back over what she wanted most for Tyson, I can't help but think she would be so proud of him.  If she could, I know she would wrap her arms around him and then, like I watched her do, she would touch his face.  With her hands.
Lastly, I want you to know that when the gray hairs come go see Brooke,  don't wish them away.  For heaven's sake get them covered up, unless of course you have beautiful gray, but don't wish them away.  If you, too, dreamed of living long enough to watch your children grow up or to be able to travel to new places or to see a special niece or nephew graduate... whatever it is that you fixed your gaze on long ago, if the Lord has allowed you to see that thing through- then Praise Him! We set our gaze on growing old and gray together, didn't we, Babe?  And, here at the ripe old age of 40, with gray  hairs coming faster than me or Brooke can keep up with, the Lord is blessing us with seeing that dream come true.  What a blessing:  to be healthy enough to be an active mom to many and to watch them grow up into amazing people while being married to their smokin' hot dad!  Yep, 40, you ain't got nothin' on me!


Wednesday, October 25, 2017


I woke in the night and glanced at the clock.  3:11am.  I quickly in a sleepy stupor did the math.  10:11am in Ethiopia.  It was official.  Asnake Haile has been Tyson Asnake McKeehan for 365 days and one hour. And, all over again, I am drawn to ceaseless praise.  Reminiscing back over that remarkable morning and day through pictures and blog posts takes me straight back to the third floor of the Ordinary Hero Guesthouse. This was the day Jesus ordained, when He laid the foundations of the earth, to complete what He started in our adoption of Tyson.  Tangible faithfulness. I can instantly go back to waking that morning before the alarm, snapping a quick picture out our window (you can see on my Instagram feed from that morning).  The caption with the picture were the words I couldn't shake: This is the day the Lord has made.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it.  The morning was fairly overcast, but quite clear for Addis.  The smog over the city sits like a think blanket over the busy streets nearly all the time.  The stillness of those early hours took my breath away.  The same One who created the landscape stretched out so beautifully before me was the same One who had heard our prayers and petitions.  The mountains in the foreground were particularly stunning that Tuesday morning as I pondered over how many mountains the Mountain Mover had, indeed, moved.  I couldn't take a step without batting away tears.  I still can't get over how Jesus met us right there in that linoleum-floored room of the guesthouse.  He wasn't just completing our adoption, He was building our faith and doing supernatural miracles for His glory's sake.
 As we walked out of courtroom 106 and bound down the old wooden staircase of the courthouse with every emotion from joy, relief, disbelief, to overwhelming gratitude.  It was as if we could literally feel the enemy's anger and disgust at the whole situation.  Nothing could've prepared me for the instant tears out of sheer relief.  Jesus, You do all things well.  If you care to read about our day on October 25, 2016, you can do so here.  On this side of the moved mountains it is fascinating to sit down, be still, and recall His presence in every detail.  It's far easier in the shadow of the Mountain to look back and see Him even in the uncertain, hard, painful days.  One year ago yesterday (you can read about it here) we received and humbly tearfully watched Tyson's Lifebook.  Since that day, Tyson has watched some of it on his own.  We haven't introduced him to the one with all the details of his past just yet, but he loves watching him play at the orphanage with his friends brothers I don't know which word to use friends who were like brothers.  About 4 months ago he was watching the video and when his nannie started speaking (in Amharic, obviously), Tyson looked up at me and said, "What is she talking about?  Is she speaking Spanish?"  Sweet boy.  He literally only remembers a few words.  On that same day in Ethiopia that we received those priceless videos, we were walking through so many lasts.  Tyson was living out his last days and night behind that green gate.  Staring down the barrel of last hugs and words with beloved friends and nannies, last night sleeping in an orphanage, last night wondering what it would feel like to have a family, and his last night to dream about what it would be like to drive outta that same green gate for the very last time.  Just Saturday as we sat at the Ethiopian restaurant Tyson told Regan about a stack of blue plastic chairs that stay stacked in a corner of his orphanage.  There is one random red chair stacked amongst them.  That red one was his favorite and he "sometimes shared it with other people."  The memories he has of his life before us are real and important and valuable.  We love learning and listening to everything he recollects.  Even if it is as simple as that special red chair. 
Back to court day last year... I am not sure I have ever quite literally felt the prayers of other people.  However, sitting there waiting to enter that courtroom and walking out as an official family of 7, I knew we were being carried and held by our gentle Father who was hearing the cries of our friends and families on our behalf.  The black ink of the judges signature, indicating he approved our adoption, has long since dried.  What hasn't faded, however, is the authority of that signature across the page.  It's still final.  It might've taken a long time to press in, stretch, grow, question, doubt, cry, pray, believe, and trust in order to get to that room, but once there, it was the judges name over the documents that made an orphan, a son.   In the end, that is all that mattered.  Makes me humbled all over again to consider the roads and paths we take questioning, doubting, crying to finally get to the place where the Judge sits.  His door is open and He is waiting.  Once we walk in and acknowledge Him, His signature signed in the blood of His Son across our lives is really all that matters in the end. We enter as orphans, we leave as son and daughter. We walked out of that dingy-walled, purple-carpeted room different than we had entered: complete. 
As the hands of time have spun at break-neck speed, Tyson has changed in so many ways since then.  It almost feels impossible he's only been here a year, while simultaneously feeling so new because we are still learning so much about him.  He still loves a good, long, warm, bath or shower and he still loves motorcycles and fast cars, as noted in previous posts.  His favorite songs continue to be "Good, Good Father" and "In the Eye of the Storm," both ones he learned in the early days at the guesthouse wearing those super cute Spiderman headphones.
In way of the other children that Tyson loved and lived with in Ethiopia, I am happy to report three of his closest friends have come to loving families in America.  There are, still, however, many who are still there with little chance of getting a forever family simply due to the current state of Ethiopian adoptions.  I don't know if those two toddlers, heard wailing "Asnake," as we walked out of the orphanage that day, have families or not.  Regardless, I pray for them often and desire so much for them to live and believe that God has a plan of abundance and goodness planned for each of them. 
As a matter of further updating, our first night in our room with Tyson he couldn't get over the fact that he had shoes, underwear, shirts, and pajamas that were just his.  He kept saying, "For Asnake?" stroking the sides of clean, new shoes or feeling the soft cotton of a pile of shirts.  He hasn't gotten over his shoe fascination much like his mom. He loves shoes, clothes, and putting his things away exactly where they belong.  His nannie was so right, he is organized and very responsible.  Most of the time if you tell him something once, you need not repeat yourself.
I will leave this special post with the one thing that continues to flood my heart and mind.  As we sat in the Ethiopian restaurant Saturday discussing Gotcha Day, we were telling Tyson that we call it that because it's the day we "got" him.  Without hesitating, he looked up at us and said, "No, I got you."  good grief. Tears again. Only Jesus does these things.  This very morning we started our day at Waffle House to celebrate (we love you, Mrs. June).  As we were standing to leave, Mark scooped Tyson up and said, "On Gotcha Day I got you."  Tyson, again, without so much as a second passing, put his hands on Mark's face and said, "And, I got you."  There's no way with finite human minds we will ever be able to wrap our heads or hearts around all that God has done.  I feel certain there are parts of this story He alone holds the meanings, details, and logistics of. There are things He has done to make us a family we will never know until we are with Him.  I am glad we can spend the rest of our days "arguing" about who got who because no matter how you slice it, I think we all walked away better together.  Psalm 23 has been on our radar in recent months for various reasons, but the one quote Mark has often reminded me of in the familiar passage is "even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil."  The key word here is through. God doesn't lead us to deep valleys to abandon us, let us die, or destroy us.  He is walking with us THROUGH it.  He didn't say, "Even though I walk to the valley of the shadow of death."  Walking through the darkest valleys is painful and can produce fear like we have never known.  It also gives us a perspective we could've never known if we stayed on the top of the mountain or even at eye-level.  Often, it isn't until we have walked through the valley to the other side that we look back and see just how deep the valley really was and how God delivered us to the other side stronger, more compassionate, more humble, more graceful, and more grateful.  That is the current position and posture for me today.  Still just undone and full to overflowing with who He is, capable of doing everything He promised He could do, and longing to not only do what is good for us, but most of all, doing what brings Him most glory.  It's all for Him anyway! 
On this first Gotcha Day, I want to say to Jesus, " I got you." There's no arguing or back-and-forth with that one. 
And despite there being back-and-forth with Tyson on the matter in regards to who got who, my heart is really clear on the matter:

We got you, Tyson Asnake McKeehan.  And nothing in the world could've prepared us for all the joy and love you have brought to us.  You belong here.  Welcome home forever.

Until tomorrow,

Monday, October 23, 2017

Ty Baby

Today's festivities are still in full force.  It's Hudson's 8th birthday and all the fun has left excitement nearly palpable in the house.  It was so fun to watch the boys celebrate Hudson's birthday together for the first time.  This time last year our I can't even describe with mere human words how amazing friends were hosting Hudson's 7th birthday party after church.  I mean, y'all.  Who does that?  OUR friends FRAMILY.  For real.  There are so many pieces to this story that I could never repay.  If you want to read about October 23, 2016, you can here.  I clearly remember Tyson singing "Happy Birthday" to Hudson in both Amharic and English.  We watched those videos for the first time at the Ethiopian restaurant Saturday night.  It was so sweet to watch Tyson and Hudson talking about what they each thought when they were seeing it the first time and filming it. 
Last year on this date we were processing a hard conversation we had with Menge over lunch, knowing Tyson had come from a hard place.  But, hearing the details again made them feel fresh and seemed to consume my every thought.  Because of our conversations about his past, I had his birth mom on my mind all day that day like I still do about three times a week.  I rarely go more than a few days without having her on my mind or somehow having her come up in conversation with Tyson.  We were able to meet her while we were in Ethiopia (on November 5, 2016).  So, I will save that experience for a couple of more weeks.  For now, I will simply say that Tyson is an overcomer. The healing we have seen Jesus do in him is miraculous.  I had sensed Holy Spirit's whisper over and over again in the adoption process when I would get overwhelmed with what we might be taking on, "Your job isn't to heal him.  Your job is to get him to Me.  I will do the healing."  What freedom! 
After church and lunch that day, we finally made our way to the orphanage.  They typically don't allow visitors on Sundays, but Menge is a superhero we decided to go anyway.  While there we had more time with Tyson's remarkable nannie to ask questions.  Sundays are pretty laid back, so the extra time with her proved to be helpful.  The two things she told us Tyson would need help with were (1) washing his face and (2) making sure his shoes get on the right feet.  Ecstatic to say he has mastered washing his face and he gets his shoes on the right feet approximately 97% of the time nearly every single time.  He is even super close to mastering tying his shoes! 
We were a wee bit worried about what it would be like once we arrived in America and Tyson not only had to use a seatbelt, but he also had to sit in a booster seat with his seat belt.  We had Menge explain this to Tyson repeatedly during our time in Ethiopia.  Turns out it was likely all for not... Tyson never seemed to so much as bat an eye at buckling or sitting in a booster because he is a rockstar. 
Some things never change.  Ty's fascination with cars, particularly FAST cars has never changed.  He somehow believes red cars naturally go faster than all others, except when it comes to NASCAR.  In that arena, there is still only one car for him:  the number 6 of Trevor Bayne (We love you Ashton and Trevor).  He has learned a lot about NASCAR, fast cars, and he can't seem to get enough of engines revving and hearing the tires spin.  He is all about cars!
Perhaps the biggest take-away from October 23, 2016, for me, was when Menge suggested I occasionally say, "Asnake yea."  Literally, this translates to "My Asnake."  So, when I began saying that, Tyson would just LIGHT UP.  There is something so powerful about belonging.  About knowing you are known and you are loved, received, and welcomed anyway. It's just like Jesus to say, "I know every stinking thing about you and I still love you.  Receive you. Welcome you. YOU ARE MINE."  These days we don't call him "Asnake" very much unless he is in trouble and he gets "Tyson Asnake".  But, it is quite common to hear me say, "Ty Baby" in normal conversation or when I am calling for him to come.  I don't know where it came from, it just kind of.... came.  However, he loves it and I pray it reminds him that he is ours, that he is known, loved, received, welcomed. 

Until tomorrow!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Last Firsts

It's been a busy few days around here!  Hudson turns 8 tomorrow where in heaven's name has the time gone? and we spent half the weekend celebrating him. The other half we have spent celebrating all things one-year-ago-today.  My heart is still bursting at the seams from our dinner at the Ethiopian restaurant last night.  We met a couple of friends who are really more like family there for their first Ethiopian dining experience.  After we ordered, we sat reminiscing about our first Ethiopian restaurant as well as showing them pictures and videos of our time in country.  In doing so, we would ask Tyson questions about what he remembered, trying to get his perspective.  It was the first time he talked so much about Ethiopia.  He delighted in sharing some memories we hadn't heard yet over sipping hot chai (tea).  He even said, "thank you," in Amharic when we finished our meal and told us he loved us in Amharic as well.  On the way home I said, "Maybe we could start saying, 'I love you' in Amharic sometimes at home."  I was pleasantly surprised when he said, "Ok.  That's good."  Since arriving home he has been hesitant to discuss much about Ethiopia and he seems to have lost nearly all of his language.  When he does open up about either one, we listen attentively and try to remember the details for future conversations.  It is very common and normal for children to forget their language or desire to not talk much about their native home.  Long-term most come around to talking about it, but emotionally it's easier to make a clear disconnect rather than trying to live in two vastly different places simultaneously. 
One year ago yesterday we drove for like a million hours in traffic a long way up a mountain to tour a museum about Ethiopian history.  It was on that drive that Regan felt car sick and good grief it is no wonder had to jump out of the van to vomit walk around a bit.  The fresh air and empty stomach proved to be just what the doctor ordered.  She was good to go the rest of the day.  We eventually made our way back down the mountain in a much less eventful manner.  Then, we went to see Tyson.  It was on our trek back down the mountain that we discussed with Menge changing Tyson's name from Asnake to Tyson.  We were so grateful for his wisdom, overwhelming support, and eagerness to help us with the transition.  The name change brought up Tyson's nickname, Akuye.  It's a name that has come to be so tender to us.  We still, occasionally, call him that, but he is quick to tell us his name is Tyson.  I will say, he has adjusted to his new name far more quickly than we could've imagined.  It was literally instantaneous. 
One of our greatest concerns about Tyson's physical needs was his eyes.  As noted in my original blog post from one year ago (here), he has a condition called congenital bilateral horizontal nystagmus.  "Congenital" means he was born with it (MRI's have ruled out brain tumors or trauma as a cause).  "Biltateral" simply means both eyes and "horizontal" indicates the direction of movement.  "Nystagmus" is an eye condition where the eyeballs are in constant motion.  Tyson's do more of a "sweeping" motion rather than a "jumping motion."  The first full work day we were back in the states I called the only local eye specialist at Children's Hospital to get an appointment.  We finally saw the specialist in January, where we learned that Tyson has a minor case of nystagmus.  The hope, prayer, and expectation is that as he grows and his eye muscles get stronger, his eyes will improve.  The condition never goes away, but it can and should improve.  Many people have asked us why he doesn't wear glasses.  His only visual impairment is due to the eyes moving.  In other words, if his eyeballs were still, he would have perfect vision.  Therefore, glasses wouldn't make enough of an improvement to warrant having them.  He reads beautifully.  Truth be told, I am sure none of us know all the compensating he has had to do in order to "keep up."  But, he does it all so seamlessly, we actually sometimes forget he even has it!  He often sits close to the TV or holds his ipod especially close to his face.  One of the main concerns for children with nystagmus is how it impacts them in a traditional classroom at school.  Typically they need a seat front and center and there can't be much variation in where they sit in order to ensure they are seeing to their maximum potential. Fortunately for us, in this season, homeschooling has made this one aspect a mute point. 
Fast forward one day to October 22, 2016 and you will come to one of my all time favorite days EVER.  Literally. In all my 39 years I turn 40 three weeks from today but for the record I am still 39, I have never had a day that I can so recollect like I can that particular Saturday.  We were surprisingly allowed to take Tyson away from the orphanage for the afternoon.  It can be akinned to driving away from the hospital with your newborn.  You are excited, but part of you keeps looking back thinking, "Are they really just letting us leave with him?"  Did they ever!  If you ask Tyson about that day now, his one highlight is easy for him to remember:  French Fries.  Suffice it to say that for 365 solid days there has been no wavering in this one fact:  French fries are his girlfriend.  They are madly in love and no one else is even a close second.  You can read about our restaurant, mall, coffee shop experience from a year ago here
Coming home we knew it wouldn't all be a bed of roses.  However, we also knew we were off to a far better start than a lot of people in our shoes.  I don't want to say too much in order to protect our kids, but what I will say is this:  being a sister to four boys isn't always easy.  Regan adores Tyson.  There is no way to adequately convey how she feels about him.  HEAD OVER HEELS.  A year ago when Tyson grabbed her hand and walked with her up the steps of the mall, she beamed.  I walked behind them catching tears in a Kleenex as quickly as they fell.  We had been praying for the two of them to connect in a way that only Holy Spirit could do.  For Brycen, the connection was easy: sports, boy stuff, playing cars and making revving noises, etc.  For a sister, it can be a bit more of a challenge.  She never wavered in her commitment to do what it would take to bond with him.  It hasn't been without tears, but it has been beautiful.  Just this week, he curled up with her on the couch to play a game, he asked for her help getting pajamas last night, and they recently had a "slumber party" on her top bunk.  It makes me all teary.  Only Jesus writes these stories.  But, I am so grateful that one year ago, walking up those mall steps in his red jacket and denim shorts, reaching out for her, God did something He didn't have to do: He gave us hope.  And, we clung to it.  He showed us that their bonding was possible and though it might not come as quickly, it would indeed come.  Glimpses of hope are often all you need to keep on keeping on!  I can't say enough about her heart of compassion, her tenacity to never give up persuing, or her unconditional love for her youngest brother.
In way of updates, Tyson still continues to ride his bicycle (sans the broken chain) at every opportunity.  Just this past week at the park he declared, again, how much he loves to ride.  As we also discovered that memorable day, Tyson still loves hot chai (as noted above) and on occasion he still delights in a cup of chocolate ice cream.  But, there aren't many other flavors he will even give a chance!  Since chocolate is Regan's favorite, I think it's just God's way of giving them another common denominator. 
I distinctly remember walking out of the coffee/ice cream shop, Kaldi's, that beautiful Saturday afternoon, looking out over all of us together.  In public and together.  I couldn't believe it was really happening.  Many days, even now, I still can't.  The mere fact that God writes stories and allows us to somehow participate in them is beyond me.  When we walk through days that we know weren't of our doing and we get to see Him flat out come through for us... I don't want to get over those days.  October 22, 2016 was one of those for me.  The unique thing about it all is that I am still not over it.  After dropping Ty back off at the orphanage and holding the sweetest little new baby who had just come into the orphanage Mark and I were able to talk to Tyson's primary nannie.  I wrote so much of the details of the conversation in the original post that I don't want to repeat it all here.  I will simply say, I have wished for a chance to hug her again a trillion times.  Little did I know on that day when we were telling her how thankful we were for her.  Yall.  She totally paved the way for us and set all of us up for total success.  Though much of Tyson's obedience, organization, gentleness, and joy are pure personality, I know it isn't all in his genes.  She taught him all those things mom's teach toddlers: how to independently bathe, get dressed, brush your teeth (though he learned to brush his teeth with his finger), clean up after yourself, etc.  Not only did she teach him those things but she instilled in him a sense of pride in doing it.  Without a doubt he is our most naturally helpful child.  He never misses a chance to help with the dishes, to clean up a mess, to assist with dinner, or to help with laundary.  I have asked Menge to make sure she knows how well Ty is doing and to extend our deepest gratitude to her again.  She is the one who said (describing Tyson), "He is short in stature, but he is tall in mind."  I can't tell you the number of times I have thought back over those words.  They are literally the most succinct description of our little guy.  I quite literally couldn't have said it better myself. 
We are excited to celebrate Hudson's birthday together tomorrow, as last year we were apart for the big day.  As we narrow in on Halloween and tomorrow's birthday, these will be our last "firsts."  Tyson is beside himself about Halloween.  I hope we haven't built up too much for him, but he is JAZZED for it.  I believe it is partially due to the fact that it's the last big holiday he hasn't yet celebrated in America.  We have celebrated everyone else's birthday together, except Hudson's.  So, just like this time last year, my mind is preoccupied with firsts.  However, now they are last firsts.  It's the best full-circle moment this momma could've dreamed of! 

Until tomorrow,

Friday, October 20, 2017

ABC's and 123's

On October 20, 2016 we were exhausted and running on pure adrenaline still struggling with jet lag, so a lazy day around the guesthouse was perfect.  Except, Tyson was still a few miles away at his orphanage, which made us feel like we were still world's apart. So close, yet so far.  If you want to read about that day, you can do that here.  When we arrived at the orphanage around dinner that night, we expected Tyson to be eating, but we, instead, found him waiting at a window for us.  He had been waiting on us all day, expecting us to come sooner. bless. It's so fascinating to look back, because what I know now is his standing waiting on us is so Tyson.  He constantly wants to know what the plan is  prefers knowing what the day holds and who is doing what, when.  So, I now know that particular day had to be especially hard for him and likely caused him unnecessary anxiety, simply over miscommunication and expectations about when we were to arrive.  I mentioned in that original post about Brycen carrying a green soccer ball that day.  It was a soccer ball we had brought with us to play with at the orphanage and then to leave there.  As soon as Tyson saw it,  he wanted to go play, but he mentioned having another one just like it.  I remember telling him that we had given an exact green soccer ball to one of our friends (who worked for Bethany) to bring to his orphanage a year prior when she was visiting Ethiopia for work.  Because Tyson didn't know about us yet, no one could tell him it was from us, but watching him connect the dots was super special.  He knew we had been loving him a long time not sure he will ever fully know and that's ok .  After playing soccer that day we discussed what he had learned at school that day... "eye," "ear," "nose," "tongue", etc.  Then, we watched him sit on the ground in the cutest black pajamas that looked like a fireman uniform writing the alphabet and numbers.  As many of you know, when we arrived home from Ethiopia we had originally thought we would start Tyson at the school our children have gone to for years (we love our Freedom Christian Academy family so much). However, that was going to be an immunization nightmare and the kindergarten teacher was going to be going on maternity leave in February (only 4 weeks after he would've started).  Clearly, these factors were things we had to prayerfully consider and we decided to jump into homeschooling.  I will blog more about this adventure on another post.  For now, I will say that looking back at those sidewalk chalk letters and numbers makes my jaw drop.  I was amazed then at how well he knew the English alphabet and especially how well he knew to write nearly all the letters.  On days that are frustrating in school, I need to look back at the pictures taken ONLY ONE YEAR AGO.  My lower lip is quivering and I'm getting a lump in my throat thinking about how far he has come.  Tyson is not only writing with amazing penmanship, but he is reading on first grade level just beautifully.  It hasn't all come easily, but he loves learning and he enjoys thinking.  In hindsight, his sitting writing those letters and numbers declaring, "I wrote all of this and you did nothing" (to Menge), must've been a masterpiece for him.  He has worked his TAIL END off learning English because it IS a crazy hard language to learn.  He is remarkably smart and a joy to teach.
Other preferences we learned about Tyson that day were that he prefers carbohydrates like potatoes, rice, and noodles.  Some things never change.  Without a doubt his favorite foods are French fries and spaghetti.  Hands down.  We were hopeful upon our return home to change his life by adding cheese to macaroni. However, as it turns out, he doesn't like cheese.  And, it wasn't until the last month that he has eaten and liked a green vegetable.  Once we were home we realized he had never had a salad, green beans, broccoli, cucumbers, asparagus, spinach, etc.  NOTHING GREEN.  He always tried what we were eating, but he could never bring himself to choke it down eat it.  We aren't sure what changed, but about 3 weeks ago he gave broccoli another try and much to our sheer delight, he declared at the dinner table (seemingly as shocked as we were), "Hey!  I like broccoli now!"  and all God's children said, "Amen!"
We also learned, while donned in those adorable black fireman pajamas, that his favorite color was red.  He's six, so this one preference changes on nearly a daily basis.  Today his favorite color is blue, but we are fighting hard for him not to like it with orange something Brycen doesn't help us with as he is a die hard Florida fan. Next, we learned he was afraid of dogs and of being in the dark.  The dog fear was very real and stayed around for the first several months.  Over time he has met the sweetest dogs and his heart has changed.  It was so tender for us to all sit back and watch him hold Finn's leash (our friend Angie visits often and brings her dog, Finn) all around the house.  After watching for 20 minutes Regan said, "Hey buddy, usually you walk the dog around since you are holding the leash. Don't let him walk you around!"  But, Ty didn't seem to mind one bit.  He does, however, still prefer NOT being in the dark.  It isn't a big deal and we all know to never turn the lights off in the basement in the rooms with no windows while he is in there. 
Perhaps the biggest change from one year ago is what Tyson told us that day about swimming.  He told us he thought he would love swimming as long as there wasn't any water because he would "go under and die."  batting away tears YALL.  HE'S THE BEST LITTLE SWIMMER.  He loves it!  He spent as much time over the summer as he possibly could swimming.  He did wear his Puddle Jumper when swimming in the deep end or jumping off the diving board.  But, just before summer came to a halt he was able to jump in the deep and swim to the shallow with no floats or help.  I am so proud of all the fears he has conquered and how he has faced so many new things with bravery and courage. 
One year ago today Mark and I sat together and told Tyson together that we would be his parents forever.  I will never forget his full-faced grin and his leaning in toward us, giving Mark a huge hug, as soon as Menge finished interpreting for us. it wasn't a dream.  it was really happening. 
Perhaps the thing I remember most about one year ago today was feeling Tyson's soft lips on my cheek for the very first time.  My first kiss.  It was a moment that felt like time stood still.  Such a special day of bonding. Tyson loves to brush his teeth before bed, put on fresh pajamas, come to me and say, "can I please lay with you?"  At what point I usually say, "Sure, buddy."  We grab a cozy blanket and he crawls up on my lap and I hold him while he falls asleep.  Little did I know after that little peck on the cheek a year ago, that this little guy was going to be my cuddle bug.  I am still working on teaching him how to really cuddle, because he wasn't held close in his younger years, it is foreign to him how to really curl around someone, get comfortable, and go to sleep (like when you are holding a newborn).  But, we have come a long way.  Those end-of-the-day cuddles are a gift to me.  This is what it's like to have a mommy.  This is what it's like to your baby home.
The truth the Lord was pressing in on me that day is one He is still engraving on my heart today:  these days aren't holy because of our circumstances, we are on sacred sod, walking on holy ground because He is walking with us.  His presence is what changes our days from ordinary to extraordinary, forgettable to unforgettable, temporal to eternal (in the perspective we carry).  As we look forward to what He has for us in the future, we do so with this as our hope: HE WALKS WITH US.  And, as I look back with a heart of gratitude, I am eager to see what He wants to do in the next year.  It's quite supernatural all that has happened, which is as easy to see as, well, your ABC's and 123's.    Jesus, we are yours and we love and trust you. 

Until tomorrow's update,

Thursday, October 19, 2017

He is Able

"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us..." Ephesians 3:20

He is able.  Immeasurably more than we can think or ask or imagine.  He can do it all through His power at work in us (Holy Spirit).  I am meditating on these words in a fresh way today.  It's a beautiful fall day in Knoxville with temperatures finally dipping, leaving cool wisps of wind on my face, and sunshine casting down the most intricate shadows through the barren tree limbs.  I just reread my blog posts from October 19th, 2016 here.  In a flash, I am right back sitting in that white stuffy van pulling into that green gate for the first time.  I can smell the smells of raw meat and unregulated exhaust fumes of the city and hear the sounds of horns honking  Addis Ababa by simply closing my eyes.  My heart was racing, my head was swirling, and my eyes were filled with tears that I was constantly batting away.  No one could have prepared us for what that day would entail, how it would feel, what would transpire, how He would prove He had been knitting us together, or what it would be like to hold Tyson for the very first time.  As I rewatched the video of our first meeting again today, I noticed something I had never noticed before.  Just after Mark hugged Tyson and he came to me, I gave him a big hug and then I stroked the side of his face.  It's almost like I couldn't believe he was standing there while also wanting to feel what it felt like to physically touch God's faithfulness.  Standing right in front of me in a white, plaid button-up, short shaved hair, and the cutest little dark dress pants was an answer to at least a million prayers. I am not sure how many bottles of tears I had cried over Tyson at that point, but I recall knowing right then that God knew and He had held them in His bottle (Psalm 56:8), knowing all the while that this day would come.  Mourning turned to dancing.    
As I noted on the original blog last year, Mengistu (who we now all know as our beloved Menge) was our Bethany host.  However, a year later, Menge wasn't just our Bethany host.  He is the one Bryeen told me yesterday he wanted to live with when he moves to Ethiopia family.  We had no idea on that fateful day what the Lord was orchestrating between our family and Menge, but my goodness it was beautiful.  Since then, Menge has come and spent a week with our family at the beginning of August cue the tears.  I will save that special trip for a later post about Menge, but because this post is about God being able to do immeasurably more, I wanted to include what God has done in and through Menge in just one short year.  While we were in Ethiopia we had many candid conversations with Menge about life, Jesus, callings, equipping, the Church (global), and finding Menge a godly, gorgeous, Godly wife.  On more than one occasion Menge shared with us about a passion he had to serve the street boys in Addis Ababa.  The passion was clear, but at the time the vision and "how" weren't so clear.  He and Mark spent countless hours in conversation about leadership, following Holy Spirit,trusting, faith,  etc.  When we left Ethiopia, we left a small monetary gift with Menge specifically for his ministry that he had plans to call "Hope Overflowing."  We did it simply to let him know we believed in him and the call and passion God had clearly put on his heart.  While Menge was in the states in August,  "Hope Overflowing" got its official 501c3 status!  Menge had started spending time with 12 street boys, feeding them, offering them friendship, hope, love, and providing them with jobs (start up fee to give one boy all he needs to have a street business is only $12!).  I would love for any of you interested in this AMAZING ministry to follow along here.  You can sign up for updates and celebrate along with us that since Menge returned back to Ethiopia from the States, Hope Overflowing has leased a house and now all 12 boys have a home, security, and safety.  We wholeheartedly believe in the work God is doing through Menge and Hope Overflowing and we can't wait to see Him do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine in the next year!  
I also introduced you to mentioned Meselu in the original 2016 post.  Meselu was Tyson's social worker in Ethiopia.  She is the one who had sat him down and on October 17, 2016, handed him a photo book of our family, introducing him to his new family.  I asked Tyson about that conversation with Meselu on Tuesday (one year since he had found out he had a family) to see what he remembered.  He said, "I don't understand Amharic anymore, so I can't tell you what she said."  Living your life between two worlds by the time you are six gets confusing.  I answered him by saying, "Well, do you remember in English what she said?"  He smiled a half-grin and shrugged and said, "I just really loved the pictures."  As we talked on and I prodded a bit more about the day, I finally just asked him, "Did you sleep with that picture book the first night?"  He leaned into me, smiling, and said, "No, but I kept it beside my bed and woke up two times in the night to look at it."  I am not sure how he could see the pictures in the night with no power, but it brought fresh tears to my eyes to imagine a 5 year-old waking twice in the night to make sure it hadn't all been a dream.  Finally, we finished the conversation with him saying, "I went to bed just really happy that night."  Somehow I feel certain that sweet thing laid his head on his pillow with a fresh peace that his young heart couldn't articulate, but if it could it might whisper, "more than I could've asked or imagined."  He is able. 
One of the last things Tyson said to us as we were preparing to leave him after our first visit was, "Thank you and I love you."  Heaven help. I can't hold in the tears. We are the ones who feel like that is what we should be saying.  Ty is unusually full of gratitude for a six year old.  He literally thanks us and everyone who does anything for him profusely.  At first I bent over backwards telling him that we knew he was thankful and he didn't have to keep saying it for us to keep him.  WE ARE KEEPING YOU NO MATTER WHAT.  But, I now know he really is just so aware of anyone working around him, anyone serving him, anyone who needs help.  It's just part of how God wired him.  The "I love you's" weren't always so free-flowing initially, but just since I sat at our table to start this post, he has called to me from the other room twice with, "Mom, I love you."  Nothing delights me more than for him to know he is loved and safe here.  
I also mentioned on our first visit with Tyson at the orphanage that he fell and skinned his knee.  We, of course, doted over him and babied him like he was made of porcelain.  Now, I know he is one tough cookie!  Just a few weeks after coming home he fell down steps at church racing down the stairs with his brothers .  By the time I got to him, he already had a HUGE pump knot on his forehead (can I get an "Amen" from our church medical team who responded that day?).  His nose and lips were bleeding and when he saw me he stood up staggering and trying to focus and said, "I am ok, Mom."  I assured him it was ok not to be ok!  We doctored his wounds and he healed just fine.  But, we have noted how he rarely tells us when he is hurt.  Just recently he got a huge carpet burn down the front of his face during the middle of the first Tennessee football game of the year. I was apparently so into the game that I didn't notice until the next morning because he never told us!  I am not sure if he chooses to keep quiet because he really does have a high pain tolerance or if he was so accustomed to being hurt and having no one respond he learned to cope on his own.  We are still working through that, but we do often remind him that when something hurts, he needs to tell Mommy or Daddy.
As I conclude today, my heart is celebrating how far we have come while also grieving for those still in the wait.  So many families are continuing to fight long, hard, uncertain battles for their children.  I am praying, in faith, believing God to be all He says He is, capable of doing all He says He can do, with you!  He has done it for us and He can do it again.
He is able.  Immeasurably more, Lord, that's what You do.  We are thankful.  

until tomorrow,

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A Year

This time last year Mark, Brycen, Regan, and I were boarded, buckled, and ready for take-off. Next stop: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
A Year.
I’ve grown more and more emotional as the anniversary of so many important dates has approached. I’ve sat and pondered over the days leading up to our trip, the years that brought so much upheaval and uncertainty, and the Sovereign One who ordained them all. I have been moved to tears countless times.
Jesus, You are faithful.
When I was on that plane exactly one year ago, I had no idea what laid before me. I was unsure of how Tyson would respond to us, uncertain as to how we would all respond to him, and a bit uneasy about not knowing how long we would be gone. The lack of commitment on the part of our kebele (the government agency in Ethiopia responsible for issuing birth certificates) to actually print the newly implemented system of doing adoption certificates , forced us to start our journey with little guarantees about how long it would take to complete the process. As I stare at photos of us on that plane, it delights me to no end that, looking back, I say with all certainty: we were embarking on the ride of our lives.
In hindsight, it wasn’t just about getting Tyson (but, holy cow, that part IS pretty amazing). It was also about seeing miracles happen right before our eyes. It was about watching Jesus “part the waters” for us to walk through on dry land where every human had said we wouldn’t make it. It was, what I thought would be, the end of a faith journey that had been six long years in the making. What I didn’t know was that the faith journey was just getting started! There were so many parts & pieces to this story that I couldn’t see coming. Flying over the ocean that day, my mind was distracted by the sheer fact that my life was never going to be the same. The fabric of our family was being woven by the same Skilled Artisan who’d started our family, but He was adding a new thread. It was sure to be beautiful, but I wasn’t sure how long it would take to feel cozy enough to curl up underneath and rest. But, I was ready for the fight of my life. In all His goodness, that Skilled Master Craftsman had spent years taking apart the former fabric and gently, kindly, and sometimes painstakingly, putting us back together in such a way that the addition of new, unfamiliar thread wouldn’t be so stark and harsh. In His kindness, He had prepared us, even more than I knew that day flying to the other side of the globe. Tearfully I am typing as the belly laughs of three McKeehan boys echo off the green plastic slide at the park. It still catches me by surprise while simultaneously seeming like it’s always been this way. Only Jesus does that. Taking time to weave our lives with such delicacy, intricacy, and tenderness that we can be overcome with gratitude for the new thing He’s crafting in us while also feeling like He redeemed every ounce of time we were certain the enemy had stolen along the way.
This very minute our brown-eyed youngest son,  just ran up, gave me a spontaneous hug, and started back off to join his brothers on the green slide. The smell of his strawberry (delicious) hair milk still lingers in the air around me. And in one second I can be back in the guesthouse, putting that hair milk into his brown, curly locks the very first time. The texture of his hair was new & unfamiliar. Insecurities about how to do his hair were swirling thick over me like a cloud. Today, I knew how much hair milk to have ready in my palms before he even strolled into the bathroom. He knows how to move his head from side to side to help me get it evenly dispersed & he knows when I need to use a smidge more! Time has a funny way of flying by, but also of remaining. Of passing by so quickly, but also feeling like some things never change. It seems to take away, but it also seems to give. Time can heal and renew, but it can also be a brutal reminder of gaping wounds that seem to never heal.

I’m going to spend the next twenty-five days giving a “rest of the story” to each of the entries I made on our trip last year. So, if you want to read about our traveling experience and how I was feeling just after going to visit Tyson for the first time, you can read it here. Tomorrow I will give a "year after" update on things I noted or mentioned in this first post after getting my hands on our boy.

I continue to be brought to tears at our community, who not only walked with us through the long years of waiting, but who have also never missed the first opportunity to love, serve, and pray for us since we arrived home. I literally cried talking about it last night in my Reckon group (small group). I continue to pray a 100-fold blessing over each of you for your faithfulness to trust Him with us.
For now, I’m enjoying all the belly laughs remembering that this time last year was the last day I’d live without having that sweet boy in my arms! Grateful. Humbled. Tearful. Jesus, you change everything!