Friday, December 30, 2016

A letter to 2016

Dear 2016,
If I could count the number of nights this year I laid in my bed with my heart beating like clapping thunder in a storm while tears stung in my eyes, I am sure we would both be appalled.  It wasn't always pretty.  We had our fair share of ups and downs and to be honest, the first 8 months feel like a total blur.  I was walking around surviving (not thriving), often feeling like I had to squint to see through the fog. The fog often felt thick, like an early morning beside the river with the sun still hiding behind the clouds.  Those months taught me that surving doesn't always mean thriving and it also doesn't mean it's okay to sit by while life passes you by.  It was in the early part of the year, January through March, that I learned to get on my knees in my war room and to cry out to Jesus.  Literally.  To be vulnerable with Him.  To let Him into the places of my heart that I had walled off... the parts of my heart and mind that I had spent the better part of 5 years pretending I was okay with waiting and being patient.  It wasn't until you came along and year 6 stared me straight in the face that I had to get real with Him and with me.  I had been angry and frustrated and completely NOT understanding what God was up to.  You came, full of hopeful expectation early on, but with every passing day, on my knees, checking my email, and watching the days pass, you made me do a real gut and spirit check.  You forced me to my knees with fresh vulnerability and confession and surrender.  It was in these early months I dove into understanding true surrender, walking by the Spirit, and calling out my flesh when it reared it's ugly, deceitful head.
When you started, my word for the year was "contentment."  God had given me this word at the end of 2015, I believed it was because our schedules, finances, and family fabric were about to change and learning to be content  throughout all of it would require Holy Spirit in me. I knew none of that was possible without Him.  As days, weeks, and months passed and we were still here, without Tyson, I realized God gave me that word for a far deeper, more profound reason.  In His sovereignty, He knew I would need contentment with where I was, even if it wasn't what I had expected or even more, what I wanted.  I mentioned to Mark that "contentment" was my word for the year and God was asking me to do what I thought was impossible: be content with Him and Him alone.  He wanted to strip me of my misconception that contentment was somehow dependent on circumstances, more specifically, our adoption being finalized.  The tears and prayers He and I shared on that closet floor as He gently, yet consistently, led me back to this truth:  He is enough.  He sees all things, knows all things, and has total control of all things.  He reeled me back in when I was certain things were spinning out of control.  The first weekend of June stands out about you.  June 1st, we received word that our case had been given a negative recommendation by Federal MOWCA (Ministry of Women's and Children's Affairs) in Ethiopia.  PUNCH IN THE GUT.  This one document was the one thing keeping us from traveling to get our son. Having waited for a recommendation to be given for 8 months at that point, I knew our wait just got harder.  I wasn't wrong.  That same weekend we traveled to Memphis for a wedding, we celebrated our wedding anniversary, and we also celebrated Corbin's 8th birthday.  I had looked so forward to the weekend, knowing we would get to see so many sights and make so many memories in such an iconic city.  We were with people we loved and the getaway seemed like it was perfect timing.  But, after our June 1st phone call with our agency, I packed our bags and struggled to put one foot in front of the other.  I kept finding myself having to surrender multiple times a day yet still found it difficult to speak more than 5 words without tears filling my eyes and a lump forming in my throat.  I was honored to celebrate our occasions, birthdays, wedding, and anniversary.  But, my heart was broken.  Holy Spirit continued to whisper "contentment" to me, showing me so tenderly that He had given me that word as a banner over the year for THESE days, not the days I had expected.  He had been before me, giving me the wisdom I would need to face all of your days, starting with this one simple word: contentment. 
I would be lying if I said this banner over you made things make more sense.  It didn't.  You dealt me my most brutal days.  I went into the year expecting to travel at the end of January.  Each day that passed from then until October 18 when I felt the wheels tuck up into the base of our plane under me, I was forced to rely on what my eyes couldn't see.  It was such a sweet gift. Those trying, struggle-filled days in the wait in your early months were what drew me straight in to the arms of Jesus.  Time and time again. 
As the middle of the year came,  summer hit like a cannonball, hot and fast.  I spent those days in conversation and fun making memories with all the kids during summer break.  All the days weren't easy or fun, but they were all profitable and it wouldn't be until a few weeks later that I would understand just how profitable.  It was a Sunday night and I was staying late at church talking with a friend who needed a listening ear.  As I headed home, Mark called and I knew something was going on.  I walked in the door and saw Mark talking with Hudson.  The weight of seriousness hung in the air like a canopy of streamers.  It was undeniable.  I dropped my purse and ran over to join the conversation.  Within 10 minutes I was listening to Hudson pray, confessing his need for a Savior, admitting his sin, and declaring his clear belief that Jesus was the answer to his sin problem.  I don't ever want to presume on how or why God does what He does, but as I thought back over the weeks prior to Hudson's decision to follow Jesus, I recollected numerous conversations in those summer months that laid down like pebbles on a path, each one getting him closer and closer to understanding and accepting the gift of salvation.  It brought new meaning to days that I had longed to be packing my bags and going to the other side of the globe. 
Court closure was marked on my calendar for the beginning of August (August 5th to be exact) like a black cloud.  Yet, as that day came and went, I knew our wait would take us to the beginning of October at the earliest.  This is when court would reopen and the days of fall drug by slower than molasses, as my Nannie used to say.  The only thing that made those fall days ones of clarity and "lighter" was knowing that on August 9th, as I was fighting through the fatigue of the flu and mono, Mark rolled through our door saying, "WE GOT OUR LETTER.  WE ARE GOING TO ETHIOPIA!"  With no voice and even less energy, I snuck downstairs to that sacred carpet where my tears had fallen countless other times.  I took note of the handwritten prayers and burdens and requests I had taped to the walls and knew that THIS day was redefining all the others.  THIS day, I knew was set apart with precision and perfect timing.  I was reminded as I bowed in awe and relief and gratitude and inconsolable happy tears that He hadn't missed a single day.  Not one had been out of His sight or off of His radar.  I wasn't sure why we couldn't have gotten our letter four days earlier and traveled before court closed or why we were having to wait an additional two months, but it didn't seem to matter anymore.  What mattered is that He was WITH us.  He had carried the weight of the wait WITH us.  He had caught all our tears in a bottle and He saw them all.  He was fully aware of the perfect time and the day that would bring Him the most glory and of all the days on all the calendars through the years, He chose this day in your year.  I couldn't help but envision He was celebrating with us, just like a Good Father who gave His children a long-awaited, long-prayed for, long-hoped for answer. 
As fall gave way to October, our phone rang on the 13th  and we learned we had 5 days to get things in order so we could meet our son on the 19th.  WHAT A MONTH.  It was also the month that HUDSON WAS BAPTIZED.  Before I knew it we were miles in the air and my tears wouldn't stop.  Our God had used your days to strip me down to nothing, knowing in my nothingness I would find my "everythingness."  He used your days to prepare Tyson for us.  Many of the days I was crying at home, longing to hold him and wondering if this whole thing was going to fall apart, God was preparing him for us.  Those early months gave him time to have English tutoring, bond with his amazing nannie who taught him about self-discipline and first time obedience, time to learn to trust Menge (our beloved Mengistu) as well as Meselu (our social worker in Ethiopia).  It was in your days that Tyson watched other families come and pick up their kids and likely wondered if his turn was next.  It was in your weeks and months that Beza and Tyson spent their last days together, after being together in orphanages since Tyson was six months old.  It was in these days we formed some of the dearest friendships with other adopting families that we could've never dreamed up on our own. God used your weeks to forge in me a path that pushes aside the façade that I am somehow in control.
Your days were useful to give Tyson more time with friends at his orphanage that will likely forever be etched in his heart.... many we will maintain relationships with.  Your year holds some of my most treasured memories of living for 25 days in a third-world country with Brycen, Regan, and Mark.  Twenty-five days that changed us, united us, and challenged us both together and individualy. It was in your year I learned so much about myself, my family, my friends, and most of all, my God. 
My take away from this year, 2016, is simple: the enemy didn't get all he set out to with you.  He set out to utterly destroy me.  To devour our family, our marriage, our kids, our finances, our church.  He set out to steal our joy, our hope, our contentment.  AND HE DIDN'T GET ALL HE WANTED.  God used your days to heal me from the inside out, even before our letter came or our son was in our arms.  He chose to use your days to prove He will meet with me whenever I come to Him, even in my questions, tears, doubts, and fears.  I learned to trust Him in your year more than any other time in my life.  Your year is the one when I chose to sit alone more, talk less, and listen more.  It was a year of saying "no" more often so that each of my "yeses" could really count.  It was in this year that God chose to allow us to meet our precious son for the first time.  We were able to hold in our arms, a tangible answer to years of prayer for so many people.  Your year was political and hard, intense and growing, trying and grieving, joyful and healing.  As I press into and shift my lens toward 2017, my gaze is one of gratitude for the things that really matter, the things that money can't buy, time can't take, and the enemy can't steal.  I am thankful for you 2016, for the life-giving, life-changing, life-sustaining things you brought our way, both through struggle and joy.  You gave me my hardest days yet.  You also graced me with my most joyful days yet.  The joyful days were far sweeter because of the dark days we shared. You taught me that the first ray of light that comes after the darkest of night is the one that shines brightest.  That first ray of light is enough hope to lean on... but it also represents hope that has been there all along.  When God allows it to be visible to us... WHAT A BLESSING.  He graces us with the kindest gifts in the most unlikely ways and times.  Thank you for teaching me so much. Thank you for holding such tender, remarkable, foundational days for me. 
As for you, 2017, I have one word for you:



Saturday, December 24, 2016

Hope was Born

It's the wee hours of Christmas morning and my eyes can't find sleep.  Throughout the day I have had waves of overwhelming emotion when I would consider where we are this year.  Earlier today I whispered to Mark, "I hope I don't cry all day!" I didn't cry the WHOLE day and when I did, I tried to keep it private, but sometimes it's hard to keep in a heart overflowing with gratitude.  As we drove to Mark's parents earlier today I looked back and saw FIVE faces looking back at me and it took my breath away.  I simply said, "Who is glad Tyson is here for Christmas this year and forever and ever?"  Everyone's hands flew up.  The hand that brought tears was when I looked back and saw his raised high in the air accompanied by a smile from ear to ear. 
As we press into this day, I am reminded of those still waiting, some for adoption, some for relational healing, some for a spouse, others for a baby after years of infertility.  Then, I think about our friends (family) who are several hours post-op with their mom after brain surgery for an aneurysm or others who know they are likely facing their last Christmas with a loved one.  Still others are walking into their very first Christmas without their mom, dad, sibling, spouse, or child.  It all feels conflicting and hard to sort through with eyes focused on the flesh. Through the lens of my own circumstances, this is the best Christmas I have had in at least 6 years.  Yet, so many we love are hurting and feeling the weight of their own "thing" this Christmas. How on earth can we reconcile it all?  I asked Holy Spirit to help me understand how to navigate it, confessing that I felt like I have been on an emotional seesaw the last few weeks with a relentless kid far bigger than me on the other end.  Just like a Gentle Father, He led me to His answer as I was doing my quiet time a few days ago.  I have been really jumping into First and Second Peter for several weeks and right there in black and white just minutes after praying for clarity as I read and confessing my pendulum of emotions, 1 Peter 1:3 jumped off the pages at me:

Praise be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  In His great mercy He has given us a new birth into living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

A LIVING HOPE.  My eyes filled with tears because I knew He was teaching me something.  I knew He was answering.  In His great mercy, He gave us the opportunity to have a new birth because Jesus was born. He wasn't just born, but born to die.  In His dying and resurrection, the gates of heaven were opened to all mankind.  Yet, none of it was possible without the birth of the Chosen One, our Messiah.  This past Wednesday night Mark said it like this, "Lying in the manger this baby was grasping his greatest title in his tiny hand: Savior."  Hope was born.

A living that redeems, restores, renews.  This reality doesn't change any of our circumstances, whether good or bad.  What it does, however, is change US.  This Babe in the manger gives us the opportunity to view the temporal with a new lens.  We are able to stand back and gain a broader picture, one that outlasts us. This tiny baby boy burst onto the scene and with His first cry, all of humanity was impacted for all eternity.  His impact was profound because for the shepherds who had no hope, HOPE WAS BORN.  For the parents who had endured ridicule, gossip, and inevitable stares, HOPE WAS BORN.  For the magi who were likely more curious about the new constellation  than its catalyst, HOPE WAS BORN.  For each of us, in our waits, in our victories, in our grief, and in our fears, HOPE WAS BORN. 
So, as I meditate on the day in the stillness of night, I am weepy with the realization that HOPE has been here all along, through the last 6 Christmas's.  As Mark and I drove home tonight and discussed what we had done last year, all I could remember was being on the verge of tears through a Christmas Eve Service and while visiting family afterwards.  Grief is my memory.  Immediately when the words came off my lips, I sensed Holy Spirit nudging me to truth, a verse I've had memorized for years (Psalm 30: 11-12):

You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing.  You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy that I might sing praises to you and not be silent.  O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever!

Here's the thing.... we want the joyful dancing without the mourning.  However, we don't know joyful dancing unless we have endured the mourning.  To be able to exchange mourning clothes for clothes of joy is a gift!  This gift is only possible because of Jesus.  Hope was born.  Remember my personal study has had me in 1 & 2 Peter?  Well, wouldn't you know, right there in those pages, God confirmed (again) His offer of hope in 1 Peter 5. He just lets us know from the outset that we must humble ourselves under the authority of God (surrender is hard!), cast our anxieties on Him, be onto the schemes of our adversary (the devil), resist temptation, stand firm in your faith and do all of this WHILE SUFFERING. Then, HOPE comes in verse 10:

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

So, it comes with great personal responsibility, but an even greater promise: when we endure suffering for His name's sake, and do it with endurance and faith, God will HIMSELF raise you up, establish you.  I find the word "confirm" so powerful.  He will confirm for you that He is true, trustworthy, and I don't know if it is what He meant here, but I can't help but think it.  As I continue to learn about Tyson's life before we knew him, I am more and more in awe of the power of God.  He set people and circumstances in Tyson's path that were so strategic in order to prepare him for our family.  For me, this has been so confirming.  I am mindful of the "mourning" and "suffering" days where nothing made sense.  I was full of questions and frustrations most of the time, but desperately longed to trust Him more than what my eyes could see.  Here, in the present, He is confirming that way back in those days and years, He was working and preparing so that in these days He could restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish. 

As Christmas music quietly plays off to my left and 5 children sleep (all in one room tonight) to my right, I am at peace with this: we are all desperate for HOPE.  Whether still in the tunnel of the unknown, waiting for answers, grieving losses, or fearful of what appear to be grim inevitable circumstances, we all need HOPE.  And, in all His splendor and all His Humility, HOPE WAS BORN.  THIS IS THE GOOD NEWS.  In confidence, I can text my friend with a dying grandson or my friend who is childless (still) or my celebrating "sister" who has babies this year she didn't have last year and say: HALLELUJAH!  HOPE WAS BORN. 

Hope allows us to look to the future with a new expectation, one full of promise, regardless of what today looks like.  So, as we wake (or stay awake) and the Christ-child's birthday begins, let us celebrate Him with every ounce of our being, because we no longer have to depend on our circumstances to find our hope.  We simply have to find our way to a lowly feeding trough and find Him there in strips of linen, grasping his greatest title in his tiny hand: Savior.


Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Just Breathe

It's (finally) quiet and I (finally) have time to write about what has been going on around here.  As I type, we have a very sweet "first" happening at our house tonight... all three of the "little boys" are asleep in the same bed.  Typically Tyson sleeps with Hudson on the bottom bunk (full size bed) and Corbin sleeps wherever his head hits the pillow on the couch.  He is our nomad and we are okay with that.  Everyone has a bed and if Corbin wants to sleep on the couch....I am NOT dying on that hill.  Anyway, all of that to say, tonight that bottom bunk is THE sweetest, cutest thing ON PLANET EARTH. 
As I sit here, my head is spinning thinking about all of the firsts this week held.  I so desperately want to be able to let you in, without sacrificing Tyson's trust or threatening his vulnerability.  But, there are plenty of things I CAN share and more and more lessons that I am learning as I spend my days with him.  As I have said before, he is very smart and saying something to him once is usually enough.  After that, he's got it.  I am tickled recollecting our car conversation yesterday.  About a week ago I said, "Tyson, do you know what Mommy loves about you? EVERYTHING!!"  This is something I say often to all of our kids, but it was the first time I'd said it to him.  So, yesterday I was driving and I glanced back at him and said, "Hey, Tyson, do you know what Mommy loves about you?"  Before I could answer my own question, he stretched his arms out, as if doing the motions to "Deep and Wide" and with the biggest smile he yelled out, "EVERYTHING!"  I tearfully responded with , "That's right, Buddy.  Everything."  I am so glad he remembered, because it's true!

A few other "firsts" stand out.  First, one of my friends at church came to me and said, "I just saw Tyson washing his hands in the water fountain.  It was so cute." And, it probably was.  But, he wasn't trying to be cute... he had NO IDEA it wasn't to wash hands!  We have since had Water Fountain 101 which actually left us both sopping wet was a bit harder than initially expected.  However, he's an old pro now! Told ya he's a fast learner!!
Just tonight Tyson was in one of his newest favorite places... washing dishes at the sink.  Here's the deal... I don't wash dishes very often.  Okay.  Never.  I wash dishes that cannot be washed in the dishwasher. Otherwise, I wait until the current load is finished and then I load it back up.  Tyson has a fascination with our kitchen faucet and he thoroughly enjoys pulling the retractable end down, spraying the water on dishes and putting the faucet back together.  We have repeatedly told him he does not need to wash dishes, but he just insists.  Off he goes, grabbing his wooden step stool and he does it with the biggest smile on his face, "Me help you, Momma."  SWEET BOY. So, tonight all the dishes were finished and I saw him go get his stool.  I explained the dishes were finished, but he just kept walking toward the sink.  He climbed up, turned on the water and started cleaning the sink.  I let him "clean" for a few minutes and then I said in my most chipper voice, "Okay, I think that is SO clean.  Let's get down.  We don't want to waste the water.  Mommy and Daddy have to pay for the water.  So when we are all finished we turn it off so we don't waste it."  He bent over the faucet and looked and looked.  Then he said, "Momma, where the money go? "  Please try your hardest to imagine me trying to explain to him about "a store that sends us a letter in the mail every few weeks to tell us how much water we used and how much money it costs."  Y'ALL.  How cute is that?  He couldn't figure out how or where we put the money in to get the water!  We assured him we had the money for all the water we needed and that we wouldn't run out of water, a common problem in Ethiopia. 
Today Tyson jumped on his first trampoline (thanks, Sara!) and yesterday we went to his first play (Break a leg, Jess!).  The trampoline was a HUGE hit and the play was super fun for about 30 minutes but he struggled to follow the story line, understandably.  So, we jetted out of the play a few minutes early, but not before he laughed hysterically at the "yellow ball that burps."  The play was based off a Junie B. Jones book and one of the toys in the play is a ball that "burps" when you squeeze it.  Some things speak a universal language.  Turns out most of those things are bodily noises and functions.  And in a family with 5 males and 2 females we speak a lot of that universal language.

Sunday afternoon we went to celebrate our nephews birthday and then we had to run and grab a few things from the store that the older kids needed for a school project.  By the time we finished finding what we needed, it was dinner time and I had not meal planned (which is very unusual).  So, I looked at Mark and said, "Where do we have a gift card to?"  Aubrey's for the win!  So, off we went.  After we ordered our meal (going to a restaurant with us is somewhat comical.  We had the "large party" table), our drinks arrived.  As always we all ordered water because who wants to pay $20 for drinks? and our server brought a dessert plate with lemons on it.  The boys sat and colored for approximately 20 seconds and then Tyson said, pointing to the lemons, "Oranges?"  So, I grabbed one and showed him the rind.  I said, "Is it orange?" He shook his head no.  Then I said, "It's a lemon," as I puckered my face to try to let him know it was sour.  When I offered him the lemon, he took the bait.  But, his face was SO funny!  I so wish I had videoed!  Then, Tyson thought it would be fun to have all of us taste a lemon, one at a time because we weren't already loud enough.  OH MY.  We, of course, exaggerated our sour faces, but he got the biggest kick out of it and just today he said, "Momma, Brycen, Regan, Corbin Hudson, Daddy did (insert crazy sour face), right?"  He was still chuckling with delight thinking about it.  Suffice it to say, he hasn't asked for another one, but he can put away some oranges and bananas.  In way of food, our options are broadening (high-fives all around).  Tyson has discovered he likes corn dogs (I know, I know... it's STILL not a green vegetable), vanilla pudding, pork chops in the crockpot, mashed potatoes (here's looking at you, Menge!), baked potatoes, and my personal unexpected favorite SALAMI SANDWICHES.  I am laughing out loud about that one.  Of all the delicious food on planet earth, why a salami sandwich, I will never know.  But, he loves them and I make them with the hopes of discreetly adding lettuce or spinach on top .
One of the melt-this-Momma's-heart moments happened a few hours ago.  Tyson asked if he could call Mark on the phone (something he had never done).  I, as always when the kids want Dad, said, "Of course."  But, I had to (obviously) explain that he had to wait for Daddy to say, "Hello," before he could talk.  So, when Mark answered, Tyson was already laughing saying, "Hi, Daddy!  I am going to kiss your face off."  Clearly, he has heard us say that no less than a trillion times a time or two.  To hear HIM say it was SO sweet and he was so proud of his first phone call!
My favorite "first" of this past week happened on Saturday at a birthday party.  We were standing outside around a fire pit around 11:15 Saturday morning.  It was cold outside, but the fire and standing heaters were working perfectly to keep us comfortable.  When we walked outside, Mark was carrying Tyson (which is common in adoption regardless of the child's age, because we have baby years and carrying to make up for!).  It wasn't until a few minutes later that Mark put Tyson down, once we felt like he was comfortable with everything around us.  Then, the first time Tyson spoke his eyes got SO big and he pointed at his breath and said, "What is THAT?"  It was the first time he had talked outside when it was cold enough to see his breath.  He thought it was fascinating and then he kept breathing out to see it again and again.  He would ask us to talk or exhale so he could see it and laugh.  We tried explaining that it was because it was so cold outside.  I am not sure he fully understood, but I do know he loved it.  I will keep saying it... it really is the little things.
The more I have reflected on that morning and Tyson watching his breath, the more I have realized that it is a tangible picture of one thing God has taught me over the past 6 years.  The reason Tyson was so confused at seeing his breath is because he hadn't changed anything... he was just talking like he has for 6 years.  What changed were his circumstances.  He had no control over the weather, which is the circumstance that changed that allowed him to see what is always there, but not always visible: his breath.  Sometimes we find ourselves in circumstances that our unexpected, circumstances that are harsh, and circumstances that are completely out of our control.  Yet, those are often the very situations that God uses to make Himself more visible to us.  It isn't that He isn't always there, it's often that we aren't aware because, well, we are comfortable... in where we are warm and cozy.  He is equally there and equally working in both circumstances, but only one of them gives us the privilege of becoming more aware of His presence.  If you are like me, I shudder at the thought of struggle, suffering, and trials.  However, I can also personally testify that those are the very days and seasons when I have grown the closest to Jesus, knowing He was there, despite whatever circumstances I happened to find myself in.  I recently read on a friend's Instagram feed this quote (and one I shared with Mark, who later used it in a sermon when talking about what God had taught him over the past 6 years):

"I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages."

Reread it.  And then again.  Being thrown against a rock HURTS, unless it's the Rock of Ages.  But, how often do we grow bitter or fearful or insecure  when the waves come and uncertainty feels in control?  Rather, we have the choice to kiss that wave who pushes us to the One who is steadfast, steady, strong, and fully in control.  Even the wind and waves obey His voice!  So, those changing, uncertain, harsh circumstances might be uncomfortable, but they might also be the VERY thing that will allow you to see His presence in a fresh, more intimate, profound way.  Exhale.  Find Him right there with you.

Immanuel, God with us.  We love You.


Sunday, December 4, 2016


Happy Sunday night!  I AM GOING TO CHANGE OUR BLOG FAMILY PHOTO SOON.  Here's the deal, and I am embarrassed to admit it, but we only have ONE picture of the 7 of us together (here is where photography friends cringe.  And me, too, honestly.).  It was taken the night we came home from the airport.  Add to that a new computer, basketball season and rehearsal season and Christmas season a busy season of life, and well, it just hasn't gotten changed yet.  I will do it!!! As I type, I hear the hum of my bathtub.  JETTED TUB= WHOLE NEW WORLD.  Tyson wants "bubbles" every day and when I turn on the jets he giggles with endless delight every. single. time.  I am just here to tell you people something.... the simplest things that I just gave NO thought to on a daily basis are where he finds the most joy.  It has been the sweetest thing to just be still and to stop.  To take notice.  To recognize the novelty of things, of people, of places. 
The weekend went by quickly, as always.  But, with it came new experiences. FIRSTS.  Thursday night Tyson was able to see himself on TV for the first time (might be the last time, but I doubt it).  My sweet friend, since childhood, Kelli Parker, is the producer and host of "The Good Life with Kelli Parker."  She contacted us a few days after we arrived home to see if we would be willing to do a segment on her show about our adoption.  So, the Thursday after we arrived home our home was bustling with TV cameras and bright lights.  You should have seen Tyson's eyes... bright with wonder and utter confusion mystery.  We gave him instructions to stay quiet while we were interviewed, which meant he had to put his iPod away, because despite having a volume button and headphones, it rarely stays quiet.  Or, he gets really into his worship and bursts out singing loudly while the headphones are on he bursts out with his beautiful singing voice while listening.  What we didn't ask him not to do was open and close every door in the house, go pee with the door open AND THEN FLUSH THE TOILET, or to play less than one inch from the feet of the light stands.  Needless  to say, we were trying to parent with our eyes a bit distracted, but when the final segment came out, I DIDN'T HEAR ONE DOOR CLOSE OR ONE FLUSH OF THE TOILET (insert Hallelujah chorus here).  Kelli did a great job editing and we are grateful for the opportunity to share about adoption, with the hopes it will prompt just one family to further discuss how adoption fits into their family.  Sometimes we just need a big nudge little encouragement!
Late Thursday night after Brycen's basketball game, Mark headed to Atlanta for two nights for Passion planning.  So, I was holding down the fort over the weekend. Thursday night Tyson fell asleep on Brycen in "Dad's chair."  When I went to move him to his room, he woke up briefly.  It was RIGHT THEN I realized that no one had asked to sleep with me in my bed (a fun treat we always do when Dad is gone).  So, I asked Tyson, in his sleepy stupor, if he wanted to sleep in Mommy and Daddy's bed since Daddy was gone.  His eyebrows raised and he got a half-grin on his face.  I tucked him into Mark's side of the bed and rubbed his face for a second.  I almost couldn't believe my eyes.  Another first.  He's here and he's ours.  Sometimes I just still can't even believe it.  He slept great and didn't seem to mind when I nearly smothered him trying to cuddle him so close pulled him close.  The next morning he couldn't wait to call Mark to "tell Dad me sleep on his pillow." Friday night Regan went to spend the night with Nana right after school. Brycen had plans to go to midnight breakfast Friday night with the youth group.  Midnight Breakfast involves eating, playing games (this past week it was hide-and-go-seek in the dark), and having fun from 10pm-midnight.  I made the little boys aware of the plan that we would stay up to take Brycen to church (Thank you, Kristi Altom for volunteering to bring him home).  They immediately started planning on what pillows and blankets they wanted to take into the car TO DRIVE BRYCEN TO CHURCH.  For those unfamiliar, we live about 3.5 miles from church.  But, they couldn't wait to wear their pajamas, wrap up in warm blankets, and rest their heads on pillows on the car ride to drop him off and get back home.  It literally took us twice as much time to get loaded and comfortable in the car because blankets and seatbelts hate each other than it did to actually drive there and back.  Either way, it was super fun and I kept trying to think of somewhere we could drive to since we went to all the trouble.  But, it turns out there IS something cozy about the car, a blanket, and a pillow.  Within a half mile of leaving the church all three of them were sleeping sound.  Nevermind it was well past their bedtime! 
Friday quickly gave way to Saturday and our original plan was to be home all day, but plans are meant to be changed I woke feeling spontaneous and decided to take all of the boys to the UT basketball game (we had free tickets).  We were joined by friends, which always makes it more fun.  And, my friend Nina and I were the two ladies who tried to enter the arena with our regular humongous purses.  We were CLUELESS the "clear bag policy" wasn't just for football games.  Laugh if you want, but we had the privilege of getting our exercise in early that day to walk half a mile back to the cars to put our purses away.  In the meantime, Brycen was a rockstar in charge of getting the little boys into the arena and into seats.  Tyson was bright-eyed for nearly the whole first half.  I am not sure if it was the peanut M&M's or all the lights or the banners or the cheerleaders or the fact that we moved from the nosebleed section where they give free tickets from the 300 level to the 100 level.  I, thinking I was being frugal, bought a drink for the boys to share. And, I, as usual, forgot to order it without ice.  Some things just aren't natural to me yet and this ranks as number 1.  I don't think I have remembered to order his drink with no ice yet.  So, off Brycen went to get us another drink, this time with no ice.  Then, all was right in the world.  Tyson never gets upset about the ice.  He just looks into the cup, if he sees ice, he turns up his nose and says, "No thank you."  And THEN I remember.  I am going to make it my goal to GET THIS RIGHT next time.  The second half of the game wasn't quite so much fun, but he loved crazy dancing with Hudson and Isaac, which distracted him from the game but heaven help the people sitting beside, behind, and in front of us.
All in all it shaped up to be a great weekend with Dad coming back home Saturday afternoon and Regan returning Saturday night.  As the weekend has progressed, however, I have been really contemplating this one thing: survival.  Not so much for me, but really trying to put myself in a place to try to understand what it must've been like to live so many years simply in survival mode.  From the outset Tyson has been so curious, which is likely why he is so smart.  Like, y'all, he's REALLY smart (just today he said, "I am freezing."  Which, I think "freezing" is an advanced word for his age and time he's been here. "Cold" would've been much more what I would've expected).  He's a fast learner and very inquisitive.  He constantly wants to see what you are doing:  how do you turn on the TV?, how do you use "On Demand?," how do you start the car?, how do you unlock the car?, how do you turn on the shower?, how do you drain the water?, How do you cook that? how do you put the battery in my remote control car?, how do you sharpen a pencil?, how do you pay bills?, how does that card know if you have money in the bank?, how do you iron clothes?, how do you wash clothes?  Dry clothes?, etc  You get the picture.  ALL DAY EVERY DAY.  It's very cute and I love teaching him.  And, I always know when he wants to know how to do something because he pulls up a chair or comes beside me and says, "Me help you."  That is code for "show me."  Those are some of my favorite times every day.  But, as I have thought about it and watched, part of my heart breaks.  On Friday afternoon Tyson came in asking if he could ride his Artic Cat (a battery-operated vehicle he drives outside).  I knew the battery had been charging in the dining room, but before I could get in to get it, he was already in there trying to lift it.  I picked it up and took it outside.  As I walked toward the car I said, "Brycen, do you know how to put this battery in?  I can figure it out, if not." Typically, this Mark's "department." Tyson chimed in, "Me do.  Me help Dad."  Translation: I know how to do it.  I watched Dad.
Of course, I was grateful he knew, but it was in that moment, when he was opening the hood of that car that it hit me... He wants to know how everything works so that he doesn't have to depend on anyone.  It's for survival.  Remember the broken bike at the orphanage that every few pedals he would put down, fix, and get back on and ride?  If he hadn't learned to fix it on his own, he couldn't have ridden it.  When you spend your life in a place where the adults can't be trusted to fix broken things or come to you every time you cry, you learn to survive.  His orphanage was "good" as far as orphanages go.  But, when 30 kids live where 5-6 adults are working at a time, it doesn't take long to figure out that for much of life, you're on your own.  Alone when you're sick and left to fend for yourself when things are broken. His "need to know" I suspect is partly a desire to genuinely know.  Also, I am suspect, however,  it might partly be survival.  Until he knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that he can trust us to meet his needs and provide for him, he wants to know how things work in case we don't come through and he's left on his own. That's hard to type.  When you grow up not being able to depend on the adults in your life, you learn to depend on only one: yourself.  So, at every opportunity, he seeks to learn.  I am okay with that for now, as it gives us time together and time to bond.  But, I am praying for discernment for when it isn't about bonding and learning.  When it turns from learning to "I can't depend on you so I want to know" I want Holy Spirit to make me aware.  I want opportunities where Tyson is forced to depend on us so that he can find us to be trustworthy.  Survival is an interesting thing, ya know? It pushes us to do things we didn't know we were capable of.  It forces us to be so self-sufficient that we isolate ourselves out of fear of being let down or rejected or abandoned. again.  All of this thinking on survival mechanisms got me thinking about Jesus.  About my own survival mechanisms.  How I sometimes think I know how to do life or how to solve a problem and I never go to Him to say, "Show me."  Or, I let him "show me" once and then I think I have it figured out and I don't continue to go to Him EVERY DAY.  I somehow lose sight of how utterly dependent on Him I really am.  Much like Tyson, who might FEEL independent, but in reality he is dependent on us whether he FEELS like it or not.  I want to KNOW how dependent I am on Him.  How I can't trust myself.  I want the reminders that I can't possibly figure it all out.  And THANK GOODNESS I DON'T HAVE TO.  I have spent yesterday and today giving Holy Spirit permission to convict me, reveal to me the areas of my life where I am so self-sufficient and self-reliant that I don't even realize that I have isolated myself from Him.  I pray you will consider doing the same.  Before Jesus, all we had was our own depraved minds to depend on.  The only one we could trust was ourselves (or so we thought).  But, trusting our own minds gets us into  deep pits that we cannot get out of on our own.  Once we know Jesus, however, it all changes.  He is the One who pulls us out of the pits and redeems, renews, restores us.  We can throw all of us into trusting all of Him.  He is our trustworthy Father. 
Since starting this post, that bathtub hum was replaced with all the giggles after Hudson discovered we have THREE boys bathrobes!  Each one is donned in a bathrobe as I type.  Needless to say, they asked Mark and me to put on our robes as well.  So, here I sit, pajama pants, t-shirt, and a brown terry-cloth robe.  What else is a Momma to do?  "Firsts" are all over the place around here.  I don't want to miss them.  Thank you for giving me a place to remember and reflect. 

grateful for Jesus.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

All is calm. All is bright.

It's been a fun, busy day around here. I am on the couch while Christmas lights twinkle and football echoes from the TV.  The kids are all asleep and Mark is gone.  All is calm.  All is bright. I am reflecting on yesterday and today.... I will start with today.  It started with breakfast with the oldest 2 at Waffle House (no it isn't our "normal" Wednesday and yes, Brycen let Regan join us).  I always love hearing what is going on in their lives, with their friends, and what God is teaching them in their quiet times.  Good grief, I always walk away pondering what they've shared, so grateful that they already have all of Holy Spirit they are ever going to have... not one ounce less than me.  It encourages me to stay in the word and to never get to the place where I feel like they can't teach me.  Do they ever teach me!  After dropping them off at 7:30am for Christmas rehearsal at school, I headed back home and found Hudson, Corbin, and Mark getting ready to walk out the door for school/work.  I walked in, looked around, and then asked Mark, "Is he still sleeping?"  A simple nod of "yes" with a smile was the response.  Around 8:30am I saw that brown-eyed boy walk through the living room while wiping the sleep from his eyes.  He came to me with a big smile, but no words because who wants to talk first thing in the morning? .  I cuddled him up in silence for a few minutes, kissed his head a million times, and then convinced him it would be a good morning to try a cinnamon roll.  Our attempts at getting him to eat nearly ANYTHING are stooping to the deepest depths.  But, Ty can't survive on bananas, Cheez-its, and oranges alone.  Ok, well, he MIGHT be able to, but let's be real, eating is too fun for that there must be a better way to survive.  So, I threw some cinnamon rolls into the oven, fixed his hair, and cuddled him some more. The cinnamon rolls were finally ready and he loved them.  As he was finishing up his breakfast, the door bell rang.  We had friends over for coffee at 9 and Tyson enjoyed entertaining their 11 month old daughter.  It reminded me of all the toddlers he was used to being around at the orphanage.  Every time we went to Tyson's orphanage, if he wasn't outside, we found him in the toddler room "helping."  It was fun to watch him today and to see that tender side that those years before us molded. 
After we said our good-byes to friends and I ran another load of laundry I did a few things around the house, we loaded up and headed to the grocery store.  But, we didn't pile into the car until we packed two more cinnamon rolls into a Ziploc to take with us.  DUH.  This trip to Aldi wasn't like the last two weeks.  We were on a mission.  That takes me to yesterday.  Tyson's fever broke yesterday morning, so his appetite still wasn't back to normal. Add that with not having a plethora of food options that he likes and well, it was a banana and Cheez-it kind of day.  UNTIL VEGGIE CHIPS.  I had offered them before, but yesterday Corbin had them in the car while we ran to pick-up Brycen from basketball practice.  Tyson tried one and HE ASKED FOR MORE.  Then, he asked if he could hold the bag.  Then, as we pulled up to the school, tears fell and I wasn't sure why.  So, I parked and climbed into the back of the van with him.  I will keep private much of what we talked through, but as it turns out, one of his brothers ate the last veggie chip and that was just more than his little heart could handle.  I don't know what it is like to spend days or weeks or months hungry.  But, I could imagine when that is part of your past and then you enter a home with plenty of food to eat but not plenty of food you love, that when you find food you love.....YOU CAN'T HANDLE NOT GETTING THE LAST ONE.  Understandable.  We held each other and cried for 25 minutes.  I assured him we would go tomorrow (today) to get more veggie chips and he could pick out the exact bag he wanted.  So, that's exactly what we did!  When we wheeled into the store and I pushed him up to where those chips were, he beamed! 

All is calm.  All is bright.

We strapped those chips into the seat beside him in the cart and we did so LOUD AND PROUD.  As we drove home and I could hear the sweet sound of veggie chips crunching (as my friends cringe who don't let their kids eat in the car),  my mind drifted to a conversation we had yesterday.  As Tyson sat at the table eating banana number 1, I asked him about what he ate at the orphanage.  I knew it was porridge in the mornings, but it turns out he ate shiro and injera for every lunch and noodles for every dinner... if I understood him right.  His snacks were "biscuits" (cookies) and a boiled potato each day.  After really thinking through that I couldn't help but realize that BLESS HIS HEART.  No meat, bland diet, nothing cold, nothing hot, very little crunchy, salty, or green.  NO WONDER THIS IS HARD.  It's amazing to me, the more I think on his eating history, that he is SO willing to try everything.  He never refuses to try something, even if I can tell his mind is made up before he eats it that he isn't going to like it. So, I prayed (again), asking Holy Spirit for wisdom and discernment regarding navigating eating.  But, here's the thing... THAT ISN'T A BIG CHALLENGE.  As Mengistu would say, "This is a normal challenge, not all challenges are normal challenges."  That Mengistu knows a thing or two or a million.
And immediately, the food issues didn't seem like that big of a deal.  He is going to eat and we won't let him starve. 

All is calm.  All is bright. 

Not everyday is easy.  Yesterday proved to be hard on more than one occasion.  But, as soon as I think about the hard,  my mind floods with the sound of the most contagious giggle you've ever heard.  It was the giggle that I heard yesterday as I popped open the umbrella and scooted in close to his car door and invited him to join me underneath it.  He just smiled and giggled.  It wasn't until a few steps later, I asked him if it was the first time he'd ever used an umbrella.  Through giggles and grins he said, "Yes."  He purposefully walked through a rain puddle and he looked up at me with those big brown eyes and they sparkled.  Despite the hard, the days are bright.  calm.  and bright.  It's simply a matter of choosing it to be so.  The rain could've caused me to be so rushed to get inside that I missed how excited and giddy he was.  I would've missed taking the time in the torrential downpour  rain to snap a quick selfie to commemorate the moment.  Tyson has taught me to SLOW DOWN.  To take in gratitude what I've historically taken for granted. To notice what has gone unnoticed.  For instance, in the car today he pointed out the window and said, "Christmas tree."  I replied, "Yes!  Christmas tree."  Then, he said "Jesus birthday."  He's listening!!  "Yes, Jesus' birthday! Christmas is Jesus' birthday."  About 2 hours later we picked up Regan, Corbin, and Hudson from school.  When we came back in the house I was sitting signing notebooks and reviewing homework when Tyson came in and said, "Mom, come, please.  Me show you."  I finished what I was doing and took his hand.  He walked to our Christmas tree, pointed to the biggest present under (beside) the tree and said, "This present for Jesus."  He didn't say it as a question, but rather as a matter-of-fact.  I loved that he noticed the biggest gift and assumed it was for Jesus since it IS, afterall, HIS birthday The rest of us have walked by those gifts a million times, not ever thinking about what gift we would give Jesus this Christmas.   I told him that Jesus taught us how to give and so for His birthday, we give gifts to others.  But, I walked away with sheer conviction.  In all of the lights, new life, discovering veggie chips, learning a new language, Tyson hadn't missed that when it's your birthday you get the biggest gift.  In all of the change he seems to get that

all is calm.  all is bright.

Food, language, social cues, and learning to be in a family might get overwhelming at times, but Who this whole thing is about seems to be crystal clear.  I loved that Tyson didn't ask if that gift was for him or even to ask me who it was for.  To him, Jesus is the One who deserves the gifts and by all means, the very biggest one, red and gold paper with a burlap bow and all.  With Christmas lights flickering and a Christmas candle scent lingering, I really want to give Jesus the biggest gift.  I want to make much of Him.  I want to honor and praise and FLAT OUT CELEBRATE HIM.  I pray you do, too.  He is our Way-Maker, who holds every ounce of this planet in His hands and He does so with intentionality.  We don't need to fret, but rather take Him at His word: Don't worry, but rather PRAY (Phil 4:6). 


He is the One who came for us, grew in wisdom and stature, and bled and died in order to prove He is the Light of the World. 


As you lean into this Christmas season, worry less. Pray more. Let's give all of us (the biggest gift we have) to all of Him.  That Holy night brought to us the swaddled Christ-Child  to be our Redeemer and Friend.  Our Soul-Saver, Heart-Healer, Sin-Forgiver. 

We love you, Jesus.


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Fevers and Firsts and NOT being alone

It's 1:50pm and my eyelids are heavy as I listen to the heavy sleep of Tyson beside me on the couch.  Between blazing wild fires in the mountains just miles from our home and a brown-eyed boy with a fever, last night was rather long.  No complaints.  Just offering continued prayers for more rain (Job 5:10) and firefighters who are still working, despite inevitable exhaustion and risk.  The night hours gave me time to ponder and pray over so many things that have been newly revealed to my eyes and heart, all while holding a flaming hot a sweet boy with a fever.  There are so many firsts in our lives in these days... I try to remember them all to share with you, but it feels impossible.  There are multiple ones each day.  While they are fresh on my mind, I will share with you the past 24 hours.
All the kids were out of school yesterday, so I decided to surprise them and have our backdoor neighbor, Camden, come and stay with us all day.  Because, I mean, what is one more?  I had made a promise to Camden a few months ago that I needed to fill and it involved Chick-fil-A and fries and Sprite and mounds of  ketchup.  So, we all headed out for lunch at our Chick-fil-A.  Yes, we look like a three ring circus  take up a lot of space in a restaurant, but I was strategic in our arrival time so as not to be there with everyone else in Knoxville during the busiest time.  We all ordered and ate and then it came time to introduce Tyson to his very first fast-food play structure.  Somebody (one of you Momma's out there) please understand that the decibel level inside that enclosed room reached an ALL TIME HIGH around 1pm yesterday.  For anyone close by, please accept my most sincere apologies.  But, here's the thing... you only get firsts once.  The squeals and screams and laughs were music to my ears though I doubt that was the case for the others in there and I sat with a big smile on my face.  Play, Tyson, play. 
Once we arrived home, I was busy cleaning and  doing more laundry reorganizing.  As noted before, I am trying to get things settled, even still.  I saw Hudson, Corbin, and Camden playing upstairs, downstairs, and outside.  I finally found Tyson downstairs working intently with Brycen on making a lego motorcycle (duh).  But, Tyson seemed so sleepy and not himself.  When asked if he wanted a pillow to put his head on, he immediately responded, "yes."  NOT NORMAL.  So, I swept him up in my arms and felt his cheeks.. they seemed cool.  I did the "Mommy drill" and put my hand up the back of his shirt.  FLAMING HOT.  Here goes a first.  But, this time, it was for Mommy AND Tyson.  Just like when your newborn gets sick for the first time, you have no idea what to expect or how he/she will respond.  I immediately felt like a new mom again.  I took his temperature....101.8.  I explained that he had a fever and poured him some Ibuprofen because who has time for Tylenol every 4 hours when Ibuprofen works better and is only given every 6 hours.  HE TOOK IT LIKE A CHAMP.  He curled up on Brycen and was asleep in two minutes flat.  He slept through our dinner (thank you Huffman's) and  finally woke just as we were trying to decide if we should wake him to eat.  For the first time in over a week, I asked him if he wanted injera (Mark had gone by the Ethiopian restaurant yesterday afternoon to get some) and he said, "yes.".  So, I made some shiro like I have been doing it for years.  Thank you, YouTube, you just became my best friend.  Again.  Fortunately, shiro is easy, fast, and we had bought shiro powder and berbere before we left Ethiopia.  Tyson roused enough to walk to the table to EAT IT ALL.  You made me a hero to my kid, YouTube, and I am forever grateful. 
Tyson's fever responded well to Ibuprofen and came down, but at 2am it was right back up and we repeated the medicine routine along with some big gulps of water, because when your momma is a nurse and you are sick BLESS YOUR HEART.  I already had an appointment scheduled for today with the pediatrician to get established and begin getting Tyson caught up on immunizations.  We kept that 11am appointment anyway so we could run his labwork to confirm he has a virus.  His only complaint in the night was a headache, but this morning that complaint was gone. 
He woke with his sweet smile like he does every morning and he gave me big hugs, just like always.  After the big kids left, he said, "Momma, you and me....sleep on couch.  Then your bed."  Big smiles.  I responded, "yes, we did!  I loved it.  I am your mommy and I love taking care of you."  I asked him if he wanted to sit on the couch and read.  He agreed.  I ran and grabbed our "Noah and the Mighty Ark" book as well as our "Jesus Storybook Bible" (THIS IS A MUST FOR ALL YOU PARENTS).  I realized during Bible Fellowship Sunday morning that I didn't think he had ever heard the story of Noah and the ark.  So, I read that one to him and then we opened up the Storybook Bible.  I read with a shaky voice and with eyes burning with tears.  The days and weeks and months I have spent longing to sit, holding him, and read to him about Jesus are too numerous to count.  Despite his not feeling well, here we were.  Curled up on the far left corner of the couch with the recliner out, our feet propped up, and a tan cozy, warm blanket stretched out over us, reading about how the Bible isn't a book (just) about rules or about heroes.  It is, rather, a book about One Hero who came for all mankind and how every story inside it points to Him.  My heart was full as I flipped the colorful pages, his eyes glued to each one.  It was a first and one I know will forever be etched in my mind.
Next, I went to shower because a long night on the couch with a sick child whose fever keeps breaking and Tyson stayed curled up on the couch.  While I was getting ready he came in our bathroom and watched me.  I talked to him about mascara (because mascara and lip gloss are my love languages.  And shoes, but that's for a different day), and hair dryers, and hair straighteners.  Then, he chose what hair products he wanted to use today.  We have an assortment, because I wasn't sure exactly what texture his hair was, so we planned for it all.  That has left us with about 6 of the 10 things that work well.  Obviously, we don't use them all at once, but I let him choose which leave-in conditioner and which hair oil he wanted today.  As I rubbed them through his brown (beautiful) curls, he said, "Momma, at orphanage when sick, alone."  I stopped, stooped down and repeated it to him to make sure I was understanding, "When you were sick in the orphanage you had to stay alone and be by yourself?"  He shook his head yes (which he is doing more and more, rather than just raising his eyebrows).  I went on, "Look at Mommy's eyes.  You do not have to stay alone anymore when you are sick.  Mommy will take care of you and hold you anytime you are sick."  My heart sank on the one hand.  On the other hand, I fought off grateful tears that those days are behind him.  I recounted a few hours before how we had been curled up on the couch and a few hours before that he had been between Mark and me in our bed and a few hours before that he had fallen asleep on Brycen.  All the while, I hadn't given it much thought, but in the middle of fevers, Ibuprofen, and fatigue, Tyson's world was changing.  Again. 
And when I see his world open or change, it changes me, too.  I stood drying my hair praying for sick children all over the world today who are in orphanages and due to lack of caregivers and the desire to not get everyone sick, they are alone in their beds.  I also thanked God that we are able to fill in the gap for those we know and love... that they don't have to suffer alone.  And just like that, we were starting another day of firsts.
We left the bathroom and decided to eat breakfast.  I went for eggs (I started eating them again in Ethiopia or, well, I would've been hungry).  Tyson opted for... wait for it...a banana (surprise!).  But, he had a different request this time.  He has obviously been observing how Hudson often has me cut up his banana in a bowl.  So, this morning, Tyson asked if I would cut his up.  I was happy to.  Then, he said, "Can I eat it with a fork?"  I was already emotional, but this request was so tender to me because Tyson is just learning to eat with a fork.  He was used to a spoon because he ate porridge every morning at the orphanage.  His other foods were all eaten with his hands (remember, no utensils in restaurants in Ethiopia?).  So, using a fork has been all new, and not always easy or fun.  So, today, he asked to eat his banana cut up with a fork.  He used that fork perfectly and declared it to be the best banana he's ever had. 
We were fueled up and ready for the doctor's appointment.  When we arrived to the "Nemo" room, his eyes were looking all around, but he stayed close to me.  I could tell he was unsure about where we were.  The staff was so sweet and kind and THANK GOODNESS for nurse Beth who has an adopted daughter from China.  SHE GETS IT.  She was the first face we saw and she was so sweet and welcoming.  I filled out a blue million pieces of paper  paperwork and had to repeatedly say or write "Unknown."  No, I don't know his birthweight, or if he has a family history of cancer or asthma or heart disease.  No, I don't know what injuries he's had.  I THINK I know he's never had anesthesia.  Paperwork didn't take long, but it was also a startling reminder of his life before us that I know so little about.  And, for an international adoption, we actually know a lot.  However, to look at page after page of questions and realize I DON'T KNOW ANY OF THIS was tough for me.  I want so much to know how much he weighed, if he was born full term, and how old he was when we started walking.  Yet, I find something beautiful in the not knowing.  The mere fact that I can NOT know and still love him fully.  Advocate for him passionately.  Care for him completely.  There is something profound and beautiful in that to me.  That I can look the doctor straight in the face and say, "I don't know," and he can look back and say, "That's ok.  We are going to take the best care of him we can whether we know these things or not."  Thank you, Jesus, for KNOWING ALL OF US (especially knowing all of our sin and rebellion and selfishness) and choosing to care for us.  ALL OF US....emotionally, physically and spiritually. 
I am so thankful (but not nearly so much as Tyson was) that he had his FIRST experience peeing in a cup.  It was a big hit (no pun intended).  That brought a huge smile to his feverish face.  He also had his first hearing screen, which he passed with flying colors and his first CBC, lipids, and lead screenings.  I am so thankful they all came back perfectly (even that pee in a cup!), with a slight decrease in his white count due to the virus that is causing his fever.  Otherwise, as the doctor said, 'I have never seen a child so newly home with no anemia, no problems in their labs, and seemingly, no parasites."  I told him what I say to everyone who remarks about how well he seems to be transitioning, "Thank you Jesus.  It is all prayer."  We are blessed with a pediatrician who has done many mission trips to Africa and agreed with us.  "God just knew to put him with you," he said.  Yes, He did and we are grateful.
So, I am finishing this up just in time to go grab older kids from school.  I think, I will be waking Tyson from another first... his first nap on Mom on this couch while everyone else was at work/school.  I will try to update again in a few days.  Until then, prayers remain and continue for firefighters,, fevers and firsts.  AND RAIN. 


Friday, November 25, 2016

It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas

Happy Black Friday!
If you are like me, you stayed nice and cozy in your bed all night and got the same deals online.  We actually didn't have much to look for this year, but Mark and me try to score the same deals without leaving the couch or our pajama pants and hot coffee.  Either way, I hope your day was full of fun memories, like ours.  We celebrated Christmas today at our house with my parents and my sister and her family.  I mean, just our immediate family (including my grandparents and Maygen, Josh, and Jaxson), is 24 people.  It was loud and fun.  But, before you can celebrate Christmas, you have to decorate for Christmas!  We love the WHOLE KIT AND KABOODLE... decorating, tree, mantle, Christmas movies playing, hot drinks in our hands and glitter in every crevice and cranny of the house everywhere.  Even Mark loves it. Remember, we were the family BLARING Christmas music in the guesthouse in Ethiopia first thing in the morning on November 1 (nevermind that Christmas isn't celebrated in Ethiopia until January 7th).  It is just hard to be in a bad mood when you are hanging up 7 stockings for 7 people who will be home on Christmas morning.  New Perspective.

Just before Mark hauled 1,400 tubs of Christmas décor up the stairs brought up all the Christmas decorations, he looked at me and said, "THIS year this is going to be fun!"  I knew what he meant... last year had been so difficult.  The tree decorating had been quiet and methodical. It wouldn't have taken much to convince me to not do any of it.   The mantle was full of stockings for every person who was staying here Christmas night (varies from year to year).  Tyson had a stocking, but hanging a stocking (again) for one you just KNEW would be home "next year," but wasn't... it's frustrating.  And heartbreaking.  And just plain hard.  Even yesterday morning when I woke, I was immediately grateful for our being home for Thanksgiving.  But, my next thoughts were immediately for those still in seasons of wait.  Those who aren't where they thought they'd be this Thanksgiving.  Those still waiting for adoptions, pregnancy after infertility, jobs, relationships... the list is long and the wait can be excruciating.  The emotions of last year were just all so fresh on my heart as we opened our boxes of Christmas lights, garland, and stockings.  I remember thinking when we packed it all up at the end of last December, "next time I see this Tyson will be home."  AND HE WAS.  I decorated the mantle and hug up all 7 stockings... a first for our family in more than one way.  It will be our first year to have us all home and for it to just be the 7 of us on Christmas morning.  Circumstances like cross-country moves and jobs are keeping our "regular crew" from coming and staying Christmas Eve night  this year.  When Tyson first saw the stockings he had the funniest look on his face, saying, "a sock shoe?"  I guess if it's all new to you, it does seem a bit strange. As I made final touches on the mantle and plugged in the lights, Tyson's face lit up!  He smiled from ear to ear.  While I was working on the dining room table, Mark was putting up the tree.  Tyson let us know he had heard of Christmas trees, but he had never seen one.  Well, here ya go, sweet boy... 9 feet of artificial, pre-lit goodness. 
The next day we decided to do the tree in the playroom because I can't seem to handle doing two in one day.  This is the room where we do all of our Christmas morning traditions like gifts, reading the Christmas story, having prayer, etc.  The tree down there is one that is lit with colorful lights and all the ornaments the kids have made through the years.  We top it with a Santa hat and call it beautiful.  My tree the upstairs tree is white lights, red and gold ornaments only preferably, and wide red burlap stretching down from the gold star on top.  So, we get to do fancy and we get to do fun.  As we prepped for the fun tree, we opened all the boxes of ornaments, just like always.  We knew the kids would know to get "their" ornaments out and put them where they wanted on the tree.  As I stood back to make sure the tree was ready for ornaments, I noticed Tyson sitting on a gaming chair playing with his Discovery laptop oblivious having no clue what to do.  I quickly went over and showed him how to hang ornaments on the tree.  He smiled and said, "Me do."  He walked over and picked up an ornament and as if it was all happening in slow motion to me, he perfectly hung that snowman sitting atop a white cotton ball  snowball. The only other time I have felt like time was standing still in this same way was just three days earlier as I stood and watched him as 23 people stood around singing "happy birthday" to him.  I was there and I was watching, but I couldn't sing.  Tears stung in my eyes as I watched him grin from ear to ear with the glow of his 6 candles reflecting off his face.  I knew if I sang, I would UGLY cry.  Rather, I stood and watched with tears and a smile.  Fast-forward to fun-tree decorating and here I was again.  I found myself watching in slow motion and taking it in.  His first Christmas tree.  EVER.  His first chance to know the joy of Christmas and all that being a kid means this time of year.  We explained that just like he had just had a birthday, Christmas was Jesus' birthday.  He must've understood, as yesterday he said, "Mommy, tomorrow Jesus' birthday?"  I realized he'd overheard me talking about having Christmas with my family today and he didn't want to miss if it was Jesus' birthday!  I don't want to miss it either.  I want to sit in grateful adoration of the One who came, knowing all of our flaws, faults, and sins and choosing to put on flesh and blood for us anyway.  Surrendering fully to the will of His Father, Jesus came, making a way for all things to be made new.  Praise You, Jesus. 
As we walk by our fancy or fun trees, let's not miss Jesus' birthday in it all.  The birthday of all birthdays.  The One whose first breath changed everything for all of mankind.  Without this one birthday, none of our physical birthdays even matter, because they are temporal.  We are all here for just a short season... we have to live for what will outlast us!  As we lean into this joyous season, reflect on that Babe, in the manger, whose small hands and feet were going to grow and ultimately hang from a cross to give us freedom, grace, and salvation.  With fresh perspectives and new reflections on the small things in life, I am just so excited that it's (finally) beginning to look a lot like Christmas.  Jesus, You are welcome here.