Monday, March 20, 2017


We are back home after a fun-filled week in freezing cold Orlando.  Despite the "cooler than average" temperatures, we had a great week!  I have tried to think of what all to put on the blog and how to try to do it all justice.  Once I freed myself of the expectation of having to get it "right" I just decided to sit and type.  There is so much in my heart and mind, I had to get some of it out!
It was a hot June night the last time we walked out of the Magic Kingdom in Orlando in the summer of 2014.  As usual, I was trying to procrastinate to avoid leaving the park because Disney is my happy place in every sense of the word in an attempt to prolong vacation.  As we walked out, hand-in-hand, I said with tears brimming in my eyes, "Next time we are here, there will be seven of us."  I had no idea at the time if our fifth child would be a boy or a girl or how old he/she would be.  What I DID know was that I didn't want to come back without him/her. As the months turned to (more) years, we DID eventually see the sweetest head of brown curly hair with the most beautiful brown eyes and a smile that will melt any heart.  It was our Tyson.  As the process moved slower than molasses forward, we were told we should travel to get him sometime in January 2016.  Therefore, we thought we were more than "safe" to book our first family vacation to Disney for October 2016.  Little did we know. As last summer came and went and we still had no travel dates or that final letter from MOWA, I couldn't seem to bring myself to even think about our upcoming Disney vacation. I even mentioned it to some of you with words like, "It's going to be one of the hardest things I have ever done to pack the car and go there without him.  The whole trip was for us to all be a family together on vacation for the first time."  None of it made sense or felt right.  I couldn't seem to think about it without tears, knowing I had to pull it together for the other 5 people who were hoping for a fun trip.  In His perfect timing, we found out in early August that we had received our final letter and we would be traveling to Ethiopia in October to finally pick up our boy.  Just like that, God redeemed.  We were so grateful our Disney plans were able to be moved from fall break to Spring Break.  So, we packed up the car and headed out, making half the trip on Friday night and finishing it up on Saturday.  As we were packing the car Friday,  Holy Spirit reminded me of the date... March 10th.  One year ago, on March 10, 2016, I typed my hardest blog post.  We had unpacked our bags for Ethiopia and had learned the wait was going to be far longer than anyone suspected.  No end in sight and little hope that we would even make it to Ethiopia before Tyson's 6th birthday in November.  I quickly ran inside from helping Mark get the car loaded and pulled up the blog to read the words I had posted one year, to the date, earlier.  I had just wanted him to be home.. with his family.  The words I had posted brought burning tears to my eyes, as the wounds felt so raw all over again.  I was suddenly right back in that dining room chair typing with tears pouring out of my eyes in grief.  Yet, here we were, one year later, packing the car for Disney as a family of seven.  Not only surviving, but thriving. 
I mentioned the date to Mark as we continued packing and we were both so thankful for where the Lord has brought us in a mere 365 days.  It's crazy to consider how different our lives are.  Several times throughout the drive on Friday night I cried, just looking back in the van and seeing five sweet faces all together for this trip, a trip six of us have dreamed about for three years.  I was so mindful of all those still in the wait as months turn to years, birthdays come and go, holidays come around AGAIN, and seasons change with no new movement.  It's unbelievably painful and hard and frustrating.  But, as we drove, I was recollecting all the passages that I relied on in those days of wait and how GOOD GRIEF they all proved to be nothing but TRUTH I could bet my life on. Verses like Proverbs 13:12, "Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life," and Colossians 1:11, "being strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy."  In His time, He restores, He brings hope, He redeems, He mends.  For those in the long, dark tunnel of waiting where you feel like you see no light behind you or before you, keep going.  The One who called you is faithful.  He will do it (1 Thess 5:24).
So, off we went to Disney with only a few hundred "Are we there yet?" 's along the way.  Tyson asking nearly all of them.  He was beside himself at the thought of being able to "put his head under" swimming, as he had never been in a swimming pool before.  It was all he could do to sit in the car for 12 hours thinking about what that water would feel like!  We finally arrived to our resort (we stayed off site at an amazing resort as friends gifted us with their Timeshare) and before we could get the bags unpacked, Tyson had his puddle jumper float on over his clothes.  It was so sweet to come home after grocery shopping and dinner and put swimming trunks on him.  He had never worn any and didn't even know what they were.  He thought you just swam in any shorts you could find (we assured him that plan works, too!).  Off we went and I am not exaggerating when I tell you, the joy and excitement was palpable.  He could not stop smiling and giggling and skipping.  I was trying to take it all in and even found myself watching in slow motion for much of it, like when Mark was buckling his float on him poolside and his smile was beaming, his feet dancing, and his eyes wide as he looked at the pool.  Off he went.  No fear. His wet curls melted all of our hearts and his joy was contagious.  It was so tender to sit and watch the 5 of them playing together in the pool as the sun went down.  
The next morning we were up and attem early to head out to the Magic Kingdom.  If you follow me on Instagram, you know I posted a picture of Tyson on the tram in the parking lot.  He thought the tram was fun... I knew then, we were in for a fun few days.  As we navigated the tram and the Ferryboat because your first time to the Magic Kingdom should always be done by Ferryboat NOT monorail. SO MAGICAL., I was somewhat preoccupied with logistics and crowds and keeping everyone together.  But, when we were all through the bag check and I turned around to see the entrance, grabbing hands and walking through the first arched "tunnel" entering the Magic Kingdom, I closed my eyes and smiled as I prayed a prayer of thanksgiving.  Here we were.  All seven of us.  It wasn't so much about the place (though it is so magical) as it was HIS FAITHFULNESS.  I was overwhelmed with feeling redemption through and through.  Beauty from ashes, hope from hopelessness, son from orphan. For the first hour of our first day, I was on the verge of tears constantly because seeing talking Mickey first thing and watching Tyson's eyes light up was just too much as I took it all in.  Mark asked me at one point if I needed to go sit somewhere and bawl to get it all out.  He knows me well. 
The week went by slowly... in all the right ways.  The kind of slow that you want on vacation is the kind of slow we had.  Yet, it also went by quickly.  Highlights were Tyson meeting Buzz and Woody, Corbin seeing Ariel (again), Regan hugging Mulan (her favorite), Hudson talking with Kylo Ren, and Brycen seeing the First Order... whatever all that means.  Here's the deal, when it comes to Star Wars, I AM CLUELESS.  I don't know who is who and how they are all related and blah, blah, blah, but my husband and kids all love it, so Momma goes along for the ride.  Our favorite thing Tyson said (around day 3) was, "Daddy, I am tired of my legs."  Mark replied, fighting back a laugh, "Buddy, I know.  My legs are tired, too." 
As the week went on, I could tell Tyson was tired, but he kept trucking and walking and waiting like a champ.  Perhaps one of my best memories of the week was on Thursday when Tyson curled up on my lap and said, "Mom, when are we going home?  I love our home."  It was his way of saying, "I AM DONE."  But, something in me was so moved to hear those words, "I love our home."  It was beautiful confirmation that he knows he belongs, he is comfortable at home, and it offers him a sense of stability.  I answered his question and held him for a long time.  I told him over and over again how happy we were that he was home with us and that I know he missed being in Knoxville, but anytime we are all together, it can feel like home.  He shook his "yes," laid his head over on me and rested. Home.
Our time together was so fun and sweet.  We were able to have our first full week of just being together and it was quite the dream for this Momma.  Tyson experienced his first sunscreen, swimming pool, hot tub, SPLASH MOUNTAIN, monorail, ferryboat, turkey leg (he had fries, but finished off Corbin's turkey leg), magic band (his mind was blown), FIREWORKS... oh my, the fireworks.  I am tearing up thinking about it.  At first he just stared, but when big, bright fireworks would burst behind Cinderella's castle, he would get bright-eyed, mouth gaping open, even putting his hand over his mouth a time or two.  As I held him, I watched him more than the fireworks. Yes, I cried. Firsts are just so much fun.
A few days before we left, Tyson had said my name a million times one day.  I am grateful, but you Momma's out there know sometimes (really, it's a rarity) you just want to go 5 whole minutes without hearing, "Momma."  Please hear me out, I am so happy to hear it, but on the one millionth time in an hour....well, you get the idea.  But about the time I felt myself getting frustrated I remembered all the days of waiting and longing to hear him say my name.  And then I sat and thought about if there were days at the orphanage that he wondered what it would be like to have a Mommy and how it would feel to say her name.  The frustration quickly subsided and I was thankful all over again that now he knows what it is like to have a mommy, what she looks like, and how it feels to say her name.  I mentioned that thought to Mark that night, confessing that about the time I was going to pull my hair out, Holy Spirit stopped me and let me see a new perspective .  But, I never said anything to Tyson about it.  Just today as he and I were doing school, he was procrastinating on handwriting (ahem) and staring out the window.  I gently said, "Ty, stay on task.  Finish what you start without me reminding you, please.  Stay on task."  As if he didn't even hear me he said,  "Mommy, when I was in Ethiopia," my ears perked up..."I thinked about having a mom."  I looked at him, trying not to burst into tears and I said, "You did, buddy? Well, I thought about you.  Is having a mommy what you wanted?  Is it what you thought it would be like?"  He didn't shift his focus and he said, "It's better."  Without another prompting, he looked down at his handwriting page and went back to work.  I got up and went to my room to cry.  When I came back in, I hugged him and told him (again) how much I love being his mom.  In that moment I knew the happiest place on earth isn't Disney (but, man, it's close).  It's right here... there really is no place like home.

Friday, February 24, 2017


It's a beautiful February day in Knoxville.  So beautiful and warm that if you walk outside you'd easily mistaken it for any given day in September.  It is perfect.  As I opened the sunroof yesterday and rolled down the windows in the van, I glanced back to see what Tyson thought of it.  Immediately, his face was covered in a smile from ear to ear that looked as though he was about to laugh out loud at any second.  He was oblivious to my noticing, but in that instant, I knew that despite his insisting on not speaking any Amharic, eating any Ethiopian food, or talking to anyone that reminds him of Ethiopia, you can't take the Ethiopian out of him.  That same wide-toothed grin was a constant when he sat by the window on my lap with the windows down driving through crazy traffic Addis.  His love for the wind in his face is still very much present.  My heart smiled, knowing he had to be remembering his first home, even if he never confessed it.  Sometimes, verbalizing things is just too hard, but having memories to internally review and process is a gift.  One I am grateful for. 
Our days have turned to weeks and those weeks have quickly turned to months.  We have been home 3 months and just celebrated having met Tyson for the first time 4 months ago.  Two more days and we will be 4 months since sitting in that rundown courthouse behind door 106 watching the swift strokes of the judge's pen across the page declaring Tyson our son.  The days and weeks and months at home haven't all been easy or fun, but they have all been beautiful in their own ways.  Each one purposed and refining, teaching and rewarding.  Perhaps the one thing that runs through them all like a needle on a thread, weaving them all together is this:  grace.  There have been plenty of days I have had to extend it liberally with extra intentionality and I know if Tyson were typing he would say the same thing about me.  As grace has woven in and out, there have been plenty of opportunities for me to reflect on the sufficiency of God's grace as it pertains to our need.  I will never forget since I think about it about a million times a week taking a Beth Moore bible study several years ago when she discussed His sufficient grace.  She reminded me then and He reminds me now, that His grace is fully sufficient for my need.... not my fears, not my anxieties, not what I make up in my mind MIGHT happen, but for what God actually asks me (my family) to walk through.  BIG SIGH.  What freedom!  We don't have to fret over every single "what if?" wringing our hands like we have to have it all figured it.  What we DO have to have is a whole lot of trust in the One guiding, leading, preparing the way, and walking with us. 
Most of our days are so fun.  We have many laughs throughout the day and nothing undoes me like his spontaneous hugs and his constant playing with my hair (despite the fact that I constantly have his hair oil in MY hair).  Worth it.  As most of you know, our four oldest kids go to a small Christian school housed inside our church.  This school has been, and continues to be, a huge blessing to our family.  We love the teachers and administrators as well as the other families.  When we were first trying to figure out what to do about starting Tyson in school just before we left for Ethiopia last fall, our plan was to send him to school with the other kids in January.  Then, we remembered the kindergarten teacher would be going on maternity leave in February and we knew that wasn't going to be a good situation for anybody involved (except we are over the moon excited for her and her sweet baby boy!).  So, we set our hearts on praying about what God wanted us to do and somehow before I knew it, I was homeschooling him and he was actually learning.  No one was more surprised than me.  As the days have turned to weeks, Tyson is (mostly) thriving at school.  This week has been especially challenging with more-than-normal tears over sight words and math problems, but here's the deal:  HE KNOWS THEM.  I can't even believe what a fast, motivated learner he is.  Not every day is awesome (looking at you, yesterday), but for the most part it hasn't just been rewarding to watch him learn, but it has opened up all kinds of great discussion.
For example, last week we were talking about what he wanted to eat for lunch because he now eats us out of house and home.  Something about the conversation must have made him remember about packing his lunch for school in Ethiopia.  He told me about how he had to pack his lunch every day and "carried a blue lunch box."  My heart skipped a beat which isn't entirely unusual since I have frequent PVC's but you get the point at his wanting to talk about it.  I sat up and listened intently, wanting to grab every detail.  As noted before, he typically doesn't want to have anything to do with anything Ethiopia (which is fairly normal at this point in the process).  Tyson went on to explain how one day someone pulled his blue lunchbox off of his blue backpack and broke it.  Just when you don't think you could hate a 5 year old living on the other side of the globe, you do. Well, "hate" might be too strong of a  word or maybe not.  I tried to get him to tell me the child's name, but he says he couldn't remember.  I am skeptical, but in time we can revisit it.  I asked him to tell me more.  He went on, "And then, from that day until you came to pick me up, I put my lunchbox inside my blue backpack because it was broken."  Of course you did, baby, of course you did.  Still looking intently into his face, trying to hide my shock from his opening up, I said, "what else did you do at school or at the orphanage?"  Thinking eyes.  Then he said, "we ate in blue chairs."  Something triggered in me and I remembered seeing blue stackable chairs in one of the photos we had received of him while we were still waiting.  But, I kept listening.  "And, Mommy, before this orphanage, I was at another place." I shook my head agreeing.  "And there, I ate bread and drank tea. Sometimes we had sugar for tea and sometimes we didn't.  If no sugar, then milk."  PLEAE KEEP TALKING. "We didn't always eat as much there, but I loved the bread."  And just like that, my mind and heart were struck by the reality (again) that our sweet boy has endured so much.  There is so much about his story we don't know. A life he lived before us. Without us.  When he gives us glimpses into his world before us, I am SO GRATEFUL.  When he finished talking, I attempted to prolong the conversation by going through the videos and pictures we had received of him during the wait.  He scooted up close to me and we watched and listened and looked together, his hair smelling good just under my nose.  It was as if he was understanding for the very first time how long we had known about him.  I finally found those blue chairs stacked up just over his right shoulder in a photo of him while he was doing English tutoring last July.  His eyes lit up at seeing those chairs and shaking his head, "yes." He struggled to watch the videos of him singing and speaking in Amharic and playing with his friends, but he was excited to see all of the photos.  I tried to hold back the tears as we looked together, but I couldn't keep them all in.  So many of those pictures brought back the frustration, longing, waiting, & grief that surrounded that season for me.  Yet, here we were, together, looking at those memories.  I sighed a prayer of gratitude (again) and about the time I was finishing up our walk down memory lane, Tyson looked up at me and said, "Mommy cry happy tears because I am home." And I cried.  Again. 
Just this past week, however, I saw a glimpse of the old life come through in a brief episode that came like an unexpected streak of lightning, gone nearly as fast as it had come.  Wednesday's are my night "off" from cooking dinner.  So, the kids often share a bag of French fries that Regan cooks or a sandwich or hot dogs or whatever their little hearts desire that they can make without me:). As you well know, if you are a regular to the blog, Tyson's love language is FRENCH FRIES and he asks to go out to eat for lunch everyday to get fries. So, the typical Wednesday "thing" is for Regan to make the fries and the two of them eat the majority of the batch.  This past Wednesday Tyson made his plate and loaded it down with the precise amount of ketchup he wanted and put it on the table.  About the time he went to sit down to eat, he realized he needed to use the restroom.  So, he hopped down and went off to the bathroom.  I happened to follow him in there to finish getting ready before church and everyone has to use our bathroom for everything for some reason.  As he finished up in the restroom something switched and it was as if panic took over.  He frantically started yelling, "Don't eat my fries.  Don't eat my fries," nearly in tears as he hurriedly pulled up his pants.  I was trying to reassure him that no one would touch them, but it was as if he couldn't even hear me due to his frantic state.  He ran into the kitchen, wide-eyed, fully expecting to see other kids stuffing their faces with his fries.  Suddenly it seemed as though he instantly remembered that he is here and his food is "safe."  Again, in that precise moment I saw a glimpse of a little boy who often wanted to eat, but feared for his life that there wouldn't be enough for him.  Can you even imagine my glee when he asked me for two ham sandwiches yesterday and he ate every bite?  I smiled watching, knowing each of these meals pushes those "old" fears farther away.  But, I was also struck by the tangible picture before me of how quickly our old man can rear his head.  We can bury who we were before we were adopted into Jesus' family and rise to walk a new life.  Yet, a remnant of the old man is always there. If we let our mind drift too much, in an instant we can be right back to an emotional state of trying to survive on our own, only depending on ourselves.  After Tyson realized his fries were just as he'd left them, he sat down, breathed deep, and started eating,  as if nothing had happened.  Yet, the wet streaks at the corners of his eyes were a clear reminder to us both that the old life is in there and it can't simply disappear.  I certaintly wouldn't expect or even want it to.  But, I can't walk away and not be changed.  It forces me to at least confess (again) to Jesus that I will never know exactly what it was like to watch me before I "came home."  What it must've been like for Him to be orchestrating events, circumstances, conversations, people, and protection around my life to simply let me see His love for me, while I went on my way, minding my own business.  I breathe a prayer of gratitude that I can read and see how long He waited for me and that He was longing for me to come to Him, but I can't possibly know exactly what it cost, how it felt, or how deeply He longed for me.  Those photos on the screen of Tyson from the orphanage moved me to tears because I knew the pursuit and what all it took to get here... where we were getting to really know each other.  The pursuit wasn't lost on me.  But, spiritually, sometimes I fear the pursuit and great lengths He goes to in order to show us His love and His provision over us is somehow lost in all the "newness of life".  Tyson's "I love you's" aren't non-existent and sometimes he says it and I think he even surprises himself.  But, more times than not, one of us will say, "Tyson, I love you." and his response is, "okay."  We look at each other and grin. again.  But, it doesn't change how we feel about him.  We still love him (and all the kids) with an unconditional love that can't be swayed with mere human action or word.  And then, I am drawn back in (again) to pondering over my sheer lack of  verbalizing to Jesus often enough that I love Him.  Yes, I see His handiwork, His provision, His plans, His protection, His blessings, His gifts, His opportunities, His freedom, His mercies, His grace, His forgiveness, His love.  I see it all around me... He is constantly whispering, "I love you."  Yet, sometimes all I can seem to muster up is an "okay."  It doesn't change how He feels about me one bit, but there is something inside me that wants to, not only accept His astounding love and abundant life, but to express it verbally!  Inside each of us as the war wages between the old man and the new man, we can choose to refuse to discuss the old life, the old "language," the old "friends," the old "food," the old "routine," but when the windows are rolled down and the wind blows on our face, instantly we can be right back where we came from. again.  Remembering our past is good!  It certainly gives us a clear picture of how far we've come with Jesus.  But, as each of us remember, let us do it with hearts bowed down and hands and heads raised high in gratitude with resounding, "I love you"'s for all He has done for us!
As Tyson finished up that plate of fries and brought me his plate in the kitchen, I knelt down and said, "Hey buddy, sit with Mommy for a second, " patting the kitchen floor beside me.  There, on the floor, I said, "Let Mommy take care of you.  You aren't alone anymore.  We are a family and families take care of each other.  You never have to fear not having food here.  Do you understand?"  And just like that, a tear fell on his face.  One single tear out of his left eye.  He grinned and nodded "yes."  He hugged me and played with my hair during the hug and ran to go outside.  As he did, I said, "I love you, Ty."  Just as the door closed behind him I heard, "I love you, too, mom," as he ran off to play.  I closed my eyes and whispered, "I love You, too," to the One who made me His mom and offered me the distinct privilege of seeing the gospel in a fresh, new way.  Again.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

catching up

It's been a month since my last post and quite honestly, I am not sure where the time has gone.  Ok, I actually DO know where it has went through Christmas, then Passion, then back to school, then SNOW, then basketball games, and here we are.  So, I wanted to do a quick catch-up post because so much has happened since my last one. I often say it, but it is as true today as it was the first day we met Tyson: I WANT TO RECORD HIM ALL THE LIVE LONG DAY.  He is so funny and sweet and full of questions curious and thoughtful.  And as a side note (but a very important one), HE IS STILL ROLLING HIS R's AND IT JUST UNDOES ME.  Tyson likes to sleep, which we are so grateful for, as many children struggle to sleep for months once they come into new families.  Not our boy.  He sleeps at least 11 hours at night and he is always the first to fall asleep.  I think we just wear him smack out keep him busy and he crashes.  It's always a blessing to walk into the boys' room after they are asleep and see him tucked between Hudson and Corbin.  Often, Tyson will have one arm (or both) across one brother or the other while he soundly sleeps.  This is the exact point that I gasp, still taken aback that he is here and we get to love him. And, I inevitably get tears in my eyes and say a prayer of thanksgiving.  Being his family has proven to be SO rewarding for us all.  He was literally just made for us. 
Christmas proved to be full of laughs and gratitude. We woke that morning and all hustled down the stairs.  The boys sounded like a herd of cattle barreling down the steps.  I went ahead of them to take pictures and see their faces.  I could hear giggles and gasps as they came down the steps.  They all came into the playroom and found "their" wrapping paper (each had picked out his/her own paper in advance).  My eyes were trying to watch everyone at once, but I think all our eyes were glued on him.  Tyson made his way to his batman wrapping paper and looked diligently through his stocking that was laying on top of his gifts.  He opened and closed his new superheroes umbrella a zillion times and walked around showing everyone his new green piggy bank (thank you, Dollar Tree).  It wasn't until a few minutes later that we realized he didn't understand that the three wrapped gifts under the stocking were also his to open.  He had been perfectly content with the small gifts from his stocking.  Once we gave him the OK to open the others, he tore into them with utter glee.  Typically, we give our kids a want, a need, and a read for Christmas.  So, his want was a Nintendo DS but only so each of the three little boys had their own Mario Kart and we didn't have to listen to more arguing about it so he could play Mario Kart anytime he asked permission without having to wait for his brothers.  Next, he got a need: snow boots.  Believe it or not, he was most excited about those!  Lastly, he got some books and he seemed grateful for it all.  He was equally as excited to see what everyone else got, which was super sweet to see.  His eyes were filled with wonder from our Christmas Eve traditions of getting new pajamas, baking cookies, making gingerbread houses, reading "Twas the Night Before Christmas, " and putting out reindeer food (none of our kids "believe" anymore, but we still keep the traditions alive and we wanted him to experience them).  All five kids slept in one room on Christmas Eve and on Christmas morning they were up and attem in plenty of time to still have a big breakfast, open gifts, and make it to church with time to spare!  The rest of Christmas Day was spent at my parents for lunch and then back home for a big Christmas dinner with the Pinner's and Maygen and Josh (and our sweet Jaxson, of course).  The kids played and played until they were just exhausted.  Throughout the day I had tears sitting in my eyes, so keenly aware of the five prior Christmases.  During communion on Christmas morning my eyes kept making their way to my right where Hudson was taking  communion for the first time and where Tyson sat beside him.  It was a celebration on so many levels.  Throughout the day I would say, "Tyson, Mommy is so glad you are home for Christmas this year."  He would just grin and say, "Ok, Mommy."  And, I would give him a kiss, bat away tears, and whisper a prayer of gratitude to that Christ-child who came and made it all possible. 
As a "together" gift, the kids got a trampoline for Christmas and thankfully, Christmas day was warm enough for them to enjoy it!  Tyson jumped and giggled with all kinds of sheer joy.  I stood in the garage at one point just listening to them all giggling and trying to jump to make each other go higher and higher which beats our bet that we wouldn't make it through the day without going to the ER.  As my head hit the pillow that night I was tearful with gratitude.  Tyson had heard the Christmas story, observed communion, heard the gospel, opened presents, and knew the joy of a surprise gift being opened.  I couldn't thank HIM enough.
Just a few days later, we packed all manner of bags and snacks and headed to Atlanta for Passion Conferences. If you ask any of the Mckeehan kids their favorite part of the entire year there is a high probability you will get more than half who would shout the answer with beaming smiles: PASSION.  It is our 8th year (I think) of spending New Year's in Atlanta as Mark prepares to serve as  a Team Lead for Passion Conferences.  So, we typically pack noise makers, hats, horns, and sparkling cider and make our way to the lobby of our hotel.  We watch with all the other guests as the ball drops and we make a scene and go back to our clean room without a mess to clean up.  It works out well.  This year, we had all talked so much to Tyson about Passion that we weren't sure if he was really excited or just pretending to be to get us all off his back about how he SHOULD be excited about it.  Either way, he joyfully entered the hotel room with us and looked around taking it all in.  It was his first hotel stay.  He had stayed in the guesthouse in Ethiopia, but a hotel stay is quite different.  About the time he finished up asking us all about the room and what all the light switches were for, there was a knock at the door:  the bellhop had arrived with our luggage.  As he walked in, he was carrying Brycen's backpack that said "Ethiopia" and has an Ethiopian flag on it.  The sweet man carried it in and said, "This my country," pointing to the backpack.  I immediately got tears and grabbed Tyson from the adjoining room to introduce him.  I explained we had only been home with him for 6 weeks and we chatted about where he was from, where Tyson was from, and our favorite Ethiopian foods.  We mentioned celebrating Melkam Gena (Ethiopian Christmas, which isn't celebrated until January 7th).  The gentleman was so kind, gentle, and complimentary of Tyson and he stated how grateful he was to have met us.  He spoke Amharic to Tyson, but Tyson simply raised his eyebrows in agreement not speaking any Amharic in response.  I am thankful for the little things and this one interaction meant so much to us. 
New Year's Eve we kept up tradition by celebrating (with the Altom's) in the lobby of the Omni and we let the kids blow horns, scream, and pop noise makers to their heart's content.  Then, we all went back to our rooms and fell into deep sleeps.  We were tired! The next four days were spent visiting the Aquarium (thank you, Mr. Ron, for our tickets!) and we loved having my niece, Megan, joining us this year at Passion.  We weren't sure how Tyson would do and we brought an extra set of hands along since Mark isn't with us most of the time.  It was a fun few days with her and having her help as we navigated walking around Atlanta was so appreciated.  Once the conference started, Tyson sat with wide eyes at first.... 60,000 people all gathered in one place, loud (beautiful) music, lights, etc.  But, he seemed to love it and many of the songs were familiar to him.  I tearfully recorded him singing "Good, Good Father" at one of the sessions as Chris Tomlin led.  Amid all the people, I felt like it was just us.  And this song had become (and HAS become) the anthem of our sweet boy's heart.  I loved that he could sing the words without thinking about it.  Each one seemed to roll off his tongue with ease and he just sang and watched.  I think he was a bit in awe that the man he has listened to sing it a million times before was standing in front of him singing.  I love all the firsts. 
Passion was the perfect start to the year, which I think every single year. But, this year was no exception.  It really was a perfect start.  Brycen took on a great responsibility by sponsoring his first Compassion child (we love you, Juselle).  So, it was a fruitful (in more than one way) experience.  Tyson now joins the other Mckeehan children in LOVING Passion. 
After we arrived back home from Atlanta, it was time to SERIOUSLY get back to a routine. The oldest four started back to school and I started doing homeschool with Tyson.  YALL.  He is so smart.  We are working on five sight words a week, so he is up to knowing 15 sight words and knowing long and short vowel sounds, sounding out many words, and he's a math pro.  It has been such a joy to be able to teach him at home and to listen to him read two sentences to me on Friday.  Later that night I said, "Mark, can you believe we have only had him three months?  He has come so far!"  And, he has.  I still get questions about how he is adjusting and my answer is always the same, "He is just doing great.  It is all the prayer.  Those long years in the wait were so purposed to prepare him specifically for our family."  There are still moments (especially doing school work) when he gets quiet and then starts to cry.  This is always a good time to push school aside and sit and hold each other.  Sometimes he can verbalize why he is crying and other times he can't.  What matters is that I remind him that he is safe, we love him, and we will always take care of him.  In these moments of grief and tears I am brought back to the harsh reminder of all the years without us.  All the years he was navigating the world on his own.  All the days that he may not have been learning in an environment that was safe for him to admit he didn't know an answer.  All the nights he silently cried wondering if he'd get a family.  And, it's rare that he cries alone in those moments.  They don't last long and they don't happen everyday, but when they do, my heart breaks for him.  A new home, new country, new language, new family, new food, new friends, new church, and new rules.  It's a lot to take it.  Overall, he makes it look easy but I know in my heart of hearts nothing about it is easy
Oh!  I forgot to update about his minor dental surgery on December 22.  The rockstar pediatric dentist that we saw (Dr. Jessica Phillips) was able to salvage all of Tyson's teeth (praises!).  He handled anesthesia like a champ!  All in all, it went flawlessly and we are grateful to have that first behind us. 
Our first Sunday back to church after the New Year, I stayed with Tyson for Sunday night EKG (our kids programming on Sunday nights) because he had never gone to a Sunday night before.  I knew it would be an unfamiliar routine and a new teacher, so I stayed with him to ensure he would be ok.  I was just fine watching him participate in the game reciting books of the bible and having his snack.  I was even fine walking to music with him.  What I wasn't prepared for was sitting right behind Tyson and Hudson as they were introduced to the Lincoln Brewster song, "Majestic," with motions.  Watching Tyson raise his hands in praise and singing, "The heavens declare your greatness, The oceans cry out to you, The mountains, they bow down before you, so I'll join with the earth and I'll give my praise to YOU."
I stood watching his right arm raise and then his left and I cried.  I am grateful the music leaders didn't acknowledge my sobs in the back of the room, but when you get glimpses of SHEER REDEMPTION it's just too much to keep inside.  Tyson has jumped right into our church schedule like he's always been here.  His bible fellowship leaders (we love you Jason and Emily!) and all the Children's Church workers have been THE BEST to welcome him without making him feel like he's a petting zoo overwhelmed.  Just the other morning Corbin was getting ready for school and he said, "Mom, I talked to Tyson about becoming a Christian after we went to bed last night.  I told him if he had questions or when he was ready to come to me or you or dad."  Um, ok.  I will go cry again now, thankyouverymuch.  We really do have THE best leaders leading our kids to know and understand and follow Holy Spirit, even at an early age.  It has literally made all the difference.  When the kids do their worship night in the spring and he stands on the stage singing, praising, and raising those arms, I will likely be the mom smiling through tears.  Some things in a heart you just can't express with human words.
What happened next?  Oh!!  I know... first snow!!!  My goodness gracious.  We have talked the last few years about what it would be like for him to see and experience his first snow.  So, it was a bit surreal to be putting on layer after layer and to see his face full of expectation and delight.  He giggled and squealed and carried on THE WHOLE DAY.  Brycen taught him how to sled and unfortunately, we didn't have a good snow for a snowman or snowballs, but he got the idea.  And, when everyone would come in to get warm it he wanted to keep all his layers on, even the wet ones, so that the second someone said they wanted to go back out, he was ready to go!  I don't think he loved how much time it took to get ready to go out.  He became a pro at downing hot chocolate and putting on gloves....something that isn't easy to learn!  And, it turns out those snow boots for Christmas came in quite handy!
A few other firsts have been his first paper airplane, playing his first recorder (we made a "family band" with the Bayne's and it was so loud a joyful noise), his first car wash (please see the video on my Instagram feed), first trip to Dollywood, and first coffee ceremony in America!  We did celebrate Melkam Gena with the McAffry's (we love you people so big).  Their son, Johnny, has been home from Ethiopia 18 months, and we planned to celebrate Ethiopian Christmas together months ago.  We had it all set for January 7th and then it snowed, so we pushed it to the 14th.  We enjoyed traditional Ethiopian food and a coffee ceremony where we took turns roasting beans and letting the kids grind the beans by hand.  We did, I will confess, grind the majority of the beans in our grinder because who has that kind of time and strength? No one in America who isn't used to doing it! we didn't want to be grinding all night and not enjoying freshly roasted beans!  I wore my traditional white Ethiopian dress so I could serve everyone (traditionally the one serving the coffee ceremony is wearing white).  We put our grass down (uh hum, our grass skirt from Party City worked like a charm) and we used our jebena to pour the coffee into the small white, traditionally painted handleless cups.  The kids loved it as much as the adults. Johnny and Tyson both gave us raised eyebrows of approval. 
The next week as we were doing school I was explaining rhyming words and somehow the word kangaroo came up.  Tyson looked at me like I had two heads and so I asked, "Have you ever heard of a kangaroo?"  He shook his head no.  I pushed school aside and began to inquire, "How about a walrus? (no), a rhinoceros? (no, but he loved the name!), a penguin? (no), a baboon?  (no),  a meerkat? (no), a Panda? (no)"  the list went on and on.  So, I pulled out my handy-dandy YouTube and we sat watching various animals in the wild.  This prompted great conversation about the creativity of God and how He made each animal.  So, later that week I took Tyson to the zoo for the first time (thank you, Dana, for getting us in!).  He loved it!  His favorite animals were the lions and tigers, but he loved the gorillas and gibbons, too.  Seeing things through his eyes is just pure joy. 
One day this week I was talking to him about our upcoming Disney trip (we were supposed to go in the fall, thinking he would've already been home several months, but we ended up being in Africa.  Some thoughtful friends told us over a year ago they wanted to gift us with a place to stay for our first family vacation once he was home.  We couldn't do it without this gift.  SO GRATEFUL).  I want to try hard to prepare Tyson for new things as much as possible, so I was thinking through what we would see and do.  I explained about seeing characters, staying in another hotel, a lot of walking, rides, and then it hit me: I bet he's never seen fireworks.  I asked him and he said he had never heard of them.  THANK YOU, AGAIN, YOUTUBE.  We watched firework show after firework show and he just loved it.  He knows to expect them to be loud and I literally can't wait to see him at Disney meeting Buzz and Woody experiencing all of it for the first time.  Magical indeed. The last time we were at Disney as we walked out of the Magic Kingdom on our last night I said, "next time we come, we will be a family of seven."  The thoughts of going last fall without him was nearly too much for me to take.  So, when the timing didn't work out for us to go, I was somewhat relieved.  Walking in this time will be another first, but also a full circle moment for me, personally.  Being there last time was hard, knowing we weren't all there and constantly wondering what he would think about it.  This time we will know and I can't wait to let him be a kid in the happiest place on earth.
I know this has been long and if you are still reading BLESS YOU.  I have good intentions to blog more often, but sometimes time just gets away from me.  I am constantly thinking about you when we go throughout our days so I can remember what to tell you.  I will leave you with one funny story (there are a million) that happened last week.  Tyson never wants water or food to be really hot or really cold.  He just prefers lukewarm.  So, he proudly walked out of the bathroom after washing his hands saying, "Mommy, Mommy, I just used burn water!"  Tickled, I replied, "I am so proud of you for using hot water, buddy!"  I just love him to no end.
As we head out the door for church I am looking at our three youngest boys dressed in their Christmas pajamas (Tyson:  Buzz Lightyear, Hudson: BB8, Corbin: classic Mickey characters) for pj night in EKG.  It continues to be the little things that leave me the most undone.  Watching them in their pj's play and help each other find and put on jackets.  It's family. And, as we continue to settle into being a family of seven, nothing means more than to hear Tyson say, "I love my family."  We love you, too, sweet boy.  We love you, too."  Jesus, we love you for showing us what family looks like.  For making a way for us, as the foreigner, to know you and to be adopted into your family, having full rights as heirs to your kingdom.  Everything we do is for You, to You, from You, by You, through You.  We give you praise. 


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 fa├žade 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.