Saturday, July 8, 2017

Redeeming Time

The day started like most with the pitter patter of running feet coming full force in my direction.  Tyson's sleepy eyes barely get focused before his little feet hit the floor and he runs for me...every. single. morning (I am not mad about it).  Throughout the day I get numerous spontaneous hugs, kisses, and unsolicited "I love you"'s (not mad about any of that either).  Just tonight those brown curls bounced my way and those sparkling eyes looked up at me and he simply reached his arms around me and squeezed.  As I knelt down on my knees to get eye-level with him, Tyson came in for a big, full, all-body hug.  I batted away tears because HELLO, I waited a long time for these hugs I have been recollecting all the books, videos, and education we received during our wait.  All saying the same thing:  attachment and trust take years to develop.  Many experts even quantify the estimated time for this attachment, saying that for every year a child is in institutionalized care, it will take at least 1-2 months for trust and attachment to begin to be solidified.  I recognize that every child is different.  Every "institution" (orphanage) is different.  Every family is different.  And, for many families those timelines have been right on while others have desperately longed for attachment to come that quickly. 
Just this past week Tyson asked to sleep in Regan's bed one night (I cannot even express in human words how far we have come....).  The next morning he woke telling me about how the two of them stayed up talking like two teenage girls at a sleepover.  When I prodded about the topics of conversation it was as if it was common for a 6-year-old brother to talk to his 13-year-old sister about heaven and hell, about "Maso used to be my mom, " and about "washing my hair only on Tuesdays when I was living in Ethiopia."  I DID address the "Maso used to be my mom," by reminding him that she is his biological Momma forever and always, but I didn't want to miss the miracle in the moment.  God has done something profound with the one commodity we can't redeem.  He is

redeeming time.

As I have watched Tyson interacting in various social settings, I sometimes sit back and shake my head, knowing this is only the work of the Time Redeemer.  As I have spent more and more time in recent weeks praying about writing a book, something Holy Spirit has prompted me to do for a while, I have asked Him to reveal to me the things He wants to share.  Among several themes, I continue to have re-occurring conversations with friends about this one truth: He is fully capable of

redeeming time.

Waiting is hard.  It doesn't matter if you are waiting on employment, a spouse, having children, or direction on what is next for your future.  Waiting tends to hang a clock over each of our heads that looms large and in charge and casts a shadow over our lives that makes the days feel long, dark, and difficult to navigate. We begin to believe after a while that somehow God has lost track of the time that is passing. Even more, we convince ourselves that He has completely forgotten about this proverbial clock hanging over us.  During years 5 and 6 of our adoption wait I was almost certain God had not only forgotten about the minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years passing by, I even doubted He could would do anything about it at times somethings are just really hard to admit.  As I opened my Bible this morning to pick up my study of the book of Ecclesiastes ohmylands it is so good, I came to those familiar verses found in chapter 3 reminding us that there is a season, a time, for EVERYTHING.  "Everything" is a big, all-encompassing word, one that leaves us little room to find an exception.  Believe me, I have tried.  There is a time to be born, a time to die.  A time to plant, a time to uproot.  A time to kill, a time to heal.  A time to tear down, a time to build up.  A time to weep, and a time to laugh.  A time to mourn, a time to dance a personal favorite contrast A time to scatter stones and a time to gather.  A time to embrace and a time to stop embracing.  A time to search and a time to stop searching that one hurts so good. A time to keep and a time to discard.  A time to tear and a time to mend.  A time to be silent and a time to speak.  A time to love and a time to hate.  A time for war and a time for peace. 
Clearly, time is important to Jesus.  Yet, He isn't in time.  So, it's clear He wants us to trust Him with time because EVERYTHING is purposed and ordained by the One who isn't intimidated by the clocks hanging over us or the circumstances that hung them there.  He wants us so much to trust Him with our time that Ecclesiastes 3:10-12 goes on to explain it to us like this:

"I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with.  He has made everything beautiful in its time.  Also, He has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from beginning to end.  I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live."

Not only has God put eternity in our hearts, reminding us that He isn't in time like us, but He reminds us that He makes everything beautiful in its time. EVERYTHING.  These truths can feel contradicting when we consider our own waits, that somehow it's going to be beautiful, but it feels like the walls are closing in and its all going to come crashing down.  Then, the enemy is silenced when I remind him that our God is watching a very different clock than the one we keep staring at over our wait.  Here's the thing Jesus continues to speak into my spirit regarding our waits:  He is perfect at

redeeming time.

Unlike money, or trust, or status, once time is gone, well, it's gone.  We simply can't get it back.  Ever.  Yet, whatever we entrust to the tender hands of Jesus, He can take and redeem...even time.  It's, perhaps, the reason Ecclesiastes 3 says that eternity is placed in our hearts, because only then will we be able to see what He sees and understand what He was doing from the beginning to the end.  As I have spent time meditating on this truth, I came to the passage in Scripture where God's children were enduring devastating famine due to locusts eating their crops.  This devastation continued for 4 years while the children of God had to have been wondering what in the world God was doing.  As the people cried out to God, He responded in Joel 2:18-19 letting them know He was sending grain, wine, and oil to them so they could "be satisfied."  He went on in verses 25-26, "I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten-the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm- my great army that I sent among you.  You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise the name of the Lord your God, who has worked wonders for you.."

REDEEMING TIME.

He repaid them for the years the locusts had taken.  I. can't. even.  As surely as I know my name, I believe we are living in a redeeming season, where God is

redeeming time

for us.  All the years we waited, believing they were gone and we would never get them back, He is redeeming them.  He is giving us multiplied joy, laughs, attachment, learning, trust, healing, and grace.  Acknowledging this in no way diminishes the pain, grief, and tears that waiting years produce.  Yet, as we fix our eyes on eternity, knowing He set it in our hearts, we can trust Him in waiting seasons.  We can trust that He sees what we are convinced we are missing out on and He can redeem it for us.  We may not get the physical hours, days, and weeks back, but He somehow  multiplies the time when its season does come. 

I want to encourage you as you wait.  During our wait I missed out on the opportunity to trust Him for redeemed time.  I am grateful He has opened my eyes to this truth now and I have asked for His forgiveness for all the days I convinced myself the clock over us was spinning out of control.  Jesus gets more glory when we entrust our days to Him and watch on with great expectation as He does what only He can do:

REDEEM TIME.

And when He does redeem time, we most assuredly will praise His name, as noted previously in Joel 2:26.  Mourning turns to dancing.  Weeping turns to laughing.  locust years turn to

Redeeming years.

We love you, Jesus. 

Carrie



Sunday, June 18, 2017

Like Father, Like Son

Being part of a family, any family, has it's, ahem, ups and downs.  It is quite fascinating, actually, how we are born into a family with absolutely NO SAY in the matter WHATSOEVER.  We have zero input into when, where, or even why we come into this "assigned" family, forced to deal with the circumstances that are handed to us.  Some of us are handed quite a pleasant ride, while others are left to literally fend for themselves, wandering planet earth like a ship lost at sea.  Father's Day has had me thinking about my dad, my kids' dad, and, if I am being honest, the biological dad's who gave us the added arrows in our quiver. 
On Mother's Day, I was able to celebrate having all our children home under one roof and I spent the entire day with tears hanging onto my bottom eye lids for dear life.  I thought of Tyson's birth mother a million times that day, recollecting her gentle spirit, her obvious love for him, and her willingness to love him so sacrificially.  I am, this very second,  recollecting the lines on her young face, her small stature, and her quiet words, spoken with a shaky, tearful voice.  But, today is different.  Yet, it's the same.  It's the same celebration, as we celebrate Mark having all our kids home for the first Father's Day.  Different, however, because there are no photos or memories to pull up on Instagram to fill in this missing piece.  As I have grieved that in a fresh way today, I was drawn in, again, to the hope and truth of scripture that clearly speaks over that missing piece with words full of promise:  A Father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. Psalm 68:5.  As my heart was drawn into this truth, I am drawn to my knees with gratitude that Tyson is home, fully Mckeehan and given all the rights, privileges, and inheritance of Mark Daniel Mckeehan.  Pursued. Known. Loved.  No more missing piece.
Over the course of the last few months, we have been in a bit of transition, anticipating the possibility of having two more children for the summer at least.  These two beautiful girls are well-known to us, as we have been "Momma Carrie" and "Daddy Mark" to them both for several years.  We fell in love with both of these girls as they lived at Kay Libete in Haiti.  Our frequent visits there gave us the great privilege to walk them home from school, have many meals around their table, late night talks by flashlight, after school homework (hello physics in French with no power at 8pm), and sleepovers (for me) at their house where I adored tucking them in bed, praying over them, and singing songs until we were all giddy with fatigue.  We hoped, prayed, and dreamed about them coming to America, but it wasn't until just two weeks before they  arrived to us that they walked into the US Embassy in Port-au-Prince and were granted amazing visas, confirming they could come.   Both have been accepted into a crazy good international school in San Antonio, Texas where they will start 9th and 10th grade this fall. Our hearts have been so full having them here with us all summer. All the firsts have been so eye-opening, fun, and even heartbreaking at times.  Both Pursued. Known. Loved.
As Father Day has come and gone, I am just so grateful that all 7 children tucked comfortably into warm beds under our roof tonight know what it feels like to have a dad who listens.  The smell of  campfire smoke is still lingering on my clothes after our family fire pit tonight.  All 9 of us sat around having silly conversations, with belly laughs and jokes to serious conversations that bring our reality to a screeching halt when things are said that remind us of all the years before some of them had family.  Mark sat listening, teaching them by example, that they have a dad who values their words, their feelings, and their opinions.  As he listened, he was pointing them to the tender, listening ears of Jesus... trustworthy, interested, and intentional.

Like Father, like son.

I sat looking around the fire pit circle, mindful that three of the seven children around us did not grow up with a dad.  At all.  One grieving a dad killed while trying to be single parent to a six year old.  Two who have never known and will never know their biological fathers.  Yet, right there between the Dorito fingers of Hudson and the bug zapper light, I realized that this tribe, entrusted to us, represents both Jew and Gentile.  Some born into the lineage of Mark Daniel Mckeehan while others were grafted in.  And all the while, it doesn't matter one ounce to the pursuing father which way you came into the family.  All that matters is that each one is here and each one matters. Jesus set for us the perfect example.  Despite our being Gentiles, He made it clear that He came for us.  Pursued us.  Died in order to have a relationship with us.  His constant willingness to "take in" is a side of His heart that is so tender to me.  And, it's a side of Him that I see so often in Mark.  No longer fatherless, all seven sit around us with full knowledge of what it is like to have a dad say, "I love you.  I am proud of you.  You belong here." 

Like Father, like son.

Suddenly, Holy Spirit quickened my spirit to what He was wanting me to see, to know, to acknowledge... I no longer have to fear the ramifications of the gaping hole left in each heart and life from the years living with no father.  Grief is still real for all involved.  Difficult discussions will still, most assuredly,  have to happen. However, as with anything the entrust to the trustworthy hands of Jesus, there is healing and hope and new life.  I have had to remind myself throughout all my parenting years (all 15 of them) that my role isn't to try to bring healing from a broken world to these children.  Rather, my role is to lead them to Jesus, who CAN fully, sufficiently, eternally heal them. Jesus doesn't show partiality to the Jew over the Gentile, He simply loves.  He redeems. He restores. As I sat listening to the kids tell Mark what they loved most about him today, it was so powerful to hear them say, "He sings to me," "he does things with  me," "he loves me," "he teaches me," "he provides for me,"  "he makes me smile."  In an instant, I was drawn to a grin as I watched the fire's glow dance across each face:

Like Father, like son.

These days aren't always easy.  They are full of healing, of hoping, of laughing, of dreaming, of revealing, of confessing, of releasing.  Yet, they are seasoned with grace, kindness, gentleness, patience, joy, and perseverance.  Some days, everyone obeys and things go according to plan.  Other days, sigh, it feels like the wheels are coming off of everything in life.  But, Mark continuously leans into Holy Spirit for guidance, wisdom, and discernment and then fleshes out, with supernatural courage, the willingness and bravery of soldier following commands, walking straight into battle.  There are days all of the heaviness of the responsibilities weighs down and it all just seems so much bigger than what we can do (even when it is just the seven of us).  That is precisely when Mark will remind me that it IS too much for us to do, forcing us to rely on the One who called us to each task.  It isn't easy to obey when the Father calls you to something big.  Something scary.  Something heavy.  Jesus knows that fulfilling the will of the Father is hard.  But, it is also beautiful.  And refining. And freeing.   As I looked across the fire at Mark tonight, I saw someone who carries the callings of Jesus with such profound honor, with care, and with the realization that it comes at great risk, but also with great reward.  He sat with Tyson on his lap while the other six flanked each side.  He looked at each one as he or she spoke, taking in every word.  The risks are great.  But the rewards are greater.

Like Father, like son.

You have a Father tonight who pursues you, fully knows you, and deeply loves you.  I pray as this Father's Day comes to an end, you will rest in the comfort and confidence that He longs to father you, not from a distance or with a spirit of frustration and anger.  Rather, as One leaning in, listening, singing over you, walking with you, loving you, teaching you, providing for you.  I am grateful for the tangible picture, though not a perfect picture, that Mark brings to us, of the fight, pursuit, and love of our Heavenly Father.  I know this only comes as a result of his spending time with His father. You cannot imitate what you do not know. 

Like Father, like son.



Carrie









Saturday, May 13, 2017

Mother's Day Thoughts

It almost feels like the day we found out we were leaving in 5 days to go to Ethiopia to pick up Tyson.  My emotions were all over the place, remembering days that felt hopeless and dark, but light seemed to be breaking through.  It's the night before Mother's Day when all of us are sleeping under one roof.  It still makes me cry.  As the day has come closer and closer, I have been more intentionally focused on being present... being so mindful of how blessed I am.  These days aren't taken for granted as I sit, tearfully, thinking about devastating news that continues to come out of Ethiopia regarding adoption.  So many friends still waiting to see if or when their children can come home.  I am prayerful for other friends in uncertain days in a domestic adoption, but trusting and believing God is weaving a beautiful baby boy into the fabric of their forever family. Still others waiting to bring three new sons home once necessary paperwork is completed.   Mother's Day always  brings about conflicting emotions for me.  Mindful of those I know facing their first Mother's Day without their moms.  Others celebrating their first Mother's Day with a baby in their arms... arms that have been previously empty from infertility for years upon years.  Still others facing their first Mother's Day without their children.  Jesus, be so near. 
But, tonight I am sitting in a place of immense gratitude.  Not just a casual "Thank you, Jesus."  It's an overwhelming sense of contentment and utter THANKSGIVING.  I have sat and contemplated years past... years when Brycen was a baby.  I JUST REGISTERED HIM FOR HIGH SCHOOL who am I? My first Mother's Day with two babies under three.  It was a physically exhausting season, but one that taught me so much about Jesus and grace and LETTING SOME THINGS GO (insert Hallelujah Chorus here).  After having Brycen and Regan 20 months apart, we were not expecting to have four years between Regan and Corbin.  So, that first Mother's Day with him was extra sweet, too.  Then, along came Hudson (surprise!).  At the time, we were praying about whether our family was complete or not.  Little did we know. 
God was calling us to walk a road that proved to be far harder than I ever imagined.  It also proved to be far more rewarding.  When I think about this particular Mother's Day, my mind drifts to the other side of the globe where a young woman is waking up to start her day.  It will, most assuredly, be a day full of hard work from early morning until late at night.  I think about the features of her face... ones I memorized as I sat beside her in November.  I'm thinking about how she works full-time and still chooses to go to school (this is why I CANNOT deal with complaining about opportunities to go to school and get an education).  I'm grinning as I type, because she wants to be a teacher.  I believe in her and I can't wait to see her dream become a reality.  Her name is Maso and she is most assuredly part of our family.  I see her tenacity everyday in how Tyson will not quit until he masters what he sets his mind to.  I see her courage everyday when I watch him face new circumstances, challenges, or struggles with sheer determination.  I see her bravery everyday when he chooses to notice our differences, or chooses not to cry when school is hard, or chooses to try something new that initially seems scary.  I see here flawless ebony skin and killer hair everyday when I look at his face and fix his hair which reminds me of how good his hair always smells. I see her love for learning everyday when I teach him something  and he just flat out gets it on the first time.  It's really unbelievable, if I am being honest.  I see her selflessness everyday when he willingly offers others his last piece of candy, his favorite toy, or his clothes, food, YOU NAME IT.  He literally can't NOT share or think of others first.  It's my favorite trait of hers that I see in him.  Just like Brycen looks like my dad, and Regan seems to be looking more and more like me, and Corbin is a sweet mix, and Hudson looks like Mark gave birth to him exactly like Mark (and acts exactly like him, too!), I love that I get to know Maso by getting to know Tyson.  A year ago I didn't know his favorite food (which happens to be sperghetti spaghetti today), his favorite color (right now it's blue), his uncanny ability to know what I need before I need it and seems to be waiting with what I need next in his hands, or his contagious laugh.  As he asked me earlier in the week if Brycen, Regan, Corbin, and Hudson were all born in America BLESS I wasn't initially tracking with him.  But then he said, "I thought so because they have yellow skin and since I have brown skin I was born in Africa."  It was a great opportunity to explain that not everyone with brown skin was born in Africa, but also to tell him AGAIN how beautiful he is and about Maso having perfect brown skin like him.  It's those conversations that take me back and bluntly remind me that she gave him so much that I couldn't.  I love her for that.  I love that she gave him a chance at life and those beautiful curls and that she gave us the humbling, distinct privilege to meet her.  She gave us the chance to be his parents.  She gave me the responsibility and HONOR to be his mom.  I am so grateful she realized I could give him something she couldn't.  The weight of that humility and selfless love continues to weigh on me.... it's a yoke I gladly bear. 
On this Mother's Day, I am also celebrating Brycen Woods McKeehan.  He made me a mom and he continues to teach me so much.  He is self-disciplined like few people I know.  He is a hard-worker and passionate about basketball, food, and all things Florida Gators gag me.  I am mostly celebrating his love for others, hunger for God's Word, and his leadership role in our family.  Despite his being (way) taller than me, I love that he never pulls away from a kiss from me, even in front of his friends. 
I am also celebrating Regan Claire McKeehan.  I am not sure I have ever known (literally) anyone so sensitive to the needs of others.  The only thing bigger than her joy is her heart.  Just this week she said, "I try to be her friend, even though she is kind of annoying, because no one else is her friend..."  She is a creative mind with a passion for theater, music, film editing, and photography.  She often mentions what God is teaching her from her quiet times and then I see her noticeably change as a result of those times with Him.  She loves a coffee date with her Momma and there is no other girl on planet earth I would rather have coffee with than her. 
Next, I celebrate Corbin Vaughn McKeehan.  I love how he keeps us all on our toes with his "Corbinese."  He tends to have his own language, often combining words and saying words in unique ways, which I LOVE.  He, too, is creative, and so gentle.  He is compassionate toward others and thrives on words of affirmation.  Corbin loves to collect things and keeps everything.  He loves to curl up beside me every night and fall asleep on the couch holding my hand.  There is no other 8 year old on planet earth I would rather have than him.
Next, I celebrate Hudson Daniel McKeehan.  No one can flip his hair and bat his blue eyes like Hudson Dan.  He has charisma and a sense of humor that few have.  He loves things neat and organized and he folds laundry better than me.  I am not complaining. He always gives his best to whatever he is doing.... schoolwork, handwriting, basketball, drawing a picture, folding a shirt, etc.  He takes great pride in a job well done.  Hudson is a social guy who has many friends and who loves deeply.  One of my favorite parts of any day is when he is going to bed and he says, "Bend down, Mom, so I can give you our special kiss."  Then, he kisses my forehead, my right cheek, my left cheek, the tip of my nose, and finally my lips. 
Lastly, I celebrate Tyson Asnake McKeehan.  Just typing McKeehan by his name is surreal.  Tyson is kind and gentle.  He is very smart and VERY witty.  He thoroughly enjoys a good nap, long hugs, and anything sweet to eat.  He gives hundreds of spontaneous hugs a day and loves to help me cook dinner, clean the bathrooms, vacuum the rugs, bag the groceries... you name it, he is helping with it he even likes to "help" me pump gas.  My favorite part of today was when he laid his head over on my shoulder just before bed, exhausted from a long day of playing hard outside, and he said, "tomorrow is Mother's Day.  I love you being my mom."  I scooped him up and rocked him to sleep with tears hot in my eyes. 
This Mother's Day is special at our house.  The Lord continues to grow our hearts, our love, and our home with more than we could've ever thought, imagined, or dreamed.  I am undone with gratitude that He lets us live this life.  It's all Jesus and only Jesus will do.
Wherever you are celebrating or however you might be grieving, I am mindful of you as this day begins.  For some of you, you might wish the day wouldn't come, as it brings so much pain.  You aren't alone.  Whatever your circumstances, I simply want you to know that you are loved.  You are appreciated.  You are enough.  And there is no one else like you on earth.  Today, I celebrate you. 

And Maso.  I honor and celebrate and pray for Maso. 

Happy Mother's Day.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

He Knows

Hello!  I have had this post in my heart and mind for several days. Forgive me for the lack of posting this month, but as soon as I started leading a Bible study on Sabbath rest, the wheels came off our schedule we were suddenly SO busy.  I don't remember the end of the school year being quite so crazy.  Much of it was our own doing, as we celebrate BIG for 13th birthdays and Regan hit the big milestone on the 15th.  We enjoyed a girl weekend shopping in Atlanta, having a photo shoot with a bohemian theme (her dream come true), and capping it off with a party (with a cereal bar, of course).  Throw in with all that basketball tournaments, drama club, teacher appreciation week (LOVE OUR TEACHERS SO MUCH), doctors appointments, and normal life and it just got a wee bit nuts. It has been full of good things, so it's most assuredly NOT a complaint.  And, the truths of that Bible study I mentioned have been music to my ears heart as I have been able to really experience Sabbath rest in my heart and soul, despite having a chaotic schedule.  Looking forward to a more restful few weeks in May! 
Life at the Mckeehan house continues to be full.  Transitoning with Tyson also continues to go smoothly.  Overall, we just have no complaints at all.  He is full of energy and life all the time.  I think this month marks the season where he is basically fluent in English and he has a lot to say.  He talks and talks and even (occasionally) talks to us about Ethiopia.  We often refer to life in one of two ways: "when you were in Ethiopia" or "since you've been home."  It's as if that one day, the day we came home, divides his life into "before" and "after."  I don't want any of us to forget "before, " to the point that it remains healthy and healing for him, but I definitely love celebrating the "after." 
Homeschooling is going really well.  There are days it is hard, but that just comes with living right here on planet earth.  For the most part, he leaves me in tears nearly every day.  One day this past week, I took a discreet short video of him READING to me for Mark to see.  Still blows me away.  This week has been particularly emotional for me, as I can't seem to get my mind off families still in the wait for their children from Ethiopia.
I have discussed the current state of Ethiopian adoptions with many of you, as we have committed to praying for the government there, the leaders, and the Prime Minister as well as the families still caught in all the political red tape and delays.  On April 21st, the Ministry of Women and Children's Affairs suspended all international adoption cases immediately, as they are undergoing a federal audit.  This news is devastating.  It FEELS like a clear line in the sand.  So many people online, or via text, or via email communicating and the end result always tends to be, "Who knows what is really going on or how this is really going to shake out?  Or how long it will take?"  All good, real questions.  And hear me out... I HAVE ASKED THEM ALL.  Even in our wait, I would find myself with similar questions.  As soon as I would let my heart, or even my mouth, utter those words, I would sense Holy Spirit answering before I could even finish the thought or sentence:

"I know."

All the while, I knew HE DID and DOES know all the answers to all of those questions.  For any of us in circumstances that feel overwhelming or uncertain (understatement), He is asking us to trust that He already knows the outcome.  These truths do not make the SICKENING "what ifs" any easier to bear in our flesh, but they DO remind us that we aren't walking through it all alone.  As I have written about previously on the blog, I am reminded in these days of the Israelites facing the Red Sea to their front and hearing the hoofs of Egyptian horses behind them, coming to recapture them to make them slaves again.  DOOM.  Nowhere to go.  But Exodus 14: 19-21 reads:

"Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel.  And there was the cloud and the darkness.  And it lit up the night without one coming near the other all night.  THEN Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and THE LORD DROVE THE SEA BACK by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided."

He Knew.

The Israelites didn't know the way to freedom, to the Promised Land, because it all seemed hopeless.  But, THE LORD (not Moses) parted the sea for them.  HE KNEW the way all along, even when to them there seemed to be no way.  WAY-MAKER.  Even if He hadn't chosen to part the sea and allow them to walk across on dry land, it wasn't a matter of IF  He COULD do it.  It was a matter of what was going to bring Him the most glory.  Another noteworthy segment of these verses is in the very beginning... The angel of God who was going before them.... He was going before them, preparing the way and just when it all seemed hopeless, he moved the cloud that had been leading them to behind them, blocking the enemy's view of what God was doing.  I am sitting in this fresh and new right here and now.  What (Who)  has led us to this place in our calling is the very thing that will protect us from being utterly destroyed by the enemy. For those of us in Christ, that Who is Holy Spirit... Jesus IN us (the HOPE of glory Colossians 1:27).  As we follow His leading, we must recognize He leads us to battles that we cannot win on our strength and in our own wisdom.  He is guiding, but He is also equipping.  And walking step by step with us.  And comforting us.  And sending us other believers to walk with us, in truth. 
There is a very real truth that I have been marinating in over the past year.  As the fog of our wait and journey begins to lift and as I look back on it, I have had to ask Him for forgiveness over my lack of framing those years with this one truth:  The day I came to faith in Jesus, I died.  It was right there, that my identity changed.  Romans 6 offers us so much perspective... teaching us that once we come to faith in Christ, we aren't just given a fresh start.  We are actually given a new identity, one that no longer even resembles our old life.  In fact, Romans 6:4 says, "We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life." Romans 6:11 is one verse I have really spent so much time thinking on:  "So you must also consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus."  So, if this is true (and it is), that means I died at my salvation and I was given a brand new life, not a renovated, better life.  A brand new life and it was the life of Christ.  As I seek to die to my flesh (Romans 6-8), I choose to live the life of Christ... His will, His way, His words, His responses, His words, His "to-do" list.  I died to my own will, way, words, responses, rights, "to-do" lists.  With these truths comes great freedom.  It means that as we pursue His calling, we do it living His life.  And, if it is His life, then He can literally do with it what He wants.  Now, as long as we are on planet earth, we will struggle with the remnant of the flesh that still demands its own way.  This is when we must surrender our flesh again to the powerful, sufficient, overcoming life of Jesus... not needing salvation over and over again, but needing to die to self over and over again in order that we can walk by the Spirit, not by the flesh.  What is so powerful about all of this is that He is before us, knowing the way already, even when to our eyes, we can't see a way.  Regardless of your current struggle (and I have them, too), this I know:  He is trustworthy.  As we choose to live His life, we can trust Him with it, even if the way gets long and dark and lonely.  It is of no surprise to me as I study Romans that right in the middle of Paul writing about our dying to the flesh and walking by Holy Spirit, we find these familiar verses:

"For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.  For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!" " Romans 8: 14-15


He knows.

He knows we can't do this on our own, so He took us in and offers us the distinct privilege of calling Him, "Daddy."  He even goes as far as to inspire Paul to use the word "cry," so we would know that in our despair, we can call on Him, because we are His and He knows us. 

HE KNOWS US.

Our struggle, our fears, our waits, the clock over our heads, are not lost on Him.  He isn't even intimidated by them.  This is, afterall, HIS life we live and therefore, we can trust Him with it, regardless of the outcome.  I want you to know that I recognize this is easy for me to write  on THIS side of our wait.  But, the hard, but freeing reality is, these truths impact every single day of our lives, regardless of our circumstances.  In the good seasons, it is still His life and He still gets to decide how we respond, what we say, and where we go.  In the tough seasons, He gets to decide.  There is something so powerful about realizing WE DON'T HAVE TO KNOW because

HE KNOWS. 


We DO have the responsibility to allow Him to lead, to surrender our desires to His will and way and timing, but doing it with FULL FAITH that He is trustworthy and good, regardless of the outcome because we are here to steward HIS life.  These truths are ones I didn't flesh out well in our wait and I pray it is an encouragement to someone who is "stuck."  For many of you, you are stuck between PAIR and MOWA, others between MOWA and court and still others between court and home.  Your despair weighs heavy on me and I want you to know, I am shedding literal tears for you.  It all seems so senseless.  The timing seemed perfect this week as we were driving down the street and I was preoccupied with prayers for families with so many uncertainties.  My thoughts were interrupted by Tyson, "Momma, do you know what I love about being in a family?"  Me (as I turn down the radio), "What, buddy?"  Tyson responded, "Everything."  It was in that moment that I knew God was listening.  He gets it. 

He knows.

It isn't that children don't need families.  It is a matter of the Red Sea in front and the enemy pressing in on the back.  As the enemy presses in and the waits grow long and wearisome, I am praying each of you waiting parents will sense the angel of God before you and exactly when the cloud that once led you moves to your back to protect you.  It is right in these circumstances that we will have the faith to keep raising our hands to Him over the sea and to tell Him that we know

HE KNOWS.

And when the Red Sea parts, we will praise the WAY-MAKER for making a way.  Should He choose NOT to part the sea, it isn't because He can't.  Or because He doesn't see or know you.  Rest assured

HE KNOWS.

As I conclude, I am reminded of Hagar in Genesis 16. She was in troubling circumstances, alone, pregnant by her masters husband, without a job, and most assuredly feeling overwhelmed with hopelessness.  But, right in verse 13, she gives God the name, "El Roi," which means "the God who sees me."  It can FEEL like He doesn't see or that He has forgotten us or that He doesn't know.  Our emotions LIE TO US.  So, when you are tempted to listen to those lies, choose instead to replace the lies with truth.  The truth is, He sees.  He hasn't forgotten.

He knows.

On my knees with you, for you.  Until they are home.



Monday, March 20, 2017

Home

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. 
HOME.
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

Again.

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 gone...it 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. 

grateful.
carrie