Tuesday, August 16, 2016

the hardest part

Here I am again. I could make so many excuses about my absence in the blogosphere, but that would be a long blog in and of itself. Long story short, I was weary. Weary of mothering and working (I have a part-time J-O-B, and my spare moments during the day are spent working from home), weary of writing about myself, being a pastor/church planter's wife, trying to do serve big for the least served, and trying to figure out how to train up these people who are under my care and experiencing big milestones and sometimes displaying lots of emotions that I can't decode.

Therefore, I have a lot of thoughts but minimal time to organize them, let alone write about them.

Someone asked me a simple question a while ago, and since it apparently struck a chord with me--chin quiver, you know--I thought I'd share my answer.

What was the hardest part of the adoption process for Clementine?

The hardest part was that I knew--even while I prayed my heart out into the wee hours of most nights--God could still say no. And I would have to trust Him in that, even though it would have crushed me and left me utterly confused about how he could make that no a good thing.

I know the truth: "for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." However, when you are told no, when things don't work out the way you wanted them to despite the best intentions, it's hard to trust that God has "goodness" in mind.

But He does, which we know because His word says so. And even while the answer was "not now" for a lot longer than we'd ever imagined, we had to trust that He was working all things together for good. He was definitely drawing us close to Him, causing us to speak with Him nearly every minute, causing us to consider circumstances outside our realm, causing us to ask ourselves what we could do to even make a small dent in the issues faced by hundreds of thousands of families around the world.

We know that was all good, and we are hopeful that those dark days while we waited will push us to bring Light to the vulnerable families we learned about in that wait. We don't think it's enough to adopt and move on, although some days even after bringing her home we felt like we couldn't handle anything else.

The weariness is fading, and we are thankful for that. God said yes, and we are thankful for that. There is still plenty for us to do, pray over, and seek God's goodness in.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

six-month checkup

Guys...whoa. I cannot keep up with the pace of life. I'm a few weeks behind on posting Clementine's six-month checkup status. I trust that you can forgive me. Life with these Lotzes is absolutely insane, and in taking time to write this I am neglecting laundry that's stacked in the corner, a stack of dishes in the sink and a shower.

I've been posting updates as Clementine hits certain time-related milestones at home. (Four-month checkup here, two-month checkup here.)She has been home over 6 months now (I can still hardly believe it!), so it's time to share more of our progress.

AT SIX MONTHS HOME, Clementine is:

  • Sassy. Sweet, but oh-so sassy, which is probably good because these boys have some strong opinions and continue to sometimes have trouble adjusting to her presence in our family. 
  • A wee-bit codependent with Brecken. These two are the funniest...they love eachother, miss eachother when one is gone, and also fight amongst themselves the hardest. 
  • Slowing down on the food front. For a while there in those first few months she ate and ate and ate, and she would sit at the kitchen counter waiting for more food all day if I would let her. She has slowed this down and even must be told to finish her food at times, which is quite a switch. She has grown up, not out, a few inches.
  • Loving jeans. Her favorite pair features little white hearts, and she likes to pair them with her new horsey t-shirt EVERY DAY. 
  • Doing better with the hair thing. She even requests for me to do her hair, even if Brad is home. BUT at times--when she feels like it--she still carries on like it's pulling every shred of hair out of her head when I brush it. So here I am rolling my eyes. 
  • Very snuggly. If I'm sitting, she's snuggling. 
  • Still throwing a few fits, but WOW has this improved. She is more likely to throw fits--crying and stomping her foot--when she is tired, but she hasn't done this in such a long time. She does pout (by dropping whatever she is holding, crossing her arms, and dropping to her bum on the ground) occasionally when I tell her no, which is hilarious and annoying at the same time or depending on what sort of day we've already had. Sounds like a pretty typical two-year-old, huh? 
  • Learning to ask for help instead of crying. This has been our biggest battle lately, as she would rather start crying than say "Help me please." Also pretty typical for a 2-year-old...she can drag this battle out forever, but she's learning that asking is easier. 
  • Loving 90s rap music and "All I Do is Win." She is actually dancing to this stuff. Hilarious. 
  • Looking older and stronger. Gone are the weak little arms that hung around Brad's neck in the airport on that first night. Gone is the need to be lifted onto our bed (her core was so weak!). Gone is her desire to be carried EVERYWHERE. Her face is looking older, she is stronger, and even her walking and running is looking more coordinated, almost even athletic. (When she starts running she pumps her little arms in the cutest elbows-out sort of way.)
And now I must report to you how I'M doing in this six-month checkup. Moms often need a psychological checkup at about this point with a newborn, am I right? 

I will be honest...this bonding process has been entirely more difficult than I ever expected. I LOVE this sweet and sassy little girl, but I sometimes must choose to show her love in moments when she is testing me. Sometimes, to be painfully honest, I resent her because of some of the ways she has acted around me and not around Brad. I have resented her because of fits thrown in the store, crying during hair-brushing sessions, struggles over saying "Help me please," crying incessantly when all I wanted was peace for our other three kids, and nearly anything else for which a two-year-old can cause stress and anger. Yes, I have resented Brody and Brecken for these same types of things, but with them I also had two sweet years full of motherly bonding beforehand to back me up on the love quotient. 

I love her dearly, but I am also still in the process of forming a bond with this daughter of mine. I feel TERRIBLE sharing this truth, like I'm less of the mom I'd like to be or should be, but I also think this is something that a lot of adoptive moms have struggled with, and--if anything--I want this blog to be an authentic voice and an encouragement to others. I wish I could snap my fingers and feel fully bonded to Sweet Clementine, but the truth is there are many days and moments in which I must choose to love despite my annoyance, aggravation, and stress related to her actions. She has made it tough on me--much tougher on me than on Brad--and I think that's good, but I also think that my bond with her is forming at a slower pace than Brad's bond with her, which is kind of due to my own selfishness. She moves on after a tantrum and I am slower to put it behind me. I am working on this, often praying for Christ to rule in me where I would normally want to hold on to my grudge. 

I don't think this is her fault or mine. I think she has been doing what she needs to do to protect her little heart from another crippling experience of being torn from everything she knows, particularly a mama's love. But now it's time to get settled in, and we are making so much progress. She is teaching me so much, and our slow bond might be the very thing--strong and secure--we both need. 

Monday, July 4, 2016

because a picture is worth a thousand words

I don't have time to share many words. But I can share some pictures.

I finally have an updated picture up there in my blog banner. Guess the name "honey BUNCHES of Lotz" is living true to its word around here. (There were ZERO children involved when I named my blog way back when.)

When I changed the landscape picture of my Facebook page a few days ago, I intentionally sat and watched as the chairs in our "before" picture were magically filled. If only it were that easy in reality. Nonetheless, it was so fun to watch those chairs fill up right in front of my eyes.

We went from this:

To this: 

God has dealt graciously with us. He has lavished his love on us. He has filled our chairs and our hearts. We are so grateful and in awe of his great plans that we will never fully understand.

So where have we been the last few months? Busy. Very busy. But I've also emerged from the dark thunderous clouds of feeling overwhelmed, clouds that partially caused me to withdraw from friends and jump into survival mode. I hope to be back later to share more, but I could not go a day longer without sharing this amazing image of God's goodness.

(Both images from the amazing Ziegler Photography.)

Friday, May 20, 2016

mother's day was special

When you are a pastor's wife, you experience what I call Single-Parent Sundays. (Mad props to those of you who are single every day of the week...you are big brave warriors who need a break of some sort!)

These are days of the week in which your kids get into exponentially more trouble and instigate a plethora more shenanigans than on a normal day.

As if I needed more proof that any woman with half a brain and a heart can do as well as I do in parenting, Mother's Day provided me with a few extra examples of my life gone way out of control.

It started off fine...Brad was getting ready to leave when Brody came in for some snuggles. Oddly (ah-hem), Oaklee was already in bed beside me. It's not that she sleeps there ALL night, just a lot of it. Brad wished me a happy Mother's Day and Brody did the same, then he wished Oaklee a happy mother's day, and Brad a happy mother's day, and when Clementine came in, he wished her one, too.

Happy Mother's Day to all, people!

Brad left for church and I was up and at 'em making some pancakes until I remembered we were out of syrup. I looked outside to see that the neighbor's dog had partied with our compost pile again, dragging the container across the back deck to make sure all of the food scraps were on top of each board. I saw an empty shoebox, reminding me that I didn't ask Brody what he did with his "pet" turtle the day before.

"Brody, did you set your turtle free last night?"

"No, I threw him away."

"What do you mean you threw him away?"

"I put him in the trash can."

"You what? Why did you put him in the trash can?"

"I was done with him?"

I went on to explain to Brody that just because he was done with the turtle didn't mean the turtle should not go on to have a happy life of solitude. I then took a load of trash to the garbage can and saw the turtle there, halfway down without a route of escape.

So there I was on Sunday morning--Mother's Day, to be exact--lifting Brody up and over the stinking empty garbage can so he could get the turtle out and set it free.

I left him out there with his little friend, saying goodbyes I assumed, and after about 10 minutes I looked out the window to check on them. THEY were jumping on the trampoline. Yes, Brody and the turtle. I just let it happen because whatever.

Meanwhile, inside my house, I was back to square one for breakfast. I decided on cheesy eggs with ham because that's EASY and doesn't require much cleanup. Brecken, upon waking up, did not like that plan at all. Cried about no pancakes. I can't really blame him. I love me some pancakes, too. Clementine wasn't thrilled about it either, mostly because Brecken wasn't thrilled and she is a follower.

After some coercing, the kids ate what they were served. Did they have a choice? Not really, if they wanted to eat.

Then came a shining moment in the otherwise bleak and scary scenes from Mother's Day morning: The johnny jump-up family jumping video:

Much later that morning, at about 7:30 (insert eyeroll because 7:30 used to be early), the kids were playing in their room while I dried my hair. It had been a few minutes, so I stopped to check on Oaklee...Legos are not supposed to be on the floor around here, but turtles aren't supposed to be in trash cans, either.

I didn't see Oaklee in their room, so I assumed I'd find her in the living room standing by the ottoman, one of her favorite stand-up spots. I heard her crawling around (she's a busybody), so I assumed she was okay, even though I didn't see her. I walked back through the hall and heard the small splash of water. Looking in the bathroom, I found Oaklee sitting near the base of the toilet with something in her mouth. Her shirt was wet, and she was chowing down on toilet paper. Since the seat of the toilet was wet, I have to believe that it was wet toilet paper from the toilet bowl. At this point, I began trying to remember the last time the toilet had been cleaned (four days ago, by the way, which is pretty good around here).

I was totally disgusted but decided that getting her stomach pumped or trying to make her vomit on my own was a bit drastic. Instead, I washed her up as well as possible and took her shirt off to rinse it and let it dry on the back deck. I did some googling and found that urine is mostly sanitary, but we would have had a slight problem if she had eaten poo. And she might have, because unfortunately flushing is a major nuisance around here.

I came back in to finish getting ready. I remembered I left makeup in the car, so I headed out to the garage to get it. I opened the door to the garage and looked down to place my bare foot on the concrete. There, sitting on the rug at the bottom of the stairs, was a decapitated mouse with its innards sitting next to its body.

A Mother's Day gift from the indoor-turned-outdoor-turned-fend-for-yourself cat. How delightful. (Another delightful cat story here.)

A special day, indeed.

Monday, May 9, 2016

crushing it

A friend sent us a link to the Family Discipleship series from Matt Chandler at The Village Church. It's possible that said friend thought we could use some REAL HELP in our parenting strategies, but it's also possible that he thought we would appreciate the wisdom shared in the podcast. 

We did appreciate it, and we still do, but our experience in practicing one of his strategies also provided evidence supporting the notion that Matt Chandler is a big fat liar regarding.

You see, he inspired us. He shared some spectacular ideas about how we can leverage the time we have with our kids to point them to Christ, to strengthen our family relationships, to magnify the Truth. 

He said we would "crush it." 

So, feeling confident that this would be the best parenting move of our short careers in parenthood, we started what we conceived to be the very best conversation ever with our four kids, five-and-under.

Brad/husband: Did you know that Mom and Dad love you bigger than the sky?

Brody (5-year-old): Even bigger than God? (We ignored this for the sake of brevity. Brody has a lot of questions and this would have snowballed quickly.)

Brad: Did you know that you can tell Mom and Dad anything?

Brody: Even lies? (We have struggled with "creative stories" [insert eye roll], so we use the phrase "The Truth is important" often.)

Brad: Well, you can tell us the truth any time. You don't ever have be scared to tell us the truth, no matter what it is.

Brody: Well, you're kind of...(long dramatic pause)...fat.

Belly-laughter (some bellies bigger than others, apparently) ensued.

So there you have it. Matt Chandler did lie. We did not "crush it." This did not go as planned.

But at least we tried. We may try again on another day when we need another laugh.

(But truth be told, Chandler crushes it in this series. Check it out...it even has some downloadables!)

Monday, May 2, 2016

Four-month checkup

We've hit the four-months-home mark with Sweet Clementine, so I'm back to provide notes for her "Four-month Checkup." (You can find her "Two-month Checkup here.)

We have come quite a long way in four months, but this month's progress feels like nothing compared to the progress that was made from Week One to Week Three. (If I would have written a Two-Week Checkup," it would have included about three words: "Send help now." Those days are long gone, and our family feels more normal, which--as we all know--is a relative term.)

AT FOUR MONTHS HOME, Clementine is:

  • Loud and holding her own with the boys. What a tragedy and blessing to be thrown into a family with two barely-older brothers. That said, she grew up with boys all around her in her foster home in DR Congo, so she was prepared for the beauty and the mess of it. Don't worry about the girl; she can handle her own. She's got "No" on repeat, and she has learned to tattletale, which drives me nuts, quite frankly. But a girl's gotta do what she's gotta do sometimes, I guess. We try to redirect the tattletaling, because we don't let the boys do it, and since she's in our family we won't let her do it either.
  • A sweet little mama in training. She LOVES helping me feed and bathe Oaklee. She LOVES helping with Oaklee's drinks. She LOVES holding Oaklee (but that feeling is not always reciprocated). She LOVES her baby doll, whose name is "Baby." She had about 30 babydolls waiting for her at our house when she came home four months ago, but she wasn't interested in them until about a month ago. Now they are her very favorite thing. She will be such a great little mama. 

  • A sweet little helper. My boys have never just jumped up to help me unload the dishwasher for fun. She does. (It.is.awesome.) My boys have jumped up to help me sweep and such, but they get tired or distracted around Minute Two, so they check out early. She sweeps and sweeps. 
  • Still weird about me doing her hair. She whines and cries, but if Brecken will come hold her hand she turns off the crying immediately. Now I think she just gets weird because she knows I'm over it. As in, DONE with the whining during hair combing. But whatever. Two-year-olds are so illogical.
  • Understanding everything we say, and saying a lot on her own. "I can't do it." "I don't know where he is." She's got this language figured out. 
  • Saying "Bop" for Stop, "Doe" for no, and "Button" for Brecken, which we have adopted as his new name at times. 
  • Praying out loud at night. Her first prayer was approximately 25 minutes long. 
  • Rolling her eyes as a trick. It's HILARIOUS.
  • Liking books.
  • A lot less preferential about men over women.
  • Not losing it in fear of our indoor-turned-outdoor-turned-"fend for yourself"-cat.
  • Stubborn. I tell her to say, "Yes ma'am." It turns into a 10-minute battle, often with at least one meltdown included. I ask her to finish her apple. She doesn't. I tell her she must before she gets up. She will not do something until SHE chooses to do so. 
  • Asking "why" after I tell her to do something. This is why I tell her to say, "Yes ma'am." (Brody is a "why" guy...she may have learned it from him.)
  • Very snuggly with Mommy. She even chooses me over Daddy sometimes. What a change!
  • Semi-choosey when eating. This is a change from two months ago, when she was eating SO MUCH. She still likes to eat, but she's getting picky and I even have to make her sit down for a while and try to eat a few foods so she will have something in her belly. She likes some sweets now, and she ADORES potato chips. 
  • Thrilled to have things that are "mine." She is especially happy about having her own clothes. She often wants me to go to her closet so she can show me her Easter dress. "Clementine's?!" she says. "Yes, Clementine's!" 
  • At least an inch taller than she was two months ago. We were told she would grow horizontally then vertically, and we are seeing that happen right in front of our eyes. 
  • Still sleeping like a rock. Once she's asleep, she is down for the count until morning.
  • Into horses. She points at a specific ad in one of our magazines with a women riding a horse and says, "I wanna do it." We may need to find some horses to ride somewhere. (However, we did go to a Dude Ranch in March and she was NOT INTERESTED in getting near an animal of any sort. I think she wants to want to ride a horse, but she can't bring herself to do it.)

And there you have it. She is knit into this family so well; however, we still have our share of problems every now and then. I think the boys are still adjusting to all of the new-ness of this family, and at times that comes out in their delayed obedience, testing us, or extra wild emotions. (Shoot, Brad and I are still adjusting to the new-ness and overall youth of this family. It is downright tiring sometimes.)  Overall, the boys are great big brothers to Clementine and Oaklee. 

Some days Clementine has frequent meltdowns, in which she cries loudly and switches her weight back and forth from one foot to another. Often, when told something she doesn't like, she pulls limp-body meltdowns (mentioned in the two-month report) or puts her head down in disappointment. I see the meltdowns as more "two-year-old" than "newly-adopted-child trauma."

We have a lot of love and a lot of chaos, and most days we could say that we have "just the right mix" of each. Some days, though, the scale is tipped a bit too much to the "crazy" end and we have to hope and pray that tomorrow there will be more love to even the scale. 

(I got this image from a place I can't remember. Imagine that. Oops.)

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

a game of cat and mouse

Most of the excitement in our house occurs before 9 am.

Take last Wednesday, for example. Brad left before the crack of dawn to meet with one of the hundreds (I do not think I'm exaggerating here) of people he meets with regularly, and two of four kids were awake to get food in their bellies before we took Brody to school at 8:30.

Brecken and Oaklee were just rubbing the sleep out of their eyes when Clementine came sauntering out into the kitchen to see the light of day. Brody loves to sleep in, so he missed all of the "excitement" that was about to ensue.

I left Oaklee in our master bedroom to play around while heading to the kitchen to get some food on the table. Brecken opened the back door in our kitchen to pee off the back deck. (I wish I could tell you this was not a regular occurrence, but this is one of the perks of living in the country, and "ability to pee off the back deck" will probably be on our list of needs if we ever go house hunting again.)

Seeing an opportunity with the door open, Banjo, our indoor-turned-outdoor-turned-"just live in the wild" cat, came barging in with something hairy in his mouth.

I took a closer look to confirm my suspicions...mouse. Banjo occasionally brings us these little "treats" and leaves them at our doorstep, but they usually don't make it past the threshold. This one was still alive, and I could see him kicking his freaky little legs as Banjo clenched him in his jaw.

Banjo was headed for our master bedroom where Oaklee was hanging out, practicing her speed-crawling and pulling up on everything she could reach.

(Here is where you need to start using your imagination to see this scene playing out at our house...)

I grabbed Banjo to stop him from making it to our bedroom with that rodent. When I picked him up he dropped the stinking limping mouse on the kitchen floor. It started hobbling away quickly for a wounded little thing, so I dropped Banjo back down so he could grab the mouse again, thus preventing me from needing to actually touch the thing with any part of my body. He performed just as I desired, but then he DARTED back to our bedroom with that thing in its mouth, headed for our closet where he likes to hide. (Hide from what? Just eight small hands that are constantly poking, prodding and pulling hair.)

I hope that, as you have imagined this little scene in your head, you have been imaging me with all of my squealing and screeching, along with Brecken and Clementine who had no idea what to think of this little rodent and their mom's ridiculous hopping around and squealing. I'm not saying I squealed and jumped around like a looney tune, but I'm not saying I didn't.

Banjo made it to the closet door with that thing, and when I caught up with him he must have been deciding where to hide. Oaklee was a few feet away, gawking and squealing happily because she loves to try to snuggle that cat. She actually tries to grab his hair, put her face in it, and then suck her thumb. What a weirdo. Regardless, it is unrequited love, as you can see from this picture:

I grabbed the cat in his moment of indecision, but he dropped that stinking mouse again. I wavered for a moment before deciding to get the cat outside and out of the picture. He was clearly no help to me. The mouse was limping around slowly in our closet, trying without success to climb my husband's shoes to find a hiding place. I glanced at Oaklee to see how close she was, knowing that she would try to snuggle that mouse if she could get her hands on it. (GROSSSSS.) Meanwhile, Banjo was clawing me and freaking out to get back to his mouse, and I had to make a quick decision, sprinting him to the backdoor to put him outside and then sprinting back ensure that Oaklee hadn't found a tiny new snuggle mate. This was my biggest concern in the whole ordeal: Do not let Oaklee snuggle that near-dead mouse. Well, it was my first big concern.

I removed Oaklee from the situation and shut the closet door to keep the mouse inside, then ran to the garage to find a box. I ran back to the closet, opened the door, and looked by my husband's shoes to find the mouse so I could trap it with the box and take it outside.

It wasn't there. This is the very worst thing, thus making it my second big concern. I began walking on my tiptoes around the closet (because of course this helps), looking for this nasty little thing that I didn't think could walk. Couldn't find it, even after shuffling everything on the floor around. (My closet was recently cleaned, by the way, due to the fact that we moved Oaklee in there to sleep at night. Yes, she sleeps in our closet. We have a room situation; maybe I'll explain that one later.)

So, I shut the door again and went back outside to get the cat to trap in the closet with the mouse. By this time, Brody was awake and wondering why I was out of breath. I threw the cat in, expecting him to be hot on the trail. He sniffed around near Brad's shoes, then sauntered to the back of the closet. I gave up on watching and instead shut the door, because by this time we were going to be late for school if we didn't get a move on.

I called Brad. He laughed, then told me that mice can squeeze through dime-sized holes, so it was probably under our bed. Nice.

Putting that thought out of my head, I quickly finished up the breakfast I had started before the spectacle and served it up while wondering how I was going to get ready with most of my clothes in that closet. (We did have a blackened pancake casualty, due to said spectacle.)

The five of us got ready as quickly as four tiny people and one freaked out adult can be expected to get ready. (I wore the clothes I had slept in, due to said spectacle.)

When we came back I truly expected the cat to have the mouse taken care of so that I could just box it up and take it out.

Instead, the cat was curled up, sleeping in Oaklee's bed. (GROSSS.)

I finally found that thing--dead--behind Brad's shoes about 30 minutes later. (A small wicked part of me ALMOST wished it had died inside his boot to repay him for laughing at my dilemma.) I scooped it into the box and took it outside, only to find it missing about 4 hours later with a few large holes in the top of the box lid.

If the mouse had, instead, been a snake, we would have just sold the house and moved. I'm not even joking.

(And who knows what was going through Clementine's head this whole time. She is not an animal lover, but she has seen things that are much more dirty than a field mouse inside a house, you know?)

Sunday, April 17, 2016

all of the things

I want to tell you all of the things.

But because of all of the things, I do not have time to write about them.

Here is one of the things:

We are about one month out from the launch Hill City Church in SGF MO. I have had so many mixed emotions about this particular part of our journey, about the unknown and the change and the instability and the work.

But at this very moment I am excited about the journey God has us on with so many of our great friends and fellow laborers. There is much to be done, but God is providing the energy and inspiration to fuel the fires and get things done. (And that means I am often putting extra energy into the "laborers at home" end of things, since Brad has a lot on his plate at the moment, particularly because of "all of the things" mentioned above. I am thankful to have more energy for this endeavor, now that we are out of the three-month-home zone with Clementine, as well as into the "Oaklee is now sleeping in our closet instead of our bed" zone.)

I was able to travel with Brad to Austin, TX, to meet with leaders from The Austin Stone and Austin New Church. (My poor parents had to watch our four small kids. We've been ruining my parents' plans for years, folks. Five years, to be exact, which just happens to be the number of years we have had kids. I hope to be back to the blog soon to explain ALL OF THE WAYS we've ruined their plans. It's ridiculous.)

That visit with the leaders of those two churches, though...sooo encouraging, so inspiring, so exciting. It was thrilling to see the potential of a church plant in Springfield, particularly the potential of a church plant with GOSPEL RESTORATION at its center. It has been so hard to be fully excited about this church plant because we are leaving our church home of eight years, which means that along with it we are leaving so many amazing people. Seriously, that church is filled with SUCH GREAT PEOPLE. And I know we are not physically moving anywhere, but we are losing that experience of seeing many of those people on a nearly weekly basis. That's sad. That said, I think my inclusion on the Austin trip and meetings were divinely appointed, in part because He has replaced much of my sadness and reluctance with excitement. Because of some of the conversations in Austin my mind is spinning with ideas about how this thing could go and how our community and "the least of these" could see the love of Christ up close.

When Brad joined a church staff, a wise man semi-jokingly warned us that working in a church in like working with sausage: "Once you know how it's made you won't want to eat it." I have found that to be mostly true (as it is true in nearly every workplace, I believe). This new church will have problems. Every church will have problems, as they are all filled with people who have problems. I am not naive enough to believe our church will be perfect. But that's ok. I'm praying for the future of the church we are starting, as well as the church we are leaving.

In fact, we are covering this thing in prayer, and it's important that we continue to do so. We are absolutely nothing without the one who died for us, which means our ideas and inspirations are nothing without His clear direction and blessing. But it's so very exciting to see where He may, in fact, be leading.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

All clear

A quick medical report regarding Clementine...

A few weeks after she came home, we took her to a clinic for initial TB skin tests and chest x-rays. (She had to be held down when she got SIX shots...so sad!)

Her results came back CLEAR from the x-ray and the skin test. Apparently she never had TB.

A few weeks ago we took her in for another consultation with a regular pediatrician and he suggested further testing (an ultrasound on her kidneys) regarding the kidney issues listed on the paperwork that permitted her to get an emergency exit letter. He also requested blood work to check kidney functioning and Hep C and HIV status. 

The ultrasound was all clear, meaning her kidney functioning seemed to be normal. However, initial round of bloodwork came back a bit iffy on the kidney functioning, so she has more bloodwork done. (The ultrasound, which required her to lie still while they essentially rubbed lotion on her belly, involved a lot of crying and wiggling, so you can imagine how much fun her bloodwork was. I sent Brad in for that.)

The second round of bloodwork came back all clear. 

We have a healthy girl! We still aren't sure why her lymph nodes were so swollen when they first diagnosed her with TB, and she has a huge scar there where it looks like someone just stuck a giant needle in her neck to drain it, but we are thrilled she is healthy. 

Somehow what we first saw as bad news turned into the very thing that brought her home to us more quickly than we ever imagined. God is good. God is sovereign. 

Friday, April 1, 2016

the prayer that ruined me

Last week I prayed a very special prayer that might have ruined my life and redeemed it at the same time.

(This is not the first time I have prayed prayers that have ruined me. I truly meant it when I sang "Oceans" at church and even repeated those words to God when I was alone with him, and he definitely took me where my faith was without borders. He continues to take me there, and it is good because He is good.)

My prayer last week went like this:

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!

You might recognize those words. They're the words of David, written in Psalm 139:23-24, in response to his realization that God knew him--his good and bad--inside and out. 

The fact that God knows me inside and out is often frightening enough for me in and of itself, because I am generally aware of my faults. But David embraced it, asking God to search him, know him, test him and lead him. 

For me, this was essentially a prayer for God to throw down on my heart, to take a deep look inside, test me, see my sin and lead me out of it. I have prayed the words before, but God probably knew I wasn't ready for Him to completely "try me" and "see if there be any grievous way in me." Because BOY, was there a grievous way in me!

This time, I guess I was ready for the (nearly) full effect of his testing. Last week was horrendous. I may be overstating it a bit, but we had some rough moments, and those rough moments in combination with my cold symptoms and lack of sleep led me to the realization that without allowing the Spirit to control my life I am absolutely out of control.

Kids were picking on one another. So I picked on them.

Dishonor was a problem. The kids dishonored eachother. They dishonored me. So I dishonored them.

I was consumed with worry about things. Lots of things. 

We had approximately 35 spills at the table. Per day. I, myself, had approximately 34 outbursts of anger regarding literal spilled milk and the resulting soggy papers. ( I did not have 34 outbursts because the first spill was gimme.) Clearly, grace was absent from our home.

I had to physically hold Clementine down for about 30 minutes for an ultrasound on her kidneys to investigate the proclamations on her medical reports from DRC. An ultrasound is similar to having lotion rubbed on you. It is SO not a big deal. But she made it a spectacle. That said, she probably does have very bad memories of doctor's visits that did not end well for her, evidenced in part by a large scar on her neck where they drained some sort of swelling, probably by using a knife that was left lying around somewhere in the hospital. Nonetheless, all the unnecessary wailing and writhing was exhausting. I chose to waiver somewhere between silently laughing the craziness of it and having compassion in the moment, but by Minute 29 my jaw was beginning to clench involuntarily. Her ultrasound came back normal, as did her second round of bloodwork.)

Clementine was easily annoyed and angered by everyone, and I spent much of the week looking into her mad face and defiant eyes and trying to figure out the best plan of action that would indicate love and discipline at the same time. 

We had to run several errands on Thursday and the "get out of the car," "get in the car," "put on your seatbelt," "stay close in the parking lot," "no, we can't get that" conversations we were having over and over again were wearing on my last nerve. 

And every kid cried--or at least whined annoyingly--about the fact that I wasn't carrying him or her through the stores. I need to have a more consistent presence in the gym for that sort of stamina. 

Then we had to go back into a store for a coat that was left behind. (Eyes rolling...)

By Thursday afternoon, I had texted Brad to tell him I needed help with the kids at the dinner we were both headed to because I was five kinds of mad and could not deal with it anymore. My edges were raw and easily irritated. Life was not fun. 

By the time it was time to drive to said dinner, I had reevaluated my heart and repented because my attitude absolutely stunk. So many things went right in those days, but the small things led me to an absolute explosion of anger and frustration. God was showing me the evil in my heart, alright. 

I remembered that on Wednesday night Brecken had been extremely upset (not a shock...screaming is his MO at bedtime these days...eyes rolling again), and I very faintly heard Brody whisper to him from their bedroom, "Brecken, I prayed for you." (All the warm fuzzies in my heart!!!)

And Clementine had loved her Easter dress and new pink Converse kicks. (I have waited so long to give my daughter some of those, because Converse shoes look like clown shoes on me.)

And both boys had grabbed her hands to hold them when she was getting her hair brushed so she wouldn't be sad. 

And Brody thanked God that Clementine was here. 

And Clementine had snuggled me so much!

And Oaklee had given me lots of kisses (open mouth slobbers on my face, but whatev). 

But all of that and the many other amazing moments of last week fell through the cracks as my selfishness stifled the joy. I can't explain it, except to say that I asked for this. God showed me virtually every terrible symptom of my fleshly desires.  

This week I started anew with morning prayers that went something like this: 

"Lord, you revealed a lot of junk last week. OUCH. You've proven I can't deal with all of this craziness alone. Please lead me now, and rule in my heart."

And that has been the difference. We have still had some issues. We have still struggled some. But we have had been JOY, too. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

rejoicing with gladness

I'm back after an impromptu hiatus from blogging. I can't even begin to describe the heights and depths of NOISE and CHAOS this household experiences. So much noise, so much laundry, and for me, so many sinus issues (WHY?!).

That said, I'm just here to share some sweetness for today. If you read my last blog post, you know that Clementine and I are still struggling in a few minor areas. One is the HAIR and one is OBEDIENCE (whereas she doesn't struggle with these things with Brad). While we still experience those struggles in addition to the normal struggles of a two-year-old, we have reached a new level of sweetness in our relationship.

During bedtime, our whole family gathers (or at least tries to) on the boys' and Clementine's bed (yes, they're all in one bed, and they like it like that). We often read books and we always pray together. (Clementine's first few prayers were approximately 20 minutes long, but they were the cutest things ever. A bunch of jabber with actual words dotted throughout: "Mommy".... "Daddy"... "Body (Brody"..."Button (Brecken)"... "MeMaw"... "PaPaw".... "Oakee (Oaklee)"... "Ah-men.")

I have never pushed too hard to be close to Clementine during these times. Even with everything going so well, she hasn't seemed interested in lying down near me before bed, and I haven't wanted to push too hard before she was ready. Cuddling before bedtime can make a kid feel pretty vulnerable, you know.

But last night Oaklee was already in bed, and when I came into the kids' room for prayers and bedtime hugs and kisses, Clementine wanted me to lie down beside her on her pillow, with her blanket.

I happily obliged and she snuggled closer until her forehead was touching mine. She peered at me through half-open eyelids, looking me over from the bottom of my chin to the top of my forehead. She began to trace the outline of my face with her tiny fingers, delicately running her fingertips along my eyebrows and down across my chin and then down my neck. I always wonder what she is thinking in moments like these. Did she get time like this with foster moms or was she placed in bed with a quick hand pat? Had she snuggled with anyone before? Had anyone ever delighted in her?

One of my very favorite verses, Zephaniah 3:17, popped into my head....

"The Lord your God in your midst,
The Mighty One, will save; 
He will rejoice over you with gladness,
He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing.”

To me, this verse describes the depth of love and affection God the Father has for us as his children. It became much more meaningful to me as I began adopting and having children. I would rock my babies to sleep or hold them as they slept, rejoicing over them and their precious little lives, and understand more clearly that God has that same (even more) depth of love for me. 

When Clementine finally came home to us, she was a bit past the stage of rocking to sleep and holding in my arms. Sure, she would let me hold her after the first week or (she LOVES to be carried everywhere), and yes, she would sit with me during the day and hug me and blow kisses as she went outside, but I could not quiet her with my love. Realistically--quite frankly--I often did not rejoice over her with gladness. Please don't put words in my mouth...I rejoiced SO MUCH when she finally came to be with us, and I rejoice over her silly little self often. However, it's also true that I was often so happy that she was finally sleeping and not acting like a toddler--who often seemed to defy and deny only me--that I didn't take much time to rejoice over HER, over the sweet little lady God had created her to be. 

So when she snuggled in close and let me hold her as she rested quietly, feeling my eyelashes and rubbing my cheeks as I held her other hand, I knew that moment was as much for me as it was for her. 

What must it be like to have a Mommy who will rejoice over you with gladness? I hope this is a question Clementine never has to ask again.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

two-month checkup

It's been two months since Clementine joined our family at home. (I know, I know...we need to update that picture up top. We hope to do so soon.)

Normally, when you bring a newborn home from the hospital you have a two-month checkup to see how the baby has been developing. If you are a new parent, you might have tons of questions and you will probably be working ahead of the timeline to be sure other people know you are, in fact, the perfect parent you present to the world on social media. At two months, you were probably disappointed your baby wasn't crawling because you wanted so badly to prove she was advanced.

If you are on, say, your fourth kid, you are just there to prove your child is still alive and hasn't gotten lost among the shuffle. Or you're there for the peace and quiet that a pediatric physician's waiting room might afford you. (It's all relative, people.) You are certainly not there to show off your baby's progress (like you have time to look up baby's next steps) so when the doctor asks if Baby is able to use a pincer grasp at nine months you smile and nod and make a mental note to watch for that next time you are alone with Baby. And when, at 12 months, your doctor asks if Baby can use a sippy cup you silently create a reminder in your phone to buy one the next time you're at the store so you can find out.

After discussing Baby accomplishments, many doctors give out a checklist of developmental tasks, as well as a personalized growth chart to see where you stand.

Adoption doesn't follow this timeline, with its happy little checklists, spreadsheets, and safety reminders, so I'm going to offer up my own checklist as a guideline of sorts. (This is NOT a standard. Jeez people, we are the epitome of clueless and will never provide a high standard for anyone.)

AT TWO MONTHS HOME, Clementine is:

  • Well-bonded with Mommy and Daddy. 
  • Laughing often, and often louder than anyone in the family.
  • Pulling limp-body tantrum or stunts or meltdowns on Mom at the grocery store. (I see you, Sam's Club workers who think I'm torturing my child because I made her say please and she LOST IT. I see you, People of Walmart, gawking at me as I nearly dragged two kids down the aisle [because shopping with FOUR KIDS is so fun]. Please take a picture and post it on your website. We are so very special sometimes.)
  • Copying EVERYTHING her brothers do. (She tried peeing off the back deck the other day. Didn't work out very well.)
  • Approximately 30 pounds heavier than she was two months ago. This is a rough and exaggerated estimate, but I'm nearly serious. She eats so much and looks so different. 
  • Quarreling with her brothers, which I see as a good sign.
  • Jabbering all day long. I smile and nod mostly. She understands nearly everything we tell her, and she is working on saying everything, as well.
  • Saying "Mom" about 2,764 times a day.
  • Potty-trained. She didn't seem to be fully trained when she came home in diapers, but she is now.
  • Seeking time to be near Mommy. This is so huge! 
  • Still taking issue with me brushing her hair and telling her to do certain things, whereas she easily allows those things with Daddy. (It's as if hair brushing and obedience are triggers...or it's just as if she's two years old!) 
  • Still an excellent sleeper. Once she goes to sleep at night, she is OUT all night. She is all over the bed but does not get out of it and sleeps hard until the morning. (Whereas our boys are out of bed and wanting in ours in the middle of the night. Parenting fail on our part with them.)
  • Showing no signs of illness. No scabies, no tapeworm, no ringworm, no lice, no giardia, NOT EVEN TB!! (We were warned she may have all of the above.) That's not to say she hasn't had any of that...we've just seen no signs of it. Her chest x-rays were clear, and her skin TB test came back negative. (Can anyone explain this to me? It makes no sense.) Her other issue, which actually brought her home with the medical exit letter, is kidney-related and presenting no symptoms. We pray this trend continues.
  • Still eating almost anything, loving bananas and peanut butter, and disliking condiments and most sweets.
  • Still preferring men to women, and still calling all women "mama." I am not worried about it. 
  • Mastering the use of the word "yucky" along with the cutest little scrunched nose to further express the sentiment. 
  • Doing a hundred thousand times better than she was in her first week here. I am so in awe of God's ability to restore and redeem people. 
I have heard from MANY people who say their first week/month with their adopted child(ren) were/are ROUGH. PLEASE do not give up hope if you're in a rough patch. Things get better. For some, it gets better quickly. For others, it may take a while. The tiny glimpses of hope were enough for us to hunker down and push through those first few hard weeks, and we are so thrilled we did. 

Clementine's clothes from that week are virtually unwearable due to the food stains ALL OVER. It's almost like she relapsed into a primal mode where she shut herself down emotionally and focused solely on getting physical needs met, meaning she ate with GREAT INTENSITY and could not have cared less about keeping things clean. When I look back at pictures of that first week, I continue to be amazed at how far we have all come. She is doing great, our family feels united (unless ownership of food or a Lego creation is being questioned), and we are as close to normal as we ever will be. 

My Facebook feed is getting AWESOME as I get to see pictures of my Internet friends bring their children home from DRC. I am praying for the children and families who are finally being united now and in the coming weeks. Hoping the two-month checkup is full of love and joy and peace for all of them. (And wisdom, when those three things are hard to come by. We pray for that a lot around here, too.)

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Life in the fast lane

Hello there. It's me, Jenny. It's been a few weeks, so I'm here for a quick update:

1 - Clementine is firmly planted in our family. She still loves to eat, loves to laugh, and loves to be around the boys. She does not seem as preoccupied with food as she used to be, which is great because I was making several trips to the store each week for bananas. She likes "bebe Oak-key" now, too, whereas before she hardly acknowledged her presence. And she likes me, too. I'd say we are pretty tight, actually, except that she still gets CRANKY when I brush her hair (and when Brad does it she is totally fine). She is chattering away, and since we don't understand much we smile and nod. She understands virtually everything we say, and she loves to help around the house. She and Brecken are hilarious and SCARY together. SCARY, I tell you. If it's quiet and they're missing, we have a problem, and it usually involves a marker.

2 - Oaklee is six months old already! She is still sweet and easy-going, but she is starting to throw some fits by arching her back. It's really funny and cute now, but in a few months it will not be so cute so I'm trying to determine the best course of action when she throws them. She is nearly crawling, too, so GOODBYE LEGOS all over the house. Brody has been warned that if it's on the ground it goes in the trash. She is well-loved around here, and I often feel sorry for her personal space because she has none. She was stepped on twice yesterday, so she will have to be pretty tough to hang around here. (My brothers made me tough, too...remember that one time they hung me by my feet over the balcony? Oh Mom, you didn't know about that, did you?)

3 - Brody is about to go in for his KINDERGARTEN SCREENING. What in the world?! He is four going on 14 (and I'm not buying clothes he's wearing clothes that are Size 8). He's growing up fast in every sense of the word. (This morning he used the word "apparently" in perfect context and I did a victory lap around the kitchen.)

4 - Brecken has hit a growth spurt, too, which means I fear for our lives when we hit the teenage years. (How does one feed and clothe a 17-, 16-, 15-, and 13-year-old without taking out a loan? Church planting is not necessarily a lucrative business--financially speaking.) He is still hilarious, but I'm excited for the day when his hilarity does not involve my also wanting to cry.

5 - Brad has been OH-SO-BUSY. Running and gunning, I tell you. He had a stomach bug Sunday but also had to teach three classes at church, so he THREW UP between classes so that he could complete his duties. I can't wait until we get to hang out again...hopefully that will be within the next year.

6 - I spend my days chasing kids, bathing kids, feeding kids, wiping bottoms, and doing laundry and dishes. I LOVE this life. (Please do not hear me complaining! I love it and am so thankful for it!) However, because of our current season and ALL THAT'S HAPPENING right now, it is especially tiring. I have been stressing about things I probably shouldn't stress about. My shoulder hurts from the tension of life, and I just happen to carry Oaklee's seat in that arm so it doubles the tension. And I am pretty sure I have a sinus infection, so after I get a z-pack in me I hope to be back to unpack some of those tensions. (I've been sick over half of this winter...I think it means we need to move to the ocean.)

7 - I am LOVING the homecoming pictures and announcements of friends who are finally being united with their Congolese children, and I can't wait to see more. Many received Medical Exits, and last week the government announced that over 150 children's files were approved to allow those children to leave DRC with Exit Letters. Others are still waiting for their files to be approved or corrected, so we continue in prayer that they will be allowed to join families very soon. For right now, I'm relishing the moments flashing up on my Facebook timeline.

Monday, February 8, 2016

life in the barn

My house was professionally cleaned last Monday, and that makes last Monday the best day ever. Toilets, sinks, bathrooms, random square footage behind chairs that haven't seen sunlight in four years...all are basking in the glory of new life and cleanliness.

(This isn't my real life. My mom gifted me with a professional house cleaning for Christmas. This is the very best gift anyone could give us at this point in time.)

I am living the life of luxury with this actual clean smell, not the phony type that I keep spraying through the Air Wicks. 

But let's get back to those toilets and bathrooms. They are so shiny. So sanitary. So pure and undefiled.

It may be 27 degrees, but I'm still telling the boys to pee outside.

And now, here I sit in the midst of this barnyard. There's a baby slobbering onto the carpet while crawling backward, a tiny toddler with a 'fro who laughs bigger than anyone I've ever known cutting paper into a million tiny pieces, a three-year-old pretending to be a doggy, and four-year-old pulling four-year's worth of junk toys from their respective locations to place them on the top level of the bunk bed. Pancake syrup still sticks to the countertop and Legos litter the carpet, and I just heard the incriminating splash of juice spilling in the kitchen.

Have I mentioned how blissful it was to walk home to a clean house less than a week ago? My Air Wicks are back to working overtime.

Yet, for the third time in 10 days, I have been reminded of Proverbs 14:4. "Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox."

We have plenty of oxen living here. Four, to be exact.

These four oxen give this house a 10-minute limit on cleanliness. It may have been clean Monday at 1:00, but by 1:10 we were rocking life with muddy floors, grimy countertops, and yes, pee on the toilet seat. 

It also means that we are blessed with four amazing and active kids, two from my womb, and two from our hearts. Our house may not be clean until 2033 (WHUT?) when we lovingly nudge Oaklee out into the world, but it is a fun, albeit stressful and crazy, barn for now. 

(But seriously, if you need a creative gift for someone who has just added a child to her family, give the gift of CLEAN, even if it only lasts 10 minutes. Ten minutes of clean can initiate 10 days of mental clarity. I'm not joking.)

(Also, Happy Valentine's Day! I am trying to downplay the holiday a bit around here because I sort of forgot to do the special stuff. "We love you everyday, okay animals kids?")

Saturday, February 6, 2016

the sacred

The other day I was trekking across southwest Missouri to a new friend's house (a new friend with five kids, might I add...we crazy people have to stick together). 

I am not one to just jump on an invitation to someone's house, let alone a person with whom I've really only spoken one time. I'm too skittish, too nervous and socially weird for that. But there I was, plugging that address into my phone like I was born to do it. I'm not sure why, except that I am learning that it's better to open yourself up to someone who can teach you something than to shut yourself away like a clam and drown. This woman has five kids and is still beautiful and warm and God-fearing, for goodness sake. I think that means she can teach me a few things. 

Miley Cyrus's "The Climb" played on my minivan's Pandora radio as I started the drive down our road. (Yes, Miley is a key player on my Pandora...hold your judgments for my posts about my kids or parenting styles or adoption. Or, if you feel inclined to judge people based on their musical tastes, judge my husband's friend who is nearly 40 years old and still enjoys a regular playing of "Mmmbop" on his phone. Sorry...I cannot keep that a secret.)


"The Climb" played on as I began the mapped route on my phone. Similar to the way a pastor in the church of my youth would lower the music's volume when he was about to say something exceptionally spiritual during the invitation hymn, Siri's voice would increase in volume as the music magically faded, leaving Siri enough influence over me to provide me with details regarding my own proverbial "climb" to my destination. 

Miley: "I can almost see it. That dream I'm dreaming, but There's a voice inside my head saying You'll never reach it.." 

[Music fade, voice over up.]

Siri: "In half a mile, take a left onto Highway 14."

[Music up.]

Miley: "Every step I'm takin', Every move I make, Feels lost with no direction, My faith is shakin'

[Music fade, voice over up.]

Siri: "Turn left onto Highway 14."

[Music up...louder than before.]

Miley: "But I, I gotta keep tryin', Gotta keep my head held high."

What a way to make a seemingly mundane experience feel sacred, huh? (I must say, though, it all felt a bit providential.)

But here's the deal...it was sacred. I'll tell you why.

I'm doing this study on biblical womanhood called True Woman 201. This week's specific focus was on reverence. It has been a bit of a kick in my tail, as I often lack reverence in sacred moments. (I blame the sarcastic bent in my personality. It's a coping mechanism I've leaned heavily on for years, and it comes a bit too easily to me now.) 

I won't divulge all of the details of the study mentioned above, but allow me to explain my mind-altering epiphany like this: 

I do a lot of laundry. I wipe a lot of rears (and a few tears). I clean dishes, wash clothes, dry clothes, fold clothes, and unload the dishwasher only to load it again. My house goes from orderly and streamlined to complete chaos and utter disappointment in 2.5 seconds. My child has cut his own hair, put blush on his face, painted his nails, plastered his cheeks with thieves oil, snuck a multitude of chocolate candies into his belly (thus making him sick), smashed my Chapstick into the new minivan's storage area, and gotten a peanut stuck up his nose, all within a few short weeks. I change diapers, nurse a sick baby in the middle of the night, then attempt to cover my under-eye circles with concealer that clearly isn't worth the $7 I paid for it (<---church-planter/adopters' budget). And that's just the beginning. 

Life is hard sometimes. I love it. I would only change a few minor things about it (or would I?), but it can still be hard. 

And it can be hard to remember that life is about more than this day-to-day craziness I experience each time I get out of bed to make my cappuccino punch

But, as I am learning in my study, every moment of life is sacred. Because my body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, I must always remember I am engaged in sacred things.

I'm not sure why, but that thought struck me in such a profound way that it has altered my mindset in nearly every moment since I read it.

It means that whether I'm changing a diaper, disciplining the child whose antics were mentioned above, rubbing the sleep out of my eyes, or rocking a teething baby, I am engaged in a sacred thing. It is not an act that goes unnoticed, nor is it unimportant, even if I can't see its splendor in the moment.

It also means that my conduct should be "temple-appropriate." READ: My response to the milk and sugar incident last week was not temple-appropriate. (Oh, I didn't tell you about the milk and sugar incident? I--absentmindedly, frustratedly, in a flustered mess of "we're so late"--poured milk into the huge sugar canister on our countertop. 'Twas not pretty.)

So I'm taking more time (or at least making more effort) to enjoy these sacred moments. And it's changing everything. 

Cue the music: 

[Music up, loud for dramatics.]

Ain't about how fast I get there
Ain't about what's waitin' on the other side
It's the climb.

(Bet you didn't think I could go full-circle on that one, did you? Did I go full circle? I don't even know. Whatever.)

Friday, January 29, 2016

all the pretty pictures

I have received so many personal messages regarding my uber-honest post last week about Clementine's homecoming. People have blown us away with support, encouragement, and love despite our haggard outward appearances and inner-turned-outer turmoil, and we could not be more thankful for "our people."

Similarly, we received tons of messages before and after that post that said, "I know how hard this is. We survived, and here's how..." We were particularly grateful for a message that said, "Forget everything you read in those adoption books and just get through this right now." We were also incredibly happy for the Lingala translations, comfort foods, hair care products, probiotics, chocolate, and food and laundry services. (Clothes laundered by my mom will forever smell better than the ones I cleaned on my own.)

I need to tell you something now, particularly if you are adopting and you felt your heart sink while reading my last post. There is hope. It is beautiful hope, a shining light that sometimes only glimmers periodically in the distance and sometimes shines so brightly it nearly hurts your eyes.

Her laugh. It has been lighting up the rooms in our house and darkest corners of our hearts where we were once so weary.

After that first week--a week full of tears and exhaustion and angst and mourning and doubt from all parties involved--that laugh showed up a little more each day, replacing the deep cries of mourning from before.

Brad had to go back to work, in part because he needed to lose his shadow for a few hours at a time and in part because he is seriously SO BUSY with church planting and discipleship, not to mention a new nonprofit endeavor we've jumped into in the last two months. (More on this soon.)

Since he is a pastor, his first day back to work was a Sunday. I mentally prepared myself for the worst day of my entire life. I had noise-canceling headphones on standby, with plenty of peanut butter and bananas (Clementine's favorite foods) in the cabinet and a few bottles in the fridge for Oaklee to have a chance at fending for herself, to a certain extent. I had movies ready for the boys. I had an army of praying people backing me up and pleading for a hopeful first day at home with Clementine and without Brad.

It went so much more smoothly than I expected. Yes, there was crying, but it didn't last long. She cried when she woke up and he wasn't there, and she cried a few hours later because she didn't know when he would be home, but she did not cry all day as I had expected. I held her or stood by her when she didn't want to be held by me. She cried in fear and anger and sadness. But we all survived, and we all grew stronger in our relationships because of it. (She ate nearly all day long, but at least she wasn't crying when she was eating. [I can almost guaranty she has gained at least 10 pounds since coming home.])

That first day without Brad, she fell asleep leaning on the boys. She laughed and played. She ate well.

We WON the first day and Brad was winning at work.

The next day, she cried less often and for shorter durations, and we even made a trip to Panera where she devoured all of the whipped cream on top of my Frozen Mocha.

See this picture? Unlike some pictures I had taken before that were bookended by crying and angst, this one tells the whole happy story of this moment. No tears before. No crying after. This was real life.

And the next day, she didn't even cry when she woke up and he wasn't there. She got better, more grafted into our family, every day since that first one.

If, during her first week here, you would have told me we would be so far along in our relationship in the second week, I never would have believed you. She rarely acknowledged me in that first week when Brad was home, unless it was to benefit from my duties as Banana Girl, Peanut Butter Girl, Juice Girl, Lotion Girl, or Toothpaste Girl.

It was nothing short of miraculous (we are no strangers to miracles these days). In just a few days, she had accepted the fact that Brad wouldn't be home all the time. I feel compelled to admit that she and the boys are still not happy about that fact, but there are no crazy fits over the fact that he isn't home every hour.

I should also tell you that this has been the absolute craziest time in our family life ever, as we have regular "family-of-6-or-7 duties," along with church planting meetings, regular church meetings, a family Christmas in January, a 15-year-old in the basement who must be dropped off and picked up from his school that is literally 40 minutes away, and the nonprofit's premier event all happening within a few week's time. All of the craziness amounts to Brad being gone A LOT, and that is without the originally scheduled trip to Austin, Texas, to meet with leaders at Brandon and Jen Hatmaker's church, Austin New Church. (He decided to reschedule the trip, based on advice that Clementine and I would be fine without him, but his absence might elongate her adjustment troubles. We did not need that, folks.)

And still, we have come so far in such a short amount of time.

However, she still wouldn't let me cuddle her to sleep. She cried some. She said, "Daddy?" plenty. She threw some fits. (She acted like a two-year-old...how dare her!)

But it went much more smoothly than I could have ever imagined. And now we have some pretty pictures that don't feel like a lie.

This is when she literally cried herself to sleep. It's not exactly pretty, as I can still see the tears on her cheeks and the dirt in my dirty hair, as I had not showered in who-knows-how-long. But I think it's beautiful in a messy sort of way.

And yesterday, for the first time, she fell asleep in my arms. without crying. (ALL OF THE PRAISE HANDS!!)

Sadly, she woke up mad that she had let down her guard, I think, and threw a fit that lasted nearly two hours. I stayed close while she flailed and cried and stomped her feet to get a banana that she knew she could have said "please" for, but in the end she said "please" and allowed me to give it to her, then seemed infinitely happier after discovering I wouldn't leave in the midst of her egregious behavior. She was delightfully happy and asked for everything by saying "please" from there on out. I am no expert in the "fit-throwing coping mechanisms" department, but we got through it and I think our relationship is now stronger than ever.

We know we still have plenty of hurdles to jump and hills to climb ahead, and we will inevitably experience some setbacks, but we feel like we have already hiked the tallest peaks and come out on top.

So here are all the pretty pictures. The ones that don't feel like a lie. The ones that were bookended by smiles and laughs and true joy.

(Um, hello bedhead. I don't even know...)
This ended with her asleep on her brothers.
Two peas in a pod, and it's frightening sometimes. Their quiet moments require a check-in.
Her first night without braids. I don't really want to talk about
how long it took to get them out, but she was a champion while we worked.
She LOVED the snow. Odd, because she shakes like a leaf
when she gets out of the bathtub in our warm house. 
All that glitters is gold in her eyes.


Guys, she didn't know how hard we had fought for her, how many tears we had cried over her, how often we lost sleep while pouring out our prayers to God for her. She didn't know how we craved the monthly pictures we received from our agency. She didn't know we have loved her for over two-and-a-half years while she grew up in a foster home and we waited for her to join us in her forever home.

So she didn't know that she was supposed to love us and trust us upon arrival, as we had blindly and ignorantly convinced ourselves she should.

But she will know. She was so loved and wanted all that time.

She IS so loved and wanted.