Saturday, June 25, 2016

Days Gone By

It had been a long day of travel in a packed car. We were all tired and weary and ready to pile into the hotel and fall into bed. I had enjoyed the ride beside my boy, watching his mind at work as he busily created. He spent a solid six hours playing, taping and putting together multiple creations made from a clear plastic box, styrofoam cup, a roll of tape and a few small trinket-like toys. After a full day of this, I could barely climb out from the back row since the stuff had seemingly multiplied in the car. 

"E, your stuff has taken over the backseat. I've got to clean up all this trash." 

Without missing a beat, his tone changed to a scold as he corrected me. "Mom, this might be trash to you but it will always be inventions to me."
I couldn't argue. In fact, I had to apologize because I knew to him this wasn't trash at all. How many times have I been reminded of this lesson from him? He continues to amaze me with his creativity and I witnessed him at work with a front row - or rather back row - seat into his world of ingenuity. 

We finally made it into the hotel with more than enough stuff for one night at our halfway point but a very mobile baby wasn't about to be confined to a pack and play just yet. After all, she'd spent the better part of the day "trapped" in her car seat and now seemed like a great time to explore her new surroundings. She was tired, so tired, but it would take rocking her to sleep to calm her down. 

Just getting to the point of leaving on vacation with four adults, one child and one infant is enough to send someone over the edge. Planning lazy days by the pool is nothing more than a daydream when one water-loving child will certainly be begging me to play and one fearlessly mobile baby will not understand the dangers of her surroundings. But I'm learning to soak up the moments that will all too quickly pass and be nothing more than a distant memory. 

I had no idea what I was asking for when I prayed to become a mother. I wanted a child but never understood the depth of what I was being entrusted with. I could never have known it would have meant getting to the end of myself then becoming a provider, defender, mediator, comforter, advocate, intercesser just to name a few. I had no idea how much I would learn about God in this role. I recognize His nature when I see the creativity and imagination coming from my son's ingenuity. I identify with His heart when I rock my baby to sleep. The joys of watching my son create or my daughter discover something new. The heartache of hurting when they hurt. The grief of enduring the battle of wills. Being given the opportunity to teach, invest in and love these little people who God created in His image and called me to mother is my purpose in life. 

Today I'm learning to enjoy the ride and give thanks for the present state of chaos and craziness that comes with the blessing of raising little ones. I'm basking in the joy of knowing my personal time is not my own. There are no vacations from motherhood in this phase of life, at least not until they're grown and gone and then I will simply wish for these days to return. 
 

Saturday, June 18, 2016

He's the Man

He's the man who used to drive a motorcycle. It's not something that many would know. And it's not something he would go around sharing. It's not that he longs for the carefree days of old. It's simply that he has fully embraced his new life. 

He's so down to earth and practical that the motorcycle driving side of him is something I have a hard time picturing. Maybe because he now drives a minivan. But in his defense, he did get rid of the motorcycle before he met me. It wasn't all my fault. 

I remember very early on telling him that we were a package deal. He could not love me without accepting him. I had to know that he understood he wasn't just signing up to be my husband. He would be joining me as I parent my son. He didn't just embrace my son, he jumped headfirst into parenting, fatherhood, and life with a precocious and rambunctious four-year-old. He didn't have the enjoyment of bonding with a baby and watching him grow. But he never missed a beat when it came to stepping into the role of parent. I've never liked the term Step-parent but indeed he stepped in and stepped up to the role God outlined for fathers to love and teach and train up a child, taking it upon himself to accept and love a child who wasn't his own. It didn't seem foreign to me since he wasn't genetically related to me either but I wasn't fully prepared for him to actually love him as a son. He joined me as a partner, friend, confidante, advocate, mediator, defender, protector. It was second nature to demonstrate spiritual leadership because it is who he is. 

No one has ever told Eli what to call him or not to call him but "Mr. Mike" is still his namesake even after 4 years. It's proven to be his own term of endearment and not just a sign of respect. Mike is his name, there's no mistaking that, but the day would also come when he would gain a new name. He would go through the passage into parenthood where he would bear the name dad. Father. Daddy. He already wore it on his heart, but now it has become a part of who he is. 

He's not just the man who used to ride a motorcycle. He's the man who waited faithfully for 12 years while riding out singlehood, never settling for anything less than God's best. (How I ended up being God's best for him still blows my mind because I often feel inadequate to love and serve him the way he deserves.) He's the man who chose me, gently pursuing my tattered heart and helping me rebuild the pieces. He's the man who willingly stepped into a world of chaos and provided a sense of calm. He's the man who joined the ranks of fatherhood without preparation or hesitation. He's the man who stood beside me at my lowest point, holding me as I writhed in pain. He's the man who held me as I sobbed and grieved the baby we had lost. He's the man who joined me in celebration at the announcement of our second pregnancy and he held onto hope and faith that we would have a healthy baby. He's the man who refused to settle on a boy's name because in his heart of hearts we were having a girl. He's the man who was right because our daughter would be born in November. He's the man who would stand over me in surgery calming me down after a day and a half of scary labor. He would watch his daughter be born and battle whose side to be by, mine or hers. 

He's the man God gave me to be my helpmate and support, my strength and leader. He pushes me to go beyond myself and consider new perspectives. He loves me endlessly and serves me tirelessly. He fights fiercely for his family and never waivers in his faith. He is my husband. My friend. My love. The father to our daughter. Step dad to Eli. A brother and son I know his family is proud of. He's my man. My Michael. And this Father's Day I honor him. 

Friday, June 3, 2016

Real Life is not Pinterest

Day one of summer is now in the books. I wish I could say it was all I hoped it would be. As with any well laid plan, I've had to learn real life often gets in the way. 

We found out a few weeks ago that Eli wouldn't have a spot in the summer program he was involved in last year so it meant rearranging and making new plans. "Mom's summer camp of fun and learning" was that new plan and I was excited. I immediately created my "summer" board on Pinterest and started pinning away. Crafts, make-together snacks, homegrown fun and learning activities, we would have so much fun. I was determined to make this a summer to remember - for everyone. I planned to create just the right balance of structure and leisure along with opportunities for us to make memories and work on needed skills and abilities. It's no secret that Eli learns differently than me so I did my homework and took extra time to research ways to help him continue to grow and learn. It's been a learning process for me, too, but I felt certain the extra time together would be productive. 

Day 1. I was ready. But I can't tell you how perfect our day was. I can't give details about the amazing things we did. I won't be able to share the memories we mawde. If anything, I'm ready to go to bed and forget this day while desperately waiting for a new one to begin tomorrow. Everyday. All day. Did I mention every single day? How did his teacher do it? I'm now more convinced than ever that she had super powers of which I know I am void of. Today did not go as planned.

He's a challenge, my boy. I love him so and yet he pushes me to the very edge where I nearly lose my cool and my mind. Okay. I admit. I do in fact lose my cool. Much more often than I care to admit. But even as I started to feel guilty for not providing the fulfilling memory-filled first day of summer I had hoped, my ever-wise husband reminded me, "Real life is not Pinterest."

He's right. The pressure to create such amazing experiences is my own fault. And while I do love finding success in a new recipe on Pinterest, that's just about the end of where my pin-worthy life exists. Real life is messy and hard and chaotic and not as planned. Real life is me being honest about the fact that sometimes I just wish things were easy. That we could just enjoy simple things and that those moments of bliss would be the rule and not the exception. Real life is repeatedly having people tell me I am the perfect mom for this child and me wondering if they feel sorry for me or if I somehow managed to actually pull off fooling a person or two. Real life is the triple chocolate cake I nearly devoured in a moment of utter weakness after a day like today. Real life is not regretting one bite. Real life is this, me just being honest, that real life - at least my life - is not Pinterest. Real life is knowing today I got to lean on Jesus just a little bit more than I usually would on my own. Trusting, hoping, praying, believing, knowing He really is in control. Real life is the assurance that while God did pick me to be his mother, no one could love him more than the one who created him. When I struggle to find someone who can handle watching him for a few hours, real life is knowing that God loves, embraces and smiles at this exceptional child He perfectly created. And That's as real as it gets. 

Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day

It was a special service. An emotional video of remembrance. A retired Air Force Colonel sharing his sentiments towards his fallen comrades followed by the playing of Taps. The mood was somber, humbling, honorable. The video alone had brought me to tears, so thankful for those who have served our country. But in the midst of the crowd, I couldn't help but notice a white haired gentleman rise to his feet as he wiped away tears. He stood at attention then put his hand over his heart. He was followed by another in the same motion. Still one more stood with arms raised to the sky then his stance turned to attention. I didn't know them or those they were remembering but it was emotional and moving and a reminder of those we should be honoring this weekend. The distinct way they stood at attention told me they were certain to have served. I wanted to know what they were thinking, who they may be remembering, what service they had given, what sacrifices they had endured. I wanted to know their stories. I wanted to honor them and their commitment to God and country. My heart swelled with gratitude and again I felt tears falling.

God shed His grace on thee, indeed. There's a sense of pride that fills my heart when I truly allow myself to reflect upon what it's taken to get here; to be able to declare I am proud to be an American. I can't - I won't - forget the ones who gave me that right. Land of the free, home of the brave. The valiant warriors who freely went, willingly gave and bravely shed their blood for our freedom, my freedom.

My thoughts turn to my Grandpa Dunbar and the stories he would tell of his and Grandma's time serving in World War II. He would watch D-Day specials on TV looking for a glimpse of his brother who had been lost at Normandy. He was a pilot, that much I knew. I had heard the stores but am ashamed to say I didn't pay better attention. We weren't a military family beyond their service but I am proud to be an American and have a deep respect for those who answer the call to serve, defend and protect. My right to write this blog was given by the blood, sweat and sacrifice of soldiers and patriots who have fought for these and other freedoms.

It can be a time of confusion. A presidential election year, battles over gender in the bathroom, Supreme Court decisions that have altered our way of thinking, living and believing. And for these freedoms these men and women continue to fight. Whether they believe in each and every one of the decisions being made, they still believe in the good of our nation, in the people who make up this country. The speaker yesterday said it best, explaining these service men and women sign a blank check, their oath, that their call to duty can be cashed in at any time, to any place, for any length of time. I don't know if I could be as selfless. You not only forfeited your right to yourself, you were willing to give everything for people you've never met. For me. So today I stop and say thanks because each and everyday you've never stopped considering us worth it.

Monday, May 23, 2016

It's Monday

It's Monday! It's the last full week of school. Just 8 days left and 3 of those are early dismissals plus field day, end of the year assemblies and celebrations... It's an exciting time of year and summer break is at the forefront of everyone's minds. I even dressed Violet in her brand new Minnie Mouse outfit in anticipation of just 31 days until our Florida vacation. I AM HAPPY!!!!!!!!!!!!!

But it's Monday. Did I mention that? It's like the law of gravity or e=mc2. It seems when God created the world and set everything into motion that He must have divinely planned for Monday's to be the test of what we learned on Sunday. Am I right?! 

I woke up early. I woke up happy and refreshed. The baby slept through the night which meant I slept through the night. The coffee was preset and it would be ready by the time my feet hit the floor. That's enough reason to get me bounding out of bed. I'm now sitting here at high noon wondering what happened to the past 6 hours.

Picture the scene: My son's bed is unmade because in my effort to teach him responsibility he lacked the follow through this morning. His clothes are laying in the floor of the living room where he got dressed because, "There's not a dirty clothes basket down here so I can't put them away." In the rush of the morning I chose not to argue about this one but when I came back from the morning drop off, the clothes were missing. Had he in fact put them in the dirty clothes basket? The mystery would only later be solved... There's a pile of clothes, folded, alongside a stack of hangers covering our bed. I'm closet purging and only got mid-project before the baby ended her nap abruptly. For three solid hours I've been holding, bouncing, walking, rocking, nursing and soothing a very fussy baby. We'll chalk this up to what appears to be teething but bless her heart, she just won't let me put her down. So the clothes remain covering the bed but they have to go somewhere so we have a place to sleep tonight. I made my way downstairs to fix some lunch when I saw all the couch pillows knocked to the ground. It must be a game for the dog because he does it each and every day, several times a day, and always when I'm not looking. Oh, by the way, mystery now solved. I caught a glimpse of something red in the middle of the green grass. Yes, that would be my son's pajamas now strewn across the yard. Even as I was typing the fur baby came barreling in the house covered in black muck. We live in Virginia where the dirt is red so I don't even know where he's been. I admit I lost sight of him and forgot he was even outside given the state of the crying and gnashing of gums from the baby inside.

As I was making my lunch, I caught a glimpse of the coffee mug with a nearly full cup of now very cold and old coffee. I never got to finish it let alone savor it. I was so anticipating that java. it's just like the three unfinished projects I've started today while bouncing a baby and entertaining her with Mickey Mouse Clubhouse (gasp!). Don't judge me. This is my Monday, my mess, my fussy baby and my blog. The thing about is I'm not even upset. This is real life. I had high hopes for today. I wanted to purge my entire closet, set things up to give away and sell. I planned to do the same to Violet's clothes and go through each of her drawers to remove the things that no longer fit. Yes, once again this little stinker has decided to grow and yet again I'm forced with the daunting task of clothes-swap. I have a full to-do list of work-related projects that I've only begun to look at, let alone tackle. And of course I had a new recipe I wanted to try for a home cooked meal. But here I sit, holding my now sleeping baby, perfecting the art of the one-handed typing and enjoying my little piece of peace in this present moment. 

Newsflash: I'm not going to be any less of a mom, wife or human if a bed goes unmade or clothes don't get put away. We won't be any less fed with takeout versus cuisine I make from scratch. This is my normal today and I'm finding the joy in it. I don't get to hold my baby while she's sleeping very much these days so I'm soaking in these snuggles. I don't usually have the time to sit and write so I'm relishing that as well. The radio and TV are off. There's a lawn mower in the distance and the chirp of birds outside but other than that, there's quiet. It's not usually quiet or calm in our house so I'm taking it all in and taking it all to heart. It's Monday. It could seem like just an ordinary day, one filled with problems and mishaps. But the sun came out and the sky is blue. I'm alive and breathing and determined to enjoy this day regardless of how many unfinished projects I start, or good intentions I don't fulfill. 

So have a good day. Better yet, make it a GREAT day. It is indeed up to you and what you choose for yourself and this day. 

Friday, May 6, 2016

Blessed Be His Name

It's coming up on Mother's Day. It used to be one of the most dreaded holidays I could ever experience. Now it's one of my favorites. Mother's Day weekend always falls around my son's birthday and it stands as an annual reminder of God's richest blessings and answers to prayer.

I've spent some time this morning making my list:
- Cupcakes for Eli's Birthday
- Card for Mother's Day
- Wrap gifts

Just a few of the preparations in a weekend full of party plans. You know how seriously I take celebrating and this is certainly a weekend that deserves celebration. But not just birthday parties and mother's day plans. No, this calls for a full and complete honoring of the faithfulness of God. The sentiment attached to these memorable days is fiercely tied to remembrance and gratitude woven together with tenderness. This is my proclamation that God is faithful, so faithful.

Sunday morning we will sing the familiar worship song "Blessed Be Your Name." It holds significant meaning for me because it was the same song I stood to sing more than 8 years ago after learning a birthmother had not chosen me. Oh how I prayed. PRAYED. I called out, cried out, claiming the baby boy she was carrying by name. I asked God to do this - I knew that He could - and I believed in faith that He would. She seemed so genuine in the interview and I thought we had made a connection. I was certain, just sure, she felt it too and somehow I sensed God answering this prayer. But I was wrong. I was not the mother she would choose for her baby boy and one cold day in February I would learn he was placed with another family. Just days later I would stand in church and sing the words through tears, "You give and take away, my heart will choose to say, Lord, Blessed be Your name."

I had to come face-to-face that day with the question of whether or not I would still choose to bless Him despite the emptiness my heart was facing. This Sunday I can stand and sing with full assurance of how much I not only believe it, but want to proclaim this truth:

Blessed be Your Name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there's pain in the offering
Blessed be Your Name

You may still hold your doubts, it's easy for me to bless His name after receiving His blessings. But lest I need to offer clarification...I've experienced the promised land of plenty but oh how I have also wandered through the desert. It makes me all the more aware of how blessed I am. How one can truly offer praise through the pain, how sacrifice and suffering can bring about perseverance and gratitude. My road to motherhood alone brought me through infertility, failed adoption placements, successful adoption, miscarriage and a successful pregnancy. It's why there's so much meaning to this celebration-filled weekend. It's the reminder of the hope we have in Christ. Even when life is difficult, complicated, painful and downright broken, I can hold onto a good, loving and faithful God who carried me through every tear-filled painful step that led me to where I am today. And this is only my journey to motherhood! I won't even use this blog space to write about the daily trials through motherhood and parenting, let alone life, love and other experiences.

There may be pain in your offering but He turns our mourning into dancing. He gives and takes away but He never leaves us. Whether you're dreading this weekend or preparing your own heartfelt celebrations, I pray you'll know His goodness and hope. I pray, if nothing else, you can celebrate His faithfulness in your life with confidence that He is working it all out for your good. You may not be able to see it yet. Eight years later I'm still discovering and being reminding of this truth. Through every blessing He's poured out, and yes even in the emptiness and darkness, my heart will choose to bless His name.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Abundance

...when it gets dark, and things look a bit hopeless, Lord, 
You lift our chins to look up at the stars, 
and whisper that no matter what's happened, what feels like burned up ashes today, You are redeeming it, You will redeem it, redemption will rise. 
Redemption is the papery ash that’s falling, 
turning, and uplifting, as sparks of pure glory...a bit like stars in the middle of the dark...
Ashes are never the last line of any of God stories.
Abundance is. - Ann Voscamp


Today marks an anniversary that's difficult to reflect upon. Five years ago fire destroyed the house I had once called home. What most people didn't realize at the time was my son and I had already been living out of the home for more than a year. It was one of the lowest points I can recall, questioning what was next, feeling helpless and hopeless and out of control of the pieces of a shattered life that I couldn't figure put back together. All of that was prior to the fire. 

Nothing prepares you for a tragedy like this. But nothing comes close to comparing the ways God reveals Himself in such times. I can look back at the days surrounding this event and recognize the abundant blessings God provided, the ways He miraculously allowed me to sense His presence, how He used hundreds of people to reach out and meet needs and provide in overwhelming abundance. 

I've seen the paper ash of redemption fall and turn into sparks of pure glory. I've witnessed the blazing fire of destruction reveal the refinement of tears into pure joy. What abundance looks like to me is an overwhelming supply of redemption freely given in the midst of heartache, tragedy and loss. It defines you. These are the places we build altars and cry out to God in praise and thanksgiving because He is faithful no matter what. 

What I need you to hear is that house fire was a turning point but more importantly it was a defining point. It was a moment I can claim in full assurance of faith that God, my God, is bigger, stronger, and victorious over whatever we may face. I stand here before you to proclaim His goodness, grace and mercy, knowing that when you're staring down the face of tragedy, crisis, uncertainty and pain, God is altogether working it out for your good. When it looks and feels absolutely hopeless, no matter what He is redeeming it. Ashes are not the end of my story. Abundance is.