He fills my tank.

I have approximately 23,540 things to do right now, seeing that it’s back to school! Orientation is soon, and I’m sitting amongst seating charts and IEPs – yet I had the sudden urge to write. I was humming along with a praise song on my Spotify playlist currently playing from my Smartboard speakers and a line in this less-familiar song talked about the earth trying to fill the void we have within us that only Jesus can.

Though the earth may try, to satisfy my heart/ 
Though the earth may try, to tell me you’re not faithful/ 
Though the earth may try, to blind me from your goodness/ 
You shine through/

You’re the only one who
Fills me up.

This school year is different. I’m going back to an old position and doing mostly what I’ve done in the past, but I am doing some new things. In addition to a new baby and a new adoption and having my own middle schooler, this new school year brings both excitement and challenge. I have newish colleagues, newish procedures/schedules, though there is an appealing feeling of freshness to the year. I have a good feeling about the year. I’m optimistic it will be a great one. Yet, already, I have encountered people/situations that I feel already zapping my emotional energy. You know what I’m talking about? I call those people leeches. They can suck your patience dry. While singing that song, I felt the Holy Spirit tell me that no one will fill up my tank the way He can. And I found myself sitting at my desk, piled high (well not really – I am a neat freak – so piled high means like two sheets) with a long list of things to finish, I am sitting here in worship.

I have blogged often about the angst I feel in August. All the newness and stress of adjusting to a new situation and a new schedule has always made me feel anxious and frustrated. This year, I am dwelling in that feeling of freshness and choosing to see the newness as a clean slate after a long, difficult year. And those people who leech out my strength, zap my patience, and wear me out? They’re everywhere. I mean, it doesn’t matter where you work, what you do, or who you are, you will always encounter those people. But, because of who He is and what He has done, He will fill me up with the strength to deal with whatever may come.

On days when I am tired, feeling unsatisfied with work, with life, with people… He will supply me.

On days when I feel let down, disappointed, frustrated, that others are unfaithful… He will remind me that He’s faithful.

On days when I can’t see through all the ick, He will show me His goodness.

When my tank is empty, He promises to fill me up

Open adoption is opening your heart.

Open AdoptionOpen adoption is a concept that is highly misunderstood. Often even the mention of openness in adoption is met with uncomfortable looks, from everyone from prospective adoptive parents to friends at church to strangers in the grocery store. That discomfort is born from fear. And let me tell you, open adoption is nothing to fear – fear of confusing roles, co-parenting, influence, jealousy. Friend, nothing could be further from reality. Open adoption is beautiful.

When my husband and I first discussed adopting, we were terribly young and naive and thought we’d want a closed adoption someday, since, you know, it’d be so much better and easier. How wrong I was! I see that now, with ten years of marriage and three adoptions under my belt.

Our first adoption forced me to reckon with my fear of open adoption, because there was no way our adoption could be closed. We adopted our daughter Makinzy when she was seven. It was a private adoption, done without an agency, brought together by our church families. It was essential that Mak have parents, but at seven years old, it was also essential she maintain some sort of connection to the birth family who raised her. At seven, closing off all semblance of her family, of her identity, would have crushed her. Who would ask a seven year old to forget everything she’s known and loved? How is that better and easier? So we navigated uncharted waters, and we established norms and traditions that included her biological family when appropriate and possible. It wasn’t always easy, but we found the more receptive and open our arms were, the better things worked. We maintained authority as her parents, but invited her birth family along for the ride – welcoming them to birthday parties, holiday events, church and school celebrations, and games. We set boundaries on what to buy for her, what to give her, and what to say to her. We had to say no sometimes. It involved tough conversations that had to happen, but it has resulted in a solid relationship with them and now, she’s a thriving teenager with a firm identity. Her family is our family.

Our second adoption was through a Christian agency, and we entered into the program with more experience than many of the prospective adoptive parents around us. While many were still needing to hear presentation after presentation on the importance of openness, we had lived it already and we were all in for an open adoption, which nowadays, is the norm. For the most part, gone, thankfully, are the days of hiding it, with shocked older kids finding out they’re adopted, with a long lost family out there somewhere to be found. With our second adoption, we were able to met our birthparents ahead of time, text them, and develop a relationship. My mom and the birth grandmother grew close on a way only grandmas understand. Our birth mom even let me help coach her through labor, and I got to be the first face my daughter saw as she entered the world. What a gift, one I’d never received without the miracle of open adoption. When our second daughter passed away (she was born with a complex congenital heart defect that ultimately ended her precious life), no one knew my broken heart like the Mama who lost her first.

Our third adoption, our son’s, is obviously open too. His birth family was slower to embrace openness, but we’ve followed their lead. As they’ve been ready, we’ve started forming a relationship through occasional visits, invitations to church, and lots of texting. We don’t know each other well yet, but oh my, how much love we already share. We share his life, we share love for him, and we are family.

I’m sure there will be tough conversations and awkward seasons and less-than-perfect situations come along. There are boundaries to set, rules to make, understandings to be reached. There’s no avoiding some hurt, because adoption doesn’t happen without first some kind of loss and brokenness. But the reason openness is so important is that it helps open the wounds to healing. Birth families just want to know the child they gave life to is happy and loved. They relish that confirmation. Adoptive children deserve to know their roots, the good and bad. Even when a child is adopted from a hard place, “protecting” them by hiding, dismissing, or diminishing the birth family disvalues their identity, their history, and their story.

Openness in adoption should not be feared, despite how scary it may seem. It does involves sacrificing what feels emotionally safe for what is feels emotionally dangerous, yet it is almost always best. It’s not easy, but being a parent means doing the hard things for the good of your kids, and it’s no different for adoptive moms and dads. Open adoption needs no longer be something we find uncomfortable, but something we celebrate. It’s hard, it’s beautiful, and it’s worth it.

Life is too short for mediocre coffee.

My husband Jake and I take a lot of flack from our close friends and family about our coffee habit. See, we aren’t just coffee drinkers, we are legitimate coffee aficionados. We’re borderline obsessive. We were always coffee drinkers, but our love affair with it really got started back when Jake went on a mission trip to Honduras with our church. We partnered with a local church in the city to help build a well to make water accessible for people in a remote mountain village. Up in the mountains, Jake was able to see coffee grown, picked, and even roasted in the homes there in the village. He brought back such delicious coffee that sticking it in a Mr. Coffee pot seemed offensive. So, we got a Hario burr mill hand grinder and standard French press and started learning the fundamentals of good coffee. Before long, we expanded to using an Aeropress, Chemex, and even got a nice home espresso machine, reading about brew theory, flavor profiles, and the coffee industry in our free time. See, told ya. We sailed way beyond being just coffee lovers. Now we buy most of our coffee from craft roasters and prefer coffees grown in very specific parts of the world.

 

I tell you all this because a while back, discussing my coffee love with someone led me to make a pretty profound realization. I had turned down coffee at an event, prompting someone to step back, aghast that I, the coffee queen herself, denied a cup of joe. But see, it was Maxwell House. Now that my taste buds have been accustomed to the flavors and complexities of unique, single-origin beans with distinctive profiles, commodity coffee just tastes a bit like a watery leftover soup. Anyways, I made the comment that life was too short to drink bad coffee.

 

I had a bit of a reckoning, though, when I realized how much this sentiment applied to other areas of my life. Life is too short to skimp on anything, really. It’s too short to waste the day away at a job you hate. It’s too short to shortchange relationships and friendships, not giving them the time, care, and attention they need. It’s too short not to invest in our kids. It’s too short not to invest in ourselves.

 

My attitude about coffee has started to become my attitude about so many things lately.

I am saying no to the mundane, unfulfilling, or unimportant. That means, sometimes, things are harder.

 

Is it harder to grind your own beans at home, every day? Well, yeah.

Is it harder to order all your coffee from specialty roasters? Yeah. It’s certainly less convenient than picking them up a Walmart.

Is it more expensive? Yep.

 

But is it worth it? Heck yes. Just taste an organic, sun-dried Ethiopian from Gedeb or Yirgacheffe and you’ll get it. The best stuff in life doesn’t come easy, yet, as you probably know, it’s so very, very worth it.

 

Adoption is like this. The emotional and financial costs are so high, yet it is so, so worth it.

Teaching is sooo much like this. Jake is beginning his Ed.D program, and I am about to start working towards NBCT. It’s hard, expensive, and worth it.

 

It applies to ministry. To marriage. To education. To health and wellness.
So much follows this coffee analogy! We should not be content with the mediocre, the easy way, just good enough.

 

See, anything short of difficult is a sell-out. It’s missing out. It’s cheating yourself.  In our family, we have a saying that we do hard things. Taking the harder road is almost always going to result in a better view at a higher destination, though.  A more detailed brewing method is going to produce a cleaner, tastier cup, and that, friends, is worth the extra work put into it. Your reward is far better than the extra work it costs. Life is just too short for bad coffee.

 

And she’s off.

As I mentioned. I might have overbooked Mak this summer.

I’m not sure if it was my attempt at”keeping up with the Joneses” and having her entertained all summer or my desire to distract her from her heartache (grief is reallllly big in an empty house) or if it was to keep us from strangling one another (I mean, she is thirteen….), but for whatever reason, I think I packed her summer too full.

I feel like I’ve had so little time with Mak this summer.

First off, she has three weeks of volleyball camp, which has put us in dire straits multiple days when it comes to traveling. I was spending about four hours in my car a day taxi-ing her around to Charlotte and back at one point.

She went off to youth camp all the way in Nashville, which might be the furthest she’s ever been away from us. At first, she called three times the first day from a borrowed phone. We didn’t let her take hers because a) it could have been lost/stolen/broke easily and b) all kids, even good ones, are capable of doing horribly stupid and dangerous things with cell phones when given opportunity… and the decrease in structure and supervision that comes from being away from parents away from home was just too risky.  Each time she called, though, I realized how much I wanted her home, safe.

She’s got cheer camp coming up and another round of volleyball, and she just had VBS at her Nana’s church this weekend. She wanted to stay an extra night and I said no just because I missed her.

At 13, there’s this strange struggle in me to want to keep her at home or with me at all times as if I am holding on to precious time, and/or trying to keep her protected from any and all hurts. Then she’s home for five minutes and the eye-rolling and attitude comes out and I am ready to send her on to the next activity just to keep myself from losing my ever-living mind.

Some days all she wants to do is eat junk, watch videos or Netflix, and text. She loafs about from couch to couch. Or she wants to go to this friend’s house or have that friend spend the night. She’s angsty, moody, and bored. Whine, complain, argue.

But then other days, she wants to do mani-pedis at home with me. She wants to help me go get groceries. She wants to cook with me. Something – perhaps the little girl she used to be – bubbles out of her and I can see my little girl, full of spunk and love, underneath all the teenage blech.

I’ve read over and over recently about how we get “18 summers” with our kids. I’ve been meaning to speak out against that. I missed out on the first 7 of hers. So I got 11. And this summer is slipping through my fingers fast. But the truth is, you don’t get 18. You get as many as you can – and you enjoy them and savor them even when your kids reach adulthood. I’m watching her transform. And I have to constantly remind myself that the clock is a stopwatch, not an hourglass.

While her nonstop schedule this summer might have put me in a lurch in time spent in the car, money, and leave me missing her, I do think it’s an important transition – to let her have this season of busyness as she transforms from a child to a young lady. When her attitude flares, I can remind myself that she’ll be off in just a few days and I’ll get a reprieve, and when she returns, I can rejoice and take in the cuddles and love and remember she’s still my same sweet daughter, and always will be.

And then there were 4. Or 5. Or 9. Whatever the number, we just added one more…

Back in mid-June, Jake and I took an anniversary trip up to the mountains and spent the week kayaking and paddleboarding on the lake, just the two of us. Makinzy was busy with the first of three weeks of volleyball camps this summer, and he and I stole away to just relax. I gave blogging a short break, and then jumped into a little home remodel project when we got back. I had big plans to blog about it all – the importance of taking hubby/wifey get-aways, the awesome kitchen update – all the good stuff.

But then life.

Life with us never stays still long.

Mak was away at youth camp (notice a theme? I might have over-booked her this summer…) and Jake and I were asked to speak at an adoption event for our agency. Right afterwards, while we were mingling and meeting other prospective adoptive parents, our social worker asked to speak with us, accompanied by a pregnancy counselor. We knew exactly what was going on – something big. We found a private area, and they gave us the news that we were matched with a birthfamily – and baby boy was recently born and they wanted us to name him. We were given some info on his family and their story (none of which I can nor want to share here – out of privacy, of course… they are incredible people) and they showed us his beautiful picture. Instant love. One look at his photo, we knew he was ours.  We named him Finley. They had respectfully and kindly let us be the ones to name him. Then we learned we had to keep it a secret for a little while! So, we set into motion our plans! Jake’s sister was the first we told – in order to enlist her help in making a reveal happen. We had already planned a first birthday cookout in memory of Mira and we were going to have it that weekend. Makinzy was still away with the youth, so I made a onesie cake (blue cake on the inside) and covered it in cream cheese icing. I outlined it to show that it was, in fact, a onesie and wrote Guess what?! on the top. When she came home, we surprised her and she sobbed to most joyous tears, and then she cut it open and saw it was blue for a baby boy. We managed to get her to keep the secret too, and on the day of Mira’s first birthday cookout, after we had cake and collected “presents” – gift cards for heart families at the hospital in the cardiac ICU – we had Jake’s sister “discover” a large delivery box. She brought it around for us to see. Jake is notorious for his unique Amazon purchases (partly because he’s Jake, partly because he’s an elementary principal – unicycles and giant t-rex costumes for example), so he calls everyone over to see what cool thing has just been delivered. We open up the box (at which point suspicions are raised and our friends and folks are thinking – is this what I think it is?!) and out pop blue balloons, and in the bottom of the box was a picture of Baby Fin with a card for his grandparents saying Will you be my Granny and Pawpaw? and Will you be my Nana and Poppop? signed from him. It was so emotional. Daddy sobbed, Jeanette cried, Ben jumped up and down, and Mama squealed then yelled at me because she just knew I had a secret. It was perfect. We learned about him on Friday, told our close friends and family on Sunday at the cookout, and then we waited and waited for the thumbs up from our agency that some important paperwork was complete. Then we were able to pick him up Wednesday afternoon. We posted the videos taken of us telling Mak and opening the box at the cookout late Tuesday. Since then, we’ve been adjusting to life as a family of 4 again, and getting used to the newborn feeding/sleeping schedule, plus, we have been working on slowly and tenderly building a relationship with some of his incredible birthfamily.

Needless to say, I haven’t blogged much for very sweet reasons.

There are so many emotions to tease through- – –

  • the unexpected wave of saddness a new baby brings  – it seemed to magnify the loss of Mira… a feeling I didn’t anticipate
  • the sweetness of a boy – as well as the challenges
  • the importance of and love involved in open adoption

We are overjoyed to have Finley… I couldn’t be more grateful for God’s provision for him and for His unending love for us.

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! – 1 John 1:3

 

Sorrow and Celebration.

I’ve been dreading writing about today.

I’ve dreaded talking about today.

I’ve dreaded just living today.

She would have been one year old today. A whole year old.

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I was running through the halls, rushing to the delivery room, a panicked phone call that labor was starting… it was a year ago, a little after ten the night of June 19. I’d hold the hand of a brave sixteen-year-old girl and coach her through four hours of labor. I literally pushed with her, holding her. I’d scrubbed up for what we thought would be an emergency c-section, but moments before we were to go, Mira was born. It was just after 2 AM. I nearly caught her. She opened her eyes and saw me. Mira impacted so many lives. I had no idea what was to come. After snapping a few pics, loving on our birth-mom and getting her situated for the night, and of course, seeing Mira off to the NICU to be stabilized, it was 3 AM, and all the adrenaline pumping stopped and I was ready to collapse. The L&D floor wasn’t super adoption-friendly. I’d received disapproving glares from a few nurses, seemed in the way to them. We got no room that night, like we were told we would. We weren’t even allowed to have a blanket. We were just “visitors,” they said. Whatever. I was overwhelmed with joy and exhaustion, and I slept on the hard, cool wood floor of the 7th floor waiting room with no blanket or pillow. Just my body laid out on the floor. I slept until 8 AM. Her birth was much like her life, miraculous, difficult, complicated, glorious. I am still overwhelmed with emotion.

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I’ve been dreading this day for months, but I can’t help but see that everything around me testifies that God is still good, still sovereign, and still for us, even when I get choked by the darkness of grief. He is still glorious, even in a world of brokenness.

I have to remember that today is a day to celebrate – –

To celebrate that she lived surrounded by love for five beautiful months.

To celebrate that her birth-mom chose life.

To celebrate open adoption, and bonds that we will forever share.

To celebrate the miracle that of all people in the world, God saw fit to make me her mama.

To celebrate her impact on so many – in raising awareness for congenital heart defects, in teaching people about obedience, in bringing Glory to God.

Happy first birthday in heaven, sweet girl. I’m celebrating you.

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A decade of golden bands.

Jake and I have been together for half of my life. I have almost reached the point, where my memories of life before him don’t really exist. Well, I have childhood memories, of course, but comparatively, I have very few of life before him.  I was 15 years old when he asked me to be his girlfriend. We were married on June 14, exactly five years after our very first date. This month marks our 10 year anniversary. I often think that in our 10 years, we have been through more, climbed over steeper mountains, and overcame more obstacles the most marriages face in 50 years. I’m pretty stinkin’ proud of the fact that we have not only made it through these struggles, but we’ve thrived and grown.

I have noticed as the years tick in our marriage that more and more friends and family are age are starting to get divorced. Don’t read that as judgy – it’s just sad and it’s just true. No matter how it happens, it is always sad when a marriage ends. In fact, just the other day I was scrolling through Facebook and a friend and that was she was newly engaged. It occurred to me that I thought she was already married, and sure enough, in the midst of our grief and losing Mira she had separated from her husband. I felt a bit self-centered, that perhaps in my own sadness I had not noticed her going through her own loss. While I was excited for her new chapter in life, deep down, I was heartbroken for her for what she had gone through. I am grateful for redemption and renewal and that there was happiness to be found after such darkness. I was reminded once again how quickly and quietly cracks in marriages can begin to break apart the foundation of relationships that are supposed to last a lifetime. It made me that much more thankful that Jake and I l have survived together through the types of losses and hurts that can often crumble a marriage. I started thinking about what makes us different. I mean, look at divorce rates and then look at the number of weddings you attend… it is sadly going to happen to someone. How do you prevent it from being you? Why not us, instead of them? Lord knows we’ve been through the fire. We were dating and engaged so very young. The very thought of my own daughter getting engaged at 17 horrifies me. Life has thrown us a lot of strife, and it is all too easy to see how even in Christian marriages, the strife breaks marriages apart.

I started making a list of things that have made our marriage so sweet over the last decade. I so look forward to the day when I can say we’ve been married two decades! Adding years to our marriage is one of the most exciting parts of growing old to me. I am by no means a marriage expert at this point in my life, but I do have a sense of accomplishment that our love has flourished in more difficulty and trauma than many marriages endure.

What’s made us successful so far? These are our top five strategies:

 

  1. Active Membership in Church

Going to church regularly has been a key strategy in the longevity of our marriage, I believe it will be for all of our lives. Going to church doesn’t necessarily mean that your marriage will last, nor do I think Church automatically saves a marriage that is struggling, but I do think it keeps you focused on the important things. It provides consistency, accountability, and community. I remember searching every Sunday for 9 straight months looking for the right church. I am so glad we didn’t give up the search and fall out of regular attendance.

  1. Focusing on Effective Communication

Communication is also key. And Jake and I both tend to nerd out about being good, effective communicators. When we were teens, we used to listen to this CD set when we would drive around in Jake’s old Dodge. It was by Chip Ingram from Focus on the Family, and it talked about fighting fair in marriage. Yes, we were nerdy then too. We internalized so much from those CDs. One thing, in particular, is saying statements with I feel rather than You always. By doing this, we can share how things make us feel. It is so much easier to listen to someone who is honestly telling you what they feel than it is to hear offensive generalizations about yourself. It trained us to speak from the heart without being accusational, and it often means we can clarify intentions and fix problems at the root.

3. Being a Helpmate

Infertility, miscarriage, and the loss of a child all have proven to have negative impacts on marriage. Grieving differently and at different paces can cause huge chasms between husbands and wives, and here we have endured all three. The financial strain of treatments and the costs and complexity of adoption are stressful too. Yet, these things have managed to bring us to one another. We are careful to be mindful and watchful of those telltale signs that the other is struggling. We try to fill the valleys and help one another, even in while we trudge through our own valley. Christ loved His Bride enough to die for her, and the Bride honors and obeys and dies to self. We put one another before ourselves, even when it is the hardest. We strive not only to help each other emotionally, but we seek to out serve one another when it comes to household chores and daily tasks. He packs my lunch every single day, and I fold his laundry. It works well.

  1. Setting Personal Rules and Guardrails

We attained this wisdom through close observation of the world around us, and a little trial and error. This is definitely not an area of perfection, but something we’ve made huge growth in. Looking back, you can see potentially stupid mistakes in a relationship. Often, it’s hard to see those mistakes at the moment. For that reason, Jake and I have some personal rules we’ve set as guardrails to keep us from making wrong turns before there’s ever even an opportunity. First of all, we don’t ride in the car or go somewhere alone with a person of the opposite sex, unless there is prior communication and substantial reason.  Also, we never speak poorly about one another front of other people. Ever. We don’t engage in husband-bashing or wife-whining, and we take our concerns about one another to one another in private. Keeping a united front and close lock and key on our relationship helps keep out the wolves.

  1. Seeking Wisdom through Prayer

Lastly, we pray for one another. As teachers, we’re both pretty reflective, analytical individuals, and so we are constantly picking apart the dynamics of our relationship, seeking wisdom from God in how to keep our marriage thriving. We pray for guidance, forgiveness, strength, and safety, and that we are able to stay closely aligned to His will for us, and we lay in bed at night, regularly sharing what God has laid on our heart.

I am incredibly blessed that God chose to bless me abundantly in the department of marriage. He picked His best, the cream of the crop, and set him aside for me. Reaching this milestone serves as a reminder to me to keep focused on the things we’ve done to help keep our marriage so happy, and also to keep my eyes open for those who may be struggling and keep them in fervent prayer.

Losing Mira, I think, showed us more than anything, that each and every moment together is a gift. It’s funny how I remember conversations during our premarital counseling sessions, saying the right answers to the questions, things like serving one another in love and praying for one another, yet I had no idea how devastatingly, mind-bogglingly true those answers are. The Bible says fire refines gold. I am grateful for the fires of our marriage, and that though even the hottest, most painful flames our marriage, like the gold in our wedding bands, continues to shine.

 

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(Funny afterthought… we recently switched our gold bands to these silicone bands we got on Amazon… Because I might have broke my ring three times already… Life’s hard, ya know.)