Teach Us to Number Our Days

Teach us to number our days, Moses writes.

Those words echo in my heart as I’ve been so overwhelmed by this mix of emotions that motherhood brings. There are days when it is so hard that I have to give myself a pep talk just to get out of bed, let alone smile as I walk out of my bedroom door to face the day. There are nights when I go to bed so completely mentally and emotionally drained that I can’t articulate a thought before I am asleep. There are moments throughout the day when I’m having to discipline a behavior – the same behavior that I thought we had just corrected five minutes ago – when I just wish away the clock.

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Then, then, there are the moments that make me want time to freeze. Ephrem giggling at something that I’ve done, something so ridiculously silly that I would never do in front of my friends. Or watching him accomplish something and seeing the pride light up his little (no longer a toddler) face. This little boy is funny, and sweet, and becoming his own person. How did that happen? Each day I see him more and more as his own person. I see our fingerprints in his personality, for sure, but he is becoming his own version of Ephrem. I can only imagine that continues as he grows. I have these flashbacks of new parenthood with this little toddling boy and I realize that that little toddler is a shadow only found in photos.

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My favorite moment of the day with Ainsley is when she first wakes up. She smiles ear-to-ear as I get her out of the crib. And then I get to hear Ephrem say excitedly, “Ainsley is AWAKE! Ainsley, are you ready to play pat-a-cake with me?” And she smiles even bigger for her brother. I could nestle down and live in that moment forever. She’s giggling. She rolls over and reaches for and can hold onto toys now. And most of all, she loves her silly brother. In just five short months, she has started to emerge with a little personality that was hidden inside of her little newborn self.

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The parenthood equivalent of Moses’ words is the saying, “The days are long but the years are short.”

I can see how quickly time has already gone by with these two little loves of mine. There are exhausting, difficult, did-I-really-lose-my-patience-again moments. In fact, I’ve never experienced exhaustion quite like parenthood. But each of those moments is countered with a beautiful moment where I can’t imagine being anywhere else.

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So, I pray that I learn to number my days so I can present a heart of wisdom. I don’t think that I will always remember not to wish the hard minutes (or hours as it may be some days) away. But I pray that I wish  away fewer moments and embrace those moments because they make the other moments glow even more.

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Dear Ephrem (February 2014)

Hey Sweet Boy –

One thing that I’ve learned as a parent is how quickly the year goes by. I meant to capture all of the things you can do or love around your second birthday, and well, it flew by without me doing it! I’m so sorry, Bubs.

But you’re growing and changing so fast that I have to capture things as they happen. Otherwise, I’ll forget. And someday you’ll ask me what you liked to eat or do as a toddler and I’ll have to scrounge the back of my useless brain to try to remember.

So here’s you at 2.5 years old. You are an incredible kid. You smile almost all the time. You just started to do this fake laugh, which makes you really laugh and that makes mommy laugh with you. You love to be chased and tickled (“Mommy get you?” you say). You sing all the time – mostly Veggie Tales songs, but sometimes other songs. You love shapes – octagons and circles tend to be your favorite (and are the first to disappear from your shape puzzles). You love to pretend that your green oval is Larry the Cucumber and your wrist band is Bob the Tomato. You just started like to Thomas the Tank Engine (which mommy finds boring but endures because you do love it). You like the library, but only tolerate Story Time with Ms. Brenda. You wake up waaaaay too early some days, but you’re usually singing so it’s adorable, even before 6am. You would eat pizza or chicken “nugs” [nuggets] for every meal if we would let you. You love to run and are pretty fast! You give the best hugs and kisses a mommy could ever hope for.

Sweet Boy, you’re the kiddo I never knew I’d be lucky enough to call my son. I love you always.

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PS – Stop growing up so fast! Mommy doesn’t feel like she can keep up!

 

The fight

Being pregnant has made me think a lot about the process to bring Ephrem home. I’m  not sure why. I guess because in the moment, I didn’t appreciate all that I learned through that process. Having not gone through physical labor, I can say that the adoption was one of the hardest things I’ve done. I thought a lot about how emotionally tough the process to bring Ephrem home was, for so many reasons. Some days, you feel like every step is a fight, and sometimes you’re fighting something you didn’t expect.

Baby Shows Referral

I was fighting the (vocal) opinions of people who didn’t understand adoption as Plan A. They didn’t understand why we didn’t “try” to have our “own” kids first. They hadn’t seen what I saw in orphanages in East Africa, so this decision to adopt first without knowing whether we could have biological children was boggling to them. I mean, I understood. What we were doing wasn’t “normal.” It was a little a lot different.  But, still, their reaction discouraged me. While we were overwhelmed by support, these few challenging reactions hurt because it felt so personal.

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We had to fight through the paperwork and the legal process. Our process was extremely and unusually fast, but it’s still hard to endure. You have a mountain of paperwork to complete and collect. You have to track down every document that says you’re you. You spend a lot of time in “hurry up and wait” mode. After the dossier is complete, very little is in your control or on your timeline. Because we got Ephrem’s referral so early in the process, it felt like he was waiting on us and there was relatively little I could do to speed up the process. I just had to pray and wait. Pray and wait. Pray and wait. And because we adopted internationally, we didn’t know a lot of what was going on. I still remember the day in January (right off the plane from a visit to Africa) where I got the email that we had passed court in his country. I didn’t even know that we were at the court process!

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We had to fight through the fundraising. There are legal fees, agency fees, immigration fees (for international adoption), and (in our case) foster care costs. The overall cost of adoption sucks. It’s a huge barrier for most families (and why some families will never start an adoption). Overall, our adoption was tens of thousands of dollars to complete. We had $1,000 in savings when we started. We had to pray, hold yard sales, pray, apply for grants, pray, and depend on the generosity of our friends and families (and sometimes strangers) to make this possible. I think God redeems the cost to bring Himself glory, because, honestly, there was no way on our own we would have been able to raise the funds we needed.

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Like so many things in life, I didn’t understand the process at the time. I mean, in my head I could say it was part of making our family through adoption. But in my heart, as soon as I saw his photo, I just wanted him home. I wanted the obstacles to go away. I just wanted to hold this precious little boy and tell him that I was his mother and that I would love and protect him forever.

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What I didn’t realize was that the process was making the “love and protect forever” possible. The “fight” was making this child mine – so that when I said “I will love and protect you forever” I knew what that meant because I had been living it for a year before he came home. He didn’t grow in my belly like Baby Girl Shows. As I feel her growing, I think I take for granted that this child in my womb is mine. I couldn’t take Ephrem being my son for granted. I needed to fight for him because I needed to know what a parent would do for her child. I needed to fight for him because he and I needed to know that my unconditional love started before I saw his photo, when he was just a prayer in my heart. I needed to fight for him because he was the child who grew in my heart. I don’t ever want to take for granted what it took to make him our son.

So for those of you who are in the process, fight on. It will be hard. You will have moments when you don’t feel strong enough. You will have moments when you are discouraged. You will have moments when you ask why this couldn’t be easier. But the fight makes you a family. The fight is what grows this child in your heart.

What to say?

Sorry for the silence. Aside from trying to gain my bearings as I’ve transitioned out of my full-time job, I didn’t post anything because I wasn’t sure I would be able to keep this secret if I blogged:

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Baby Shows 2 due April (I’m 12 weeks in this photo)

Yup, we are having a biological child. I’m due April 19, which feels like it’ll be here before I know it. We found out in August and it was a hard secret to keep.

Obviously, everything feels different this time around. Instead of looking at a photo of child who is growing halfway around the world, I see my ever-growing stomach expanding. Instead of the paper chase and madly fundraising, I see doctors and can rely on health insurance. Instead of a child growing in my heart, I have a sonogram of the child being knitted in my womb. Instead of airplanes and travel to the most amazing continent, we will be driving to a hospital and meeting our new person.

The processes are different, but my prayer is still the same: That this child would grow in grace, love, and faith and know that God loves him/her very much and that I would be equipped to mother both of these children in the way that brings out the best that God has for them.

While the processes are different, both paths have been uniquely beautiful.

However, I can say that I love that God called us to adoption first. I grew significantly in my faith during that process. I learned so much about God’s faithfulness to us. Although the learning curve on parenting a child who has already experienced so much has been high, I am grateful for the opportunity to be Ephrem’s mommy. From the moment I saw his first photo, I saw my son and was determined to do anything to protect him. It made me realize beyond a shadow of a doubt that love makes a family, not DNA. 

Ephrem & Mommy

That’s a lesson that I don’t take for granted. I remember when we first came home and Ephrem was so scared, so insecure. And we were clueless. We have had to learn to be a family. He has learned to trust us. We have learned how to parent in a way that best suits him. We learned to love first and laugh deeply. We learned that love is an action, more than it is that warm fuzzy feeling in our hearts or words from our mouths.

So this next child may not come home on an airplane, but this child will enter the world into a family that has learned to love well.

Wherever You Are

I’m celebrating because one year ago today I got to hold Ephrem for the very first  time. I had studied his little face for nine months and prayed so many wordless prayers for his health, safety, love, and care.

But this day, 365 days ago, I saw his beautiful little smile for the very first time.

This day, 365 days ago, a woman placed Ephrem in my arms in the airport parking lot in Africa, and he was physically a part of our family forever.

This day, 365 days ago, my heart got its second deepest wish: to be a mother.

Ephrem, you are one of the very best gifts I’ve ever received in this life and I cherish May 29 always because it’s the day that we met.

At a restaurant, the first full day together

“I wanted you more than you will ever know, so I sent my love to follow wherever you go…” – Nancy Tillman

Elisabeth Elliot on Waiting

I might have poured my heart out on the blog the other day. As I was cleaning up a stack of books, I came across one of my favorite books, A Path through Suffering by Elisabeth Elliot. In the book was a piece of paper. I’m not sure what this is from – other than a brief title of “Waiting – Elisabeth Elliot”- but it spoke to me with where I am.

Waiting requires patience – a willingness calmly to accept what we have or have not, where we are or where we wish we were, whomever we live or work with.

To want what we don’t have is impatience, for one thing, and it is to mistrust God. Is He not in complete control of all circumstances, events, and conditions? If some are beyond His control, He is not God.

A spirit of resistance cannot wait on God. I believe it is this spirit which is the reason for some of our greatest sufferings. Opposing the workings of the Lord in and through our “problems” only exacerbates them. It is here and now that we must win our victories or suffer defeats. Spiritual victories are won in the quiet acceptance of ordinary events, which are God’s “bright servants,” standing all around us.

Restlessness and impatience change nothing except our peace and joy. Peace does not dwell in outward things, but in the heart prepared to wait trustfully and quietly on Him who has all things safely in His hands. “Peace I leave with you; I do not give to you as the world gives” (John 14:27, NEB). What sort of peace has He to give us? A peace which was constant in the midst of ceaseless work (with few visible results), frequent interruptions, impatient demands, few physical comforts; a peace which was not destroyed by the arguments, the faithlessness, and hatred of the people. Jesus had perfect confidence in His Father, whose will He had come to accomplish. Nothing touched Him without His Father’s permission. Nothing touches me without my Father’s permission. Can I not then wait patiently? He will show the way.

If I am willing to be still in my Master’s hand, can I not then be still in everything? He’s got the whole world in His hands! Never mind whether things come from God Himself or from people — everything comes by His ordination or permission. If I mean to be obedient and submissive to the Lord because He is my Lord, I must not forget whatever He allows to happen becomes, for me, HI swill at that moment. Perhaps it is someone else’s sinful action, but if God allows it to affect me, He wills it for my learning. The need to wait is, for me, a form of chastening. God has to calm me down, make me shut up and look to Him for the outcome.

His message to me every day
Is wait, be still, trust, and obey.

“This, then, is of faith, that everything, the very least, or what seems to us great, every change of the seasons, everything which touches us in mind, body, or estate, whether brought about through this outward senseless nature, or by the will of man, good or bad, is overruled to each of us by the all-holy and all-loving will of God. Whatever befalls us, however it befalls us, we must receive as the will of God. If it befalls us through man’s negligence, or ill-will, or anger, still it is, in even the least circumstance, to us the will of God. For if the least thing could happen to us without God’s permission, it would be something out of God’s control. God’s providence or His love would not be what they are. Almighty God Himself would not be the same God; not the God whom we believe, adore, and love” (E.B. Pusey, 1800-19982)

Unpacking the Trip

The last couple trips to Africa have left me disoriented when I returned home. Not only did I have to unpack a duffel bag full of laundry, but I had to unpack my experience , which took months. (Thankfully the literal unpacking only took a day…).

However, when I went to get Ephrem from Africa, I didn’t have a chance to unpack what I saw and experienced while we were there. I was doing the up-five-times-a-night thing. And the settle-into-our-new-life thing. And the you-can-do-the-employed-momma thing. I had these memories and experiences that had to be unattended while I gave emotionally to our family. There were no emotions or time to unpack the experience. And I felt okay with that. Becoming a parent through adoption was intense. (I’m sure becoming a parent period is intense…) I needed to focus 100% on our family.

But now we’re settling into a sense of “normal” and I’ve started the task of what all of this meant….or means.

One of the biggest reasons I went to Africa to bring Ephrem home was to capture any little piece of his story I could. So on Saturday after I arrived I found myself in a car, with Ephrem on my lap, traveling to the orphanage the originally cared for him. While I’ve visited a number of orphanages through my mission work so I knew what to expect on some level, I knew it was going to be a different far more personal experience because this place had a part in our son’s history. I would get to see where he slept, to meet the person who cared for him, see the children who lived there with him.

The visit was brief – just long enough for me to meet one of the orphanage workers, take a few photos for Ephrem’s life book, and meet some of the children who were there. But it was long enough to wreck me months later.

Because I am haunted by the children who were left behind that day.

I cannot stop thinking about them recently. I’m haunted by the idea that many or most of them won’t know a family. I’m haunted by the sad eyes of one little girl. I’m haunted by the poverty and vulnerability of the children, who likely only eat once a day if that. I only spent a moment with them, but they left their little fingerprints all over my heart. And I can’t seem to move on. More importantly, I don’t know that I want to.

But it’s left me with questions. Many questions.

When we ask God to break our hearts, and He does, what does that mean for everyday life? What does it look like here, when I can’t be in Africa? What does it mean for me now? How do I do what I can, where I am now, with what I have?

I’m unpacking the trip. And more than ever, I don’t see my world being the same again.

Josh Wilson “I Refuse” from Nathan Corrona on Vimeo.

Five years ago…

Five years ago yesterday, I married my best friend. I don’t think either of us could have anticipated the paths God would lead us on – into ministry, moving to Florida, out of ministry, adoption, sickness, wellness through some great doctors, parenthood…

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We had a great dinner at our favorite sushi restaurant in Daytona and talked about the future. I try not to brag about my husband too much, but he is amazing. I am so blessed to call him mine. Whatever next steps God calls us to, whatever life throws at us, I can’t imagine it without this amazing man.

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Also, four months ago yesterday, I held this guy for the first time…

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Life is beautiful…

Hunger

Like many Americans, I really thought I knew what hunger felt like. I thought I understood that sort of uncomfortable belly and grouchy feeling that you get when you’ve waited too long to eat. I’ve fasted or had to go without eating for a day…or so. I thought I knew it well enough.

That was until I heard my son’s hungry cry for the first time. I know what a hungry baby sounds like. This cry…this cry was so much more intense than that. And this is where words fail me. It was the sort of cry that makes you wish that no one ever has to be hungry ever. I can imagine that the time my son spent in an orphanage was a time when food wasn’t guaranteed or predictable. Formula is expensive in Africa. And orphanages are rarely adequately funded…if funded at all. Although I knew he had access to all the formula he needed, he did not. It was a horrible feeling, as a mother, to hear my son cry so loudly and know that his experiences taught him that food is not always available when he needed. (I did learn to make bottles in record time with a cry like that to motivate me!)

Nearly two months home and Ephrem is doing much better about food. He can now sign when he’s hungry (or at least sign back that he’s hungry :-)) and his cry has gotten to a more annoyed-that-this-is-taken-so-long cry rather than the will-I-ever-eat-again cry. He eats very regularly to comfort him that food is predictable and available.

This is why we believe and support Brighton Their World. If you’ve never heard of this small non-profit based out of Atlanta, you need to read their story here and learn what they’re doing here. They understand that nutrition starts at infancy and that no child should be hungry. Ever. They aren’t looking to solve child hunger, but they are making a big impact where God has led them. God is using them to create beauty from ashes.

But that’s not why I’m writing this post or sharing this part of our story, today.

Today, I’m writing to ask you for $7. I’m asking you for $7 to make a difference for one child.

Brighton Their World launched a campaign to provide meals for 500 kids in three orphanages in Ethiopia for the Ethiopia New Year. These kids get to eat three nutritious meals a year (New Year, Christmas and Easter). Yup, you read that right, A YEAR. Brighton Their World is looking to partner with these three orphanages to ensure that they can feed the kids for one of those meals. The cost to feed these kiddos an awesome, nutritious meal? $7 per child. Yup, you could skip a fancy Starbucks drink and have most of the money it will cost to feed just one child.

It’s not going to solve hunger. It’s not going to change the way the world works.

But it’s going to make sure these 500 kids in Ethiopia eat at least one nutritious meal in September.

We think this is something to be a part of and want to invite you to be a part, too.

http://www.brightontheirworld.org/FeedEm/