21 Wisley Family Updates

Our family has gone through a significant number of changes over the last few months. Short version: we discerned that the Lord was calling us to lay down full-time ministry for a season in order to completely pour into the three kiddos He blessed us with (in a six month time frame), and God opened a door for us to move back to Kentucky to be close to our families. All of this happened very quickly, but we are FINALLY feeling a little bit settled and getting accustomed to our new routine. I have had a number of friends ask for family updates, and I thought this might be the best place to provide those. I have more than enough content to be able to write several blog posts about each member of our family, each transition, etc., but I would have to interrupt my time sitting around eating bonbons and watching soap operas to do that (#stayathomemommisconceptions), so instead I thought I’d provide a quick list of updates for those who are interested. I wish I could say that there was some clever reason I picked the number 21, but alas, my scrambled egg mom brain feels largely devoid of creativity lately, so I must confess that the number 21 was a fairly meaningless choice based solely upon today’s date flashing in the lower right corner of my computer screen. Such is life. Nonetheless, I will attempt to summon up the meager fumes leftover from old creative juices of the past and try to be witty clever mildly interesting in my updates.

  1. Husband is still in training for his new position with the company, but is enjoying it and is excited for his store to open. The grand opening is expected to occur sometime in November.
  2. The kids started at their new school and are LOVING it. Ji has been placed for the first time in a mainstream classroom, and she is thriving beyond what we could have imagined. Thank you, Jesus!
  3. Baby C has a tooth. Other mamas out there, you know this is big news. Other breastfeeding mamas out there, pray for me.
  4. A friend inspired me to clean up my eating through the Whole 30 diet. Despite being scornful of dieting trends in the past, I was just so ready to get rid of the baby weight and increase my energy level. The verdict: in all honesty, after 52 days without added sugar, dairy, gluten, and some other stuff, I feel better than I’ve ever felt in my entire life. Guess I’m riding the bandwagon and eating my humble pie for previously being so disdainful of the Whole 30. Actually, humble pie probably has sugar…so I guess I’ll just eat humble lettuce or something.
  5. After lots of “church shopping” (something I hope to never have to do again), we found a church home. It feels amazing to be back in community again. God never meant for us to do life alone! We are so grateful for the way the Lord is already growing us through this body of believers.
  6. The kids are immensely enjoying making memories with their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. They get lots of one-on-one time with family members, and it’s a joy to watch their confidence grow as they begin to see and believe just how incredibly loved they are. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever witnessed.
  7. JJ has made some wonderful Christian friends in the neighborhood, and we are slowly giving him more freedom. It has been challenging for this mama’s heart to let go and trust God as he navigates these new relationships and gets to enjoy being a little boy, but such a blessing to watch him flourish as experiences all these new things. Seeing him come home sweaty and dirty with bugs and rocks and skinned knees and all the stories is something that makes my heart soar.
  8. Ji had her sixth birthday in August, and her little family party was a smashing success! Our big crazy families got together at Gattitown and celebrated all day long. JiBaby got more presents than she knew what to do with, and is OBSESSED with her new makeup. I’ve always considered myself more of a tomboy, so God blessing me with this extreme girly-girl for a daughter just reminds me what a sense of humor He has. Our lives revolve around lipstick, poufy skirts, giant hairbows, nail polish, and all things pink and “so pwetty”. Lord, give me strength.
  9. Our good friends from Ohio visited us here in Kentucky with all their kids. Six kids and eight adults in the same house is fun and crazy, and we had an absolute ball. But I think we have all agreed that a vacation without kids would be delightful well-earned necessary  something worth considering.
  10. Husband, JJ, and I returned to Ohio a few weekends ago for a wedding we all had roles in. We had an amazing time during the weekend and were privileged to jump back in and serve with our Ohio church family, with both of us leading worship Sunday morning and Husband preaching Sunday night. Prior to the weekend, I had been nervous that serving would be painful for us, as our departure from ministry has been very hard to get used to. However, we enjoyed it more than I can explain. God gave us such a peace about where he has us, and the whole weekend was a balm to our souls in more ways than I can count. God is so good!
  11. GIANT PRAISE: While we were in Ohio, our house sold! Yay! Shout out to our amazing realtor Michelle for all her help!  NE Ohio residents, I highly recommend her. She is the real deal. If all goes as planned, we will be returning to Ohio next month to close on the house and pack up all our stuff. So thankful for God’s faithfulness in answering this prayer.
  12. Baby C is officially into EVERYTHING. He crawls at warp speed, and it literally takes him 0.3 milliseconds to get into all sorts of trouble. Among the things I have pulled/scraped/dug out of his mouth in the last month: a pistachio shell, a guitar pick, 326 pieces of paper towels, plastic wrappers, a bobby pin, a wad of Ji’s hair, 4 hair ties, a bread bag clip, a long piece of string, a piece of an eggshell, a bottle cap, numerous clothing price tags, and a fresh pile of dog poop. That last one really messed with me. I screamed, freaked the freak out, and scrubbed that kid’s mouth with a vengeance. I felt like the worst mom in the entire world till I googled it, primarily to make sure he wasn’t going to die of dysentery or the bubonic plague, and realized there were about 65 million more #badmomstories #mykidatedogpoop. Then I just felt like the worst mom in Kentucky. So that’s good.
  13. Husband and I finally decided it was time to stop talking about wanting to be more healthy and do something about it, so we joined a gym. I wish I could say that I now enjoy working out, and that the shiny new machines and high energy classes were exactly what I needed to make me love to exercise, but alas…I still mostly hate working out. However, the multitude of babysitters at our disposal=the loss of all my excuses, and the cost of a gym membership=all the guilt if I don’t use it, so I’m working out. Not enthusiastically…but I’m doing it. Yippee skippy. Hubs is loving it, though. Except when he accidentally goes into the weight lifting room where all the mega body builders go to dead lift 1,000 pounds and watch their gargantuan muscles bulge in the mirrors. Then, not so much.
  14. I’m certain that I’m way behind on the times here, but y’all…video baby monitors are game changers. We never got the chance to use ours in Ohio, but we finally hooked it up here, and two months later we are still oohing and ahhing over being able to stalk our child even when we are not home.Although it is significantly less fun when Husband is at work and I’m home trying to teach the little butterball to cry it out (cue the mom shaming, to which I say, he’s almost nine months old and I’m okay with it for fifteen minutes, and yes I’ve done the research, and no he is not going to be permanently traumatized, and sometimes it’s good for babies to learn they can survive without being Stage 5 Clingers). Anyways, inevitably, the moment Baby C starts to fuss, I get four rapid fire texts saying, The baby has been crying for 1.5 minutes…Are you going to get him? …Do you have the monitor alerts on? …Now he has been crying for 2 minutes. And then I’m over the magic of the video monitor.
  15. Because of our somewhat up-in-the-air living situation (we are staying with family while house hunting), we were unable to utilize the school bus system this year. Thus, I was introduced to the wonderful world of the carpool line. Two thoughts on this. (1) I need to repent of all the times I complained about having to be home in time to get my kids off the bus. Because that only took 37 seconds of my day. And the car pickup line takes 37 minutes…which feel like 37 hours when your baby screams in his car seat for all 37 of those minutes. Bless. (2) Not judging…but sincerely asking: How do some of these parents have enough extra time in their day to sit in line for an hour before school lets out just so they can be among the first ten people in line? It blows my mind! Coming from the chronically sometimes late mom who is always occasionally among the last ten cars in line, I assure you that I am only even aware of this phenomenon because I had to pick my kid up from school an hour early for a doctor’s appointment once. There were fifteen cars in line! I felt a brief moment of disbelief, which was quickly followed by denial, bargaining, and finally acceptance that I was always gonna be the mom in the back of the line, and that’s okay. We can’t all be good at everything.
  16. Ji has a number of issues that can make extracurricular activities a challenge, but Husband and I both felt that she needed an outlet. After some research, I gave her a few options, though I’m not sure why, because OF COURSE she picked Hip Hop Class, which she calls KidzBop class. She starts tomorrow. It’s going to be epic. I’m already planning weekly gifts for her teacher in hopes of bribing her into letting Ji stay in the class even if she doesn’t cooperate. Stay posted for videos.
  17. JJ started attending karate lessons with his uncle, who is a brown belt. He walks around all day showing me the four moves he’s learned. So far they are all just stances without any real action moves, but he is proud as a peacock. I think I only have about twelve more Wow, that looks great, buddy!s in me before I lose my ever-loving mind. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Parenting is not for the faint of heart, friends.
  18. My phone decided to kick the bucket a couple of weeks ago, and Husband was all too eager to go pick out a new toy to replace it. When he brought back my new phone, I decided to finally follow through with something I had been wanting to do for awhile. I deleted Facebook from my phone. Although I kept my account open so that I can check it periodically on the computer, I do not miss having constant access to it at all. It has been so eye-opening to realize how much time I was wasting on it every day, and to recognize how often I checked FB out of mere boredom. Removing access to it on my phone has helped me be so much more present in my daily activities. I made a commitment to myself that every time I thought about checking FB, I would pray instead, and it has grown my prayer life in tremendous ways.
  19. Speaking of prayer life growing, I joined a women’s Bible study which is centered around Priscilla Shirer’s The Armor of God. Ladies, it is SO GOOD. So good. It is revolutionizing my walk with Jesus. Real talk…buy the book. You won’t regret it.
  20. Ji has become much more verbal and this has resulted in people trying to engage in more frequent conversations with her. Unfortunately, she has subsequently developed a new habit of dismissing people when she doesn’t want to talk to them. The other day, my dad was trying to talk to her about an activity she was doing. After a few one word answers, she finally looked at him and said, “Pop, go to Pop’s room!” In other words, scram. It’s seriously so funny, although we of course technically are obligated to teach her that this is a bit rude. But mostly we are so thankful to hear her vocabulary growing. She has come so far.
  21. When we were in the midst of the adoption process, one of the things our social worker kept telling us was how important it was for us to learn how to take care of our kids’ natural hair. Doing African-American hair is a totally different ballgame than what I am used to, and it has been quite the learning process. Right after we moved, JJ decided he was done with mom combing/picking out his hair every day, and asked for dreadlocks. For whatever reason I decided to take on this task myself. After lots of Youtube research and some advice from some other mamas of black kiddos, I bit the bullet and dove in. Five and a half hours and many, many tears later, he had a bunch of twisties all over his head that sorta kinda resembled dreadlocks. According to all the tutorials,this was normal, but I was still pretty nervous about how it would be perceived. While we were in Ohio, we stopped by JJ’s old barbershop. The owner and another barber, both African-American, immediately asked me who did his hair. Sweating, I owned up to it. The owner looked at me in surprise and said, “You did a good job!” Hallelujah! Best compliment of my life. I successfully created dreadlocks on my kid and got the black barbershop stamp of approval. I am officially adding to my resume under “Achievements”: 2016-Created passable dreadlocks. 

And that’s all for now, folks! This SAHM needs to get back to her bonbons and soaps…that is, if I have time after digging the junk out of my baby’s mouth and cleaning the sparkles and mascara out of my daughter’s hair.

Ears To Hear

We have been and will continue to be very careful about the things we share about our children. They have a right to privacy, a right for the world not to know every detail of their backgrounds, histories, diagnoses, challenges, and personal information. I want to protect them, to make sure that I am being very careful to guard their lives and stories with care and intentionality. But I struggle to hold it in when there are monumental breakthroughs, critical turning points, undeniable victories in their lives. I want to shout these to the world, to remind everyone that the hard days are SO WORTH IT, and that God is a big God who does big things worth celebrating. Sometimes, those do need to be celebrated quietly, privately. But other times I feel prompted to share, because maybe there is someone out there who needs to be reminded that God is still working miracles today, every day. I know…because I watch them unfold in my daughter’s life all the time.

Our daughter Jianna is a completely different person today than she was when we met her. I don’t want to go into too much detail about how hard things were for her back then, but I will say this: she was a prisoner in her own world. Diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, she had a vocabulary of about 16-20 words at age 4. She didn’t know how to connect with other people. Her entire world was wrapped up in her iPad, which she was using all the time. She much preferred technology over human interaction, and she rarely made eye contact. 

When Husband and I decided to move forward with adopting our two kids, we knew it was going to be challenging. We knew the facts: children with an ASD diagnosis were very hard to match. People were afraid, unfamiliar, intimidated by something that is so mysterious and hard to understand. To be honest, after we met her, we were afraid too. We loved her, because we had chosen to love her, but we didn’t know where to go from there. How would we connect with this child? How could we unlock this little girl from the isolated world she lived in? We prayed. We prayed A LOT. 

The answer came quickly. As we spent more time with Ji, the key to reaching her became increasingly apparent: music. That girl was born with a song in her soul. Anytime a song with any kind of beat came on, she would rock and  bump her head against her chair in flawless rhythm. She would sing in her sweet little voice the words she didn’t understand, usually mispronouncing them, but singing them all just the same. Likewise, if a non-preferred song was played (aka anything without a fast, driving rhythm), she would LOUDLY verbalize her disapproval and clamp her hands over her ears. 

The problem was that most of the music she favored didn’t lend itself to meaningful interaction or true emotional connections. You can only sing nursery rhymes and the finger family song so many times before you want to chop your ears off. And we were more than a little horrified at some of the words to Beyoncé and Ludacris songs that our 4 year old was singing. We needed to find music that could help her connect and engage with the world around her, and even more importantly, music that was full of truth and hope and light. So one day, before she even came to live with us, my husband added the Hillsong Young and Free album into her iTunes. At first she showed no interest, but over time, she was drawn to the music. She was drawn to Jesus in the music. Suddenly this little girl was singing about freedom in Christ and chains being broken. It was beautiful. I wasn’t sure she truly understood any of it. But I knew it was good for her heart and mind and soul. We prayed that the Gospel truths she was listening to would penetrate her heart well beyond the fun rhythms. We prayed that she would be given ears to hear the hope in the words she sang. And God is answering that prayer. 

A few weeks ago, Vertical Church Band released their latest album Frontiers. Ji has liked VCB’s stuff in the past but this album has had a different effect on her. This album has taught my girl to worship. I was sure, like all the music she has listened to in the past, that she would be most drawn to the more upbeat songs. And while she does enjoy those, the two songs she asks for most are entirely unexpected. The first is Come Holy Spirit. Y’all…I have never seen this child worship like she does with this song. Eyes closed, hands raised, singing so loud I feel like the car windows are going to shatter. I cry almost every time. From day one, we have been praying for the Spirit to engage her heart. Watching that prayer be answered is the most beautiful thing in the world. “COME HOLY SPIRIT COME….FALL AFRESH ON ME!” she sings with all her might. She senses the presence of God all around her and she is beaming. Her countenance is full of joy and life and the assurance of belonging as she worships.

I’ve always believed that people with special needs which affect their minds have the potential both to be more vulnerable to spiritual attack and more in tune with the Spirit’s prompting and movement. We have prayed daily for special protection for her mind, for God to speak to her in a way she can understand, and for her to be drawn to Christ in her soul and spirit. It’s very simple for Ji…when she worships, everyone else disappears except her and God. There is something very special happening between her and her Creator, something that I may never comprehend this side of heaven, but feel so grateful to be able to witness. I believe God is speaking to her in those moments, reminding her who He is and how deeply He loves her, teaching her the truth of His Word.

 Is that hard to believe? Maybe this will convince you. Just last week after a time of worshiping in this way, her eyes popped open and she looked me right in the eye and declared with utter certainty and calm confidence, “Jesus is God. Jesus loves Jianna.” It took my breath away. Immediately she said, “Mama, Always Have!” Still stunned, I complied and hit number 10 on the CD. Her eyes closed again and she settled back in her seat. Unlike literally every other song she loves, this song is very soft and slow, with mostly acoustic guitar and no loud dominant drum part. When this song comes on, everything changes. She stops rocking  and banging her head against the seat. All of the self-stim behavior slows and she becomes still and peaceful. Her face lights up. And she sings: 

You love me, You always have
You choose me, just as I am
You love me, You always have 

Yes. Yes and amen. 

Thank You, Jesus. 

Highs and Lows and Other Paradoxes

Take a minute and try to remember the biggest mood swing you’ve ever experienced. Perhaps one moment you were on a mountaintop rejoicing about something incredible, only to receive horrible news that plummeted your heart into utter despair. Maybe you found yourself feeling incredibly angry about a situation, only to be hit by a wave of humor that sent you into a fit of hysterical laughter that continued until tears were rolling down your face, melting all the angry away. As your emotions settled back to someplace in the middle, maybe you recognized the irony in it all. If you are anything like me, you may have secretly wondered if you were are a little crazy for swinging across such a broad pendulum of emotions in such a short time.

I’m learning that adoption is like that. All. The. Time. You find yourself perpetually swinging between emotional extremes, caught in a world of irony and paradox that makes just a little sense and a lot of crazy in your head. For every mountaintop, there is a valley (okay, let’s be real…nine valleys). For every moment of exquisite joy, there is one or more of excruciating pain. You will swing from deep feelings of rage and frustration and injustice and fear into uncontrollable laughter that is senseless and necessary and life-giving and liberating. You will wonder a thousand times over if you might truly be crazy, and conclude almost as many times over that you are. Sometimes this self-diagnosis of insanity will bother you. Sometimes you will embrace it. And amidst all the feelings, there will emerge moments of intense confusion that will send you into a tailspin. But there will also be epiphanies of life-altering clarity, and these will be so eye-opening and gratifying that everything crazy suddenly seems sane…at least for long enough to hold you until the next clear moment.

Every night at dinner, Husband and the kids and I do what we call “Highs and Lows”, in which we share the best and worst part of our day. Our son loves it so much I’m pretty sure the actual game is his own personal perpetual high. The moment dinner is on the table, he starts chirping, “Highs and lows! Highs and lows!” Ironically, I feel like this could be the title for our family life as a whole.  Every day is made up of a hundred highs and lows. Some days the highs outweigh the lows. Other days, lows win by a landslide. Sometimes there are weeks of lows, in which you long for just one high to keep you going. But these are the weeks that make the highs that much sweeter when they do finally come. You see, a fight that is easily won merits a fairly inconsequential celebration. But a fight that is won through blood, sweat, tears, and after many prior losses is worth throwing a party for. Most of our highs are party-worthy. From the outside looking in, it may be hard to understand why a child who openly admitted he did something wrong is praised and rejoiced over. But when you discover that he has FINALLY just told the truth and taken responsibility after 27 previous lies, it suddenly becomes a big deal. A five year old stating that she is sad while crying may not seem of any real significance; to most, it appears obvious. But when you become aware that that same child has never once been able to identify a single emotion she was feeling, or even that she was feeling, you cry happy tears alongside her sad ones because you feel almost ecstatic at the sheer humanity and normality of what she is experiencing. Joy amidst sorrow takes on a whole new meaning.

You will experience situations of mortifying embarrassment, when your daughter throws a screaming tantrum in a store that nearly brings the roof down and commands the attention of every living being within two miles and makes you want to crawl into a hole and die. This will happen at least 46 times in three months. You will learn to appear calm, but inside, you will be screaming along with her, wishing you could cry as loudly as she does. Somehow, even as you are ready to pull her your hair out, you will feel a strange connection to her as you realize how alike you two actually are. Unexpected empathy and compassion will wash over you, and you will grasp at these as the God-given gifts that they are, lifelines in a world of swinging emotional extremes. Your heart and your mind will war with one another as you attempt to understand the source of her feelings and actions: Confusion? Frustration? Transition? Inability to communicate? Plain ugly sinfulness? Some combination of all of the above?

And then the moment of clarity, the high you’ve been desperately waiting for, unfolds so quickly you never saw it coming. One day you will find yourself checking out in a store like so many times before. You will approach the dreaded moment when you have to take away from her whatever thing she has latched onto and decided she wants (—As a side note, this is typically not a toy but more likely a roll of pink duct tape or a cooking magazine or a picture-hanging kit or a package of fish food or something equally mundane and bizarre and yet treasured by this unique little munchkin…is it weird that it’s not even weird anymore? Don’t tell me if so—). You will go to take this treasured object away from her, knowing that you have prepped her and explained to her at least eleven times throughout the course of the shopping trip that this item will not be purchased for her, and knowing equally well that all this intentional preparation will not matter whatsoever when she feels the sting of the loss and all ever-loving heck breaks loose. But she–and God’s grace–will surprise you in that moment. As you pry it from her fingers and wait for the piercing wail, you will watch a small miracle unfold instead. She will scrunch up her face in protest, but then start to chant to herself the script you have practiced with her a thousand times over. In her sweet little voice, she will comfort herself with not getting her way in one of the most healthy, self-controlled, appropriate demonstrations of coping you have ever witnessed. “Dat’s okay, baby. No fussing. Dat’s okay. No fussing. All done. All done. Dat’s okay, baby.” Your jaw will drop in shock and awe as you wait for reality to set in, for the tantrum to begin, for the spell to be broken. Instead, she will beam up at you, face full of joy and decided acceptance. You will feel like your heart is bursting with pride as you marvel at the giant leap she has just taken forward (as you inwardly talk yourself out of buying her every weird knickknack in the store as a reward for this incredible accomplishment). Every prior tantrum, every past moment of humiliation and mortification will fade into oblivion as you soar on the wings of this high that is ever so much higher than any of the previous lows.

And the extreme paradoxes will continue. One evening, your son will choose for his bedtime story a book about Rosa Parks that you chose from the book fair, hoping to create space for the conversation about race that you’ve been trying to have with him for over a year. You will read it together and watch the confusion chase across his features, followed by fear. You will feel shame, realizing that you have never once felt the weight of years of prejudice and oppression that he is subconsciously feeling now. You will feel the guilt of knowing that you were born into privilege, and that while he has been grafted into it, there will always be an unspoken divide between the two of you–unwanted and yet created by years of brutal and agonizing history–that will not be healed this side of heaven. You will be struck by both the beauty and the tragedy of the picture of adoption: this beautiful boy’s brown hand in your white (or according to him, “peach”) one…while you ponder just how amazing it is that you get to call him yours and yet how devastating it is for him that he was never given any other option. You will share in his confusion, and ask yourself why it had to be this way. You will find yourself swinging the pendulum again as your heart feels like it could never imagine life without him and then you simultaneously wish, for his sake, that you could. It was never supposed to be like this, you think. His presence in your family is the result of a fallen world, and yet together you both get the opportunity to share in the grace and redemption reflected in the mirror of adoption. This paradox is too complicated and terrible and wonderful to even comprehend, and you are struck by both the privilege and responsibility that you have been given to live out that truth on a smaller scale in your daily life.

As it has done so many times before, this paradox will turn your attention once again to the cross…the ultimate low. God in human form, bringing himself low, making himself nothing, for undeserving sinful scum like you and me. The unprecedented, indescribable low the disciples must have felt as they watched their beloved Jesus breathe His last. How fear and despair must have won the day that day! But how sweet the high–the sweetest of highs–when sorrow was transformed to joy at his resurrection! He is alive!

If you have had a day, a week, a month, maybe even a year of lows, remember that there is a high that is constant: the God of the universe, the King of Kings, stepped down to earth and humbled himself to die on a cross…for you. Then this Servant-King rose to life again so that you could walk in victory towards a future where lows will no longer exist.

So, really…when you think about the fact that His whole life was the greatest paradox of all…there is great comfort in living a life defined by paradoxical extremes.

Some Favorite Biblical Paradoxes
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:5-8

For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Matthew 16:25

But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. Romans 6:17-18

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

The Sea Creature In the Mirror (And Other Deep Dark Confessions)

Have you ever had one of those days in which you were: 1. on edge the entire day, 2. (as a result) acutely aware of how prone to sin you were/are, 3. completely helpless to get “off edge”, despite bountiful prayer, time in the Word, prayer, godly parenting books, desperate prayer, reminding oneself of applicable Scripture, and did I say nonstop prayer? That was today. Today was one of those days I’d sooner forget (so of course I’m recording it in the permanent ink of the Internet… go figure), and yet here I am, with nothing left to do but follow the tiny tug inside that says, writeI could attempt to wax eloquent about the grace of God and how trials are so good for the believer and how His mercies are new every morning, and it would all be very true and very biblical and very applicable and currently very un-heartfelt. Just being honest, folks. How thankful I am that God doesn’t wait for my feelings to catch up before He starts digging the ugly out of me. And He’s doing that even now–something I know more from past experience and a dependence on the truth of God’s Word than from a feeling of being cleansed and renewed (hopefully I’ll get there!)–and I am so grateful that I can count on His character that seeks to continually refine and purify me even as my own attempts fail me for the 15 billionth time. Praise God for 15 billionth +1 chances.

I was texting with a fellow trench mama earlier (if you don’t know what I mean by this, please ask me), and I was confessing to her something that God had recently shown me about parenting. As a little background into the way I tend to learn, I’m a big imagery/analogies person and have always enjoyed finding a tangible picture to represent the abstract. Lately I have been thinking a lot about mirrors. The imagery of mirrors (HA! I’m also a fan of irony, even ridiculously punny irony) is used a lot throughout Scripture to help our vain little minds understand things about our selfish selves. I Corinthians talks about our limited understanding and insight here on earth and how much clearer all will be in heaven, and compares our earthly view to a dim mirror. Similarly, Husband and I have been reading through the book of James with our son, and he loves the part about being doers of the Word and not hearers only, like the man who looks in the mirror and goes away and forgets his face. Our son always remembers that analogy. As I think about mirrors and how they apply to my life (in addition to these two passages, obviously), there is only one thing that comes to mind. Ursula the sea witch. (Hey, I didn’t say my analogies were deep or insightful or admirable…they just help me, okay?)

If you’ve seen The Little Mermaid, you might remember how Ursula the sea witch–who is, by the way, one of the most terrifying and interesting villains Disney ever concocted–steals Ariel’s voice and transforms herself into a beautiful woman to entice Prince Eric to marry her. Because she is so beautiful, no one suspects she could really be the hideous, octopus-ish witch…until the mirror incident. Ariel’s seagull friend is flying by a ship where Ursula is getting ready for her wedding, and he sees her looking into the mirror. However, her reflection does not display the beauty everyone else sees; instead, it shows her as her true self: an ugly, bloated, dark fishlike creature. What does this have to do with me, you may wonder? Well, I have come to realize that parenting is the mirror that reflects the deepest, ugliest parts of my heart.

Husband and I have counseled quite a few couples preparing for marriage, and we still maintain that marriage proves to be a great mirror into one’s own selfishness. But parenting? Wow…it reveals sin in my heart that goes beyond selfishness, deeper than insecurity…parenting exposes things in me that I don’t want anyone to see or know about me. Fruits of the Spirit that I thought were the “easy” fruits now seem entirely unattainable. Peace? Not with the constant worrying I do about my kids’ academics, social skills, adjustment, behavior, boogers, sugar intake, future, you name it. Kindness? Doesn’t come so easy when you have wiped someone else’s poop off your arm…again. Goodness? You wouldn’t think me a good person if you could hear the sarcastic and ungrateful stream of commentary running through my head as I wash urine-soaked sheets for the fourteenth morning in a row. Gentleness? Try being gentle after your five-year-old slams the overloaded and uber heavy grocery cart into your pregnant belly while simultaneously running over your bare baby toe. Bless it.

Being a mama puts me into situations that tend to feel like an out of body experience, in which I’m watching someone else’s children drive some other poor lady crazy and watching her sanity unravel, taking all her sweetness and godliness with it. I find myself saying, thinking, doing things I used to say I would never do, back before I was a parent (read my post on giving up plans for more on how that falls apart after the fact). Y’all, I love my kids. I love them in ways that I never even knew existed. None of this has anything to do with my love for them. But it has everything to do with my own sinful heart and the sanctification that comes with REAL HARD LIFE. And parenting is REAL HARD LIFE. Parenting means sacrifice and exhaustion and total laying down of self. Parenting requires patience on steroids and grace out the wazoo. It involves letting go of agendas, plans, and all feelings of self-preservation. Parenting equals more tears, more prayers, more work, more joy, more love, just…more.

Parenting is also recognizing that you are still just a child. A child who still needs frequent discipline. A child who still has so much left to learn. A child who gets it wrong so much more of the time than she gets it right, but who has a Father that never gets it wrong. Parenting is realizing that even though I am utterly sinful and flawed, and that most days I feel like I’m groping around in the darkness and tripping and falling flat on my face, I can…no, I must…depend on MY Father to teach me how to mother. When my eyes are on Him, I don’t have to stare back at the ugly reflection of the depravity in my heart that is mirrored in my sinful parenting. Instead, I get to see myself through His eyes: as a beloved child sealed with the blood of Jesus.

Tomorrow is a new day, with new mercies in the morning, and a clean slate. But more importantly, with my Father as my example and my eyes where they should be, I will also have a clearer mirror. And by His grace, its reflection will show less of me and more of Jesus.

Plans Unraveling

It’s funny how preconceived plans tend to unravel when real life hits. I’ve had predetermined plans about so many things, both large and small, and so many  of them have been changed, altered, or completely abandoned when reality arrived. God has a sense of humor, and I feel more thankful than ever that I was pushed as a young child to recite my dad’s mantra of Be Flexible, Be Patient over and over again 147 times a day like a robotic parrot. Somehow, at some point in my life, it became less of a meaningless, repetitive phrase that was forced upon me and more like a tightly gripped lifeline connected to my sanity. It has literally served as my inhale and exhale in moments in which the plans that I was *sure* would unfold in my life (ever so perfectly and effortlessly, I might add) were instead surrendered, all out of necessity, either willingly or kicking and screaming-ly. Among them were these:

  • I will homeschool all my children, right away, for their entire childhood
  • I will make my children eat fruits and vegetables at every meal (HA!)
  • I will do a Fun Project every day in the summer
  • I will make my children do thirty minutes of reading every day in the summer
  • I will write super meaningful blog posts documenting every event related to adoption, including bringing them home, finalization, and every trauma and celebration in between and after
  • I will never let my children have more than thirty minutes of screen time in a day
  • I will plan weekly fun “field trips” to entertain my children in the summer
  • I will purchase a family membership to the pool to ensure SO MUCH FUN for my children
  • I will join a gym to get into better shape as a Mama
  • I will make exciting and nutritious meal plans every week
  • I will be SuperMom, SuperWife, SuperMinistryLeader

Behold: all the plans. So well-intentioned. So noble. So well-thought out. Unfortunately, this naïve mama forgot to account for the unexpected while she was making all the plans. Like the fact that the adoption process can take away some of your choices about education, at least for awhile. Like adopting one child that hates to read (the thought physically hurts this die-hard reader), and another that doesn’t really need to try to conquer reading when we are still learning to pronounce the word “frog” in a way that doesn’t sound like a profanity . Like the fact that some special needs mean that fruits and vegetables are out of the question, and most days you are just happy that the kid ate goldfish, pizza, and gummy bears and hopefully got enough calories to survive. Like the reality that field trips to the zoo are awesome…unless sensory meltdowns (inevitably) ensue because you unwittingly go on the day when it’s free admission for the whole county and so of course the whole county DOES THE ZOO in loud, pushy, overstimulating and unsympathetic droves, and then nothing is awesome and  nobody has fun, not even the monkeys or the overfed giraffes. It is finding out that a summer spent at the pool is only fun if your children aren’t either (1) terrified to the point of catatonic paralysis by the thought of being in the water, or (2) ready to throw themselves with reckless abandon into the deep end the moment you let go of their hand, despite not knowing how to swim whatsoever.

The unexpected also includes getting pregnant two months before your long-awaited adopted children come home. It is unexpected when you find out you are one of those pregnant women who is ALWAYS nauseous and PERPETUALLY sleeping tired, so that when the kids arrive smack-dab in the middle of your first trimester, it’s pure survival mode and a whole lot of yes, you can have a sixth popsicle and sure, you can play your iPad for another hour because Mommy will puke if she moves and sorry, babe, but it’s cereal for dinner again and please pretend to be happy about it because otherwise I’ll have an emotional breakdown that I promise will rival our daughter’s zoo hysteria. The unexpected is finding that having time to blog is a big amusing joke and that there are some memories you’d sooner forget than document forever for all posterity to see.

But when you are learning to be flexible and sometimes patient (confession: this trait only shows its pretty face when I’ve had lots of coffee and Jesus time), you also learn that throwing out the preconceived plans is not always the worst thing. Sure, it can be painful for a bit, but there is also some serious relief and considerable freedom that accompany letting them go. And if you can learn to stop feeling the need to justify your changed plans to others AND to yourself, you might just realize that it’s okay to let yourself off the hook a bit and rest in that wonderful hammock of grace that was so lovingly stretched out for you by the One who actually knows all the plans. You will suddenly understand that the only thing worth planning on is to trust a Sovereign God who knows a lot more about your kids, their needs, you, and your needs than yours truly.

Letting go of all the other plans in favor of surrendering to His Ultimate Plan doesn’t mean the unexpected stops occurring. On the contrary, the unexpected is (forgive the bad pun) to be expected. But through the lens of grace and flexibility, the unexpected brings some pretty fantastic surprises. Like watching a little boy’s confidence shoot through the roof when he learns to ride a bike without training wheels in three days. Like seeing a little girl go from being mostly nonverbal to a happy little chatterbox in the span of a few months. Like finding out that public school teachers can be kind and loving and compassionate and invested in your child’s emotional well-being. Like learning that a projected lifelong heart condition has been healed (glory to God!) and no longer requires medication or treatment. Like finding out the baby who has been quite literally sucking the life out of you is a little brother for your son who so desperately wanted a boy. Like a hundred thousand laughs and happy tears and moments of sheer joy that you never knew you could experience this side of heaven. All things that were never written into all my carefully crafted plans.

But I wouldn’t change a single thing.

A Letter To Myself, On Mother’s Day

A lot can happen in a year. A year can bring pain and disappointment, frustration and despair. It can also bring new seasons of life, tremendous healing, unprecedented clarity, and overwhelming gratitude. It’s amazing how pain and healing can exist so simultaneously. On this day, more than ever, I am acutely aware of the beauty in the contrast. For me, today is, and I suspect will always be, a bittersweet symphony of the strange mix of grief and joy. But the joy is there, and for that I am incredibly grateful. In light of this, I would like to write a Mother’s Day letter to myself, on this day, last year…a letter of hope and comfort and of the beauty to come. I pray it encourages someone else for whom this day is also bittersweet.

To Chelsea on Mother’s Day, May 11, 2014:

Today will be a day of pain. That is not what you wanted, not what you expected, but that is what it will be. Today, you will wake up on your first Mother’s Day, delighted with your secret of the child growing in your womb, and find your delight melting into despair. You will wake and know instantly that something is not right. After lying still for a few moments, you will begin to feel severe cramping in your abdomen, but the pain of it won’t compare to the fear that fills your heart. You will go to the bathroom, and as the bleeding begins, you will realize your baby is dying, and part of you with her. You will call for Husband, and watch the desperate way he tries to find another answer, any answer, except for the one you are being given. “Maybe that’s not it,” he’ll say. “Maybe this is normal.” But you will know. Your body is betraying you, betraying your baby. “Call your Mom! She’s a nurse…maybe she can tell you what to do,” he will plead. You will hold each other and cry as you explain to him through heaving sobs that there’s nothing to be done. There is no stopping the inevitable.  You will be filled with so many thoughts at once, but two resonate most loudly. It is Mother’s Day. And it is Sunday.

The cruel irony of both of these truths will take your breath away. How can you be losing the one thing you have prayed for, begged for, hoped for, on the day meant to honor you for gaining it? And how can it be on a day when you know your husband must go and lead the people of God in worship, unable to stay with you and hold your heart together, unable to grieve freely and mourn the loss that is as much his as yours? You will both send out desperate texts to those closest to you, begging for prayer, knowing that without it, you will not survive this day. You will call your mother, and she will weep with you and lament being too far away to help. She will ask you if there is anyone you can call to come be with you. And in the first of many waves of God’s mercy to wash over you today, you will realize that there is someone you can call. In fact, there is only one person to call. She is a nurse, she is a friend, and she has walked the infertility journey with you from the beginning. She will understand. And you will know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that God put her in your life for moments like these, as a tangible instrument of His grace in your life.

She will drop everything to come be with you. As you realize that help is on the way, your focus will turn to your husband, who is preparing to lead worship like he is heading into battle. There is a somber sense of inevitability and sadness in every action as he gets dressed. Unlike other Sundays, he does not warm up his voice. Singing does not feel consistent with the heaviness of this day. Tears flow freely between the two of you, with few words. As he leaves, you will be filled with heartbreak as you imagine him having to sing praise and lead worship in the midst of such devastation. For awhile, you will forget your own pain and feel so consumed with concern for your husband that all you will be able to do is cry out to God on his behalf.

Your friend will arrive, and she will allow you to grieve in every way you need to. You will cycle through sorrow, numbness, anger, and fatigue many times throughout the day. Your phone will blow up with texts of love and support from so many. One will say, The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. In your heart will rise up anger and peace, the first of many contrasts you will feel over the next few hours, days, and months. Blessed be the name of the Lord. You will repeat this as a mantra to yourself many times, hoping your heart will catch up with its truth.

The morning will drag on painfully, slowly. As your closest friends find out, each will reach out in a different way to surround you with love and grace and support. One will come and change your messy sheets so you don’t have to see the evidence of death. She will wash them, and clean your house, and bring all your favorite foods for when your appetite returns. Her husband will come and take your dogs away for the day, even though they aren’t “dog people”. Another friend will come and describe to you what happened at church. The beauty of the story will initiate the long road to healing in your heart.

She will describe to you how the church body was told by your pastor of your loss, and how they flooded the stage to lay hands on your husband and pray for his heart. She will tell you how tears flowed freely, as the body of Christ grieved with you. She will describe the terrible beauty in hearing songs like “Desert Song” and “Sovereign” sung by the heartwrecked worship team, with people clinging to the lyrics like lifelines. She will tell you how broken and beautiful and strong your husband was as he lived out his calling, leading people in worship, into battle. She will tell of a church body unified in sacrificial love for two of its parts, and she will remind you that the enemy has lost a great battle that day. Then your little circle of friends, your sisters, will pray with you and over you. They will literally carry you through this day, holding you together through the power of One who knows all too well the pain of a child dying.

Eventually, your husband will return and your friends will leave, giving you time alone together to mourn. You will both weep, and sleep, and pray, and cope. You will cling to each other tighter than ever before, bound by an intense grief that has changed you forever. A few days later, the grief will still be ever-present, but there will be other things too: sweet comfort, shaky peace, and tentative hope. The suffering has been and will continue to be great, but so will the grace. Jesus will love you tangibly, fiercely, intimately, through the people of God and the loved ones He has placed in your life. Cards, texts, cookies, gifts, and other symbols of love will be brought to your house over the following weeks. Each will touch you and remind you that you are not alone. You will feel your heart break and mend in every way many times over. You will realize with poignant clarity how terribly weak you have become, even as you recognize that His Spirit is stronger than ever within you.

As more weeks pass, the healing will continue, and you will start to feel like yourself again. This will bring with it gratitude and guilt, the contrast of feeling thankful for your growth, yet guilty that your times of sorrow and grief have become less frequent. There will be grace for this too, as the Spirit of God faithfully ministers His Word to you and reminds you that Jesus bore your grief and carried your sorrow long ago. In an exercise to commemorate and honor your lost baby, you will give her a name, the only name that means anything in this season of life:  Hope.

The following months will bring blessings that will be greater than you could ever have imagined. Four months after your devastating loss, you and your husband will be matched with a precious little boy and little girl who will become your children through the miracle of adoption. You will experience emotions you never knew you were capable of as you begin the daunting task of parenting two little strangers from a distance. You will experience frustration at new heights as the process of bringing them home is delayed time and again. To have three children separated from you, one by death and two by distance and political red tape, will be more than you can bear. But Jesus, and His people, will continue to bear your grief and hold you up, as they did on this first day  of devastation. You will learn what it means to not only accept your weakness, but to embrace it, as the strength of God shines more brightly when you do so.

Today will be a day of pain. It will be a day of crippling grief. It will be the death of a dream, a death of Hope. But this day of devastation will give birth to something more beautiful than you could have ever imagined. It will produce a newfound and utterly necessary dependence on Jesus. It will create a deeper bond between you and your beloved husband. It will clothe you with empathy and compassion and understanding. It will make you a better friend, a better wife, and a better mother.  On your second Mother’s Day, next year in 2015, you will remember the depth of this valley you walk through now. But through the memories of darkness will break breathtaking beams of glorious light, as you remember how God’s love was greater than pain, greater than death. You will feel the grace and love and faithfulness of God as His people surround you with love yet again, and as you talk on the phone to your sweet children in Florida, knowing that the waiting for them will come to an end soon. You will feel joy mixed with your sorrow, and you will savor the bittersweet privilege of being called to this journey of transforming ashes into beauty. You will rejoice in the knowledge that your Hope is in heaven with Jesus, and that truth will be enough to sustain you in every season.

With Abundant and Amazing Grace,

Chelsea on Mother’s Day, May 10, 2015

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. I Cor. 13:7-8a

From Grief To Gratitude

There are a handful of half-finished posts waiting in my draft box for me to finish. Free time is rare these days, and I seem to find myself continually stuck between the best of intentions and the ability to carry them out. I tend to be a perfectionist, so I cannot simply type a post and publish it…I have to chew on it, edit it approximately 17 times, start over, edit some more, ponder my ability as a writer, ponder my reasons for blogging, ponder life as we know it, and then finally publish. This is actually fairly self-defeating when one considers that blogs were primarily invented to allow organic, free, uninhibited, creative flow of ideas to be dispersed into the world wide web with minimal planning and forethought, but alas, my perfectionist side tends to win.

Not so today, however. Sometimes the emotions of a situation, of a day, of a lifetime all come crashing down and my only instinct is to react and project them into the blogosphere, waiting for some kind of relief or vindication or at the very least, some empathy. The truth is that I know many people would share my disappointment, anger, frustration, hurt, confusion, yearning, and a number of other emotions that are all a byproduct of this extended waiting for our children. I know that within this whole process, we have been wronged, and more importantly, our children have been wronged. Injustice has become a theme in both our country and within our own personal process, and I could point fingers and present my case and “win” my argument as to where the guilt should fall. The temptation to spew all of my emotional reaction onto this page, free of edits, free of cautious inhibitions is great…but even as I write this, saner heads prevail. The foundational layer of truth deep down in my heart reminds me that none of that would change or fix anything. The fact remains that our children are still not placed with us. The fact remains that casting blame as to whose fault that is will not bring them here. The fact remains that God is sovereign, and nothing happens on this planet without His permission. In the end, blaming resolves nothing, produces no fruit, provides no relief. Venting, ranting, expelling the negative emotions through words on a blog page…will not diffuse these emotions, but will likely only pour gasoline on the embers.

So instead, I will choose to be grateful. It may sound trite, but I have found that when my heart is unsettled, dissatisfied, and lacking contentment, often the only relief comes when I practice intentional gratitude. I would like to share with you a number of things that I am grateful for regarding our children and this adoption process. Perhaps this will not completely “cure” me of the negative emotions swirling around in my head and heart, but it’s a step in the right direction.

I am thankful for:

  • A match with an amazing sibling group
  • A husband who is as passionate about adoption as I am
  • A son who adores me
  • A daughter who is full of life and vigor and spunk
  • An amazing foster mom who loves and provides for our children so well
  • An agency who advocates for us
  • A new house that has plenty of room for all of us
  • Two fur babies that cuddle with me when I’m lonely for my other babies
  • How quickly the kids have bonded with us
  • Cheap flights to Florida
  • A church family that surrounds us with unbelievable emotional, spiritual, and even financial support
  • Our extended families who have welcomed our kids with open arms and loving hearts
  • Medical insurance that allows our baby girl to receive all the services she needs
  • The fact that two people call me Mommy
  • Skype and Facetime, which make the distance less painful
  • The fact that our son is super interested and curious about Jesus, the Bible, and church
  • The fact that our daughter has gone from an all-pureed diet to about 15 different solid foods in less than a year
  • The fact that our daughter is building her vocabulary and becoming more verbal
  • The fact that our son chooses to see past his sister’s disabilities
  • The sweet bond our kids have with each other
  • The way our son loves to pray to Jesus
  • The way our daughter loves to sing to Jesus
  • Hillsong DVDs and CDs that bring the Gospel to our kids every day without them even realizing it
  • Little Caesar’s being so close to our house to accommodate baby girl’s constant pizza demands
  • How friendly our son is to everyone he meets
  • The fact that our son writes the Bible verses we have taught him on his homework
  • The way our daughter lights up around her Daddy
  • Other families that have adopted before us and become resources
  • The truth that there is more than one way to build a family
  • My own adoption into the family of God that allows me to love the way He loves

Husband and I covet your prayers as we continue to wait and trust the Lord’s timing in all of this. Pray that we will not become caught up in bitterness, or the pain of injustice, or the drudgery and disappointment of prolonged waiting. Pray that we can continue to practice intentional gratitude. After all, we have so much to be thankful for.