Just Look...

Just Look...

Monday, January 8, 2018

One.



one.

I tried to get on board with the one little word rage years ago, but honestly, I am just too verbose to make that happen. ;) So I have tended to choose phrases for my years instead. I don't do "resolutions", but I do make lists of focuses each year. Last January, I was in survival mode and didn't really choose a word at all, just kept hanging onto certain Bible verses the Lord gave me as if my life depended on them (and honestly, it did). At the end of 2017, I realized my word for that year had been "hold". And hold, we had and we did.

This year, I saw a post on a page I follow where people were sharing their word and, although I already felt like I had a clear idea of my focus goals for 2018, I had no clue what word I could have. As the days between Christmas and New Year's passed, I felt this word start to crystallize in my spirit: one. And by New Year's Day, I had a pretty good understanding of what that word is supposed to represent and mean to me in my 2018 life.

First of all and most importantly, it represents the One Who gives me life and purpose. I already mentioned that in 2017, I lived hanging onto His word like a lifeline. And that was important and good. But in 2018, I want to live hanging onto His word because I want to, not out of a sense of desperation. I want to live with Him as my first thought in the mornings and my last thought in the evenings and my sweet conversation in the between hours. I want to be more intentional about my daily devotionals, our family devotionals, and encouraging my kids to make Him the center of it all. I want to give Him my every concern and worry, taking on the "easy rhythms of His grace".

Secondly, there are some specific areas I want to stop talking about "one day" and instead treat as "day one". One of those is my writing. I am going to write regularly this year, but more importantly than that, I am using this year to collect the writing I have already done. I am copying my Facebook posts every day from my "On this Day" app and am going to collect my Instagram posts as well. At the end of 2018, I should have a good feel for what I already have as far as content and should be ready to choose the focus of what I want my first book to be. I am not going to reach the end of my life and look back at the dreams I had and wonder where I lost them along the way. I am 40 right now, and it's time to accomplish one of them.

I tend to get wrapped up in fears and anxieties and stress and thought patterns (and googling and following rabbit trails and basically just creating things to worry about). I think part of my one is to remind me this next year of what I am really good at reminding my students of, but stink at following myself.... one thing at a time. one day at a time. one task at a time. one issue at a time. one bite-size chunk of life at a time. That's all I can handle and it's all I need to handle.

I also want to be better about maximizing my time and attention in regard to the people in my life. In 2018, I intend to be more purposeful about visiting my grandparents. I want to make the most of time with my parents and for my kids to see both sets of grandparents more frequently. I feel like we have lost some social connections over the past couple of years and I want to make sure to make those a priority again. I am creating time and space for my husband and me to have dates, and we are continuing our alone times with each of our children. In regard to these areas, I want to treat the one I am with, at any given moment, as if they are the most important one on earth to me. Because they are.

In a similar vein, I mentioned at the end of 2017 that I worried I hadn't connected as well to my students this year (although I feel more connected to my colleagues, in some sort of paradox). I am continuing some things and starting some new ones to make a connection to my students, things like writing a card to one student in each class every week. I won't get to all of them, but at the end of the semester I write a card to each student anyway and so I want to use these cards to reach out to either kids who seem to really need a connection or to one who is going through a tough time.

Sometimes I get so bogged down in everything I want to do for this world around me that I become almost paralyzed with the overwhelming feeling of never being enough. This year, I want to remember the phrase that I think was attributed to Mother Theresa, "Do for one what you wish you could do for millions." I want to hone in once again on the ministries that are dearest to my heart and pour myself out to those instead of feeling like I need to do a little dabble in everything.

Finally, and the fact that I put this last makes it obvious where it falls in my own mind as far as importance, although I know it probably needs to be close to the top to make the rest of it work.... I have to make this one.... ME.... a priority. I have to carve out space for myself to recharge, to be cared for, to have fun, and I have to make my health a focus. I want to continue my better sleep and water intake of 2016-2017 and add better eating and activity habits to that. I want to make sure that I am doing the things needed for my own emotional and physical and mental wellbeing.

So that's my 2018 focus word and the ways it's going to play out. One. One year to finish stronger than I started it. Let's do this.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

The Instant Pot of Life

This afternoon, I opened the cabinet door and slid the plastic lid into its rightful place in the cardboard holder. As I pushed a little bit to get it past the glass bowls, I could hear the echoes of my own voice in my head and I flushed a little, even though no one was in the kitchen with me and even if they were, they couldn't hear the failure replaying in my head.

It was that frantic last week of school before Christmas break and the pressure had built like it does in that new cooking rage, the Instant Pot. I was worried about grades for 4, a presentation for 1, a volleyball tryout for 1, and the end of the semester for myself. I finally blew up over the fact that the dishes person had not put the glass bowls and lids back the way they should have been and I had to rearrange that cabinet. Glass bowls and plastic lids. A 1x2 foot cabinet. Those things were big enough to me that day to lose my mind on a kid who didn't deserve it at all. And lose it, I did. I yelled and fumed and said hurtful things. I belittled and shamed. Then I sighed and huffed, acting like the rearrangement of that cabinet was equal to dismantling an entire living structure myself and rebuilding it. Then, just to make sure my point was made, I pouted for a good while afterward.

And in so doing, I tore pieces in a foundation that I had been carefully laying with that kid and all of my family. 

Why? Why did those stupid lids and bowls, that cabinet that is overfull anyway, why did they matter so much right then? Why didn't I just fix it and move on?

Today when things were out of place, I just moved them back. Today when we were having our family cleaning day and four people half did a job, I just calmly called them back down and had them redo it. And when I opened that cabinet and relived those moments from three weeks ago, I couldn't figure out why the things that were a giant deal then were just a simple thing today.

So I sat for a while this afternoon and I thought about all of it. Because when it matters, and this does, you have to find a way to do better. You have to identify the problem and figure out a way to work through it. Because you work too hard to build something that matters, something of lasting material,  to just tear it down in a moment over plastic and glass.

It's the pressure. It's the stress. It's the fast living. And it's compounded by 7 in this house. This break has been just exactly like summer was for me and for us.... just glorious. We enjoyed each other and we treasured our time. Every day that has ticked by this past week has made the anxiety increase for me because I know we are headed back into the Instant Pot of Life.

So what's the answer? We can't exactly quit our jobs and school and become hermits. We can't withdraw from our activities. We can't avoid the stress and pressure of grades and jobs and so on. What can we do?

Well, we can carve out as much time as possible for mini-breaks. We can keep our weekends as open as we can so that our Saturdays become a time of respite and to catch up on our neglected rest and relationships and chores. We can make Sabbath space for us. We can stay on top of certain things so that they stay manageable, rather than morphing into giant tasks. We can remember to breathe. We can keep the main things, the main things. And we I can refuse to allow ourselves myself to blow up over plastic bowls and lids stupid petty things that don't matter a bit in the grand scheme of things.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Small Town Mary

As I am packing away the Christmas decorations, I found myself lingering over this little Nativity set. I remember when we watched "The Nativity Story" this year, and as with every year, a new aspect of the movie and the story spoke to me. This year, I honed in on Mary, mostly, and Joseph too, and the fact that though it is not detailed much in the Bible, their humanity.

Mary seemed to take the Angel at his word, and pretty easily. However, the part the Bible leaves out that the creative version of the movie portrays most painfully is the reaction of the townspeople to her perceived disgrace. The looks, the whispers, the disgust..... And once the angel had appeared to Joseph as well, she did have someone with whom to share the weight of the Promise, but it didn't clear up the misperceptions. I have thought of this part before and felt sympathy for Mary and Joseph.

At this viewing, however, another thought struck me: I have always sort of thought of them as having nine months or so of embarrassment and righteous indignation, then the rest of their lives being a kind of supernatural "told you so". See, if there is one thing about me that I love, it's a chance to be proven right. I don't necessarily mind being wrong and I am always happy to apologize if I'm wrong, but nothing makes me any crazier than being falsely accused or being right and others not realizing or acknowledging it. As we watched the movie this year, it hit me that Mary and Joseph had no sort of proclamation to those in Galilee that they had birthed the Son of God. An angel didn't accompany them back from Egypt, pointing at each person who had whispered about them, saying, "Told you, told you, told you..." Instead, they returned with their Son, this Son of God and Son of Man, and lived in the same sort of small town that I live in, a town where everyone knows everyone and everyone knows the past. Jesus grew up in this small town and no doubt the rumors followed Him and Mary and Joseph. It wasn't until many, many years later that His deity was realized, and even then not by everyone, partly by denial and partly by lack of proximity. Mary didn't have the option to Instagram story His turning water into wine at the wedding. No one was able to Facebook live the healings. Instead, Mary lived the remainder of her life as the Mother of God to those who knew and the Human Who Blew It to those who didn't.

It's yet another reminder of the humility that Mary possessed. The humility that we, that *I*, are so often lacking. And another reminder of the fact that God's ways are not man's, and He doesn't always choose to reveal His truths to clear our names, as much as we would like for Him to. Because ultimately, it's not about our comfort but rather about our obedience.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017: Hold

Hold
/hōld/
verb
1. grasp, carry, or support with one's arms or hands.
noun
1. an act or manner of grasping something; a grip.
2. a fortress

My 2017 word, chosen in retrospect in this final day of 2017, is "hold". It was a year of holding to faith, to God, to my people, to the plow, to a Promise, to community. It was a year of building a fortress around our nuclear family and holding to each other and to home. It was a year of learning what to hold with tightly clasped hands and what to hold open-palmed, and learning to live more open-palmed. I am thankful for this year and the many blessings it has brought to us. I'm thankful for a year to hold fast to a Savior and His Will, for Him to prove his faithfulness. 

This year can be divided exactly and neatly into two halves in nearly every way. The first half was spent in a strange limbo as every aspect of our lives felt like we were stretched between two dimensions, trying to cherish and love the four who were here, knowing this time would never be again, and simultaneously feeling like we were missing our other halves. The wait was frustrating and faithbuilding and anxiety-inducing. At the same time, I had such an incredible last semester of the school year and felt so treasured by my classes and my people. We spent the first half of 2017 astounded at the glory of the Lord and His provision, as people poured out their support for our adoption. The first half was spent on uneasy ground after an election that drew sharp lines through communities and friendships and families. The first half was a frantic whirlwind of activity as we rearranged our entire house, fundraised like crazy people, and continued our regular activities and schedules. We had some parenting trials and some parenting fails in the spring of 2017, sparking some doubt in my mind that we were equipped for adding 3 more kids to parent. Because see, that's what the devil does when you are following God's call. He throws anything he can in your path to trip you up and bring doubt. 

The trip to the Philippines in June (straight from Royal Family, which will always amaze me with its appropriateness of timing) was the line between the two halves of the year for us. Our entire lives, our family, our world, changed in that week, changes all for the better. It was there and then that we found our completion to our family unit.

The second half of 2017 was vastly different than the first. Instead of the whirlwind of activity, we entered a season (at least of a few months) of almost unsettling calm. Our summer days were long and our nights even longer. No longer engaged in our own individual pursuits, our family was spending all of our time together in one room, playing games or watching movies, or outside for long summer nights playing volleyball or basketball or running around, sitting around the patio talking. We were feeling our way with each other, trying to figure out who we all were now that we were "we". We were falling in love not only with our new kids, but with the new selves we became with them. I will forever remember the summer of 2017 as the sweetest and scariest season of my life, spent relearning everything I thought I knew about everything, waiting on attachments to form rather than forcing them, and realizing for 100% certainty that Emma and Kelsey have grown into everything I ever hoped they would be. 

Then the school year started and with it the realization that dropping off and sending forth newly adopted teenagers to their first day of American public school is every bit as terrifying as leaving your kindergartner on his or her first day. We developed our new routines and rhythms with school and jobs and sports and church and activities. Everyone thrived, and most days it felt like I did too. The biggest adjustment for me this year came from having two kids at my school with me. I had always looked forward to that moment and in many ways it was as wonderful as I expected, but it has brought some challenges as well when your colleagues play different roles in the lives of your kids and you have to balance mom and coworker. My classes this semester have been awesome, although I have worried at times that I haven't connected with them like I normally do, and in those moments I wonder if I've reached the end of my reservoir of connection, if I'm pouring it all out at home and there just isn't enough left for school. 

In fact, connection.... true, genuine, authentic connection.... is something I have missed in my life this year. Partly due to lack of time and energy, maybe partly due to other reasons, we haven't had social experiences like we did in the past. We don't do couples dates, we never have people over, I don't go to girls nights, we never get asked to anyone else's house, no cousins clubs happened this year. I have missed those things somewhat, or maybe I just miss the IDEA of them. I have felt this entire year that there was a wall between me and much of my family and many of my friends and members of my various communities. And I don't know for certain what it was, though I do have my suspicions, but I hope to scale those walls in the coming year.

I turned 40 this year. It wasn't anything like I hoped and yet somehow it was even better. I had planned to have a big party (and I still plan to in the summer) and it just didn't feel worth it, so I didn't do it. It fell on Thanksgiving, which is the absolute worst case scenario in a first world, perfectly healthy sort of way. However, my sweet husband and beautiful friends arranged for one of the most special nights I can remember and it was absolute perfection. My mom and my family did an awesome party at her house before we left for West Virginia. My gifts this year top any occasion I can remember. It was the least painful and most fun 40th I ever didn't know I wanted.

This fall semester has been proof that God knew exactly what He was doing when He put my family together, from those long nights of AOL Instant Messaging with Kraig in 1998 to that beautiful baby with exquisite lips and a perfect hairline in 2003 to that adorable and gigantic fuzzy-headed baby with the gorgeous eyes that saw straight through to your soul in 2005 to the breathtaking black-haired trio with the shy smiles and sparkling eyes in August of 2016. We are blessed, we are loved, and we are each other's.

And now I'm ready to wake tomorrow in a new year, a year that will only know us as 7, a year of creating new memories and hope. A year to settle in and love deep and reach out. A year of hopefully calm waters and deeper faith. A year to build something that will last.

Family Meeting and Bullet Journal

I'm ashamed to say that sticking to things is hard for me. In fact, a few years ago I got home from a mom conference and sat down with Emma and Kelsey and sheets of paper to make some plans and procedures. Emma wrote this heading on hers: "Things Mom Says We Will Do But We Won't Actually". She was joking, but I knew it wasn't a joke. I think we are all like that, to some degree. And I would rather live life as a human than a robot, stuck in a procedural manual. However, I started 2017 knowing that we had to establish some systems in order to survive and that starting them as a family of 4 before we became 7 would be beneficial. And thus was born my (very loosely fitting the definition of) Bullet Journal Notebook and Sunday Night Family Meetings. And I'm here to tell you that every single week of my notebook is filled and we had a family meeting EVERY SINGLE WEEK (although two times we held them on Monday instead of Sunday and once even on TUESDAY). 

If you're looking for some structure in your family, I highly recommend whatever variation of this works for you. In my notebook, I have a page for each week and headings of itinerary (self explanatory), meal plan (also self explanatory, although I will say that Kraig and I rotate weeks of cooking (and the kids rotate weeks of taking one meal a week with hopes of expanding that) and it has saved our relationship this year), to do (this is my own to do list), notes (love this-- I just put special details of things we want to remember from each week), prayer (some are longstanding, others change weekly) and praise (it's been so faithbuilding to see prayers answered before our very eyes). On the page opposite, I update our family chore rotation (this has evolved some-- we had two kids on dishes each week but inevitably only one kid did all the work so we went to just one), van seat rotation (this is another sanity-saver), and devotional lead rotation (every week someone different leads our family meeting devotional). 

Our family meetings take the following format: We start with the person in charge of the devotional doing that with us. Then I take prayer requests, go over praise reports, and the devotional leader leads us in prayer. After that, I go over the weekly itinerary and meal plan (each kid has his or her own planner that they update if they want to-- some want to know every detail and others just go with the flow), chore rotation, seat assignments, and devotional lead for the next week. We finish by having time for people to mention things they want to discuss. Sometimes Kraig and I have specific things we want to say to everyone or remind them of (see Cuss Word Chalkboard Spectacle circa September 2017), sometimes we don't. I have also used the meetings for things like motivational talks and the love languages discussion a few weeks ago. 


Again, it may not work for everyone and it probably won't look the same for everyone, but it has been great for us and it's honestly one of my proudest accomplishments of 2017. That and the fact that my better sleep patterns and water intake of fall 2016 have carried through 2017. And oh yeah, other valuable things too. 😂 

Friday, December 22, 2017

From Advent to Fulfillment

It's December 22. One is out running, one is at a birthday sleepover, and the other three are alternately yelling at Mario and Luigi and at each other. And I'm sitting upstairs, waiting on my Silhouette to cut shirt designs, marveling at the changes in our world since last December. One year ago, we were right in the middle of a hard limbo. We were right in the middle of fundraising, of waiting, of rearranging our house, and of hoping. Our kids didn't know yet that we existed and we still had two hard tests to face. At this point, we were not yet officially "matched" and, while it's unlikely to be pre-approved and then not matched, it's possible. So we were in the middle of moving around an entire house, not even certain that people would be coming to fill it. We also knew that we were facing a hard deadline of March 12 for completed government approval paperwork, and as each second ticked by in waiting for the match, it delayed everything that came after. We knew that if the March 12 deadline wasn't met, Francisco would age out which would make things impossible. So last December found us very much living in our own advent season.
ad·vent  (ăd′vĕnt′)
n.
1. The coming or arrival of something or someone that is important or worthy of note
One year later, having already experienced "the coming or arrival of something or someone that is important or worthy of note", we are leaving in a season of fulfillment. The fulfillment of a long-awaited Promise, the fulfillment of family, the fulfillment of a hope and a future, the fulfillment of lives that were preserved for a reason, the fulfillment of the fruit of years of God working in the hearts of Emma and Kelsey to prepare them for this time.

I cannot even put into words how utterly amazed I am DAILY at the ways the Lord has blessed all seven of us through this process. Our three new kids are incredible. They are kind, courteous, fun, witty, smart, helpful, and loving. They tackled the world of American public school this semester and absolutely ASTOUNDED me with their drive and work ethic and concern and success. Francisco's final grades aren't in yet but it looks like 2 A's and 2 B's. His first experience EVER in our educational system and he blows the top out of it. Every teacher and every student who has interacted with them has only had great things to say. They are so pleasant at home and with all of us and each other.

I honestly hope this does not come across as bragging because believe me when I say that I have had my struggles in other ways, but every single day this Christmas season when I have looked at my Facebook memories, I have been dazzled at the ways God has created time and space for me. Every.single.year. I am stressed out by the amount of things I have to do, I'm behind, I'm low on energy and time. I am normally buying Christmas gifts now, one year I STARTED buying on the 20th, I often am writing my students' Christmas cards WHILE THEY TAKE THEIR EXAM, and I seldom have teacher gifts done until the wee hours of the morning the night before the last day. This year...... it's just unbelievable and I don't know how it's possible. I have had so much MORE to do, so many MORE people to care for, and I have somehow been more ahead of the game than EVER. My grading has stayed caught up all year. My end of semester work of cards and research papers and final grades was done weeks ahead. I left school 30 minutes after the kids did, as opposed to my YEARLY having to stay until 5 or 6:00. My gifts have not only been bought, but WRAPPED, for weeks. We sent teacher gifts to school in shifts and were done early. My business orders are the only thing that are down to the wire, but that's only because I decided in order to PAY for this Christmas, maybe I should take some last minute orders and do some advertising, haha! There is no feasible explanation for any of this except a God-miracle. He knew that my heart was pretty wrapped up in emotional stuff right now and it didn't need the stressors of time management and procrastination, so He somehow created extra space and time for me. And I ADORE Him for it.

A few people (who apparently know how stressful an adoption can be) have asked me, often in a whisper, "So how are you and Kraig?" The answer is that we are wonderful. Is it always perfect? No, but I think waiting all of these years until we were both in the same place was such incredible provision by God. I also think the massive amount of preparation and training that you do in an international adoption made a difference for us. Our time with Royal Family over all of these years put us in a place where we understand what issues we might face. And we have always been incredibly in sync in regard to our parenting styles, a fact that I attribute to the similarities with which we were raised. There have been some things since school started that we have had to deal with, things with "new" and "old" kids, and we have been on the same page in handling those issues.

I will say, all of the previously mentioned things considered, though, that the most incredible and beautifully amazing gift of God through this family change has been His work in the sibling relationships. 5 teenagers. 2 bedrooms. 1 house. 2 schools. A ton of social groups. 2 parents. A million activities. Incredibly different personalities. AND YET. Unfathomable love. Unbelievable connection. Unexplainable harmony. And that is all, 110%, due to ONE GOD. I honestly believe that the sibling relationships are what have shaped the beautiful success of our new family. If there is harmony among the kids in the home, it's so much easier to create and find harmony in every other situation and dynamic. I am so thankful to God for that. And so indebted to these five beautiful children for all of it.

So here we sit, fresh in the bloom of fulfillment. I know that challenges likely loom ahead, but the same God who shaped and formed these first six months together will walk us through those.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Prayer Whispers and Snow Flakes

Last night, at close to 1 AM, I posted the status below on Facebook. Yesterday afternoon and evening were hard ones and part of what makes things harder is the balance between seeking prayers, love, and advice from friends and still allowing my people to maintain their privacy and dignity. I don't share much in regard to the challenges of parenting now that my kids are old enough to have their own pride and dignity. Last night though, I was in a dark place. And I needed to feel the prayers and support of my community. So I posted the somewhat vague status below.

This afternoon and tonight weren't the easiest we've ever had.... Parenting of teens, especially in complex situations, isn't for the faint of heart. When one says, "I'm doing my presentation alone because no one wanted to be my partner" and you know that not only did it sting, she's also scared to be alone in front of the class and while most kids would think to just ask the teacher if, since the number was odd, she could make a group of three, she would not think of that.... it hurts a mama's heart. When you butt heads with one over and over and over and it finally comes out in a fit of rage and words and weeping and explanations and justifications and at last, hugs and tears and promises.... it tires a mama's heart. When you are in the car for 2 hours straight, rushing from one activity to the next, ending the night with a final one, then handling everyone's different issues.... it wears down a mama's heart. This mama's heart is feeling fragile tonight. I would not regret your prayers for my heart, my children's (all five) hearts, our family connections, and some Sabbath rest and restoration. Nothing huge, just a lot of big feelings in some medium-sized people. Being a teenager is hard enough. Being a teenager with extra challenges and dynamics and complications is terribly unfair. And I need to be able to mom them without being so emotionally bogged down in all of it.

But in that vagueness, I was very specific about my prayer requests and one was for family connections and Sabbath rest and restoration.

I live in East Tennessee. It snows here in December...... uh, pretty close to NEVER. I had heard rumblings early in the week and last weekend about snow, so I checked the forecast before bed last night. Nada. Nothing. Not a chance. Not a flake. I got up this morning, resolved to have a good day and start fresh from yesterday, then checked the forecast: Snow. Every hour starting at 10 AM. 80% chance. 1-3 inches accumulation. I felt in my gut that it was going to be true.


I went to school and around 10:15, it started to snow. I got Francisco out of class and took him outside to see snow for the first time, a moment I don't think he nor I will ever forget. He reacted in exactly the way I had hoped he would and I was able to capture it on video.
Francisco's Video
As the morning wore on, the snow continued. First just little flurries, then big ones, then a full on dumping of snow. And the grass started to cradle it and the trees started to don their winter formals. The childlike joy and excitement that only snow can bring started to spread from students to adults alike. And then came the call that everyone anxiously awaits, word that school was letting out early for the day. And that's when I realized what God had given to me.... an opportunity, an almost UNPRECEDENTED opportunity, for family connections and Sabbath rest and restoration.



So here I sit tonight, snuggled on one couch under blankets with two of my girls while Kraig and the boys fill the other and Kelsey sits across from us, wrapped in a blanket with her feet entwined with ours on the ottoman. So far today and tonight, there have been hot chocolate stops on the way home, snowball fights, naps on the couch, reading, wii playing, a delicious family dinner (that none of us had to cook-- thanks, Whitney!), and lots of tv watching while the lights of the Christmas tree bathe us in wonder.




















Last night wasn't awful. But it was emotional and tiresome and draining. And with just a whisper to my Father and some prayers from the Saints, He sent the most peaceful and unexpected gift of snow to provide us with our Sabbath rest tonight.