Love Does, My Story

A Little Look Back

…seek peace and pursue it.   – Psalm 34:14b

20 years ago, in the spring of ’96 there was this guy that asked me to be his girlfriend and I said yes.  That isn’t even where this story begins… but it’s where I’ll start today.  20 years since that first yes.

This weekend we celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary.  I could not have ever imagined our story unfolding as it has.  never.

Years ago, at least 6 but I think even more, a friend of ours was praying for us when he had a picture of me on a rope swing, and the Lord inviting me to let go of the swing.  Let go, trust, enjoy.  Come in.  The water is cool.   At the time I thought, yeah right.  I’m never letting go.  I don’t do adventure.

As I sit here this morning reflecting on a journey, I can see God’s gentle pursuit and the many signposts along the way that speak deeply of his love for me.

A year or two later we made a major move that we had really not considered – relocating for a job that we never thought we’d get to a place we never expected … it still makes me laugh to think about how we ended up here.  We thought we had hit life’s jackpot, skipped adulthood and pretty much moved into retirement bliss.  We had a real sense that God had given us a season of rest.  Dear Jesus, if I had known what was coming I am certain I would have slept even more.

Around our 10th year of marriage we realized we’re adults now, we need to start doing adult things.  We responded to a nudge from the Lord to step into foster and hopefully make a difference in the lives of children.  We have a deep conviction that to whom much is given, much more will be required (Luke 12:48). 

We walked through a difficult first placement.  One that taught us so much about the realities of the brokenness around us.  I can fully relate to the recent words of Jason Johnson on receiving their first child through foster care:

I’m convinced we didn’t rescue a little girl from her situation as much as a little girl rescued us from ours. She pulled back the veil of the world around us and showed us a broken side of it we had all but isolated ourselves from. She pulled back the veil of our hearts as well and showed us the same.

There was no way we would ever be the same.  In some ways, we lost our own innocence, but it was needed.  We lived comfortably unaware of the battle going on in our own neighborhoods.  Our eyes were opened, our hearts were broken and we were shaken.  We took some time to regroup, pull ourselves back up and see if this is really where God was calling us.

During our break, a long time friend reached out after many years and shared a dream she had that we would be receiving twins. babies. and they will be forever. 

To say I stopped breathing would be an understatement.  I don’t remember breathing for the next week.  I hardly ate.  I prayed and prayed and prayed some more.  My husband, he prayed once… then I asked him if he was still praying and he said, what?  I didn’t know we were supposed to keep praying.  🙂

In that painful season of the transition of our first placement I engulfed myself in the Bethel Music album that had just been released.  The song It is Well was on constant replay as I tried to convince myself it was well with my broken heart.  When we received this word of the twins I really didn’t think my heart could handle another break.

I went to my parent’s house for a week while Daniel was traveling.  I had received other words confirming what I sensed God was inviting me into.  At their church a series of unfortunate events culminated in an unusual Sunday service.  With no worship leader they decided to use the Bethel video worship from the album that I had been soaking in.  The cover song for that album is You Make Me Brave.

Now if there is anything I consider myself lacking it is courage and bravery.  Seriously, lacking.  My pose of self competence is a mask of control that was deeply rooted in fear. This was not a song I could even sing.  Nothing in me felt brave.  But that morning as we sang that song an elder shared a picture he had of a person standing at the edge of the ocean, big waves were rolling in but the Father was calling them to step into the waves, they will not overcome you.

What little air I had been breathing was immediately sucked from the room as tears slowly fell out of my eyes.  This word could.not.be.for.me.  I cannot handle the waves. I hate waves.  Please Jesus, invite me into the calm… I promise I can be fun in the calm.   But calm was what I can handle.  The waves were what he wanted to use to reveal his Glory in my life.  I had to step into a story that left me believing nothing less than You Make Me Brave.

When I finally shared the dream with my dad, he laid back on the couch, almost in an overwhelmed way, and said he had a deep sense that the word shared on Sunday was for me but he couldn’t even look at me.  It was a distinct confirmation for me that I better get ready, the waves are coming.

One week later I received the call about the twins… after Daniel and I picked ourselves off the floor (in two different places) got over the “are you shittin’ me” shock of this call… we said yes.  Our yes was half-obedience, a little bit of curiosity and the rest pure fear of saying no to something God had so clearly spoken.

The rest of the story unfolds throughout the 60 something posts of this storyofagirl blog.  It’s surreal.  It’s stunning.  It’s beautifully painful but undoubtedly raw.  I’ve sought to bring you the real life as it has unfolded in the daily battle of loving children from hard places to  learning what it means to surrender to a plan that wasn’t yours, trust a God that is bigger than big and hope that no matter what may come, he is faithful.

There were many days when I wondered if we would survive.  There were prayers that I could relate to Jesus’ prayer in the garden… if this cup could pass from me – not my will but yours be done.  But there are so many days that have been beyond what I could have dreamed of.  The laughter and love that fills our home from these three precious girls is what kept me in the battle.  The growth we’ve seen in them and in us as they’ve raised us and turned us into parents is what makes it all worth it.  It has taken us a while but in all fairness, they have been children longer than we’ve been parents… it’s hard but we’re doing the best we can.

Your support has been the glue that holds this girl together.  Knowing you are praying, you are vested in our story, you are welcoming little girls with everything you have to offer, unconditionally, without judgement, offering grace when they have screamed their heads off… you people are my people.

Two weeks after the last trial, the final hurdle between us and adoption, another friend sent me a message with a dream she had of our adoption.  This was a much-needed burst of hope on a weary journey.  I haven’t really watched The Lord of the Rings and I most certainly haven’t read the books…. but from what I’ve gathered… I feel like Frodo and you guys have been all those weird looking people that are on his side 🙂  Except you’re all much prettier!

As I sit today and reflect on the past 24 months… the journey of the dream, the rope swing, the waves that I thought would take me under, I listen over and over again to the song You Make Me Brave and my heart sings indeed… He has made me brave and you have been a big part of it.  There are a couple of key things I want to point out from this part of my story.

  1.  Build your fellowship.  Surround yourself and fill your life with people that know and hear God.  I fully believe he speaks and I am forever grateful for those that have shared with me his words and in turn given me the courage to step into the big things he has invited me into.    Call it your tribe, your fellowship, your village, your people… don’t do life without support.
  2. Seek peace and pursue it.  It is tempting for me to seek answers.  Often my prayers are asking God for specifics… or explaining to him how I think he should move… but I am learning that not every answer is specific.  Many times the next step is just into peace.  My wrestle in the past two years has been trying to figure out all the timing, the provision, the pieces of this story when all God was asking was for me to follow his peace and trust his heart.  Sometimes God gives specifics… like a dream, or scripture, or specific word… but sometimes he simply gives peace.  Go with it.
  3. Love big.  Love unreservedly.  Leave no regrets.  In these two years we’ve had a number of children come in and out that were not forever pieces… but we will forever be impacted by their time here.  My hope is that they will remember the love they experienced in our home and that it will forever point them to a Father that loves them big.
  4. Be brave.  Don’t let fear hold you back.  If God is saying do something that seems bigger than what you can do… trust that he is faithful.  Often times he is more concerned with the process than the destination, so find God in the waves.
  5. Share your story.  There is power in vulnerability.  Don’t just share the pretty parts… we need to hear the hard parts too.  I have often found the greatest grace in the most painful places.  These are the places that have strengthened my faith, solidified my trust and refilled my hope.  We all need to hear how God is moving, it encourages me.

Y’all 12 years of marriage, 2 years of parenthood and in 2 days we stand before a judge and give a big yes.  I imagine I will still be singing You Make Me Brave for the next 12 years and beyond.  By then I’ll have twin 16 year olds… dear Lord, I need you more.  As I anticipate celebrating the realization of the dream we’ve been holding, I know our story doesn’t end here.  This is just the beginning….  I hope you keep hanging with me.

12-08-14_MandellaFamily_EdenGardens-7
Throwback to the beginning.  They were so tiny!

*photo credit to LitteMissCreative because she’s the best there is.

 

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When a heart breaks

I’ve been avoiding you.  All of you. I want to hide.  I want to pretend like this past week wasn’t real.  I wish it wasn’t, but it is…

She was my biggest fan… well… next to my mom of course.  But you couldn’t tell where one of them ends and the other begins.  She loved our story, she prayed for me daily and now she will watch it unfold from a higher place.

This was her last message to me:

You are their mommy today, tomorrow and for ever long that God gives you this title. I love you like my own and I am proud to say I know you.

My eyes fill with tears as I try to capture in one post all that she meant to me.  It just isn’t possible.

This was my friend Judy.  She was ushered into heaven one week ago and I still feel the sting of loss.  She loved me big.  I honestly thought I was her favorite… then as I gathered with everyone else in her life I realized,  we ALL think we were her favorite.

Judy had a special way of making you feel like you were the most important person around.  She loved unconditionally, unreservedly and unlike any other I have ever known.  She always saw the good in me and called out of me things I couldn’t believe for myself.

She prayed faithfully.  She loved my girls.  She fought in the heavenlies and held on to hope when I didn’t have the strength to hold on for myself.  She’s the first person my mom calls and quite possibly the most excited when she found out about our adoption.

I’ve always called her my other mother, because that is for sure the role she played in my life.  She was there the day I was born.  She picked up the pieces of my devastated brother who had begged for a brother and found out I was a girl.  (sorry!)  She loved me, crooked little legs and all.  Unconditionally.

She has been at every major event in my life… except when I graduated college… but even I skipped that.  When Daniel proposed to me at midnight on New Year’s Eve many years ago, her door was the one I knocked on at 1:00 am.  And she screamed with excitement at this little girl that couldn’t wait to be married.

When I got married, she gave me one piece of advice:  “never let the bed get cold.”  So I immediately went on to Pottery Barn and ordered more bedding.  I live in Florida now but I’ll be darned if I don’t have blankets and down comforters on my bed… even in the summer.  Daniel keeps telling me that’s not what she meant… but I know it is.  We stay warm.

She was a safe place, comfortable, welcoming and funny.  We always laughed when we were together.  If she couldn’t find my mom, she would call me and we would talk through all the possible places she might be.  9 times out of 10 it was just the shower.

When my sister called and told me I needed to come home, I couldn’t believe it.  I couldn’t swallow the truth.  All I could think is how hard it will be to celebrate the big things without her there.  Our adoption is so close… but she won’t be here.  It’s not just about me.  My heart breaks for so many people that will feel the pain of that empty space at the table, at the party, at the office, at the doors of Wiregrass church, at the baby showers, the graduations, the weddings and at Labor Day.

She was so many things to so many people, it’s hard to believe one tiny little lady could have such a big impact on this world.  At the funeral Amy listed all the names of Judy.  I never knew we could call her Judy Booty!  Seriously, how did I miss out on that!?!?!

But now we speak of her with her new name.  Faithful, beautiful, bride of Christ.  I know she is watching down on us… all of us.  And if you have any doubts, I assure you she is taking care of business in heaven.  Trust me, there is no resting.  She has Jesus’ undivided attention now.

I don’t know what I was hoping to accomplish with this post…. except to honor that which is honorable… one special lady that has forever imprinted love on my life and the ones I love.

To all of you who were fortunate enough to know her, consider yourself blessed.  For those of you who didn’t have the privilege of knowing her, rest in knowing that you have seen her fruit in my life.

My heart hurts at knowing there won’t be a comment from my Judy on this post, or any others.  It won’t be the same.  But I find comfort in knowing she is having a grand ol’ time running things in heaven.  Once again, sorrow may last for the night and I can trust that joy will come again… one day.

Love you forever~