Love Does, My Story

The Makings of a Mommy

What makes you a mommy?”   she asked in such an innocent, inqisitive voice.  My heart snapped to attention as I realized the depth of her question.  I gently pointed my finger to her chest and as our eyes met through the mirror I answered, you make me a mommy.

I explain for some, motherhood begins when a baby forms in their tummy, for others like me it begins with a choice… to step into something extraordinary.  Sometimes it starts with baby steps, sometimes it’s a deep dive into unknown waters. For some it’s a dream come true.  For others it is unexpected in many ways.  And yet for some it may be a desire held unmet.

I can’t help but be reflective this week.  The Facebook memories remind me of the day four years ago that made me a mother.  When my girls ask me where babies come from, I laughingly tell them mine came from a white van 🙂  They jumped out full of giggles and joy, calling me Miss Abby before I could even take in their beauty.  They ran around the house exploring every little detail and tried to pull Tini through her doggy gate.  I wonder if they could see the fear in my eyes… or even noticed that I hadn’t taken a breath since the van door opened.

I remember telling Daniel one time, if God wants me to have children then he’ll have to make it happen.  Just to be clear, that wasn’t a statement of faith.  I’m certain I spoke the challenge into being.   ::God sits on his throne. Challenge Accepted::

As I sat Sunday night and reflected on all the ups and downs that these years have held I can’t help but laugh at the adventure…

I have this one child who absolutely knows there is a video monitor in her room… yet she continues to do flips in her bed – a nightly routine that screams, watch me one more time.  Consequences mean nothing to her.  She laughs in the face of pain.  There is nothing she can’t do.  When people meet our gang, they are always quick to point out that little one.  I bet she keeps you busy.  Mark my words, she will run the world one day.

Those twins, they started first grade and might as well have started high-school.  How old do we have to be to have a cellphone?  When can I have a boyfriend? Can I wear lipstick? Despite their love of all things sparkly, they don’t think twice about catching a lizard or chasing a frog.

They’ve started asking deeper questions, about beliefs and baptism and why some people believe in a different god… because obviously there’s only one God and his name is Jesus and his last name is God 🙂

They call me out on my own sin… when my attitude is poor or my words are harsh – or if something slips out that falls short of holy –  they make sure I hear it again in the most awkward of places.  I have my own little accountability group.

They are quick to tell their teachers that all I drink is wine, while daddy just drinks diet coke.  We have no secrets – but many lies –  such as my mommy is having a baby – most definitely not true.  It’s hard to know if we’re right side up or upside down but these girls keep the adventure going every day.

Then we have some hard days in between the glory.  New school year, new faces, new schedules to grasp and friends to meet.  These things can send our happy little home into a pain-filled spiral.  On any given day you will find one of us in tears – most recently I am one.

And as I feel the weight of the pain, the overwhelming question if I have what it takes to raise these girls, I  pause to read someone else’s story.  She says hug them tightly, time moves so fast.  She will be taking her baby girl to college next week and can’t believe that she was an infant just last week.

Her admonition to squeeze every bit of life out of this season doesn’t fall on deaf ears – but how in the world am I supposed to enjoy the days that pierce my heart?  Some days I just want to believe that we will make it to college!  I promise I won’t cry.  Ha! I will cry.

I’m sure I’ll cry, just like I always do – crying either happy tears or tears that question if I did enough. Did I love enough, did we laugh enough, did I hug enough?  What will she remember when she looks back on these years?  What will the next years hold?  Please tell me we all survive.

I read a blog recently about surrender that rocked me to my core.  It was as if I could have written it myself.  It helped me to see these crazy questions in my head aren’t limited to just me.  She reminded me that “surrendered living is much more than ‘doing less’. It’s being more of who God created us to be… and sometimes surrendering to God will require you to do the hardest work you’ve ever done in your life.”

I finally breathe a sigh of relief.  It’s ok for this to be hard. 

On the far edge of 35, I’ve come to realize a few things about myself, some of which are not easy to face.  For instance, I’m not a big fan of grace.  Well, let me explain.  I love grace. But I don’t like to need grace. Nothing has more clearly revealed my need for grace than parenting.  It’s almost as if God thought this would be the perfect recipe to bring me face to face with my humanity.  {Not that I was perfect before or anything.}

I laughed out loud this morning as I considered my deep need for control.  Seriously, you could sell me ANYTHING if the word control is in the name.  Birth control – check. Weight control – check,check. Tummy control – where do I sign up?!?  I love the illusion of control.  This isn’t new.  I just laugh whenever I see how deeply I crave it.

With her comforting words, blogger Jennifer reminds me: On this journey toward surrender, you’ll discover that, at last, it really is all under control: God’s.

As I prepare to teach next week a session on “the fellowship” I have come to see that the thing that keeps me going – even in the face of the hard days – when I have no sense of control, is knowing I am not alone.  The wise words of the ones that have walked ahead of me, looking back and sharing their stories of survival, these mean the world to me.  And the friendships I have with those who walk beside me, cheering each other on in this road of womanhood, these make me believe we can conquer the world. – or at the very least survive it.  The lovelies that walk a few steps behind, a little bit wobbly or maybe even confident of their purpose, these ones remind me of where I’ve been. The men that speak encouragement, hope and love into our lives – you give us strength to carry on.

Here’s to each one of you! Thank you for being a part of this story.

To my little ones, who one day may read the words of your mother, I watched last night as your daddy read your name, the meaning behind each word and the promises we claim over you as he tucked you into bed.  Even as we face days that are less than perfect, I remember the promises he has given.

And to answer your tiny question that started all this stirring… it’s the hope I carry that you too will grow to be everything he created you to be, a woman who loves well, fights for what’s right, stands for her beliefs and engages with courage, beauty and love  –  my deep desire to love you come hell or high water…

…that’s what makes me a mommy.

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Love Does

A guide to the pain that slaps you in the face – and what not to do

          “That must be a heavy burden to carry…”

His words touched deeply, as if they uncovered a piece of truth I was trying to keep hidden – but he saw it.

I apologized as another tear made its way down my cheek.  Somewhat embarrassed by my own emotion – somewhat surprised I was even here.

When he first entered my emergency room he was taken aback to find me alone.  He asked a few questions which I simply answered about this unknown pain I was experiencing.  It was minor, yet confusing enough that I needed to make sure there wasn’t something major behind it.

“When did you start feeling the pain?”  –   When I woke up yesterday morning, it was piercing.
“What took you so long to come in?”  – I needed to put my girls to bed first  [the water begins building in my eyes]
“What kept you from coming yesterday?” –   [as a single tear escapes my burning eye, I explain]  I have three little girls, adopted, and I’m not sure why… but they fall apart if anything is wrong with me.

I needed to wait.  I needed our weekend to be a perfect rememberance, a celebration of this family built from a dream.  I needed to make space for the good days that would overcome the ones that are hard.  I just couldn’t be the trigger that makes everything fall apart.

I need to protect them from my pain.

They’ve felt so much.  I can only piece together parts of the story that I read in their case or I’ve heard secondhand.  I don’t know if they even understand what they saw in those early days, or what about it makes them glaze over into a trance-like state that seems void of life.

One time, at our dear chiropractor’s office, I attempted to get an adjustment.  One twin screamed uncontrollably as I lay on the table.  When all was done and I knelt down to calm her, she came close and slapped me across the face – something I had never experienced in my whole life.  Yet it came from a 3 year old and ultimately stung my heart more than my cheek.  She had no idea what she had done.

Another time, when my toe met the black-iron bed built for a queen,  I screamed in pain, certain that I would never walk again… her eyes turned to glass and she began hitting me over and over until she was pulled away.

There’s a place she goes that I cannot see –  there are no words spoken – just a fear that overcomes like a blanket.

And I silently vow… I will never be the cause of her pain.

I realize now the cost of that vow.  I will be strong; there’s no room for weakness. 

I’m setting unrealistic expectations and there’s no way I can deliver.

We can’t be a family that avoids the pain.  Hers or mine.

He spoke gently to me as I tried to pull myself back together.  He laid out our next steps to evaluate and medicate to bring relief from the mystery in my abdomen.  I assured him I was ok with the pain, I can handle it… I just need to know if there’s anything important that could be wrong.

“You are important….  you are important and you are in pain.” 

His words diffuse my deeply ingrained protective strategies and allow me to believe I am worth seeing… even though I can’t seem to make eye contact for fear of more tears.

I can’t take those pain meds that make you sleepy.  There’s a tiny person back home that is bound to wake up because she ate her weight in watermelon… I have to be able to help her sleep walk to the potty – time is of the essence.

They draw all the blood, fill me with fluids, give something mild for pain and deliver a “cocktail” that falls far short of my definition.  All my major organs come back clear, I breathe a sigh of relief and promise if the pain returns I’ll come back for further testing.  He didn’t say it in so many words… but I know the truth… camping is killing me.  [i joke]  The truth is more likely that I’ve given myself an ulcer.

I drive home in the darkness of night turned morning, check on the little people tucked in tight and crawl into my own comfy bed next to the guy that holds my world together.  But I can’t stop hearing the doctor’s words…

…That must be a heavy burden to carry…

They’ve replayed in my head over and over today.  It’s almost as if he saw my dark circled eyes, my clenched jaw, my broken pieces and called out the truth… I’ve taken on a burden that wasn’t mine to carry.

I’m gently reminded of the scripture in Matthew 11

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Our burden is real, there’s no doubt.  But it isn’t mine to carry alone.  It was an invitation, in the most unexpected place, to come weary and trade this burden for rest.  It was a gentle reminder that I don’t have to hold it all together.  I can’t undo the pain of a past or avoid the pain of the present but I can trust that the one who was there continues to carry the weight and will be faithful to heal.

Sweet friend, you’ve made it this far in our story.  I wonder what burden you may be carrying yourself.  You’ll know what it is when you feel the sting of tears in your eyes.  Like me, you may scramble and try to keep from falling apart.  Dear one, let them fall.  These tears are signs of something deep within.  And there’s an invitation that says, come to me, your burden is heavy, but I have rest.  You do not have to walk alone.

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And just in case the guy in the E.R. offers you a cocktail… don’t fall for it.

Much love,
a broken girl.

Love Does, Uncategorized

Your Heart was Worth the Pain

“Just point me back to Jesus…”

These simple words I spoke in response to a friend’s question, how could he support me in the moment?  Knowing there was nothing that could be done to change my circumstances, I cannot deny that having people who remind me of the goodness of God changes how I engage.

There are times we will face struggles that seem beyond hope and we simply need to shift our focus.  Not because it changes the struggle, but it changes what we see.

When I see a field, You see a harvest
When I see the winter, You see the spring
When I see the orphan, You see Your child
My God how great You are…

When I’m in a battle, You see a victory
When I see the storm, You see a promise
I see the stars, but You know their names
My God how great You are…

I stand amazed that You stand unchanged
I give my life for the glory of Your name…

 lyrics from “My God How Great”
written by Nate Kelly, Destiny Worship Music
hear the full song on iTunes
used with permission –   sort-of 😉

These words pierced my heart Sunday morning, reminding me that circumstances don’t shape my hope – His promises frame my journey.  I can rest knowing there’s no mountain too high, no rival too great, no ocean too deep that he can’t reach me… or you.

I stand amazed… he stands unchanged.  The stories long ago of a sea split in two, a son that squandered everything yet was met by grace, a people who entered the land promised generations before, a tomb found empty – fulfilling every promise of hope to come … this is the same God today as the one in the book.  He has not changed.

My sin was great, Your love was greater

I have reflected on this holy week and the journey from the donkey to the cross.  It is more than my Sunday school, child-like perspective can take in.  I have to be intentional to not just read through the story, but allow myself to wonder what was that like?  One day He is hailed as king and people literally fall to their knees.  The next thing you know he is sweating drops of blood… knowing what tomorrow brings.

What was worth it?

His friends failed him. His father turned his back on him. People mocked him.  The thorns pierced him.  The cross nearly broke him.

What could he see beyond the grave?

He sees you…      12_06_17_AbbyMandella_Family_GraytonBeach-4

He sees me too.
As tears fall from my eyes I have to remind myself, I am what he sees on the other side of the darkness.  I see my falleness, he sees my redemption.  I see my fears, he sees courage.  I see my frailties but he sees beauty.  Where I see my weakness, the struggles, the disappointment –  he sees strength, love and the glory he created in me.

In Max Lucado’s book, And the Angels Were Silent: The Final Week of Jesus he writes:

You can tell a lot about a person by the way he dies. And the way Jesus marched to his death leaves no doubt: he had come to earth for this moment.

From the fall to the manger, from the tabernacle to the trial he always knew his purpose.

Grace to Grace

In a previous life, I was a worship leader.  I know what goes into a Sunday morning set or a weekday service – building a team and shepherding hearts.  I’ve always said, I can’t lead where I’m not willing to go myself.  Even though I didn’t have all the skills or talent, you can bet I had heart.  My heart was first to honor him, but second to point others to Jesus. His wonder.  His glory.  His goodness and his love.

It has been at least 5 years since I’ve touched those keys, close to 15 since I’ve led a service.  Life looks drastically different these days.  I now have the privilege of leading 3 tiny hearts to the feet of Jesus.  {More often than not, they send me straight there too}

My heart still leads but it’s not from a stage.  I set the atmosphere in my home even as we sing of his reckless love while tucking into bed, or how great our God is as we eat cereal or by shepherding little hearts to share kindness, love and laughter.  I have built a new set list.

This week I’ve been soaking in the weight of the cross, the pain in the journey and the promise of redemption.  I realize, often we do not know what the other side looks like.  We see the darkness that feels like death and are left to wonder what is worth it?  what could possibly be on the other side?  I honestly don’t know. I can’t help but believe that walking into the pain – no matter how deep –  embracing suffering and even facing death – that there is glory on the other side.   He certainly saw something worth it.

“When I see that cross, I see freedom
When I see that grave, I’ll see Jesus
And from death to life, I will sing Your praise…”

So I leave you with this song dear ones.  Take a moment to consider the cross this week and ask him, what made it worth it?  As my heart fumbles to find courage to enter the pain, and as you face your own journey, I pray these words indeed point us back to Jesus.

PS…I highly recommend checking out our dear friend Nate’s song “My God How Great” (quoted above) on iTunes by Destiny Worship Music.  We are total fangirls…

 

 

 

 

Love Does

Not My Child

My heart is breaking as I try not to imagine the unbearable pain so many parents and families are feeling today as they wake up to the nightmare of yesterday’s school shooting.  It’s every parent’s greatest fear, but today it is reality for 17 parents.  I almost can’t breathe.

But this isn’t about me.  Despite the feelings manifesting themselves in my inner being, the trembles that I seek to control and the simple knowing, that was not my child – I cannot help but feel.  So many feelings.  I want to curl up in a ball and hide from this broken world; gather my little chicks and create a safe place where I can protect and control who comes in.

Jesus save us.

As I try to wrap my head around the news – in the same breath I try to avoid the news. I don’t want to feel. I won’t ever understand what drives one to such a crime. But as I sat with Daniel last night and questioned, how does this even happen?  We wondered together, where were his parents?  Then it hit me like a wrecking ball…

Please don’t tell me he was a foster child.

Please, for the love of all things tell me a different story.  Please don’t let this hit so close to home.

But it does.  As I read this morning what barely surfaced last night, this young shooter was adopted, [I can’t confirm] from foster care.  His adoptive father died a few years ago and his adoptive mother passed away in November.  An orphan again.   And just like that, all my tender places are pierced, fears triggered and thoughts… that could have been my child – except for Jesus.

I’m not here to paint a picture or stigmatize children in foster care.  My heart is simply to shine a light on a crisis we face that goes beyond the cries for gun control.

Church, we have a problem and it starts with the family.

Our nation is in crisis and it’s bigger than just a national budget, gun control and gender issues.  Satan has attacked us at the core. He is relentless.  He is taking aim at marriages, families and the most vulnerable of people – our children.

What is the cost? We don’t always see it as clearly, but today we see – one child, through his own pain, intentionally took the lives of 17 more.  We will never be the same.  Something has to change.

I can sit on the outside looking in, hopefully through a lens of grace, and consider that this one child acted out of his own pain and broken story.  I can’t ask the parents of the seventeen others to share that same grace.

I can pray for an overwhelming peace to comfort the hearts of those who mourn, heal the pain of trauma, loss and violation.  I will search for a redemptive thread of grace that one day will surface but today, right now, I will let my tears fall.  I will give one extra squeeze when I say good-bye.  I will say yes to one more piece of candy.  I will commit ever-more-so to fight for the hearts of families, to stand in the gap for children and to be a voice for the ones that are choosing to enter into the hard places of foster care.

We are too much

You see, when I really stop to consider what tender places have been pierced, I have to be brutally honest.  Deep down I question, is our pain too much?  Are we too much? Will what happened in the past dictate our future?  Or can I believe that the incredible grace that built our family is enough to change our story?

Sometimes I look at our girls in their big brown eyes and think, if you only knew… I can’t wait to tell you all he has done for you.  Your story, sweet child, is one for the books.  He has big things in store for you.  You will change the world. 

But sometimes, in the midst of front-yard tantrums and mid-night meltdowns that point back to a season of pain, a loss, an experience or trauma – a lack of development or skills that still need to be refined… I wonder, will we ever be whole?  Will I ever stop trying to protect the world from us?  Will I believe we’re really worth it?  In all our glory 🙂

I must choose to believe our story will be different.  Not because I get it right, not because we’ve built a bubble, simply because I carry a hope that God’s heart is good.  No matter what we walk through, what pain we experience, I can trust his promises are good.  We are fighting for the hearts of our children, we are surrounded by people who love us deeply and walk with us through every battle.

Recently I experienced a mommy meltdown that brought to the surface those deep fears that we are too much or we will cause pain – a dear sweet friend looked me in the eyes and said “that is not your girls.  Your girls are kind and {a little bit crazy} but their hearts are good.  You have good girls.”

Her words brought healing to my mommy heart.  Her words give me courage to see the beauty that grows out of the pain.  I am reminded that I don’t walk this road alone.  Friends, we need each other.  There’s a battle for our families… and there’s a lot at stake.  Today, we mourn with those who mourn but don’t let this loss be in vain.  Rise up. Something has to change.   What’s your part?

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photo credit:: littlemisscreative
Love Does, My Story, Uncategorized

Overwhelming, Reckless Love

I felt it stirring… it started last week and had been building.  I was sharing pieces of our story in different places, with different people yet the same awestruck reactions… he has literally moved heaven and earth to build what we now know as our family.  It is overwhelming.

As I was sharing and in my own reflection I couldn’t help but realize the most significant thread in the entire story is His Pursuit.

Ours is a story of rescue, redemption, hope and dreams.  It is stunning in each of its pieces, painful in the making, breathtaking in its entirety, humbling to be a part of and inspiring to watch unfold.

Then came Sunday – quiet, cold, a bit dreary and unassuming.  I stepped into my favorite church, led in worship by my favorite leader, holding the hands of my sweet girls and one on my hip… the lights fell and he began to sing a song I had never heard before…

Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
Oh, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine
I couldn’t earn it
I don’t deserve it
Still You give yourself away
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God

**************************************
There’s no shadow You won’t light up
Mountain You won’t climb up
Coming after me
There’s no wall You won’t kick down
No lie You won’t tear down
Coming after me

Nothing moves my heart like a song that cries the words I have lived.  As the choir joined the song and he reached the bridge I could feel myself holding my breath.  Then in all of creativity he begins singing He loves us, oh how he loves us, oh how he loves us…. oh how he loves.

I.am.undone.     Tears streaming down my face, I can no longer sit.    Heaven reached down, gently kissed this girl and I have been overwhelmed ever since.

Those words are the ones I sang over my sweet girls in moments of darkness, in the battle of the night when I couldn’t understand what they were fighting.  I couldn’t fix the pain but I could proclaim, he loves us – oh how he loves us… and that has been a song we cling to – no matter what may come – we can rest in knowing his love.

I live with a constant awareness of God’s goodness in my life.  I long to see his glory. I crave it more than coffee.  My prayer for years has been, show me your glory… and he has.  But there’s something about this week that has touched the deepest place in my heart, put to death lies I have believed and gently spoken the question I’ve asked my entire life –  am I worth it? 

It is easy for me to believe that my girls are worth every single thing God has done.  On our adoption day, as we faced the judge and she asked why do you want to adopt these children, my undeniable response was because they are worth it – they are worth loving – they are worth fighting for – and they are worth protecting. 

I have found that often what drives us comes from our own deep desires.  I came from a wonderful home, raised by incredible parents, in a safe place with the best siblings a girl could ask for.  Yet somehow, in my own brokeness, the enemy had woven a lie that I will never be enough, I don’t have what it takes and I’m not really worth keeping.  I have lived striving to hear I’m worth it.   Am I worth protecting? Am I worth rescuing? Am I worth investing in? Am I worth the risk of love?

I was overwhelmed with grattitude this week as I reflected on the work God has done in my life.  Thanksgiving three years ago I was fresh into motherhood with 3 littles under 3 and faced with the question, would we consider adoption?  I couldn’t breathe.

Two years ago at Thanksgiving my heart’s cry was for our adoption to finalize, for the uncertainty to disappear, for this chapter to end.  Thankfulness was a choice, not a feeling.

Last year at Thanksgiving we were without a home, trying to create stability in a stressful season of building, trying to believe we would see his faithfulness in that step of our journey… longing to be settled.  Thankfulness was hanging by a thread.

This year, I look back and cannot find the words to capture the depths of my thanksgiving. Over the past month I have had dreams that brought to the surface feelings I didn’t even know I carried and as I awoke one day with tears falling out from my closed eyes, I heard the Lord say, you are worth it.  Every grace I have given to you has been worth it –  not because of who you are but because of who I am.  I have pursued you endlessly, poured out lavishly, loved unconditionally, sacrificed unreservedly and equipped you for the part I have given you.  

He’s all about the pursuit. It’s a larger love story.  That’s the gospel friends. He leaves no stone unturned, no mountain unmoved, no enemy unscathed.  He uses grand gestures, gentle whispers, unending mercies and relentless love.

Today I sit, resting in the goodness and recognizing that I am not the same as I once was.  I have much to be thankful for, much to be hopeful for and I choose to trust him for his faithful pursuit of the ones I love.  No story is the same.

Sweet friend, take a moment this week, ask him to show you his love for you.  Sometimes it comes in crazy unexpected ways… like 3 kids that bring you to the feet of Jesus, every.day.  Maybe that’s what it took –  something I could never do on my own, no way I could prove my worth – surrender to the path that led me to see his great love in ways I couldn’t see before.

If you have a minute, or ten, sit down and hear the song of my heart.  It just might move you too.

With a thankful heart and much love to you…  Happy Thanksgiving!

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.

 

Love Does, My Story

When Heaven Moves Earth

“yes Jesus loves me, yes Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so”

I hear the sweetest little voice singing these words from under the table.  This is my favorite.  My heart skips a beat at the sound of her voice singing the words I long for her to know in the depths of her being… Yes, Jesus loves you!

Adoption is in the air… the anticipation is almost more than I can bear.  Every little thing tugs at my heart-strings.  It’s not just our story, but yours as well.  The very day we found out that we were cleared for adoption, 4 houses down from us a tiny baby girl was born into her adopted family that had waited and prayed for this child.  I met this tiny one last night and the peace that envelopes her is surreal… I can’t help but wonder, “will you ever understand how heaven moved to get you here?”

One of my favorite scriptures in the Bible is found in Matthew 7:11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” 

I have often said, my dad makes God look good.  When I have thought of this scripture I have known that there is nothing on earth my dad would not do for me… how much more so my heavenly father?

There have been many times in the past 21 months that I have looked at my circumstances and talked back to God saying, “my dad would have done something by now!”  I’m sure there were some feet stomping and tear shedding to go along with my tantrum.

I may not fully see in this lifetime how heaven has moved on my behalf… but I know it has.

When I look back on our story, the past 21 months, and all that God has done to bring to fruition the dream he placed in our heart I want my girls to know one thing, He is a good good father. 

It’s hard some days for me to wrap my head around adoption.  For adoption to be necessary something has broken, a plan or a dream,  something is not what it should be… but in God’s grace, he provides a path of redemption, a saving of the story.

Here we are, literally counting down the days until adoption, practicing new names and beaming with excitement like expectant parents.  I have prayed that God would guard this season, for the first time we get to truly be excited and let the anticipation build up for this one big day… almost like a wedding!

We’re riding down the road in the car, “Raise your hand if you wanna be adopted!”  or shouting out new names like we know who we’re talking to.  Y’all, it’s just too much!

We had never discussed adoption before last week… honestly… the girls haven’t even known that they needed to be adopted, life has just been life for them.  So we took them out to dinner and it went something like this:

“Girls, mommy and daddy want to talk to you about something.”  – me
“What!?!?!?”   – all the little girlie voices
“Well, want to know if it would be okay if we adopted all of you so we can be your mommy and daddy forever?!”  –  obviously me
a twin’s head hangs down and she softly says, “but I wanted a new mommy and daddy…”
……………….    [I am sitting there stunned….]
“I’m just kidding!  I want you to be my mommy and daddy forever and ever and ever!” – said twin

What the hell was that!?!?!  Seriously! That is some high level sarcasm there.  Not what you would expect from a four-year-old!  I almost told her I changed my mind!  But honestly, I can’t blame her… Daniel and I are two of the most sarcastic people you will ever meet.  I can’t say I deserved that… but I can certainly see where I contributed to it. 😉

I told my dad the other day I’m a little worried that once we finalize adoption I’m not going to have anything to write about…. after spending a couple of days around us he assured me there will still be things to write!  Maybe, just maybe, you’ll get to see our fun side again.

Until then… I will be reading everything I can about What to Expect When You’re Expecting – 3 Toddlers… oh wait, no one in their right mind would put something like that in print.  I’ll keep on potty-training, planning a celebration and seeking to capture this story that God has given us.  Thank you for being there through every step!

I mentioned last week that there were a bunch of legal hoops that needed to be jumped through, and I just have to say, our case-worker was on point… and God has moved in incredible ways.  We have been approved and will be moving into our final stage of adoption, exactly ONE day before our home-study expires.  Yeah, let that sink in.

God is kind-of a show-off.

This morning as I sat, somewhat anxiously, considering where we are and what still needs to happen I came across a new-to-me song that just met the state of my heart…

Oh, I’ve heard a thousand stories of what they think you’re like
But I’ve heard the tender whisper of love in the dead of night
And you tell me that you’re pleased
And that I’m never alone

You’re a Good, Good Father
It’s who you are, it’s who you are, it’s who you are
And I’m loved by you
It’s who I am, it’s who I am, it’s who I am

– excerpt from Good Good Father by Chris Tomlin feat. Pat Barrett & Anthony Brown

My heart can’t stop singing this morning of His goodness.