He Knows

Once upon a time there was a two week old baby girl who Kevin and I wept for and prayed over while pregnant with our son. We loved her fiercely and longed to provide for her the stability that we knew she needed. “Lord, show us what you want us to do and make a way for us to do it.”

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And He did show us. He did make a way. Because He knew. He knew Layla while she was in her birthmother’s womb. Long before Kevin and I dreamed about building a family, God knew what our family would look like. He knew he would prepare our hearts to be her parents. He knew that, though our abilities were limited, our faith in Him was big and none of what would come after that would ever, ever surprise him.

 

Once God did open the door for us to adopt Layla, it was time for us to take action. We had to step out in faith that He would provide. That He had prepared us. That He would continue to guide us. It was one of the best yeses we have ever said.

That same baby that we wept over and prayed for made her own decision today. Like the decision we made to take a leap of faith and say yes, Layla took a leap of faith and said yes to Jesus. She took action and we are so proud of her.

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I’ll be honest, when Layla told us she wanted to be baptized, I was hesitant. Although I was the same age as Layla when I was baptized, it was different. My family had gone from not serving the Lord to finding Jesus and it changed everything. There was a clear line between before we were saved and after. We were baptized at the same time, shortly after accepting Jesus and it was easy to understand because I knew what it was like to not know Jesus. But from the day Layla came to stay we have told her about who Jesus is to us. How we believe he had perfect plans that lead her to us. Layla doesn’t know that clear before and clear after. Her Mommy and Daddy have known Jesus much longer than she has been alive. She didn’t get to see the way that God changed our lives when we accepted him. I was afraid that because of that, she wouldn’t fully understand what she was doing. And I didn’t want her to make the choice to be baptized simply to please us.

My fears were all for nothing. That sweet girl loves Jesus for herself. She started telling me about how hard it gets when her brain goes too fast and she feels like she needs to calm down and that she talks to Jesus and He always calms her down. She told me how she sings to him in her room at night because she just loves him so much. She has her very own relationship with God. And while I hope we have modeled it well, I am confident that we have not forced it. Today Layla said her very own yes. She was just a tiny baby in need of stability and now she is a big girl making her very own choice to follow Jesus. And I can’t even explain how beautiful it was to watch her Daddy, who became her Daddy because of adoption, participate in Layla’s baptism symbolizing that she is adopted into the family of Christ. Wow.

Recently a hailstorm ripped through our small town leaving softball sized holes in roofs and windows. Our home is not livable and we’ve lost a lot of our belongings. We are in an extended stay for what we hope will only be a month. It has been a roller coaster. But all I can think about is the way heaven is rejoicing today. Nothing else matters in comparison. All I can think about is how important it is to live this way:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19-20)

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God knew her. And God knows us. He knew that the vivacious little girl who grew in our hearts instead of my tummy would make the big choice to follow Him and He knows the plans He has for her. He also knew exactly where my family would be on this day. He knows all about our current trials and current victories.He knows what is coming next. As we continue to strive to store up our treasures in heaven, as we continue to walk alongside our kiddos showing them that God is always, always enough, we find peace in the promise that He knows. Nothing surprises Him. And He is good.

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Happy 7th Adoption Day, Layla!

On this day seven years ago- morning came with no sleep, but plenty of adrenaline and excitement to push us through. We dressed our 4 1/2 month old Layla and our 4 day old Bryson. Between morning feedings and trying to get dressed ourselves we barely made it out on time. We snapped them in their car seats and rushed over to the courthouse.

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We stood before a kindhearted judge who thanked us for giving him a break from the long list of child support and custody cases he typically deals with in family court. He asked if we committed to love, support, provide for and protect Layla and we answered with an emphatic yes. He mentioned that it was obvious by her confident eye contact and slobbery baby smile that she was already doing so well with us. And then just like that, he declared us Layla’s Mommy and Daddy. And we walked out the same family that we were when we walked in…but there was so much peace in it being official.

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I read our paperwork at least 10 times that day…but especially this part: “The final judgement of adoption creates a relationship between the adoptee and petitioners that would have existed if the adoptee was a direct blood descendant….entitled to all rights and privileges thereof, and subject to all obligations of children being born to petitioners.”

She would be ours. Forever. For real. No different than the 4 day old I held in my arms who came directly from me. Isn’t that incredible? I still can’t get through this day without weeping at the magnitude of what that means. She did not come from me, but she is mine.

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Adoption is the greatest miracle God has done in our family. And not just because it brought us our sweet, vivacious, energetic girl. But because scripture says that God has adopted US as sons and daughters. And just like Layla’s adoption papers say about her…from the moment we made the choice to follow Jesus, a relationship was created between us and the Father, so that we are entitled to all rights and privileges thereof. That is so humbling. So today I’m grateful for adoption. I’m so thankful for the little girl that I still can’t believe I get to call daughter. And I’m so thankful that God calls me HIS daughter.

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Because Layla looks so much like Bryson and Jordyn…and because we have so much love in our hearts for her…it FEELS like she’s our biological child most of the time. Sure, she has some issues that are different than Bryson and Jordyn…but that doesn’t mean much. We could have given birth to a child with those same issues. In my head, she’s just ours. In my head, there was never a time she wasn’t ours. I forget.

The kids have been wanting to see the new Annie movie since it came out. Our schedules have been crazy though and we haven’t had a chance to take them. I finally decided I would take them one day after school. But first-they should see the original. It’s a classic! I thought it’d be fun to see the original and then see the new one so we could discuss differences and similarities. I remember watching Annie when I was a kid. I played it on Netflix and just as I expected, the kids were in love. They are musical little things just like I was.

But then Layla turned around to me and said…”Will I never need to get adopted again? Like if I was really, really bad would you take me to a place like that? What if you AND daddy both died, then would I have to go a place like that?”

And I was instantly reminded that Layla IS adopted and she might view stuff like this movie from a different lens. Although we tell the kids all the time that we are crazy about them, the innate security of unconditional love does not always come naturally to Layla. I hate that. With all the love and security, all the hugs and kisses, all the bedtime tickles and talks, there is still a little corner of her brain that processes things in the perspective of: “You needed to be adopted once….what if that needs to happen again?”

I contemplated not sharing this story, because I don’t want to portray adopted children as broken. She’s not. But what I want to acknowledge, although it’s hard, is that in all of the beauty of adoption, there is tragedy that is still apart of the story. Instead of avoiding it, we need to accept it and then focus on the restoration that can happen from there. Whether a child was adopted from birth or as a teenager, there was some kind of hard circumstance that lead them to need a new home. Yes, God planned for Kevin and I to be Layla’s Mommy and Daddy. I believe with all my heart that it was His will from the start. It’s beautiful the way He brought us all together. But the first part, the hard part…that’s a part that she lives with, too. I think every child who knows they were adopted will have to deal with the hard part at some point or another. The part that says that they aren’t with their biological family and leads them to ask why.

Of course, my answer to her was, “Baby, you are ours forever and ever. God made us your Mommy and Daddy and we will always be your Mommy and Daddy. There is no amount of bad that you could do that would make us love you less…in fact, we love you more and more every single day!”

And in those words, it occurred to me that we do the same thing with God. Treading lightly as though we are one mistake away from invoking His wrath. Like He’s just staring down waiting for us to do the wrong thing so He can say “That’s it…enough is enough…I don’t love you anymore. You don’t deserve to be my child.”

How adoption has helped me to understand the heart of God!! The moment I knew Layla was going to be ours I fell so madly in love with her there was no turning back. And I’m human. Fallible. Imperfect. How much more does God feel when we make the choice to be His? Layla is mine. I will spend my whole life making sure she knows love and security; joy and hope. And we are HIS. Can you even fathom it? We are not that different Layla and me. As she grows to learn the word unconditional in our family, so do I in my walk with God. I’m so grateful I get to grow with her.

Until the next blog…be blessed!

Sometimes she leaves us…

One minute she’s with us and then the next minute she’s gone.

 

All is well when she gets in the car after school. I hand her a snack and she tells us she earned a sticker. We make our way to Target and the mood shifts. I can see the manic look in her eyes and my stomach drops. She is defiant and loud. Her movements are brisk, her eyes refusing to make contact with mine. She’s gone.

She’s not Layla anymore. She can’t be reasoned with or spoken to. She doesn’t even hear us. She just screams. We leave and she won’t keep her seatbelt on. Out of desperation, Kevin puts her in the car seat with the 5 point harness. He hopes she won’t take that off. She’s not safe.  She scratches him and yells. I get in the seat next to her and wrap my arms around her tightly as Kevin drives away. I squeeze her arms close to me so she feels some sense of security in the midst of her thrashing around and I whisper “Shhhhhhhh” into her ear over and over. Her body goes limp and she cries. I cry, too. And I silently thank God that her Occupational Therapist gave me the right tools to do something. I silently thank God that it worked. She doesn’t know why it happens. We talk about all the better things she can do when she starts to go to that place. She tells me her brain talks to her and sometimes it says bad things. She is confused and sad and we are exhausted in every sense of the word.

Honestly, on days like this I fantasize about a Layla who was never exposed to drugs in her birth mom’s womb. I dream about a Layla who doesn’t struggle with dark moments in private. My mind drifts to what it would be like without a world of Neurological testing, Occupational Therapists, Psychiatric visits and medications under our belt. The doctor says scarier things than she used to. Like how to look for signs of bipolar disorder. I feel ill-equipped. But the moment I catch myself thinking this way, I stop myself. God has assigned Layla her portion and cup. And he has assigned me mine, too. And if I acknowledge that He is good, (He is, by the way) then I must acknowledge that what He allows is for our eternal good as well. We can do this. One day at a time.

It’s just that it gets so lonely. To most of the world she appears normal. The well-meaning “She seems fine to me” comments are like a punch in the gut. I am grateful that you have never seen the scary side of her and yet simultaneously frustrated that you do not understand. On the other hand, if you HAVE seen that side of her, I am terrified you will compare her to her brother and sister and somehow view her as less. Is there a way for you to recognize she is different without treating her that way? I’m not sure.

Before the night is over she is completely back to normal. And our aching hearts are already on the mend. We have been there/done that too many times before. We may go months before we see anything like this again, or tomorrow may bring another day of pain. We just never know. But we carry on. We know that even when Layla is at her worst, she is the most incredible gift. And when she is at her best, there is not a greater feeling in the world. I wouldn’t trade her or change her for anything. Her story is beautiful and she is a fighter.

 

P.S.-Give grace to the family with the kicking and screaming child walking out of the store. Yes, that child may be a spoiled, entitled, brat. But that child could also be the most pleasant, well-behaved, sweet thing who fights the hardest, darkest battles behind closed doors. And her Mommy and Daddy might be afraid and overwhelmed. One smile and nod can remind us that we are not in the trenches by ourselves. Assign positive intent. It makes all the difference.

Limitless Love

Matthew 5:38–48

Serving with Safe Families for Children I have learned that you cannot walk alongside people who are in crisis without love to give. But I think sometimes we assume that love will just come naturally and when it doesn’t, it means we aren’t obligated to act. That’s why we hear things like “Adoption isn’t for me.” or “Fostering would be too hard.” or “I don’t really think people can change, so I don’t think I could do Safe Families.” We assume that if it was meant for us to do we would feel the warm fuzzy kind of love that makes us want to do something. That if we were “called,” we would have an emotional reaction. But there is nothing in scripture that says that. Followers of Christ are already “called” to care for the orphan and the widow and for those in distress. With or without the warm fuzzies. While I’m not saying that adoption, fostering or serving with Safe Families IS made for everyone, I do think a lot of us allow ourselves to be talked out of doing things that would allow us to be effectively utilized to advance God’s kingdom because it would be too hard, too inconvenient or because we don’t feel an emotional love feeling. I want to write, today, about a more effective, more beautiful kind of love.

God shares freely with us this different kind of love. A sacrificial one. A “while we were yet sinners” love. And what we learn from scripture is that we are most effectively reflecting God when we love that same kind of way. There are a set of verses that most Christians are at least familiar with, but I’d like to break it down bit by bit and encourage you to really think on what this kind of sacrificial, love without limits should and could look like in your own life. These are words that came out of Jesus’ mouth. He was so intentional with the things that he said and I think it’s really worth it to take the time to meditate on why he chose these examples to express how we should love:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.  But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also…” Jesus was referring to Mosaic law here. Technically, the people he was speaking to had the legal “right” to repay evil for evil. But Jesus was asking them to abandon those rights for the sake of loving well. We do this today “He mistreated me so I had the RIGHT to cut him out of my life.” “She doesn’t appreciate everything I’ve done for her so I have the RIGHT to stop.” Yes. You do. Except that when we agree to die to self to live instead for Christ, it means we will care less about our own rights and more about others. In embracing that humility we will reflect God’s love.

“And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well…” Jesus was also referring to the laws at the time that he was on earth. You could literally sue someone for the shirt off their back if they owed you a debt. They could technically sue you for your coat as well, which went over your shirt and was also used for sleeping. However, if they sued you for your shirt AND your coat, they were legally required to give you your coat back in the evening for you to sleep with. Jesus is saying “I know you have an actual legal right to your coat…but what if you just gave it to them anyway?” And this speaks volumes to me in our present day because we get so entitled as Christians and talk about how persecuted we are and have this great angry concern about what rights we have. We act as though our “kingdom” is the United States of America and not heaven. We act as though we will be here forever. We act as though Jesus didn’t already warn us that we would be persecuted on Earth. Why does it shock and scare us when we feel a little of that persecution?  And I think the same Jesus who told the followers of his day to give up the protection they had under the law in order to show love would tell us today to chill out a little about what we are entitled to. To choose love instead of righteous indignation. Our hope is secure. And eternal. Why do we care about that which is temporary? How many opportunities have we missed to show grace to those who persecute, who scoff, who mock the love and grace of Jesus because we are offended and have the “right” to defend and protect ourselves?

“If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles…” This is my favorite part of this chapter. Jesus is also referring to another law. During His time, any Roman soldier could go up to a Jew and tell him to carry his load and the Jew was required by law to do so. But only for one mile. And the Jewish people obeyed…right down to the mile. They counted step by step to ensure they walked no more than they had to. The Roman soldiers and Jewish people weren’t exactly fond of one another and you can imagine the animosity that built. You can imagine the haughty way in which a solider demanded some random, probably busy, person on the street going about their day stop what they are doing to carry his bags. You can imagine the annoyance and frustration that person felt having to carry someone else’s belongings because the law demanded he must. But Jesus is asking for humility, to not only do what is required but then to say “Is there anything else I can do to serve you?” And the reason why this is my favorite part is because it’s such a challenge. It is so hard to serve those who we dislike, the people who have personalities that clash with our own. The people we feel are undeserving or who will take advantage or the people who we feel act too entitled to deserve servant hood. What kind of love would we speak to people if we not only served those who were in great need and so grateful for the help, but also the entitled, ungrateful people who we feel don’t deserve to be served over and over? I think we forget, (I KNOW I forget) that we are perfectly loved with a love that we could never deserve. And I think that manifests itself in us only wanting to give to those who we feel are deserving.

May we turn the other cheek. May we hand over our coats. May we go the extra mile. Can you imagine? I dream of a day when, whether people agree or disagree with our faith, they have no choice but to recognize that we are the lovers. We are the humble in heart. We are the ones who serve, who give cheerfully, who have our sights focused on something greater than what we are entitled to on earth. If they chose that same walk or if they chose a different walk, they would acknowledge that the God we are serving is one of limitless love.

Until the next blog…be blessed!

Recent News on Layla

This Friday morning, Layla will have another appointment. It is the opinion of her neurologist, her primary care doctor, her occupational therapist, her teacher, and Kevin & myself, that there is something more going on than her sensory issues. While she has made worlds of progress with self regulating when dealing with sensory stimuli and she is not toe walking as often as she was before, she has continued to struggle with her compulsions, her focus, and her ability to retain/explain information in an age appropriate manner. She memorizes things fairly well, but critical thinking and drawing conclusions from facts is very, very difficult for her. While she is eager to follow the rules and participate in school, she is very behind and is having a hard time with her work.

We need prayers! Kevin and I need guidance. We want to help her reach her full potential, but there are moments that we feel incredibly ill equipped. Please pray that this appointment gives us the answers we need and that we are able to get the school to accommodate her needs. Pray that her medical team is open to us not wanting to medicate her before exhausting all other options. I know the natural route we are wanting to take is not always well received and I don’t want every appointment to be a struggle. Pray for Layla. She gets discouraged and it breaks my heart.

As the kids get older, people are starting to compare Layla with Bryson & Jordyn and that also breaks my heart. For example, the kids had an appointment with the dentist last month. Bryson & Jordyn breezed through their appointments. They understood everything that was being asked of them, they cooperated and they were done. Layla had a much harder time understanding what was being asked of her. She then had a hard time dealing with all the sensory stimulation going on between hands being in her mouth and lights being in her face. She was pleasant the whole time, but still not cooperating well or processing instructions. The hygienist grew frustrated. At first she started sighing after she had to repeat herself over and over. Then she made comments like “I’m going to have nightmares about this tonight Layla,” and then finally saying “Your brother and sister did all of this with no problems and they are younger than you!” And I wanted to scream because I was so frustrated for Layla who was trying her best, whether age appropriate or not. I wanted to share with the hygienist about Layla’s struggles but I also didn’t want to make Layla feel uncomfortable. I also didn’t want to speak out of anger. So I simply looked at her calmly and said “Layla is doing her best right now.” This is not the first time we’ve encountered the “why can’t you just do it like your brother and sister did?” comments from outsiders and it rips me up inside every single time.

I don’t want her to feel different and I don’t want her to be compared to anyone. I look her in the eyes and I say to her often (even though she doesn’t understand me yet), “Layla, you don’t have ANYBODY’S shoes to fill but your own. Be yourself. Do your best. Work hard. That’s all we ask.” And I mean that with my whole heart. I wish I could get everyone else to see it that way, too. I hope to better model to her that failure is never failure as long as she has tried her very best.  I hope to help her grasp that her self-worth and self-confidence can be found in the fact that she was created by a perfect God for a specific purpose and He doesn’t make mistakes. And I hope that people will see her for her passion, her love for life, her energy and her joy rather than her compulsions, her struggles, her inability to sit still. She is such a treasure and it is such a privilege to have her as a daughter. I’m thankful for the opportunity to help her walk out this life that God has given her.

Until the next blog…be blessed!

“Sometimes when you sleep, I watch you dream and I dream, too…”

Layla,

When you came to stay, there were these nights. Ones that I tend to forget. Then, these reminiscent moments hit me out of nowhere and I remember every second. Daddy was working a lot of late shifts, not getting home until early morning hours. And it was just me and you, kiddo!

We were sorting out some stomach issues that you were having and had switched formulas quite a few times to soothe your apparent discomfort. But before it was all sorted out, you would just cry. And I was exhausted. I was in my 3rd trimester, waiting on your brother to arrive and since it was my 1st pregnancy, I assumed I’d get to go to bed at 8 pm and have a nap or two in the afternoon.  Then we got that amazing call that changed our lives and with that, sleep went out the window.

And those moments were hard. But they were so beautiful.

There we were, new baby and new Mommy, late at night all by ourselves. I would hold you against my chest, and your tiny feet would dangle across my big belly.  We would walk laps around that apartment. On good nights, I would sing or speak softly of my love for you and how excited I was about God’s plan for your life. On bad nights, I would cry right along with you, praying God would give both of us rest. But the good nights and the bad nights…the nights that felt like bliss and the nights that soothing you meant ignoring the irregular contractions…they were all a treasure.

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Because soon, the formula issues would resolve and you would sleep. And there wouldn’t be anymore late nights, holding you against my chest, feeling your tiny feet dangle across my big belly. And, as you will come to understand when you are one day a mother, from the moment you first hold your baby in your arms, you begin the process of letting them go. Each milestone reached is a part of the growing up process. And Layla, it is the best process. But it is fast. And there is no slowing it down, so all you can do is accept and appreciate it.

Every day since that period in your life, I have had to let you go a little bit more. Let you go so you could learn to walk on your own. Let you go so you could dress, feed and bathe yourself. Let you go so you could go to school. Let you go make your own friends. Let you go find your own passions and hobbies. Let you go so you can find out that the world, though beautiful, isn’t what you originally thought it might be. Let you go to make your own mistakes. Let you go to dream your own dreams. Let you go have your own deep sorrows and great joys.

And letting go is so hard. But it is so beautiful.

It is such a privilege to watch you come into your own. To watch your independence grow. But I hope you’ll understand that it leaves me, now and then, needing to hold on for awhile.

So I go to your room long after you’ve gone to sleep and I sit on the edge of your bed. And no, you aren’t a tiny little thing who lays across my chest, feet dangling. But when I pick up the whole 50 pounds of preciousness that is you, and your feet hang all the way down past my knees…it’s almost the same thing.

If I could, I would hold you forever. Hold you far away from all the hurts. From the struggles. From the hard work of being who God created you to be. From being misunderstood and made fun of. But I wouldn’t really be loving you if I did that. And I don’t want you to be safe nearly as much as I want you to be brave. So I will take these sleepy moments in and then walk out of the door and give you back to God over and over again so that His will can be done instead of mine.

And, baby, that is so hard. But it is so beautiful.

Because as big as my love for you is, it doesn’t compare to His love. And although I am a writer, no one could be a better author for your life than Him.

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Until the next blog…be blessed!