- The Story of Nathaniel Oliver, Part 2 -

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If you missed Part One, you can find it here.

Our agency kept us updated each time they met with Sarah. Her response remained the same, she was confident of her decision to place her baby with us. She even invited us to be at the hospital when he was being born. This was an incredible blessing, to know that we would get to meet him very soon after his birth.

We were unsure about when we should drive to the hospital (a three hour trip). Our agency advised us to wait until the baby was born, in case she changed her mind at that point. But we couldn’t bear to think of being so far away if she did keep her decision, then having to miss those first few hours of our son’s life.

We decided to drive up first thing in the morning on Wednesday since we knew he would arrive sometime around 10:00 am (a scheduled c-section).

We packed up everything we could think to bring and tried our hardest to sleep the night before. That night seemed to last forever. It was a bit like Christmas, and a bit like dying. The morning would come, but what would it bring with it? In just a few hours, this young woman would birth a child and then what? The answer could bring us incredible joy or excruciating pain.

Morning did arrive. It was very cold outside. There had been an ice storm north of us during the night. We prayed Sarah remained safe on her early drive to the hospital. Our things were packed and we started on our way.

I don’t remember much about the drive. I remember seeing ice on the trees, it was absolutely breathtaking. I remember us asking each other over and over, “is this really going to happen?” I remember looking at the car seat behind me and wondering if there would be a little warm body in it on our way back. We hoped, we prayed, we waited for a call.

Twenty miles outside the city where he was to be born, we got a call from our social worker. Her words were exactly this: “your boy is here and he has strong lungs!” The hospital social worker had spoken with Sarah and she remained firm in her decision to place him with us. Our social worker said we would be able to see him in about an hour, how far away were we? Only 20 minutes! Thank God we decided to leave when we did.

Jeff looked at me with glassy eyes, it was finally happening. We were overjoyed. And yet speechless.

We pulled up to the adoption agency and waited for our social workers. They arrived shortly after and gathered their things, then we followed them to the hospital. The hospital social worker came down to meet us. They were ready for us, we just had to check-in and get washed up.

There were so many doors to walk through as we approached the nursery. It was all a bit of a whirlwind, we did not know what was going on, we were just waiting to see our tiny boy. They led us into the nursery (it was actually the NICU because this particular hospital did not have a nursery) and to a bed where a little white baby lay with all kinds of cords and monitors surrounding him. They said he was healthy, the monitors were standard procedure since he was in the NICU but there was nothing to worry about.

There he was. Tiny. Pale. Sweet little boy.

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We took turns holding him while our social workers stood nearby taking pictures. It was like a dream. It didn’t seem real and half the time we didn’t even know what was going on or what we were supposed to be doing. So, we just stared at this little boy and thanked the Lord that he was here.

Then the hospital social worker said something we did not expect. Since we could not take him home until 72 hours after birth (standard adoption procedure), we had the option of staying in a hospital room with him for the next two and a half days. They had asked Sarah if she was ok with it and she was 100% supportive. We had no idea this was even possible, our plan had been to stay in a nearby hotel and come up to see him as often as we were allowed. But to stay in a room with him? To be able to hold him day and night? To get to ask the nurses our millions of questions about how to care for a baby? This was a complete surprise! And such a tremendous blessing.

For the next two days, we did what any typical family does after they have a baby. We sat in our hospital room holding our little boy. We fed him. We changed him. We watched TV and sent pictures to our friends and family.

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Each day seemed to pass by so slowly, but eventually it was Friday and we were about to be sent home. With a child. To care for on our own. It was all a bit crazy!

One hour before we were to be released on Friday, Sarah decided she wanted to meet us and the baby. Our hearts stopped and our minds raced. It was hard to breathe. He had just left the room for his final checkup, so in about thirty minutes he would be back and we would go meet her. Though we were very thankful she had chosen to meet us, we were not sure what to expect.  We called our social workers and they rushed over to meet with Sarah and with us in order to provide support (this is why we love them so much).

What do you say to a woman who is about to give you her baby? All I could think to say was thank you, but that didn’t seem like enough. We went down to the gift shop and bought some flowers. Then prayed that the Lord would give us words, that we would know what to say to her and how to bless her.

Nathaniel came back into the room and we waited for the hospital social worker to come get us. After a few minutes she came in and said, “Sarah has decided she wants to meet the baby first, then I will come back and get you two.”

Our stomachs dropped as we watched her wheel his bassinet out of the room. At this point, nothing was certain. She was taking our baby away. And there was no way to know if he would come back. We were so in love with him and the thought of never seeing him again was unbearable.

It was the longest ten minutes of our lives. One of our social workers was there with us, the other was in the room with Sarah. We tried to talk about other things, to keep our minds off the nightmare that kept trying to creep back in.

We trust you, God. We trust you with this.

Finally, the social worker came to get us and walked us over to Sarah’s room. I’m not sure I have ever felt such release, yet still so much tension at the same time. Sarah was lying in bed and Nathaniel was in his bassinet right beside her. He started to fuss when we came in. She had already held him for a bit and wanted us to hold him, so Jeff picked him up. Sarah watched as Jeff cradled the little baby and her eyes filled with tears. It was the most beautiful and heart-wrenching thing I have ever seen. Our social worker talked about the strong, God-fearing daddy Jeff was and how great it is that Nathaniel would have him.

Sarah agreed.

We talked with her for about thirty minutes and took some pictures of all of us together. We spent that time just getting to know her. We talked about what she likes to do, her favorite foods and movies. Anything we could think of to get to know who she is. Then we headed back to our room. With our baby boy. She still stood by her decision. We were so very grateful.

That afternoon they released us, filled our car with baby supplies, and sent us on our way. The sweet boy slept for most of the drive, stopped once to eat and have a diaper change, then fell right back to sleep. Before too long we were home. The three of us walked through the doorway of our house and our worlds were changed forever.

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Now here we are.  Seven months later.  Life is busy. Life is so good. And for that, we are thankful.

- The Story of Nathaniel Oliver, Part 1 -

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It’s hard to believe it has been over six months since we got the call.  Our boy has grown.  Our hearts are overflowing.  And I desperately want to share the story of how it all came to be.  It’s a story of perseverance and relentless love.  Of fear and trust and allowing yourself to jump in head first without the slightest idea what lies below you.  But most of all, it’s a story of God’s boundless grace and it needs to be shared so that others may have hope and remember the greatness of the One who holds our lives in His hands.

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When I first wrote Nathaniel’s birth story several months ago, I wrote every single detail I could recall.  But something about it didn’t sit right with me.  I read those pages over and over, praying for wisdom to include the important parts but not say too much.  I realized some of what I had written are things we won’t be sharing with Nathaniel until he is much older and able to better understand the ways of the world.  Soon, I understood that those parts needed to be removed, they were not for me to share.  Nathaniel can choose to share or not share those tender, difficult, confusing parts of his story someday, but for today I will have to keep these words more general.  Please feel free to ask us any questions though, we are happy to have those conversations one-on-one.

I’ll start from the beginning because I want to make sure I cover the whole story.  God’s been working this together for many years and deserves to have each part of His plan recapped.  Be warned, this will surely be a lengthy piece.  But I hope you enjoy it!

So here we go….Once upon a time there was a young couple who met at a camp, got married a year later, and started off together on this crazy journey they call life.

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Jeff and I were married in September of 2005. We didn’t think much about kids at that time. Our plan was to follow the typical path most of those around us followed – enjoy married life for 3-4 years, then have kids. Otherwise, you miss out on spending time together as a couple, or something like that.

After we waited the appropriate amount of time, we agreed that we would have three kids (though secretly, I know I would have pushed for four). And we would have them by the time we turned 30 because we didn’t want to be old parents, or something like that.

In Fall 2007, we moved to Texas and started a new life. We fell in love with our town and our people. We settled in and decided it was a good time to start a family.

Things didn’t happen as quickly as we thought they would and after two years of no pregnancy, we started pursuing adoption. I know this decision is very hard for some and it can take many years for them to open up to it, so I can only give credit to the Lord that we were so peaceful about the idea of not having biological children. We knew many families who had adopted and through them all of our previous fears about adoption were put to rest. These families were just that…families.  There was nothing weird or scary about it.

In Spring of 2011, we applied as adoptive parents at our agency. We went to the orientation and filled out a lot of paperwork. Our last step was to create a scrapbook of our family for the birthmothers to look through when they are making a plan for their child. I wanted our book to be original and personal so we decided to take our time getting it together. Besides, everyone we knew who had adopted got a call within a few weeks of turning in their book and we wanted a little more time to prepare. We planned to have everything completed and submitted by the end of the summer.

Then we had a fire and things got a little crazy.

We turned our book in right before Thanksgiving of that year.

At that time we were still open to receiving a child, even though we had no home. We didn’t know how it would work out but knew the family we were living with would go to great lengths to help us, so we felt confident. And our agency had no concerns about placing a child with us while living in that family’s home. Bless them!

So any day now, we would get a call…

Any day now…

Two more years went by and we started to feel restless. Why was this not happening for us the way it had for others? I desperately sought to find the answer, but of course there was none. We were back in our home. I had a good job and Jeff was in school so he had the ability to be a stay-at-home dad, at least part of the time. It would not be ideal, but we would make it work. We knew it would be worth it.

We started to wonder if we had missed something along the way.  Maybe God was telling us to choose another road and we had been so focused on this plan that we didn’t realize He was pointing in a different direction.

We prayed about other options, and door after door was closed in front of us. What was God doing? Why didn’t He want us to have kids?

Our empty home was becoming too much to bear. We felt prepared for kids. We had space for kids. Not having kids made us feel like we had no purpose. We no longer fit in with 90% of our friends who now had children of their own. It was lonely. We felt lost. Surely, there was something God wanted us to do.

Foster care seemed to be the missing link. We had thought about it but never felt peace about pursuing it. We loved the idea of helping children and families who are in need of a loving home. We knew we could provide that for them. But ultimately, God was asking us to let go of the possibility of ever having children of our own. We had to lay our lives down, as He has asked over and over again, and trust Him to fill whatever void was in our hearts.

We took a step forward and applied at a foster care agency. In order to do this, we had to close our file at our adoption agency, which was so hard for us. We loved them and had wanted so badly to be on this journey with them. And it seemed like our only hope for bringing home a baby that would be ours forever. This was no longer our dream. We had to have a new dream. We weren’t sure what that would be yet but were just trusting God to build it for us.

Miraculously, we completed the entire foster care licensing process, including all 8 training classes, in just three months. This was surely the path God had for us, everything was falling into place.

We got our license the week of Thanksgiving (still 2013) and expected to have a child within a few days. Because, once again, all of our friends who had fostered received a call after just a day or two.

Days went by. Weeks went by. Christmas came and went. No calls.

The agency told us it was because we were not able to take more than one child, that all the kids they were placing were sibling groups. I knew this wasn’t the true reason though, God was up to something.  So we continued to wait.

Several more weeks went by when finally we got a call from our foster care agency.  They had to do a routine check of our home.  It felt like a slap in the face.  But we knew it was something they had to do, regardless of whether or not there were kids in our home.  They came on the 30th of January, it took all of twenty minutes, and then we went about our lives as usual.

An hour later Jeff received a call from our previous adoption agency. Part of him didn’t want to answer it, they were likely just checking on us and we didn’t have any news to share. As I said, when we chose to do foster care, we had to close our file with the adoption agency. It was a difficult decision, we loved them and all that they stood for. But we felt it was time to move on.

However, the agency kept our photo book just in case the right situation came along.

Jeff answered the call and was told that a young woman came in and looked at our book. She liked us but needed more information since our book had not been updated in two years. Could we send an update over the weekend? Yes, of course! We sent the update just a few hours later.

We kept our emotions at bay through the weekend. There were other options at this point. She could choose another couple. Or she could choose to parent the child. Our past record said to us that the chances she would actually pick us were low. Guard your heart, be prepared for anything.

The young woman, we will call her Sarah, was scheduled to meet with the agency the following Monday. Our case workers had no way of contacting her, so it was all up to her whether or not she would go to the appointment. It was possible she would never even come back. And if she did show up, it was likely she still needed time to make her decision.

That’s what I told myself, surely nothing will be decided until the end of the week. Don’t get too excited.

However, Jeff received another call on Monday afternoon. They had met with Sarah. She had looked at our update. And she had chosen us to parent her child. All we knew at that point is that it was a little boy and he was scheduled to be delivered in ten days.

Suddenly, emotions were running wild. We knew anything could happen, there was no guarantee, we had to move forward cautiously. Guard your heart, be prepared for anything.

As soon as the baby items starting coming in, all was lost. We prayed for God’s will, we wanted what was best for this little boy. But ultimately, we wanted him to be ours. We already loved him, our hearts were in this no matter how hard we tried to keep our distance.

That Saturday, Jeff was working and I was listening to some music while cleaning the kitchen. A song by All Sons and Daughters was playing and one verse literally brought me to my knees.

“If this waiting lasts forever, I’m afraid I might let go” (Reason to Sing)

In that moment, I was not afraid of the disappointment of receiving a call that she had changed her mind. I was not afraid of walking into our bedroom to place a hand on an empty crib. More than those things, in that moment I realized my greatest fear was if this did not come to be, that I would finally break. That after so many closed doors, it would be the last bit of pain I could bear. And that I would let go of the One who had been holding me all these years. I was afraid of breaking and not being able to recover.

This became my prayer, that I would not break, that God would continually remind us that He’s got this. The world is in His hands and He would not allow us to fall off the deep end.

Part Two can be found here.

- Does Finding a Cure Mean Taking a Life? -

Social media has been flooded recently with videos of the “ice bucket challenge” to support ALS research. Over the past few days, I have also seen several people opting out of the challenge because ethically, they cannot get behind the methods of research used in relation to ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease). As I read these statements, I became unsettled with the cut-and-dried information that says because we don’t agree with this act, it must be wrong. The answer cannot be that simple however, when it comes to creating new life vs. sustaining and improving current life. So I started researching, digging through peer-reviewed journals and resources posted by those actually conducting the research. What I found was heavy but important, it both enlightened me and left me standing without solid answers.

We live in a generation of information overload and can quickly be succumbed to believing a headline or article we have read and then pouring out our opinions about said topic without investing time to look further into the facts. I, myself, am guilty of this. When it comes to embryonic stem cell research, I have never questioned what that means, why it’s important, and what it can do for our world. I have only followed the crowd that preaches this as an inconceivable act of taking a life in order to perform such research. But is it really so simple?

As a Christian and a biomedical science enthusiast, I felt the need to write about my findings here. However, my intent is not to share my opinion about when life begins or even about embryonic stem cell research. The only agenda I plan to push is the one of being well informed. My goal is to provide information about stem cell research that many may not know. There is also another reason I am writing; it is not to change or even challenge those who view these studies as evil, but to present the possibility that when it comes to the nature of this type of research, perhaps the answer is not as black and white as we perceive. Perhaps there is more to think about than what we read on social media or hear on the news.

Why Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research?

This method of research was birthed when scientists discovered the ability to isolate and grow human embryonic stem cells (hESCs). This classification of cells is unlike any other part of the human body and they offer researchers a new path to learn about the nature of many diseases that plague our species. This is because these cells have the potential to develop into various organs and tissues in the body. “In the 3- to 5-day-old embryo, called a blastocyst, the inner cells give rise to the entire body of the organism, including all of the many specialized cell types and organs such as the heart, lung, skin, sperm, eggs and other tissues” (source). Researchers have come to find that many devastating diseases begin at this early stage of cell grow and thus, they can use these cells to study how a disease develops and potentially find new treatments.

In the majority of clinical trials, embryonic stem cells come from embryos that are donated following in vitro fertilization (IVF). When a couple undergoes IVF, several eggs are fertilized at one time and after the family unit has been completed (ie: the couple does not want any more children) there are various options available for the remaining embryos:

  1. They can be thawed and discarded (thus resulting in the loss of the embryo)
  2. The couple can pay to have the embryos stored indefinitely (estimated at $2000 per year)
  3. They can donate the embryos to another couple for IVF or adoption purposes
  4. The embryo can be donated to research to find potential treatments for a variety of diseases (source)

It was estimated in 2003 that there are roughly 400,000 embryos in storage at fertility clinics (source). Another complicated question to add to this discussion is, what do we do with all these embryos? If they were all created with the intention of developing into infants and coming forth into the world, there would be a new set of challenges to conquer. The view of some may be to reduce the number of embryos created during IVF, or eliminate the opportunity for IVF all together, but we live in a fallen world where 1 in 10 couples are infertile and I question if it is the responsibility of any one person to decide to fate of all these families.

In addition to receiving donated embryos after fertility treatments, researchers have also obtained the needed embryonic stem cells through fertilization within the lab and on a rare occasion, from those that were donated following an elective abortion. Here again, to state that the answer is to eliminate the mechanism for which humans can create life or to ban women from receiving abortions in our country will not solve the problem, it only reminds us that there is no simple answer in this case.

So, why use human embryonic stem cells? Surely there is an alternative. Scientists are vigorously looking for an alternative, but at this point nothing has proven to be as promising as those tiny masses of cells. Adult stem cells can be useful to a degree, when the needed therapy is related to a specific tissue or organ (this has been used often in researching certain blood and neural diseases). In addition, researchers have developed a method that will reprogram adult stem cells to become embryo-like cell in which they can derive a greater variety of organ and tissue cells (called iPS cells). The difference is that true embryonic stem cells can live and grow in a lab for years, whereas these new technologies are less adaptable. Alternative solutions may be discovered in the future but currently, there is no comparable organism.

The Ultimate Dilemma

Thus far, I have provided information about what it means to use human embryonic stem cells in research and why it is so important. The therapies and treatments that may come as a result of this research could help those suffering from a vast range of diseases, many for which there currently is no treatment or cure. Here is a list of the current projects underway at California’s Stem Cell Agency, which are all making progress due to the use of hESCs: Alzheimer’s disease, amyotrphic lateral sclerosis (ALS), autism, blindness, brain tumors, leukemia, melanoma, sarcoma (cancer of bone and soft tissues, generally arising in children and young adults), cancer (general), deafness, type 1 diabetes, heart disease, HIV, Huntington’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, sickle cell anemia, spinal cord injuries (paralysis), and stroke (improved recovery).

As previously stated, my intent is not to push an agenda and I am not stating that I agree one hundred percent with the nature of such research. Yet, I look at the list above and think about those I know who are or have struggled with any of the listed conditions and I have to take a step back. This is where things get messy; this is why we cannot proclaim an easy answer to this dilemma. If we are completely honest, taking a stand against embryonic stem cell research ultimately means taking a stand against promising research that may provide a cure for many life-threatening diseases. If one life is not more important than another, and the life of the embryo could save thousands of other disease-stricken lives, should we refrain from using it? I don’t believe there is a simple yes or no answer. But I believe it’s something to think about.

One Final Thought

Let me steer off the science path for a minute as I pose this next question. Much of the backlash in this debate comes from the Christian circle because we believe that God is the creator of all life and even the tiniest of embryos is a life that He has chosen and foreseen to exist. Here’s my question, is it possible these embryos were created by God for the purpose of participating in research that could save thousands of lives? Our Lord is mysterious and wild in His ways; therefore, I am not convinced any of us here on Earth can know the specific purpose for which each life was created.

We live in a broken world full of complex problems and the solutions can often times land in a gray area of morality. To hold tight to perceptions without knowing the entire story is to potentially fall into error. But to be educated on subject, to know what and why things are the way they are, and then to make a well-informed decision with that knowledge – that is power. I say again, the purpose of this article is not to push an agenda when it comes to human stem cell research. I believe your support or lack of support is a personal decision, and I’m not here to judge what you chose to follow. However, I will push the agenda of being educated and making sure you know in full what you are getting behind, especially when it comes to the oversaturation of opinions on social media. If I have caused one person reading this to think more deeply and research more thoroughly, then I consider this piece a success.

The End.

- A Prayer for the Waiting -

I’ve been sifting through the drafts in my posts file, looking for things left unsaid to see if now is the time to complete one of those thoughts.  With all the transition around our home, it has left little room for me to reflect and process. How do you enter that tiny creative corner of your mind between 30 minute naps and piling dishes?  I’m still trying to figure that one out.

For now, I found this from 2012.  And I needed to share it today.  This was my prayer for so many years.  I am reminded daily that, in spite of the joy our sweet little blessing has brought to us, there was a time when it was hard. There was a time when all seemed hopeless.  Any many are still in that place for one reason or another.

So today, this prayer is for you, sweet friends.

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Today, may you see the sunshine.

May your heart be lifted.

May you know His love and feel His presence.

That He would provide gentle reminders.

You are not forgotten.

Not forsaken.

But being shaped for His good work.

Amen

~ Where I Have Been Lately ~

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That sweet face belongs to our son, Nathaniel.  He unexpectedly entered our lives through adoption just over three months ago.  And I have since been on a bit of a vacation, or what some parenting books call the “fourth trimester”.  Hence, the silence here on the blog.

For the past fourteen weeks I’ve done little more than hold, feed, rock, sing to, and change diapers for this little guy.  My definition of productivity has done a complete one-eighty.  My long lists of task items have been thrown out the window.  The new look of a productive day is clean bottles on the counter and dinner on the table (or at least near the table).  It’s new and it’s hard.  But it has been gloriously freeing to learn to live this way.

I truly had NO IDEA how demanding and time-consuming a newborn can be.  It was my understanding that they slept a lot, like all the time.  No one told me the 18-20 hours they slept came in sporadic chunks with screaming fits of hunger in between. Continuing to pour out love and attention to this boy while running on empty has certainly stirred up new things in my soul.  I feel like I have learned more about myself in the past three months than ever before.

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The greatest lesson, or more so realization, I have encountered is that I am capable of change.  Big change.  For years I thought I would be a super scheduled parent because that is who I am, scheduled.  Every event and task was carefully planned out.  A last minute change in plans would send me down a bad, scary road (sorry, hubs).  I have functioned this way my entire adult life, I didn’t think there was any other way to be.

Then he came into my life and he turned things upside down with his gut-wrenching cries and heart-melting smiles.  We read parenting book after parenting book and ultimately decided what was going to be best for our family.  We decided to do it differently.  No schedule.  No plans.  No task list.  Just day by day, meeting the needs of our son to the best of our ability.

It has been hard.

It has been amazing.

By choosing to have no expectations for the day, by NOT having plans, I have found the parent I had always hoped to be.  Patient.  Kind.  Loving.  It’s when I start to build my task list that I see another side of me come out.  Frustration.  Anger.  “Why won’t he just take a nap already?!”  This child has forced me to slow down, to be present, to ask hard questions and wrestle with answers I didn’t know were there.

For that, I am thankful.

Will we always be able to live this way?  Unscheduled.  Unbound.  Free.

I don’t know, but I sincerely hope so.

As things begin to settle down, I find myself processing through more thoughts and making more time to write.  I miss it.  I need it.  So, I hope to be back fairly regularly to share what I’m learning, what God’s doing in our lives.

Until next time, may you each find rest and joy in the days ahead.

Disclaimer:  Since I have ventured into this world of parenting, I have been shocked and appalled at the criticism and judgment that abounds.  I firmly believe it is up to each individual family how they will parent their children.  My intention in writing about our own lessons in parenting is not to say I have found this one method every person should conform to.  I do not believe in a “one size fits all” parenting style.  If you disagree with how we choose to do things, that’s ok.  If I offend you by something I say about our own parenting practices, I apologize.  If there is one thing I have discovered that every single mom and dad need, it is encouragement.  And I hope we can all be that resounding voice of love for one another. 

- When You’re Ready to Start Living -

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As each year comes to an end, I have found it helpful to reflect on where I have been and what I’ve done.  This year-end meditation encourages me to think of a word that will define my next year, something I can reflect on and strive for, something to keep me in check mid-spring when I suddenly forget all that I’ve been learning.

My word for this past year was “contentment,” but honestly, as I look back I am not sure I actually achieved a new level of contentment.  Yes, I spent a lot of time trying to find it, and many hours worrying about it.  But rarely did I feel an acceptance of our current stage of life, rarely did I feel content.

I believe the word that best defines this past year is “expectance.”  We were expecting, anticipating a lot of changes these last few months.  Much of my time was spent in waiting, asking God what I needed to do to prepare for this next big thing – whatever that thing would be.  And in retrospect, I feel like I missed many moments of living because I was so caught up in the waiting.

This has led me to a word for 2014, “abundance.”  I want to make space for God to move in my life, in ways I didn’t even know were possible.  Too much energy has been spent planning and worrying about the future, rather than sitting at His feet and cherishing the present.

Here it is:  I am tired of living my life in waiting. I no longer want to put off this or that simply because we are not sure what the future will hold.  I can worry about what will happen six months from now, or I can realize that six months from now may never come – so what do I want to do with today?  What does right now hold for me?

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Perhaps if I get quiet and make extra space for Him in my life, maybe then I will see that my existence is about more than just waiting for the next big thing.  It’s possible that in those moments of stillness He will allow me to see that my life is already complete, that I can live it abundantly NOW – not someday.  This year, and for years to come, I want to live life more than I want to wait for life to happen.

I want to spend time doing things that fill my soul – those kinds of things that are like a deep tissue massage for the heart.  I want to laugh hard and sleep deeply.  I want to chase the impossible without expectation.  I want to fill my mind with information that excites me and put effort into tasks that challenge me in the most pleasant way.

I think I am finally ready to spend more time giving thanks for what I have, rather than planning for what I think I am missing.  God has given me this one life and I am ready to start living it!

Won’t you join me?

- A Christmas Promise -

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IMG_9104Sometimes life simply does not make sense.  When things don’t happen as one would have hoped and there are no logical reasons to explain it.  When you have done every possible thing a faithful person can do, but Jesus doesn’t show up. At least not in the hour you expected Him.

Yet, I’m finding more and more than when life doesn’t make sense, I still can trust that God is up to something.  Because time and time again, that’s how He has done it.

Like that night He sent a baby to save the world, and it took thirty-something years before it all came to be.  How many faithful, trusting people looked to the skies during those years and asked God what He was doing?  I imagine there were many.

But in the end, He kept His promise.  And now we celebrate this crazy, unexplainable way He chose to set His people free.  And thus, we are reminded that we can always trust Him to keep His promises.  Even when nothing makes sense.

This Christmas we are fighting hard to hold onto His promises.  And praying for those who I know are feeling the same way.  The Lord offers abundance where beds and hearts lay empty.  May we find joy and peace as we remember the gifts He has given.

1″Shout for joy, O barren one, you who have borne no child;
Break forth into joyful shouting and cry aloud, you who have not travailed;
For the sons of the desolate one will be more numerous
Than the sons of the married woman,” says the Lord.
2″Enlarge the place of your tent;
Stretch out the curtains of your dwellings, spare not;
Lengthen your cords
And strengthen your pegs.
3″For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left.
And your descendants will possess nations
And will resettle the desolate cities.
4″Fear not, for you will not be put to shame;
And do not feel humiliated, for you will not be disgraced;
But you will forget the shame of your youth,
And the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.
5″For your husband is your Maker,
Whose name is the Lord of hosts;
And your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel,
Who is called the God of all the earth.
Isaiah 54:1-5

- The Courageous One -

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Fall has arrived.  This season fills me with joy.  The colors.  The cooler weather.  The anticipation of Christmas.  It’s all quite magical.

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Fall also brings about a quietness that I have been craving.  I have been waiting for a moment of rest to gather my thoughts and just breathe in the day.

Our current season of life is quite possibly the busiest one I have ever experienced. Interestingly, I can’t even remember why it’s been so busy.  I know there was a lot of traveling, and job planning, and family planning.  Paperwork, to-do lists, packing and unpacking. It’s all a bit of a blur now.  And when life gets full, my mind is messy and I have trouble sorting through my thoughts.

But I need to process and I’m feeling burdened to share what I am learning during this busy time.  I want to allow these lessons to be more than words, to change me, even when that terrifies me.

Courage has never been a characteristic I would use to describe myself.  I am not brave or strong, I have many fears and a lot of anxiety.  But I see courage differently now than I did in the past.  Before, I thought someone who was courageous was someone who was not scared of anything.  They could look my greatest fears dead in the eye and laugh, as I stood there with shaking knees.

I have always thought of myself more as a coward than courageous.  I am not a risk taker, I play it safe, I carefully plan out the routes of least resistance.  To me, it’s practical and even smart.  But it’s not courageous.

Then I started reading stories of people doing courageous things, stories that spoke of their fear and their resistance, and ultimately their submission to a path they would not have chosen on their own.  To me, they are courageous for the things they are doing.  But they were not fearless as they sought out the plans God had.  Some fought and hid, some cried and yelled in anger.  Could this truly be the behavior of a courageous one?

My eyes were opened to the possibility that having courage was completely different than what I had previously thought.

Courage is not the absence of fear, but the act of moving forward in spite of fear.

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This realization washed over me and spoke such freedom to my soul.

Our current life happenings are the exciting kind of terrifying that my mind just doesn’t know how to process.

Because that’s just it, we are terrified.  We got a message that the foster care agency will be finishing up our approval process this week.  After that comes the children.  Children we have never met, who will be dropped off in our living room with few things and little information about where they’ve been.  We will be left alone to parent these children who need so much.

That alone is terrifying.

Yet, what scares me most is the impending change that will come from this journey. The end will be beautiful, we’ll be molded into new people, more like Jesus. But the process will be brutal, as we learn what it truly means to lay down our lives for another.

This may be the closest I will ever come to the labor of birthing a child. I fully expect the emotional pain we will experience to be similar to the physical pain of childbirth. After a time of waiting and anticipating, there will be stretching and ripping and tears and “I can’t do this anymore.”

My fear is that our labor will not last three hours or even 20.  But could last for years and years to come. The question that looms is, “are we enough?”

Can we handle this?

And the answer is no, weren’t not enough, we’re merely human full of flaws and doubts and selfishness. But God is enough and I believe He will make a way if we allow Him to do the stretching and ripping that’s required to bring about new life.

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It was said very well at church a few weeks ago; some people have calm, beautiful adoption stories and that is wonderful.  Some people have broken, difficult, terribly challenging stories and that is also beautiful.  Those broken stories are no less the footprint of God than the other.

And if we find ourselves on a dark, dreary road it does not mean we have taken a wrong turn somewhere and are no longer following the plans He has for us.  It simply means this is how God has chosen to mold us into His disciples.  This is how He has decided we will learn daily to die for those we love.

Jesus, make us courageous.

- Answering the Big Question…Sort of -

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We hear it several times a week these days.  It’s the natural response to our current situation and easy to understand why people keep asking us…

“What now?”

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Two weekends ago, my husband graduated from college.  Four years ago, he decided to go back to school finish his Bachelor’s degree.  Much to my amazement, it all went by very fast.

And with the completion of a big step like this comes curiosity.  Everyone wants to know what is coming up next.  What dreams are we going to chase?  What places are we going to see?

The short answer is, we have absolutely no idea.

If we were to take a “traditional” route, we can see two options:  1)  apply for jobs in his field of study all over the country (because there are zero in our town) or 2)  apply for a job in our town, doing something different than what he’s been training to do for the past four years.

There are some appealing aspects of each option, such as a stable job.  But whoever said life should be stable?  And whoever said we are traditional?

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The problem we face is that we simply don’t have a clear answer from the Lord regarding what we are supposed to be doing.  We know our life should look like the Kingdom and not like the world, but does that really clear anything up?  In many ways we feel like we are staring down a long hallway full of possible doors to walk through, without one single flashing sign to guide us.  There are days I long for such clarity.  For a God who would write it on the bathroom mirror, impossible to miss.

As we have talked and talked and talked, and traveled to conferences, and talked some more, we realized there is only one thing we are sure of right now.  We’re not sure about next year or even tomorrow, but we are sure of what is in front of us today.  And that is, how blessed we have been to find a community of believers who know what it is to love each other, look out for each other, and push each other to be the people God created us to be.

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These are people who gladly open their home for an entire day to host a graduation party.  They allow complete strangers to take over their kitchen, rummage through their cabinets, leave the yard in disarray, and at the end of the night say thank you for allowing them to host.

These are people who drop everything to babysit a child whose sibling is ill, give their Saturday afternoon to cleaning and moving a friend into their new house, rally around those who are hurting to provide comfort and care.  They give their time, money, energy, and every available resource to one another.  All for the sake of the Kingdom.  All because they have allowed God to teach them what it means to live life together.

It may not sound like much.  There are a lot of really great folks out there.  God is doing miraculous things all over the world through His people.  But for whatever reason, we believe God has big things in store for this particular group of people and we’re eager to see what He does through them, and with us.

So for today, we are staying right where we are.

We know that to remain in a certain location in order to be near a group of people who are not biologically related to us sounds strange.  It’s certainly not traditional.  Especially when that choice means taking risks and letting go of stability.  But it feels like the Kingdom.  It feels like trusting God and allowing Him to show us how He wants to use us.  And it certainly feels like something a disciple would do.

It’s not all rainbows and butterflies though.

Slowing down is hard.  It means more waiting.  We have no certainties, no guarantees.  We often feel restless and wonder what exactly God has planned for us.  But what a blessing it is to have a community of people who also wrestle.  Who will wait with us, pray with us, and encourage us.  And these same people will someday send us out into the world, if that is where we need to be.

So we strive to be present.  To look around us, take a deep breath, and one more step forward.

Tomorrow everything could change.  Five years from now, things will surely look very different than they do today.  But today is all we have.  And today this is what we’re doing.  This is our “what now?”

Your support and prayers would be greatly appreciated! 

- Holding on to a Wild, Merciful God -

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Three weeks ago we attended a service to honor the life of a friend who had passed away, after a two year battle with cancer.  For three weeks I have been trying to put into words what we experienced there.  It was the most tangible encounter of the Lord I believe we have ever been a part of.  How does one describe that moment when God is just there?

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IMG_9585 IMG_9588We met Ryan the first summer Jeff and I worked at camp.  He was the boys counselor at the ranch, the one where we would spend countless hours pouring into the lives of young campers, where we learned about being intentional and what it means to lean on the Lord when you have nothing left to give.  Jeff and Ryan clicked immediately as they both possessed an innate desire for adventure and confrontation.  Many nights they were up late talking about God and relationships.  The wisdom that poured out of such a young yet level-headed man still astounds me today.  He is deeply ingrained in the story of “us”, since it was that summer Jeff and I decided life was better when we were with one another.

Ryan was one of those people we just always felt close to, even from afar.  The journey his family has been on dealing with cancer and learning what it looks like to see life through an eternal lens has been inspiring and humbling.  We love him dearly and it was sad to see him taken from this world.  But the joy that we feel knowing our friend is now sitting at the feet of Jesus changes our perspective on death, and life.

IMG_9594That brief trip to Michigan was equal parts heavy and wonderful.  Ryan’s death brought together a group of friends who have a connection that can only be understood by those who have done the camp thing.  Something magical happens when you spend three months living day in and day out with other people.  You learn everything there is to know about them.  You learn how to encourage them in their strengths and how to confront them lovingly in their faults.  It’s a bond that could allow us to see folks we have rarely spoken to in the past nine years, yet gather and commune like no time has passed.

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What I most readily held onto as we shared memories of camp, of Ryan, and talked about what God has been doing, is the reminder that the battle is won. God has won. He always wins.  It was evident there, in that service.  It was evident in the hearts of the people who came to show their love and support.  Those who celebrated Ryan’s life with joy and gave thanks to the Lord for the things He has done.  Something that Satan tried to use to crush the souls of many people, God made it for good.  God used this heart-wrenching tragedy to bring life to others.

The Lord is unpredictable and wild, yet merciful beyond compare.  Never before have I seen such truth revealed.  Through the life and death of a man, God showed His glory.  Thanks be to God.

The videos of the memorial service are posted on their blog.  I challenge you to take the time to watch.  And to allow yourself to be changed.

How do you trust a wild, untamed, merciful God?  That’s how.

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