Thursday, April 30, 2015

I Want You to Pray

A woman of prayer.  A prayer warrior.  A praying wife.  All words or labels that made me shrink back further into myself believing I was not "spiritual enough" to earn such a statement ever being said about me.  I was not them.  I did not believe I would ever be them.  I prayed, yes, but I didn't pray THAT much.  I didn't pray to the extent that I could be labeled as a woman who was all about prayer.  I was just a normal, every-day Christian who went to church, believed in God and Jesus, had forgiveness from my sins and instilled Biblical principals/truths into my children. I prayed before meals and at bedtime and occasionally throughout the day, but I did not believe I was a "woman of prayer"...until God began to transform me.

I don't have an exact date, but sometime just before the summer of 2012 God spoke to my heart in a gentle whisper.  "I want you to pray" He said.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Just "I want you to pray."  However, with that simple phrase I also knew that what He really meant was that He wanted me to pray more than I had been.  My prayer background in a nutshell went from being a young girl who memorized prayers from my church and prayed for family members before bedtime to a young woman in high school and early college who simply prayed to be heard by someone who cared.  At that point I would tell God about my day, my feelings, what I wanted, what hurt me, and what I thought about everything.  Those prayers consisted mainly of me talking to God and not much of me listening to His response.  After college my prayers really became a place to let it all out without holding anything back.  I would often pray to let all my worries of my career, my marriage and my mothering up to God as a venting session.  I wanted it all off my shoulders and I knew God could handle all of my garbage.  That's kinda what I saw Him as during those years...a Divine Garbage Dump...hoping that if I told Him everything I would feel better.  At that time I also believed I could do things with the gifts God had already given me or with the intuition God had given me so I didn't really need to pray about everything.
I also discovered there was a much deeper-seated issue lacing all of my prayer life.  That issue was I actually didn't fully trust God in the first place.  I did not trust God could actually do what I was asking of Him to do during my prayer time.  Dare I say it, I didn't even trust He wanted to do those things for me.  Because of lies Satan placed in my head and situations of pain and woundedness in my past, I believed God was not as trustworthy as I was.  I knew myself well and knew that I could accomplish things because of the way God created me to be.  Do you see the twisting of the Truth there?  It's such a slight lie...God created me to be good therefore I should be able to be good...without Him.  I didn't have to trust Him, just me.

The situation of being stuck in our adoption process of our youngest daughter at that point in 2012, however, had me finally to a place where I had never really been before.  A place where there was literally nothing I could do to impact, change or make our situation any better.  God used those seemingly dark days to begin opening my eyes and speaking clearly to me, "I want you to pray".  So, I finally obeyed by quitting an amazing group I was attending on Wednesday nights in order to attend the Wednesday night prayer group meeting at our church and spent time most mornings journaling out my prayers in my bedroom.  I found myself excited yet nervous, confident yet humbled.  I remember thinking, "God, I don't know what on earth You are doing here.  Are you really trying to turn me into what I've labeled a 'prayer warrior'?  The woman I said I would never be able to be?  I can't do that!  I can't pray more than I am already...I have a house to take care of, kids to mother, and food to prepare.  I can't even find time to am I supposed to find time to pray more?"
With every fear of the unknown and wrong perception of what I thought I had to be like in order to be called a woman of prayer, I was met by a God who smiled lovingly at me and said "Trust me and just try it."  So, I did and the long story short is that He met me so intimately in prayer that it naturally, OVER TIME, turned me into a different woman.  I can not stress enough that this has been a process.  Remember that three whole years have passed since this nudging to pray first came.  And I am certainly still a work in progress even now!  There are, however, the two major changes I can see in myself because of prayer...1) Instead of believing I am a woman who is quite capable, thanks to God, to handle what comes her way, I know the Truth is I am nothing without relying on Christ in me moment by moment (John 15:5) and 2) Instead of being a woman who trusted herself more than God, I am now a woman who knows deep down to the core of my being that God is the only One who can be trusted (Prov. 3:5-6).
Looking deeper at the first way prayer has changed me, I would say that, yes, God has made me a beautiful woman with a working brain, gifts and talents but they pale in comparison to the abilities of the fresh, alive, and active Holy Spirit.  There is nothing I can do on my own that will equate what the Spirit can do through me.  If I want my prayers to be effective and my actions to have deep, life-changing meaning, I HAVE to rely on the Spirit because He is so much greater than limited me.  Before, my prayers were so focused on what I could do that I left no room for bigger-than-me things to happen.  Now, through experiencing and learning more of God in my times of prayer, I have learned the importance of stepping back and letting Him do what He wants to do.  I have learned to not treat God as a Divine Garbage Dump, my back-up plan, or even my "last resort", but to come humbly before Him immediately and TRUST Him to do more in me and through me then what I could conjure up myself.

That brings me to the second transformation.  Trust.  The more I spend time in His Presence and the more time I read His Word, the more I am convinced that God is always good and trustworthy.  Not just good for me, but good for everyone and everything He has ever created, which is quite honestly beyond what I can comprehend.  I have always had major trust issues with God so I haven't always been able to say that with confidence.  I believe most of those issues came, however, because I alienated myself from Him instead of digging myself into Him even more to learn and stand on the Truth.  Now that I am digging in, I am believing!  I know now more than ever that people will fail me.  Events, situations and circumstances will fail me.  Time will fail me.  This world and all it has to offer will fail me.  I will even fail me.  But not God.  God will always, always, always be there creating good and beauty from ugly ashes and I can trust Him.  I NEED to trust Him.  It truly was only by spending prioritized time with Him through prayer and reading Scriptures that I have come to a place to do that.  Left on my own, I just couldn't.
So now I humbly can say that, yes, I am a woman of prayer.  I was told by a God who loves me more than I love myself that He wanted me to pray, so I have, and I am forever changed because of it.  No, that doesn't mean I pray all day long every day, but it does mean there is a longing in my heart to actually do that now.  It doesn't mean I am somehow "better" than anyone else because I am praying, but it actually means I openly admit I am weak and nothing without Him.  It doesn't mean I never get sad, angry or frustrated with what life has dished out to me, but it does give me an instant, safe place to release all of what I am thinking and going through and replace it with trust and confidence that He is using it and acting on it for good.  The best part for me now is not in the "bringing of the stuff" to Him, but being a recipient of the transformation process.  In essence, it is the perfect way for me to become less of me and more of Him and that is the key!  No matter what we are going through, friends, I believe, we need, need, need to rely less on our faltered selves and more on our perfect, loving, trust-worthy God.  Through prayer, His power can be unleashed.  Through prayer His joy can be unleashed.  Even more, His love is unleashed.  His peace.  His obedience.  His patience.  His direction.  His healing.  His miracles.  His goodness.  His provision.  His discernment.  His kindness.  His revival.  His desires.  His, His, His, not mine, mine, mine.  All this and so much more is unleashed when we put ourselves aside and come trusting Him in prayer.
If I could impart any sort of humble wisdom from my journey onto the next generation or even the current generation, it would be not waste time relying on yourself first and God as your backup.  Do not pray as a last resort.  We truly need less of us thinking He already gave us everything we need so we can do this on our own and more recognizing we still need Him every second of every day in fresh, life-giving, spirit-revealing ways.  Please go to Him first!  He is the only Way to abundant life.  Being a woman or man of prayer or a prayer warrior is meant to be a calling for each and every one of us.  Young and old and all in between.  Prayer is meant for the new believer just as much as those wise in their walks.  We all need more of God and less of ourselves.

All God said to me is "I want you to pray" and my obedience to that has literally changed the very core of my being.  I wonder if He has spoken those very words to more than just me.  I truly hope He has because I am so excited to see what all He could do in our churches, our marriages, our homes or our areas of influence when we decide to pray first and watch Him use us as He wants afterwards.  It would be a sight, I am sure, beyond our comprehension.  Thanks be to God!

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understand, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." -Philippians 4:6-7

Monday, April 6, 2015

A Stretching Experience

This morning was rare.  Nora was the last one awake.  It was 8 a.m. and the rest of us were up, had ate breakfast, and low and behold our typical early-riser was just coming out of her bedroom.  As she came out of her door she stretched her arms out as wide as they could go and said "Ahhhh....good mornin' Mama."  The Holy Spirit put a thought in my heart right away..."Take note of her stretching, I'm going to use that today."

Take note of her stretching.  A little later on when I was in my quite time for the day, I knew I needed to reflect on the stretching, but to be honest, I really didn't want to.  You see, when the Spirit spoke that into my heart earlier it did not produce warm fuzzies.  It produced anxiety.  My thought went something like this, "Stretching?  Oh, Lord, no, not stretching.  If You are going to teach me something about stretching then that means something is going to happen today to stretch me and that doesn't found fun.  Can't I just get a break?  A day of rest?  A day of something NOT stretching me?"  But, that is thankfully not where God left me.  I could have chosen to leave it there.  Worried, hesitant, and fearful of what He was going to show me if I actually pursued this concept of stretching.  If I would have stayed there, I would have missed a blessing I NEEDED to hear today because I was too afraid to explore the depths of what God wanted to say to me.  I would have stayed wounded and unwilling to see the path towards healing.  It is always our choice to follow what the Holy Spirit is speaking to us.  Why do we fear what He has?  Why don't we trust Him to always have good things for us?  That is the Truth--it will ALWAYS be good.

So, as I sat on my bed, I thought about Nora's stretching arms outside her bedroom door.  Was she scared to stretch her arms?  Was she worried that if she would stretch out her muscles, it would be something hard to do?  No, that just seemed silly.  She stretched her arms out because she wanted to.  Her arms had been by her sides or tight to her body all night long and needed a good release of stretching.  Then I thought about my own times of muscular stretching.  I didn't fear stretching.  I didn't really look at those times as something I wanted to avoid.  Stretching my muscles has always felt good!  So why the difference?  Why was stretching my muscles seen as something good and refreshing but stretching my spiritual, cognitive, or emotional muscles seen as something I really didn't want to participate in?  Interesting indeed.  Was this the breakthrough of the day the Holy Spirit was wanting me to grasp?  That I should not be fearing something that will "stretch" me as much as I was allowing it too?  I couldn't wait to dig in deeper now!

I decided to look up some more info about stretching.  Here is what I found...when done properly, stretching reduces injury, allows better adaptation, relaxes muscles, increases range of motion/flexibility and betters one's performance.  However, stretching "properly" means that the stretching happens gradually, gently and in a controlled manner.  When stretching is done too intensely, called "over-stretching", it can produce pain, which is actually tissue damage happening under the surface.  An inflammatory response happens in our body to try to heal the damage done by over-stretching.  Tissue damage can heal, but there are several things that need to happen to help that healing take place.  First of all, there needs to be time given for proper healing because it just won't heal overnight.  During that time, several things are helpful towards the healing of the inflamed, damaged tissue; exercises to promote strength and flexibility, massages, ice, pain-relieving medication, and rest.

When I viewed my current situation in this new light, I couldn't believe the parallels between the physical and the spiritual/emotion/cognitive.  Events or situations in life that produce stretching of our minds, hearts, beliefs are never meant to harm us, but to produce good fruits such as the ability to be more flexible with what we are faced with, to reduce the chance of injury to our souls, increase our range of ability to do what God calls us to do, and even better our performance when we actually do it.  Stretching our minds, stretching our hearts, and stretching our beliefs is very beneficial to the spiritual body, but only when that stretching is done properly, which if you remember, is when it is done gradually, gently, and in a controlled manner.

The problem comes in, just as it does in the physical, when over-stretching happens in our spiritual/emotional/cognitive body instead of proper stretching.  Instead of having the gradual, gentle, and controlled stretching that is supposed to happen when each change comes our way,we find ourselves in situations where, I believe, we are in pain because of spiritual/emotional/cognitive "tissue damage" and now our bodies are living with an inflammatory response in order to heal the damage.  Our hearts, our minds, our emotions need time to heal.  It's not JUST time, however, that is needed to heal.  It's time well-spent on doing things that promote healing.  If physical tissues are just given time to heal and nothing else is done for them during that time, chances are they will just repeat the cycle of getting hurt with the next stretching experience.  Chances are the same cycle of injury will happen to our spiritual/emotional/cognitive selves if we don't heal properly.

Our spiritual/emotional/cognitive tissue damage also needs to be put through exercises that will promote strength building and flexibility.  For me, this kind of strength comes from reading Scripture, praying, being in tune with what the Holy Spirit is speaking to me about and then acting on it (just like the willingness to dig into this topic of stretching today).  It also needs massages...the ability to let another person help work on your area of pain.  We were never meant to do life alone and sometimes having another person helping to work in the places of pain in our bodies/life can really help loosen those tissues and promote healing.  Ice and pain-relieving medications are two things I see as ways to help elevate some of the pain in the process of healing.  They are not meant to actually heal the pain, but to simply make that time more bearable in the healing process.  These "medications" during a spiritual/emotional/cognitive pain might be such things as laughter, a good movie, reading a book, chatting with friends, serving others, creating something, singing, journalling, playing, exercising, getting a physical and making sure your body doesn't actually need some medications to make it work correctly, gardening, sleeping, etc.  Just doing something in the midst of pain that helps you bear the healing process is great!  Lastly, rest.  It's a concept not well received in our day and age, but it does wonders for the healing process.  Rest is not necessarily being lazy, but rest is allowing your minds, your hearts, your spiritual wellness to stop striving, stop seeking, stop yearning and trust that as you slow yourself down, God will provide what you need instead of thinking you need to provide it for yourself.  Rest is trust.

As we do these critical activities, IN TIME, we will see our over-stretched wounds healed.  We will either learn from our mistakes of over-stretching and next time will more gradually and gently move into the changes in front of ourselves OR if the changes of life are just thrown at us quickly and we have no choice to come into it gradually, we will recognize our injured selves more quickly. We will be able to move into a mode of healing and restoration immediately after injury instead of trying to continue limping along, never to fully heal (*side note-physical injuries heal faster when recognized and treated for healing immediately.  The longer it takes to begin treatment, the longer it takes to actually heal).  Either way, when we heal fully from the over-stretching experience, we can view the next time of stretching in a more positive light.  We will not have to fear the experience or wish that we could, instead, stay inside our comfy box of everything already known.  We can face changes with the Truth that God always has good for us and that the stretching experience is no exception...stretching produces really good things in our lives.  We can get out of our box knowing that what is next is only going to make us stronger, more flexible, able to do more than we thought, and all around a better individual.

I am so very blessed that as I sat on my bed this morning, I allowed myself to explore what the Holy Spirit was wanting to say to me through the simple stretch of my 3 year old as she walked out of her bedroom.  If I would have ignored it or dismissed it, I would still be fearing anything that would "stretch me".  Instead, I sit here noting that I have been over-stretched and need healing.  I need to actively be pursuing the very things that will promote healing in my life or I will continue to walk around wounded.  The Holy Spirit wills for me to be whole and healthy in all areas of my life and I believe He wanted me to know that in a very real and practical way this morning.  I also sit here ready and willing to be stretched again instead of fearing it because I know now that whatever happens, good can result because good was intended.

So will you join me today with being willing to be stretched?  To be willing to reject the lie that what will stretch us will not be a pleasant experience?  To be willing to trust God with what He is stretching you with?  If you are finding yourself in a place like I am where you recognize you have been over-stretched, will you be willing today to actively pursue a more restful time of healing instead of trying to push through or ignore the pain?  Will you allow yourself to read Scripture, seek counsel, find joy in the midst of pain, and trust God's ability to carry you through when you need help?  I truly hope you will join me today.

To end, I wanted to bring out the last point my little quest about stretching resulted in this morning.  Do you know what physical stretching also does?  It relaxes us.  Can you believe it!?!  Why did I not want to do that???  Who doesn't need a bit more of relaxation today?  If it's physical relaxation you are in need of, do some actual stretches, friend!  (The article I read suggested doing them before bed for a better night of sleep.)  If it's spiritual relaxation you need, do some spiritual stretching.  If it's cognitive relaxation you seek, do some cognitive stretching.  And if it's emotional relaxation you need, stretch those emotions!  Relaxation because of stretching.  Sounds amazing!  Join me, won't you?  I hope we will all benefit from this stretching experience today.

Monday, March 30, 2015

I Lift My Eyes Up

In my last post I thought my four month hiatus from blogging was a very long time of disconnect.  However, here we are five whole months since then and it's my first time back to this sorry!  It has not been five months of no writing or reflecting (I journal my prayers almost every single day) or no events worth telling you about (Revive Indiana...goodness...enough said).  It has, however, been five months of me needing to find a bit more of my private closet to pray in and seek God.  Today, I feel more released to share and I look forward to *hopefully* monthly attempts in this space for sharing what God is doing to encourage you in your own journey.

I think it is safe to say after my last several posts here, adding Nora to our family has been a challenge beyond what we could have ever imagined on our own.  She has stretched me to places I didn't want to be stretched to and, quite frankly, never want to see again.  I eluded to some physical chaos my body has been going through over the past year and a half and I'm so, so hopeful we may have the right medications in play now to bring me back to a place of sanity again.  In a nutshell, my thyroid was not working as it should and we believe my estrogen was being an overachiever while my progesterone was quietly begging, "Umm...hey, remember me???  I'm the sense of calm you are really, really, really missing right now."  The stress of life...the stress of adding in new life to life...can really take its toll on our physical body.  I urge you to go have a check-up if you are definitely "not feeling like yourself" because chances are something is going on in there different than your normal.  It's probably not JUST that you are not handling the changes well.  Okay, off soapbox now and onto today's good stuff...

There are many things I do and think as I parent Nora that makes me second guess if I really was the best mom for this job.  I debate if another woman would really be a better mom to her than I am.  Yep, I said that.  That is the lie Satan likes to stick to me every day and, man, does he know how to reinforce it.  Do you know how?  Other moms.  Other people.  Other friends.  Other strangers.  Basically, anyone who dotes on Nora, tells me how cute she is, how fun she is, how they just can't get enough of her, how sorry and hurt they are that she has had to endure so much in her young life already, and how blessed I must feel to be the one who gets to mother her.  Satan uses their completely innocent lines as a constant reminder of what I don't say or don't think in my head.  At the end, I feel like a completely unloving and compassionate-less mother.  Certainly they would all be a better mom to Nora than I have been or ever will be.

In those moments, I try hard to remind myself that they don't live with her day-in and day-out.  That the "Nora" she is in public can be very different than the "Nora" she is at home.  That they don't get the tantrums, the questioning, the stubborn attitude, the constant need for attention, the eyes always watching, the constant stream of words, the messy, anxiety-filled every-moment-of-every-day-life I get with her.  BUT, you know what?  Even those self-reflections/self-pep-talks do not take away the impact of the lie Satan has spoken.  I still often feel like a failure as her mother at the end of the day.  I don't have all the answers to this, but one answer that stands out today for me is that I still believe the lie because all of my "comebacks" are still about me.  They are about everything I deal with from her instead of everything God has equipped me with to give to her.  Hmm.

All He has equipped me with to give her...can I be honest with you?  In this present moment, that is not much.  As I mentioned above, I am a recovering hormonally-unbalanced woman.  I am tired.  I am worn.  I am trying to recover from being frustrated, bitter, angry, sad, and guilty 95% of every month.  Sure, I can make meals, do hair, clean the house, and keep a schedule for her, but that's about all I have most days.  And that is where Satan loves to play.  His lie that "someone else could extend a better mama-love to Nora than I could" get these type of lies slathered on top... "See!?!  See, I told you you aren't good at this thing.  You can't even extend love to her like you thought you would or even like you want to.  You make lunch...seriously?  Everyone can make lunch.  That is nothing special.  That isn't showing Nora love.  That's giving her food.  Even the orphanage did that.  If you really loved her, you would be so overwhelmed with compassion for her that you would hold her and sing over her and rock her and kiss her sweet cheeks and just cry happy tears that God had blessed you with this amazing gift of a girl in your arms after such a long-fought battle to get her home.  Her disobedience and selfish actions would not bring out yelling words from you, but instead this heart-felt desire to calmly let her know there is nothing she could do to not make you love her.  But you don't do that.  Do you really think the things to do for her are expressions of love.  Right.  Not so much."  Those lies on top of the other make me feel like a complete and utter failure as her mom.  Lunch just isn't enough.  Doing her hair just isn't enough.  I am just not enough.

The Truth is, however, the twist in Satan's lie is not that what I am doing isn't enough to be showing Nora my love, but that I can actually love her the way she needs and deserves to be loved.  Satan LOVES to keep us in a self-sufficient mode.  It's his way of keeping us away from God.  The Truth is, I can't.  I can not.  I can't.  I CAN NOT love Nora that well.  I will never be able to show Nora the amount of love she needs and deserves.  I just don't have that in me and I've been trying for a year and a half to drum it up somehow out of me when it wasn't ever there to begin with.  The Truth is, no other woman would have that amount of love in her for Nora either.  It's not just my problem.  God is the only one who has the ability to love her completely and if I'm not consistently, moment-by-moment giving all of this up to Him to work through, it is just not going to work...with me, or with any other woman out there willing to have her be their daughter.  The love she needs will only come when God loves her through an empty me.  An empty mom.

Now, hear me out, this is a concept that many have said to me throughout the past year and a half so don't think this was completely new to me.  My counselor said it over and over and over, some of my dear friends have said it, I've seen it plastered over other blogs of adoptive mamas, but it was not sinking in yet because I was not at the end of myself.  I was not empty enough to let it in.  I was still too full of the believe that if God had called me to this, I must be able to do this!  Surely He had equipped me to do the task He laid in front of me and stirred in my heart to pursue.  No.  Sorry, friend.  The Truth is, He didn't really.  He called me to this, yes, but He didn't think that I could do this all on my own then.  He most definitely called me to something beyond what I could handle so that I would eventually empty myself of everything good I thought I brought to the table and realize that ONLY HE is good and sufficient and willing and able.  I believe I had to be at a point where I had given my ALL and it just wasn't enough.

I finally had to realize there is honestly not a hope in the world that will make this mothering relationship with Nora work well...not a hope in the world.  Only a hope that is not from this world.  Only a hope in a God that surpasses anything this world has to offer.  This weekend contained a very practical moment when as I sat at a women's retreat very much at the end of myself and I heard God speak to my empty self.  I heard it because I finally had room enough for the message being spoken all along to finally find enough room to settle.  The message was simple, as God's messages ALWAYS are: "Lift your eyes UP, Angie.  Accept my help."

***This, friends, is where I'm going to break the rules of blogging as I normally do.  Blog posts are supposed to be short and sweet and contained into the length of time you will actually sit down and read this.  I'm pretty sure I've already went past that mark.  I just can't work within those silly blogging rules.  I'm a wordy girl.  I've owned that at this point in life.  So, if I was a true blogger, this is where I would end the "Part 1" of this post and then continue with "Part 2" tomorrow...or a week from now, but instead I will just continue.  I have been known to say I am a "rule follower".  My husband looked at me once and said the truth..."You are a rule follower until it's a rule you want to break and then you break it."  Ha!  He's right on.  Seriously.  So...with that, I continue on in my too-wordy-for-a-blog-post post.  If you simply HAVE to take a break to pee or get more coffee or attend to your children or what have you, please promise to come back to this moment.  The Goodstuff is about to be had...

I'm a practical person.  Reality based.  Have question, need answer.  This gets me in trouble when it comes to God because He's not always practical.  However, I believe He knows me intimately because, quite frankly, He made me, so He knows I need practicality when it comes to me actually understanding what He is asking of me.  This time is no different.  After recognizing that it truly will be the "less of me/more of Him" approach that will give Nora the love she needs, I needed to know how that looks for everyday living.  I was still stumped (never said I was a fast learner).  I began asking God questions like this: "So, you want me to step out of the way and love Nora with Your love, but how do I do that?  In moments when I feel my human Angie-nature rising and I want to scream, how do I hold that back or dissipate it and do what You would do instead?  How do I hear the Holy Spirit speaking to me at home, in my sweatpants, with two kids who are constantly begging for my attention?"  For a while now, I have had no answers.  I've continued to ask though faithfully believing that one of these days He would reveal something.  This weekend I got my first practical answer to that question.

I mentioned above that one of the things Nora does (seriously, every second I'm in her presence) is that she watches a hawk.  She has a specific stare in her basket of looks that I know all too well.  It's a look reserved just for me.  It's this stare that says many things all at once.  "Are you watching me, Mom?  Am I doing something you will like?  Are you going to be happy I'm doing this?  Or should I not be doing this?  Are you mad I'm doing this?  Are you going to tell me to stop doing this?  Can I keep doing this or should I stop?  If it is making you happy do I want to keep doing it?  If it is making you mad do I want to keep doing it?  What are you thinking, Mom?  What should I do or not do, Mom?"  ANXIETY!!!!!!  She is filled with it, friends.  My counselor once told me that everything (yes, everything means everything) Nora does, she does out of a background of attention or anxiety issues.  Very true.  Even her looks come from these two places.  So, this anxiety-filled look comes at me all day long with everything she is doing.  It's exhausting to see because that look means that I am on constant watch.  Her constant look of anxiety towards me has literally filled me with anxiety in return so I often haven't responded well to it.  Instead of reassuring her, I have often created more anxiety.  Remember...hormonally unbalanced, relying full-of-herself Mom is what was responding.  Not a great combo.

Micah (bless him) has told me I just need to stop watching her.  That my constant stare back has just caused more anxiety than less.  It's true.  I watch her back like a hawk.  I'm constantly monitoring her every move, every decision, every everything.  It's just as exhausting as it sounds.  I allow myself to do this because I think she needs to be taught what is okay and what is not okay.  What will be beneficial to her and what could hurt her.  I'm just being a mom, right?!?  Wrong.  I'm being a tyrant.  I'm being untrusting.  I'm being her god and that's not my role.  Quite honestly, I suck at it.  If, instead, I would chose to work out of my empty self in those constant moments throughout the day when I'm being looked to for direction and show her that I am going to allow God to reveal to her what she should or shouldn't be doing, then and only then am I truly being the mama I can be.

In order for me to do this, I needed the practical tool in my belt.  He spoke that tool to me in the form of a worship song at the very end of my retreat.  The song depicts the words of Psalm 121...

                 "I lift up my eyes to the mountains--where does my help come from?
                             My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.

                 He will not let your foot slip--he who watches over you will not slumber;
                            indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

                 The LORD watches over you--
                           the LORD is your shade at your right hand;
                           the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.

                 The LORD will keep you from all harm--
                          he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming
                          and going both now and forevermore."

I will lift my eyes up.  Literally.  So simple.  Why do we make things so complicated???  Another blog perhaps.  In those moments when Nora's specific, anxiety-full look comes my way, instead of shooting a look back to her, I heard God ask me to literally LOOK UP instead.  Take my gaze away from Nora and onto the ceiling Him.  If I would literally make my eyes look up instead of at Nora, it would diffuse the situation completely.  She would be left to figure out things a little on her own (which would be a great thing) and I would be left to be reminded that I can not do this on my own.  My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.  Practical application of His Holy Word in my day to day life.  The Bible coming to a very real way.

So, it has only been a day since I have had this "lightbulb moment" with the Lord and I can already testify to several moments where I have gazed up instead of back at her.  It has been great!  Yes, it feels a bit weird.  Yes, I wonder what she is doing as I stare at the ceiling for a few moments.  Yes, I find myself saying a bit of a prayer while I do it like "Okay, God, I'm looking up.  I'm choosing You.  When I bring my look back down, please help me reflect You better to her if she is still staring at me and if she is not staring at me, help me trust that You were with her in that moment and gave her confidence instead of anxiety."  Yes, so far in its limited trial run, this is working...for both of us.  I even find myself being able to look at her with less anxiety and more loving acceptance of where she is at and who she is being because I am actively taking moments captive to doing the will of God instead of relying on myself to figure it out.  It is refreshing for sure!

I understand, to some, this may seem like a cop-out maneuver to not parent her well, but for others in my shoes, you will understand the importance of this step and this way of thinking.  Believing that God can and WILL parent her well when I choose to step back and NOT use my own best efforts that are miserably failing anyway.  By doing such practical applications of Scripture, God will start to regain ground Satan has stolen from Nora AND from me.  It's exciting me to no end to have a way of bringing my God into my daily life in such a beautifully simple way.  As Psalm 121 states, He will watch over our lives both now and forevermore.  He will.  His eyes will watch.  I don't have to.  I don't have to for Nora.  He will.  So, I will continue to trust Him at his Word.  I will lift my eyes up (literally) and accept His help (because I NEED it).

I hope, wherever you are in life today, you will see the places where perhaps you also need to lift your eyes up for your help because relying on yourself just isn't cutting it.  Trust Him, friends, to give you the help you need when you choose to empty yourselves and look to Him for fulfillment instead.

Oh, and after coming home from my retreat and telling Micah the words the Lord gave me, he smiled and said he sang that song to Nora while rocking her for her nap that day.  Of course he did.  That's how detailed God is.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Back From Captivity--4 Months of No Words

"'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to give you hope and a future.  Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you,' declares the LORD, 'and will bring you back from captivity.'" ~ Jeremiah 29:11-14a 

Oh, friends, where do I even begin.  My blog posts are typically long and this will be no different.  I pray, however, you will wade through the length with me because I believe you will find a story worth reading here if you do.  You may have noticed I took a hiatus from blogging on here about Nora and our life on the home-front since the end of June.  To be honest, I had no words to express what I was going through...what my family was going through.  Many times I tried to come to this space to write but left just as dumbfounded as I came.  I still don't exactly have words for all of it because I honestly don't even know all the complexities of what all we just went through, but I will do my best to leave a handful of words here today after 4 months of no writing.

My heart behind this post is so much sincerely on the cheering sidelines of the person who finds themselves, for whatever reason, in a period of "captivity".  A period of time along your journey when nothing seems to be going well, when you find yourself worn out, fed up, out of control, unhappy, alone, confused, in the dark and just down-right a big ole' mess.  A period of time when no matter how much you long--and I mean lllooonnnggg--to move past it or out of it or through it or beyond it, your feet are trapped in an amount of quicksand you can not escape no matter how hard you try on your own.  You are held captive in a place you never thought you would be and yet, here you are, unable to budge.  If you find yourself in that place today, friend, please know I get you deeply.  So, so deeply.  I get you, friend, because for the most part of the past year I was you.  Even yesterday morning I would have said truthfully I WAS you.  Yesterday.  I was you.  Yesterday.  But then God.  That little line of Truth literally changed my status of a person "in captivity" to a person "back from captivity" in a few hours of private praying with a God big enough to change my heart.  Let me tell you the story and perhaps give some hope to the hurting souls today who are still, bless them, in their own places of captivity.

As I said before, I really don't even know where to start exactly.  There are so many angles, so many directions, so many different aspects of this story that it is hard for me to grasp it all in the form of a blog post.  Somehow, as Nora came home almost a year ago (November 14, 2013), I began a slow decent downward into a pit of ugly living--a place of captivity.  What was supposed to be the joyous homecoming of our beautiful daughter we had been waiting for 2 years and 4 months for really became the beginning of my nightmare.  I wish I could pen different words there, but that was truly what it was.  It has been almost an entire year of living in a pit of captivity.  Before Nora came home I was in such a wonderful place--exercising fairly regularly, eating healthy, doing daily time with the Lord, enjoying the activities I was involved in, at peace with so many things that once dragged me down, and so in love with the abundant life God was giving me.  I felt confident, strong, joyful, expectant, and deeply connected to what the Lord was speaking to my heart of hearts daily.  I remember thinking, in a humble way, not a prideful way, that I was so thankful Nora would be coming home to a mom who had her act together instead of the mom I had been known to be in the past.  A mom who was not always so confident, hopeful, or in tune with all God was doing.  I believed to the core of my being Nora was going to be loved well by me...or so I thought.

Instead of loving Nora well, however, I have struggled to believe I loved her at all.  I knew deep, deep, deep down under a lot of confusing feelings and thoughts there was a love for her because I had been experiencing it for the past few years of our adoption journey to get her home, but now that she was here in front of me I just couldn't find it.  At the beginning I remember blogging that she fit right into our family as if she had always lived here.  To some degree that was true--we didn't skip a beat in our parenting just because she was with us now.  The kids welcomed her into their lives without any hesitation.  We tried to help her bond to us as her new parents the best we could but also kept on living life as we knew it too.  We didn't necessarily feel like there was this "honeymoon phase" when we brought her home because she was a "true toddler" from the get-go with us.  Perhaps that's why it felt so normal--there was no glamourous gazing into each others' eyes and falling in love with each other.  There were simply diaper changes and tantrums and food on the floor and naps and playing with toys and looks that could kill coming from Nora.  To myself, at first glance, this was all normal and we were going to be just fine as a new family of six.

Slowly, however, we started to see that Nora is not exactly like our other children.  She has a BIG personality.  She is loud, outgoing, cheerleadingly happy, all out cryer, and hyper, hyper, hyper.  Our other kids...not so much.  As my counselor pointed out, almost everything Nora does in a reaction to something is going to be out of anxiety or attachment issues.  True.  Very true.  Our other kids...not so much.  We tried to parent her the way we knew how--the way we parented our other children--and we found out with much exasperation that nothing was working.  Her tantrums were getting worse instead of better, her death glares were getting more frequent instead of subsiding, and her demands for attention were taking a toll on us.  Especially me.  Probably because I was at home with her every day, all day and because Nora's personality and my personality are about as opposite as they can get in some ways.  I found myself struggling to see her as a blessing to our family but also knew deep down inside that God chose her for us and us for her so I piled a lot of guilt onto myself for not doing a better job at parenting her and loving her.  I didn't know how to handle this new little addition to our home that I thought I would know how to parent because, well, because I had raised 3 other kids and they were turning out pretty good so why was I struggling so hard with this one.

The best way I know to describe how I felt is this...when you are dating a person and are figuring out if you want to spend the rest of your life with them, you spend a lot of time together, learn things about each other, talk, do activities together, and figure out if you can live with the good AND the annoying parts of each other.  You do all of this BEFORE you commit to the covenant of marriage and if, for whatever reason, you find any of those things consistently getting in the way of your desire to be with them forever, you eventually decide to end the relationship and seek the same things in another person until you find the right one.  With adoption, the process is backwards.  You sign up to bring a child home permanently (like the marriage covenant), you are then matched to your child (find a person you want to date), and then you bring them home and learn who they are (actual dating).  It is only after they are permanently in your home that you learn their personality, their good qualities and their annoying habits and then, even though part of you is still wondering why God thought this child would "work" in your family instead of one whom "fit" more with your family's personalities and habits, you are expected to automatically love them as deeply as you loved your spouse when you walked down the aisle with them.  The reality, friends, is each person involved--me, Nora, Micah, our kids, our families--have still needed the time of getting used to each other before a love like that of "forever commitment" could come.

For me, finding that level of love for Nora has been HARD, HARD, HARD.  Excruciatingly hard.  So hard, in fact, that I have spent the better part of a year in a pit of captivity unable to get past the fact that the love I thought I would have for Nora just wasn't there and I didn't know why or how to ever find it.  What made my captivity such a living hell was that out of my brokenness, I was unable to offer anything good to those around me.  My husband suffered from an emotional, stressed, lost, crying herself to sleep at night wife.  My bio kids saw shades of their mom they had never experienced before in their entire young lives.  Nora more directly suffered from my anger, rage, and mood swings.  My friends suffered from the loss of an encouraging friend who cared for them.  My ministry in this world suffered from a person who felt she had nothing to offer that was good because she was so much a mess herself.  I suffered from the lies I was too weak to not believe.  All of this began taking a massive toll on me.

Physically, I was out of control.  I would scream and throw my own tantrums of rage like I was outside of my own body.  Seriously, I would get done with one of my many attacks of rage throughout the day and think, "What on earth just happened?  Why did I even do that?  What is wrong with me?"  It brought me to a place where I honestly began wondering if I was losing my mind.  And that is not a joke.  I would cry for hours at my loss of being able to even understand my own self.  It was the pit of hell and I feared for all those who were in my daily reach because I never knew when or if the "crazy Angie" was going to appear.  I have a new understanding of the concepts of "Jekell and Hyde"...wanting to be good and do good, but yet feeling so evil inside and unfortunately seeing some of that ugly, evil person inside do things you never in your life thought was within you to do.  It was a nightmare that I was not waking up from day in and day out for months and months and months.

I have been heard by those I have privately talked to through this time that I don't know how anyone ever goes through an adoption without their belief in God.  Through all of this nightmare, I have still kept a tight hold on my faith and I truly believe if I would have not done that, I would have been lost for good right now.  Despite the anger, the feeling of being completely out of control, and completely at a loss on why all of this was happening or how to get back to "normal", I knew deep, deep in my heart that God would use even THIS for good.  That is His promise, friends, and too many times in my past I questioned that and it robbed me of so much.  He can work ALL things together for the good of those who love Him (Rom. 8:28).  I knew that Truth and in the darkness, in the pit, in the captivity, I held on to that like my life depended on it.  In my utter loss for words or comprehension on why on earth God was allowing me to live in this pit, hope remained.  I can not type these words without tears streaming down my face--I CLUNG to hope like it was my only remaining breath.  CLUNG to it, friends.  The hope that one day this nightmare would end.  That one day I would love Nora like everyone else seemed to be doing except me.  That one day I would gain control over my actions again.  That one day I would smile and laugh and be joyful again for more than a fleeting moment of time.  That one day I would feel free and not defeated as a mom.  That one day I would go to sleep and wake up refreshed instead of going to bed crying and waking up scared at what will happen that day.  That one day the God I had obeyed when He asked us to adopt a child from Haiti would open my eyes to how He saw her fitting beautifully into our family even though she seemed so different to me now.  That one day even all of this ugly, ugly mess would be redeemed by His grace, His mercy, and His love.  Truly, if I didn't have my faith that God had all this possible for my future, I would have given up.  My hope in His promises saved me.

Are any of you there?  Are any of you in a place where you are ready--SO ready--to give it all up?  Ready to call it quits because you just have nothing left to give?  You have tried it all--meds for the hormone imbalance you have now been diagnosed with, professional counseling, praying privately, talking things out with friends, getting a break away from the house or your "problems" for a while, doing things you enjoy with the hopes of release, more meds when the others didn't seem to make much of the difference you were counting on, more counseling because you still don't have any answers to the millions of questions swirling in your head, more praying--corporately now in hopes that someone else's prayers will "work" since yours don't seem to be cutting it.  Seriously, are you in the place where you feel as though you have tried it all and nothing is working?  This.  This is the place I was at too...this is the place I was at yesterday morning.  This is the place I was at yesterday lunch.  This is the place I was at until about 2 p.m. yesterday.  And then the miraculous happened.

The miraculous comes, friends, when we least expect it, but so desperately need it.  You see, the things I mentioned above...the meds, the counseling, the praying, the talking, the escaping...they each were helping in their own ways but none of it was cutting through to the root of what was still holding me captive.  Yesterday, after the third time of trying to get Nora to stop crying in her bed and just go to sleep, while playing a game of Jenga with Quinn, something miraculous happened in my heart.  The compassion I was lacking, but had been praying for God to give me for Nora was birthed.  It was not a moment with angels and bright lights.  It was a moment of real, human existence while playing a game with one child and wishing my other one would go to sleep.  While hearing her continue the tears I found myself thinking, "Oh, Nora, just go to sleep, Honey.  I feel sad that you are crying in there alone instead of sleeping peacefully.  I should go in there again and help her."  To a mom in a healthy place, these thoughts seem completely normal, but to a mom in a pit, these words are so incredibly foreign.  To the mom in the pit, the last thing you want to do is go towards the crying child who you have tried to comfort or even reason with three times already.  To the mom in the pit, running the other direction is the only thought you have in your head so hearing myself have a desire to go TOWARDS Nora was profoundly miraculous.

I hesitated only long enough to see the end of the game I was playing with Quinn and then obeyed this compassionate desire to go into Nora's room once again.  I looked at her and rubbed her face and told her over and over and over "You're okay, Nora.  You're okay.  You're okay."  As I spoke these words over her, she calmed down and had a look of assured peace about her.  When I stopped, the tears began again so I continued to say it again..."You're okay, Nora.  You're okay.  I love you, Nora.  I love you.  You are okay."  I was shocked at the words leaving my mouth.  I have never dealt with this type of situation with so much compassion or love before.  Those type of words have unfortunately never left my mouth towards her when nothing else seemed to be settling her down.  I left her room again with her still whining about having to go to sleep (yes, she's still a normal toddler) and collapsed in my chair with my journal, writing out my prayers once again to a God I so desperately needed to hear the same words from.  I needed to hear "You're okay, Angie.  You're okay.  I love you, Angie.  You're okay."

I found myself in a place of complete vulnerability before the Lord.  He knows better than anyone else that I struggle with feeling respected and valued in the eyes of others (including His).  He knew in that pit of captivity I was stuck in for the past year, I was constantly being bombarded with the lies that I was not worthy of value and respect.  The lies that I will never gain Nora's respect no matter what I do or not do to try to earn it because I was always screwing it up again.  The lies that my value is based solely on my productivity and performance and not on who God has made me to be.  The lie that because I was acting like a crazy mad woman and couldn't even figure myself out, that I was not valued and certainly not worthy of respect from anyone around me.  God knew in that moment, around 2 o'clock on a random Friday afternoon, that I needed to use the very words to Nora that I needed to hear from Him--"You're okay."  And, that by using those words, I would have brought myself to Him in a way that was ready to let go of other things I didn't even know I was holding onto.

Out of that moment, I found myself praying for God to strengthen my depth of compassion for Nora.  I knew in my heart of hearts that was the key missing ingredient to get me out of this pit.  I lacked compassion for the daughter God gave me.  There are so many reasons I could give on how that compassion got lost or stolen or blocked from me, but they are not that important anymore.  What was important in that moment was that I desired to have built back up what had been taken from me.  In that prayer I believe God spoke to me by saying "If you want to build up compassion for Nora, Angie, then you need to build up Nora herself.  Start saying, thinking, and believing positive, True, and uplifting things about her.  Start now.  Write down the positives and say them out-loud.  When you are done doing that with Nora, do it for yourself.  Nora is not the only one lacking compassion from you.  You are lacking compassion from yourself too."  So, with tears streaming, I began writing out a list of positive things about Nora and then about myself.  With each one written and then spoken, I believe a stronghold was being torn down in front of my eyes.  I was being lifted out of a pit, taken out of chains that had bound me for a year, and was seeing Nora in a light that I had not seen before.  I was seeing her in her Truth, in her beauty, and it was miraculous.

I spoke out prayers of thankfulness in the middle of my living room while Nora slept and Quinn played with a neighbor.  I spoke out claims of Victory over myself because of Jesus's death and resurrection over the evil of this world.  I spoke out Truths that this house will serve the Lord and those who live in it will not be tools or pawns of Satan any longer.  I prayed for God's angels to come and protect and serve and minister to our hearts as I was sure they will still be reeling from the pain of this past year and needing healing deeply.  I prayed for God to continue to grow this new-found love and compassion I had for Nora.  I prayed for it to not be taken away from me ever again.  I told Satan he had no authority here anymore and that I would no longer be living in the place he had held me captive.  I prayed broken, humbled, blessed, and covered in love and grace and peace.  It was beautiful and freeing.  My last part of my prayer went something like this, "God, I know what is ahead will probably still be hard to get through.  I know it will probably be hard to think and view Nora consistently in this new light, but I'm going to do it no matter how hard it is."  That is when God said one more thing to my spirit, "No, Angie.  Do not assume this will still be hard.  My daughter, your life for the past year has been nothing but hard.  Do you not remember that when I come, I change things.  When I come, Angie, I do not allow things to remain the same--I come and make all things NEW!  My promise, if you choose to have enough faith to believe it, is that what lies ahead will not be hard at will be will be easy!  Your love and compassion for Nora will come easily--naturally--how I have always meant for it to come.  You do not have to fear anything about the future of your relationship with Nora.  Because you were willing to surrender your thoughts and words about her, I am taking them away from you, nailing them to my cross, and giving you new thoughts and new words that will only bring life for both of you.  I will take on the burden of the hard stuff and you will experience 'easy' for the first time in your life with her home.  I hope, Angie, you will dare to have the faith to believe it will be easy."

My response to those words was three-fold.  1) Tears, tears, tears of the relief that I felt when the word "easy" was spoken in my spirit.  Oh, how desperately I needed "easy"  2) Smiles and praises to a God who is faithful in meeting with me and changing me always more and more into His character and 3) A heart restored and full of faith that will believe in God making this easy for me.

Our pastor preached several Sundays back on surrendering our "stuff" to God.  They handed out white flags to everyone and as people surrendered whatever they needed to surrender, they waved their white flags and sang songs of praise to the Lord.  I sat quietly that Sunday with my white flag beside me.  I couldn't even pick it up.  How was I supposed to surrender what I didn't even know needed to be surrendered?  I was at a loss.  I brought my white flag home and decided when the Lord revealed to me what needed surrendered, I would then, and ONLY then, raise that flag.  It has sat for weeks untouched.  In that moment of surrender yesterday afternoon, I knew it was time to pull out the white flag.  I was surrendering my speech and my beliefs about Nora to the Lord and allowing Him to transform them and use them for the building up of compassion and goodness.  It feels so right and so wonderful to see that flag genuinely being waved in my hand.

And, as for Nora, when she woke up from her nap yesterday, she came out to a mom who was different than the mom who put her to bed.  I took her in her arms, sought forgiveness for the umpteen time, spoke Truth over her beautiful face, hugged her and kissed her and held her like I hadn't held her as of yet in our own home.  I told her of the changes God had done in my heart and that from now on I was going to be a mom that did not fight against her but for her.  That I was going to be a mom who valued her and respected her just like she would do to herself.  That I was going to be a mom who was thankful and blessed to have her presence be such an intimate part of my life.  I was going to be her mom like God had always intended and she would be my daughter as God had always intended and that together we were going to be okay.  Through tears we held each other, called each other princesses, and began the new life God's miraculous power had just made possible.  As I stared into her eyes, I found myself at a loss for all words except two.  Two words that had been long unspoken.  Two words that were deeply desired by me to say for the whole past year but, for whatever reason, had not been spoken.  Two words that I believe, in faith, will begin the easy future of our lives together.  I looked in her beautiful big eyes and said, "Nora, welcome home."  She may have been home for almost a year, but I was finally welcoming her here and it felt good and right and sacred.

Together, Nora and I looked up a Scripture God was bringing to my mind in that moment.  Whatever He is doing in my heart, friends, He ALWAYS confirms in a Scripture.  Not kidding.  Always.  This is the one for the miraculous happenings of our everyday Friday afternoon...

"'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to give you hope and a future.  Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you,' declares the LORD, 'and will bring you back from captivity.'" ~ Jeremiah 29:11-14a

When I finally brought ALL of my heart to Him and surrendered it freely and genuinely, He was found.  He was not only found, but He was my salvation--He saved me from the captive pit I have been trapped in and He gave me the promise of a hope and a future.  A bright future, I think, of a family of six precious souls making our way through this life together.  Imperfect, sinful, humble, needy, holy, blessed, and free souls who will continue to live a life of love and surrender together with a God who cares for us immensely.  I promise, friends, that same God is with you too.  Whether you are in the pit or out of it because I can testify that He has been with me in both places.  He has unique, individual, personal plans for you just as He has for me.  I pray that through your own surrender in prayer to the Lord, in your own undying hope, and in your own faith for the future, you will find what He wants to make new for you.  The freedom He has given in being "back from captivity" is making my heart full of awe in the One I serve and full of hope again that many others I know in their own pits will be back from captivity soon too.  To Him be the glory forever and ever, amen!

This photo has been a picture of my hope.  The hope that one day the two of us would smile and laugh together genuinely and effortlessly.  This moment was captured back in the thick of things this summer and I am looking forward to seeing the essence of that fleeting moment become something deep and often.  We are both beautiful, but especially when we are both experiencing joy.

**And, friends, just so you know...I woke up this morning and it wasn't all a dream.  I still find myself looking at Nora with an amount of love that did not exist yesterday morning.  God is so good!  For as long as I've felt I was living in a nightmare, may this "dream" continue to be a reality for the rest of my living days.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Throw a Little Color into Your Life...and Decor!

* I was asked by Chika Sunoto Photography, who took our last family photos, to write a blog post about all our color choices and how it came together with my photo gallery wall project.  This is what I came up with...

I love color. Color does not scare me. That is something you should know from the very beginning. There is not one wall in our home still painted white except the laundry room (and that drives me nuts). So, if you are a person who starts to sweat when you think about adding color to your home, this blog might take you over the top, but I challenge you to think outside your "safe box" and dare to throw some color into your lives.

The "trick", I think, with adding color to a home is simply making sure it is the right color for your area as well as coordinating it with your furniture and fixings so it does not seem out of place. Color that is well thought out and planned before the brush even hits the surface is color you will not regret living with in your day-to-day world.

Our original dining room--dark, dark, dark.
Our original kitchen--also dark!
When we moved into this home several years back, the kitchen and dining room area was painted in dark red and cream colors. Although it looked fine and even matched what I had in our old kitchen as well as the painting my brother-in-law had painted for us, a few years into living in it, I knew the space was needing to be lightened up. The room was feeling dark and closed in when I wanted it to feel refreshing and open for all who came to eat around our table. After looking at various colors of kitchens online and bringing home several color swatches, I settled on switching out the dark red for a bright lime green color. It seemed the switch in color was exactly what I was wanting, but it left me wanting a bit more change than that one color.

From red to bright green!  Now we are getting somewhere.
Nothing says re"fresh"ing like a bight green kitchen!
To make a long story short after the green went on the walls, I bought a black antique buffet table, which made me want a more antique looking dining room table and chairs. I found that on Craigslist and refinished them myself in a robin's egg blue and black to match the buffet. I recovered the chairs in three different patterned materials that tied the lime green of the walls and the blue from the wood together perfectly.

Nasty table from Craigslist
Refinished table to match my black antiqued buffet table.
Nasty Craiglist
Refinished chairs with seat covers to tie in the greens and blues.
I also repainted the hardware in our kitchen from gold to brushed nickel, replaced the overhead light in the dining room, and painted the cream wall gray to offset the new hardware color. Although I was almost done, there was one more change I was desperate to complete. Above the black buffet on my newly painted gray wall was a painting that no longer matched a single color in my dining room/kitchen area. It just had to go, but what should I replace it with? I always wanted to have a wall full of the people I care most this was the perfect opportunity to do so. The only problem was I didn't have professional photos that all went together to make it look complete and planned. This is where Chika from Chika Sunoto Photography certainly came to my rescue.
New color (before the back wall went from cream to gray), new table, new buffet table...
painting that no longer
Just one more thing needs help--that last wall needed painted gray
and the painting needs changed out.
Step number one when heading in for some professional family photos is finding the clothes to wear for them. Dressing a family of six in coordinating outfits is a bit more challenging then when it was just my hubby and me, but by knowing where these photos were going to be displayed in our home, I was able to have a color scheme to go with. Many families choose all white shirts, all black shirts, or very dull, dark colors in order to match each other. While some of those photos do end up looking good, others seem washed out, too dark, or lacking originality. I would encourage you to look around the room where you are going to hang your photos to see what colors you may want to match your clothes to. Textures and patterns interspersed with solid colors on clothing also help to liven up the look of the photo. For our family photos, I knew the best way to coordinate with the rest of my dining room would be to include the lime green and robin's egg blue colors in our clothing. Those bright and bold colors would definitely make our family photos fun and unique to our space. *A few tips from my experience: 1) To make sure the colors would match the paint well, I even took some of the leftover material from my chair covers to the store with me until I found the best matches for all of us. 2) Shop thrift stores or second-hand stores for outfits--especially children's clothes. It can get pretty pricey to buy all new outfits for six members of the family if you don't have the colored clothing you want on hand already.

Blues, greens, and browns...all add "pops" of color for our wall.
Don't be afraid of several different patterns in your clothing scheme--just separate them out a bit with some solids.
My absolute favorite photo EVER of my handsome hubby and myself.
Love this crew!
Once Chika worked her magic with our family photo session, I was sure there would be at least one of each child and hopefully one of our family together that would be "good enough" to make the space over the buffet table work. However, with the first glimpses of our photos from Chika, I knew I was going to have a problem. Each and every photo was so beautiful I did not have a clue how to dwindle it down to just a few photos. I now wanted to showcase all these wonderful captured moments, but how on earth would I be able to do it? I started to figure it out by looking up examples of photo gallery walls to give me ideas of how to make this work best with the space I had. I counted up the number of photos I really wanted to hang (seventeen...yikes!) and began to shop for frames.  I headed to Hobby Lobby and quickly realized having seventeen photos to purchase frames for was going to be impossible on our budget. What to do, what to do? Instead of spending the money or changing my plans back to a few basic photos, I headed to several of my second-hand stores to peruse the frame sections. After a few stops, I had all seventeen frames for under $20. They were all old, dirty, various colors and materials, and held "interesting" pieces of art. At first glace it was a hodge-podge of frames that was nothing but ugly, but since I had already taken my dining room table and chairs from ugly to beautiful, I knew what could be done in the end with these frames with a little bit of time and paint.

This was the loot of ugly frames I brought home from the second-hand stores with the exception of the two black patterned frames...they were on clearance at Hobby Lobby for cheap!
To transform the frames into pieces that would work with our color scheme as well as the antique look in our dining room, I pulled out the green, blue, black, and brushed nickel paints as well as my antiquing glaze. After a few hours of priming and painting work, they were completely updated from drab to fab and ready for photos. I arranged them on the floor of our bedroom over and over and over again until I found the look I enjoyed the most. To transfer the collage from my bedroom floor to the wall, I simply used the technique of cutting out newspaper to the size of each frame, taping the newspaper up on the wall in the exact positions I wanted them, measuring out where the nails would go on each piece of newspaper, and then hammering in the nails. At that point, the newspaper could come down and the actual frames could go up in their place. It was a great way to hang everything without having to hold big heavy frames while trying to get exact measurements.

With that, the work was done. Seeing all the frames up on the wall with Chika's amazing photos inside them for the first time was breath-taking. The colors were popping out from everywhere and everything tied so beautifully together with the rest of our room. It was perfect! When I sit down to eat I find myself starring at all the preciousness of my family photos and am so glad I was able to put so many of them up there. When we have guests over I absolutely love sharing this bright, fun, and meaningful space with them.

My finished wall of fabulous photos--thank you, Chika!

The complete look of our color-coordinated dining room.  I LOVE it!!!

I hope by seeing these photos and hearing how it all came together for me, you will be inspired to add some color into your room, your furniture, your outfits, and even your lives. Budgets do not have to be high for transformation to happen. A little bit of planning, some elbow grease, and a vision for what you want can make a space feel perfect for you without breaking the bank. I want to thank Chika for working so well with the needs of my family. She captured each of my children so well and I have to say I have never had a more perfect photo of my husband and myself alone before either. I treasure each of these gifts greatly and am so blessed to have them on my wall for all to see and enjoy.

Monday, June 30, 2014

7 1/2 Months...Trying Verses Training

7 months came and went and we are now at 7 1/2 months home with Nora.  I'd like to say I didn't put out a monthly blog post update at 7 months home because I was just too busy, but honestly, I didn't put one out because of two reasons...1) I was too exhausted and 2) I didn't have anything profoundly different than my 6 month home post to report on.

If you think back to my 6 month home update post (found here if you didn't read it yet), the place I was at a few weeks ago at my 7 month home date was very much the same place.  A place of frustration and lack of answers as to what I needed to be doing to willingly suffer for Nora's sake now that she was home.  A place of discouragement in myself for not being able to get a grip on how to better parent, better love, better listen, better invest, better "suffer".  The daily life in our household did not change much over the course of this past month.  I have all four kiddos home for summer break and I'm being pulled in four different directions for four different kids with four distinctively different needs.  (This will be a post all of its own someday!)  Tantrums were still being thrown (both from Nora and from my inner being), battles were still occurring, love tanks were still unmet, prayers were still prayed, gratefulness was still spoken, and fun times were still experienced in the midst of the pain.

To be honest, last week was the hardest week yet of a very long month.  There were many outside situations also occurring that made it especially tough, but it was downright the hardest week yet in trying to do this "adoptive parenting" thing and yet feeling like a complete and utter failure.  My emotions and reactions to Nora were out of control and every well-meaning word of advice I had been given from others to try to make this work better just fueled my sense of frustration because ALL of them would have made me do things that did not come naturally for me.  I could not believe it.  There was not ONE suggestion I heard where my first response was, "Oh, okay.  I like that idea.  I can do that.  I want to give that one a try.  I can totally see that one working/making a difference."  Nope.  Every single one was met with this response from me, "  Are you kidding me?  I hate doing that.  That would never work--I don't like that.  I don't enjoy doing that.  I can't even imagine how much that will grate me.  No way.  Nope.  No.  Never.  How on earth do you expect this to actually draw me and Nora closer and bond us when I will be hating every moment of these activities???  (Insert audible laughter at even the thought of me trying to do some of these ideas).  I felt like I was down to my last bit of twine in the rope and as much as I wanted to cling on and start climbing upward out of this pit of discouragement, nothing suggested seemed to be the answer I wanted/liked/desired.

However, thankfully we serve a God who never lets us lose our grip of even that last little string in the rope.  This past Sunday our pastor gave a great sermon on discipleship and what all goes into being a disciple of Christ.  How practicing disciplines is not something our generation is very good at doing.  I agree.  Our culture is one of instant gratification and only participating in activities that grant yourself good feelings and successful outcomes.  Practicing the art of discipline is not always exactly that.  He reflected on how our mindset is often focused on "trying" and not necessarily "training".  For example, we often will "try" something new with the intentions that if we don't like it, we will discontinue doing it.  We will "try" harder to accomplish something, but if we don't succeed at it then we must be a failure so we walk away with a self-defeated attitude and an increased fear of tackling anything new, unfamiliar or unnatural to our current lifestyle or abilities.  "Trying" seems to have an instant reward or loss attached to it...either we try it and like it or we try it and don't like it.  We try it and succeed or we try it and we fail.  There is no long-term commitment attached to "trying".

"Training", on the other hand, implies there is a larger goal to be focused on than just what is in front of us at the moment.  Even though there are many things along our path in training for something that we will have to "try", even if we fail at them, we don't stop the training regimen because we know that what we are working towards is ultimately good and worth the effort.  Our pastor brought up the idea of training to run a marathon.  Well, that hit very close to home for our family because my hunk of a hubby is currently doing just that!  Micah is not quite in the middle of his training schedule to be ready to run his very first marathon at the end of September.  His training has not always been "fun".  He has had to try new things like wearing a fuel belt while running, getting up earlier to avoid the hot sun, going for further distances than his legs have ever ran before.  Each time he "tries" something new, he has to view it as all part of the "training" process to become a marathon finisher.  If he views them all as just something he is "trying" without the larger picture or goal of what he wants to accomplish in the end, he could much easier opt out of the rest of the training program and never reach the desired outcome.

So too, with my journey in parenting Nora and learning to love her passionately.  Thus far, I think I have fallen into the trap of viewing each of these suggestions people have given me as something I need to try in order to make this instantly better.  I have viewed each suggestion as an entirety of itself instead of seeing it a part of a much larger goal I am training for.  When I choose to see all of these littler steps as part of a training program instead of a "trying it out" idea, my attitude shifts from being discouraged about everything I'm failing at, to one that has hope.  Even if I didn't do so great at it this first time, it still will play a critical role in the training process that will eventually, together with all these other things, develop and grow and strengthen me into a person who will and can parent and love Nora in a healthy way.  I no longer feel like I have to keep "trying" new ideas until I find one that actually works, but instead, I have to participate in all of these different ideas in order to train myself well-roundly.  And, just like Micah doesn't enjoy each and every part of the training process for his marathon, I'm not going to enjoy each and every part of the training process in my parenting of Nora either.  Some of these steps will HAVE to be what I called in my 6 month home post--"places of suffering".

So, with my newfound direction and decision to change my way of looking at my situation from a place of "trying harder" and yet continuing to fail miserably to a place of "diligently training well", I have several different activities I plan on implementing over the course of the near future.  I fully admit that almost all of these are things I really don't look forward to or am sad about giving up, but I believe that by doing so, the training steps will eventually get me to my desired place or goal and that will be worth the suffering steps along the way.  To give you a taste of some of these activities for myself, I'll list a few, but remember that each person is completely different so if you need to do this for yourself, you will have to think about what your "discipleship training" should personally look like.

  • Give up 99% of my time on facebook.  I love connecting with people.  I love encouraging others.  I found facebook is a place I can do those two things incredibly well.  I also found that facebook scrolling is incredibly addictive.  Before I know it, I got on there to see how my close friend is doing and find myself watching a video about how the latest animal got themselves out of their own cage without any human help.  It's ridiculous.  I am wasting so much of my day with mindless activity on facebook when I have four kids who need me to be more present with them, a house that needs me physically cleaning it, food that needs me cooking it on time, a husband who needs me talking with him on the couch instead of sitting on one end of it with my computer with him on the other end with his iPad, and I have a soul that needs to be reading my Bible, worshiping God, and thanking Him for what all is going on around me because I am living purposefully and intentionally enough to even know what it going on around me.  Giving up majority of my time on facebook is NOT something I look forward to because I also know it will come with the price of not being as "in-the-know" of what is happening with others near and far from me, however, with one week under my belt here, I have accomplished more off my "to-do list" than I have in months of time and it has been very freeing and refreshing.
  • Reading and playing more with Nora.  This one is a tough one for any mom (and especially as stay-at-home mom) to admit, but it's true...I don't actually super enjoy playing things with my kids.  I think, to some degree, that's why God has us have them all close together--they play with each other and I don't have to as much (ha!).  Seriously, I would LOVE to sit down and talk with them for countless hours or go and do things with them like the park or shopping, but getting my body down on the floor and actually playing with their toys with them is not something that comes naturally or easily for me.  I need to do this more with Nora, however, and it has to become part of my "training" whether I enjoy it or not.
  • Reading a book about adoptive parenting.  Another shocker to many who know me is that I'm not a reader.  I love to journal, write, blog, and talk, but sitting down with a book in my hand is a very, very, very rare sighting.  I like to read short things--blog post lengths--not thick books with tiny words and lots of chapters.  They are overwhelming to me.  I fall asleep so quickly after picking them up and wake up feeling like I have once again failed because I couldn't stay awake for it once again.  I also like to get things done quickly, check it off my list, and move on to the next thing.  The idea of having a book that is just sitting there not completely read yet unnerves me so I just don't like doing it.  However, a counselor and fellow adoptive mama I went to a few weeks back insisted I NEEDED to read this one so, reluctantly, I bought it and started it today.  Again...part of the training process that a much as I roll my eyes in beginning it, I also know it will help me reach my desired goal.
There are many other things I could put into this list but it would turn into a huge list very quickly and I basically just wanted to give you a taste of what my "training" is looking like.  I fully expect there to be challenges along this road, but I do have a renewed sense of direction and excitement as I look ahead instead of seeing things as dismal and hopeless to change.  I know that God is also running this race beside me and I will NEED Him to be my Encourager every step of the way or I will fail miserably.  That would probably be the one thing I've taken away from the past two months--I really can not do anything good and pleasing and heaven-rewarded without Him.  We need Him for everything.  I'm so blessed and thankful for His unconditional love and unwavering commitment to see me through to the end.  Please continue your prayers for me and all of our family.  We appreciate them and know God uses them to sustain, empower, support, encourage, and change us into the likeness of Him.

Several verses I've found inspiring/encouraging/helpful/hopeful in my last month:
  • God is Present: Psalm 139: 7-12/ Psalm 31:19/ Psalm 91
  • God is Ever-sustaining: Heb. 1:3, 10-12/ Ps. 18:35/ Psalm 147:5-6/ Is. 50: 4-5
  • God is Infusing: 1 Sam. 2:2-4 (The Message)/ 1 Thess. 3:11-13 (The Message)
  • God is Empowering: 1 Sam. 16:13 (The Message)/ 1 Cor. 4:20-21 (The Message)
  • God is Transforming: Phil 3:20-21/ Rom. 12:1-2/ 2 Cor. 3:17-18
  • God is the Alpha, Omega, and "the Middle" (side note: I wanted to reflect on the fact that God began something with this adoption and would be there till the end as well, but found my heart saying, "what about the middle?"  I wanted a Word that also said God was in the middle.  Oh, yes, did He answer!): Rev. 1:8/ Ex. 3:14-15
  • God is Sufficient: 2 Cor. 12:9
  • God is Protecting: Ps. 32:6-8/ Jn 17:11/ 1 Cor. 13:6-7
  • God is Everything we need: Is. 58:11-12/ Mt. 6:8/ Phil 4:19
  • God is Miraculous: Lk. 8:47/ Acts 3:7
  • God is Fresh and Living Water: Is. 49:8-10/ Jn 4:10/ Jn 7:37-39/ Rev. 21:6-7
  • Importance of "training" to see the end of the race: Acts 20:22-24/ 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

And, as always, I love sending you off with some photos from our month.  This post will have some pretty special ones for you to see.  Another amazing photographer gifted us with a session as her way of giving back to our community and supporting our desire to adopt.  We could not have been more blessed or thankful for her willingness to capture our family in these beautiful photos.  Her work is top-notch and her attitude towards working with our four kids was impeccable.  If you are in our area, please, please, please, look her up and give her a try for your next family, baby, maternity, etc. photo session.  Here is the link to her website: Chika Sunoto Photgraphy.