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.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A letter to my Grandma on her 90th Birthday

Dear Grandma,

I know that Alzheimers has taken most of you away from us at this point in life, but if you were able to understand what all I could tell you tomorrow on your 90th birthday, this is what I would say...

You are beautiful. Dad just recently showed me some pictures of you when you were younger and I just sat there reflecting on how beautiful of a woman you were.

I had a check in my spirit when I thought the word "were" and pulled up a photo I took with you a few years back and remembered that even at close to 90, you were certainly still beautiful.

Your skin may be stretched and your teeth may be taken out and your hair may or may not be fancy the day I see you in the nursing home, but you, Grandma, are still so very, very beautiful at 90 years old. Don't let anyone tell you different.

Grandma with Lily
Grandma with Lily & Toby

You are included in so many of my favorite childhood memories. Grandma, when I think back on my childhood, I can not think too far without you being involved. Whether it was painting my nails with the nail polish you kept in the refrigerator, singing to the old radio in the basement while playing pool, listening to the TODAY show on the little black and white television in the kitchen while you sliced up my peanut butter and honey toast for breakfast, or wrapping the countless strands of my hair around curlers for my were involved in my life and I'm so grateful. Elaborate birthday cakes, Christmas stockings hung over your fireplace, Easter eggs hidden in the basement, pushes on the swing in the backyard, cutting peonies for the table vase, cutting of aloe plants in the kitchen widow sill for my hurt knees, jars for lightening bugs, slices of bread for my baby doll in the high chair, yearly adventures at the county fair, trips for Kewpee hamburgers or the ice cream joint down the road, and special vacations during our week long stays at your home. Goodness, Grandma, where would I stop with all the childhood memories you were involved in? Thank you for being a Grandma who showed me you loved me by being involved in my life.

I'm also grateful for you being present not only when I was at your house, but for events I was involved in that you had to travel to be a part of. School programs, church programs, choir concerts, plays, volleyball games, graduations, and even the occasional week long stay at our house so the folks could go away on a business trip or vacation. On top of that there were so many cards and gifts given at birthday time, letters written to say congrats or we're thinking of were always present even when you couldn't be. You weren't just my grandma on your turf--you cared enough to come to my turf too. I'm so blessed to see your face in countless photos in my albums.

I love that you loved to sing. You were always singing, Grandma. Singing in the kitchen, singing in the choir at church, singing in the snow bird trailer park, singing in the car, singing in the audience. Heck, even when we didn't want you to be singing you were still singing. Even in these later years when Alzheimers has taken so much from you, you can still be heard occasionally humming a little ditty from your bedroom or wheelchair in the hallway. I believe that much of our joy, sorrow, pain, and celebration in life can be given a strong voice through song. I'm so glad you revolved your life around it and inadvertently taught those around you...even your young find a love for music and song. Keep singing, Grandma, even if it's just in your own head at this point. Just keep singing. You will add to the beautiful harmonies of Heaven some day.

Grandma singing to Sydney and Quinn
I love that you loved Grandpa in your sassy, fun, day-in and day-out kind of way. I watched you care for his every need over the years. Yep, it never went unnoticed. Making sure he was getting his walk in, eating his sugar-free candy, getting a "proper" sized slice of angel food cake, placing his plate, fork, knife, spoon, and glass on the table three times a day for the entirety of your marriage until death did you part. I loved how you two were involved in activities together such as the Lions Club and the art classes in Arizona. Oh, and how can anyone who knew you deny that together you played a mean game of pool? Thank you for winking at each other over jokes us youngsters were too naive to understand, for holding hands on walks, and for getting that last slow dance in at my wedding because it was important to you even though the snow storm was coming in heavy. Mostly, thank you for loving each other through the thick and thin, sickness and health, so that I could cherish that example of true marital commitment. I know losing Grandpa had to have been the hardest thing in your life. I miss him too and hope that your reunion with him in the heavenlies, whenever that happens, will be one of bliss.
Jessie and Richard on their wedding day
Honestly, Grandma, even though you are still alive at 90 years old, I wish you were alive in such a way that I could sit in your presence tomorrow and connect on a deeper level than eye contact. I wish I could hear you sing "Happy Birthday to me" with all of us as we gather around you. I wish I could see you smile and laugh as your great-grandkids gather around you and give you their homemade pictures for the walls of your room. I wish I could hear what all you want us to know about life and love and happiness. I wish you could know those around you, eating cake and wishing your 90th year of life in this land love you so, so much. Despite your inability to say thanks or even acknowledge us at all, I truly hope, deep down inside, you will be touched by our desire to still show you we love you and are thinking of you on this day of celebration. There is much we grieve on this day because of the losses this disease has taken from you, and therefore us, but there is also so much to reflect on and celebrate about the woman you were, the woman you are, and the woman you have helped me to become.

For that, Grandma, I am grateful we get to be with you on your birthday. I wish I could come and visit you more often, but just know my heart and thoughts are not far from you even though distance is.  90 years, Grandma.  Can you even believe it!?! That's a lot of years, lady!  A lot of years full of memories, smiles, hugs, and the warmth of the person God created you to be. You, Grandma, are a blessing and I love you.

Happy sweet, beautiful, lovely, and sassy 90th.