Thursday, April 17, 2014

5 Months Home...It's like the Cha-Cha

Here we are...just a few days past the 5 month home mark for Nora.  With each month's passing I find myself wanting and needing to reflect back over the past month to give perspective.  Most months I see progression when I do these updates which brings encouragement, but this last month I found myself thinking back to a photo I had used in a previous blog post about our adoption process...

It seems as if this saying still holds true to life once they are home.  I wish I could say that with each regressive step, I have this optimist's mindset and see it as a lovely dance, but some days I am certainly seeing things more as a disaster than the Cha-Cha.

Yep, this past month has been trying on various levels.  It seems several areas where we were seeing progress with Nora took a turn in the wrong direction and we found her and ourselves a few steps back from where we were.  Things she had been communicating to us in clarity, she began mumbling and whispering so we couldn't even understand her.  Things she had been doing correctly, she began purposefully doing wrong.  Things she had been not as scared of, she began having fits about.  We've been dealing with more intestinal issues again.  She's been pulling off her sleep cap again after so long of never even noticing it being on.  Some issues are a bigger deal than others, but overall, it was a tiring and frustrating month of knowing she had the ability to do things (because we had seen her doing them) but for whatever reason, was deciding she wouldn't do them anymore.

If you haven't met Nora in person or spent a good deal of time around her, you wouldn't really know how strong-willed she is and how well she can "play" a person.  Her looks are sweet and she can really crack a person up with her fun, outgoing, smiling spirit, but when she is not getting her way...well...get ready for any one of the following to happen.  The exasperated body melt to the floor with a dramatic "Nooooo.....", the stubborn "no, Mommy" and a pouty lip, the screaming fit complete with kicking legs, biting, or throwing things (thankfully this one has not happened often at all), the "I'm just going to pretend I don't hear you while I look away" tactic, or my latest not-so-favorite game...when being caught doing something wrong I'm just going to say "Hi!  Hi, Mommy!  or Hello, Mommy!" in the sweetest voice possible with a shy smile to try to divert the attention away from what I was just doing wrong.'s unnerving at points.  How a toddler can take a sweet and innocent greeting and turn it into the tell-tale sign that she's been naughty is just wrong.

All of these things are a step back from where Nora was, however, in the larger picture, I also know they are moving in the right direction in not the best ways.  She came home very dependent on us to make every decision for her and now that she is gaining a voice and a sense of security within our family, there is no doubt going to come testing of that new found place.  I have to keep remembering that this is not the end and this is not ultimately who Nora will be or even wants to be--she's just feeling her way through life trying to know what she can do and what she will not be able to get away with.

Now anyone who has had a 2 year old will read those paragraphs and think...well, that's just Nora being 2--it has nothing to do with her being adopted.  I would agree with you...and then, I would also add there are even more challenges attached to her than just a biologically raised 2 year old in a family.  And that is where it gets tricky to know exactly how to handle each situation.  As the Mom, I am constantly questioning, second-guessing, debating, etc. what her actions are really telling me.  Is it her strong-willed personality coming out, is it her outgoing personality that I'm not used to, is she detaching from us, is she not understanding what I'm asking of her because she doesn't know those English words yet, is this how she got away with things with the nannies, is this, is this, is this, is this....the list goes on.  With every action, reaction, or dis-action, I find myself trying to figure it all out once again.  I typically end up frustrated that I really have no sure way of knowing and then taking my best educated guess at how to handle it this time.  Those struggles are adoption related.  If she would have been born into our family and raised by us since birth, I at least would have had 2 years of background to form my opinions on.  I would have known this is her tendencies, this is her "tired" fight, this is her "sugar buzz" craziness, this is something new I've never seen before, etc. but because I don't have those 2 years of observation, EVERYTHING is something I've never seen before and everything is trial and error.  Honestly, it is exhausting in an every day kind of way.

In some of those hard moments this past month when I've reacted once again in ways I don't want to towards actions I can't seem to control or correct or have any seeming impact on at all in her, I've found myself feeling very inadequate as her Mama.  It's every mom's worst nightmare...feeling like she's just not good enough as a parent.  That instead of being in control of our children and doing a great job at training them in the way they should go, we are living by the seat of our pants and trying to not react out of the complete frustration and anger building inside of us.  That even though we know God has called us to this place He seems to have ill-equipped us for the journey.  Now, I know, those are all lies, but in the heat of another moment where you feel you are the only one in the room completely out of control, they are unfortunately what speaks louder than the Truth.  Why is it so darn hard to hear Truth in the moments of desperation and emotional height?

I know God has called me to this and I know He is seeing me through each and every moment, cheering me on, believing in me, and whispering "You've got this, my love, you can do this.  I will help you."  But in those moments when I'm alone at our house with the kids and no one is seeing how tired I am of being the mom who just had to put my child in time out for the fourth time and it's only 10:30 a.m....well, those are the moments Satan whispers "You can't do this.  You aren't doing this.  You're not doing it right.  The nannies were better caregivers to her than you are.  You're making her dislike you instead of love you.  You're not showing her the love she needs and deserves.  You're're're not...  Even though you want to do better, not yell as much, not get so angry, not get so irritated, smile more, love her never. will. be. able. to.  You'll never be the mom you want to be.  You'll always be this.  This mom who is such a disappointment to yourself and your kids.  This mom whose children will one day not call you blessed."

Gut-wrenching, huh.  No one in their right mind would believe those lies, but anyone in their tired mind will.  Those are the lies I hear running through my head.  Those have been the words spoken to my soul over this past month and I'm just worn out and tired.  Choosing to believe the Truth takes energy and self-motivation and when you are in the trenches, those two things are harder to come by on your own.  It's critical in those times to be covered in prayer and to be immersed in God's Truth in order to fight off the lies.  I find when I have those (prayer and the Word), I see life like the optimist in the photo--the steps back are part of the Cha-Cha.  When I don't have those, I feel like an utter failure who will never get it right.  So, this past month, to be quite honest, I have had both prayer and been reading Scripture, but not to the extent I know I need it to conquer these lies.  I am typing this feeling more like a failure than an esteemed woman and mother.  Things need to change.  For my sake, as well as my children's sake.

So, that's where I'm at.  It's not been a glorious month, but it's been reality.  Every month along the journey will not be amazingly wonderful.  All that to say, this past month has not all been horribly doom-and-gloom around here.  There are always silver linings.  There were hints of some majorly good God-things stirring in other areas of our family life that I'm excited about.  There are some steps Nora HAS taken forward--mainly, those being in her eating habits, her paralyzing fear of animals, and her vocabulary.  There were some amazing conversations with each of our children happening in the normalcy of everyday life that I will always treasure.  There were good, good, good prayer times I participated in revolving around the people of our church.  There were fun get-a-ways and outings where we got to see our children have fun, laugh, run around, jump into a swimming pool with abandon, and FINALLY enjoy the fresh warmer air of spring.  There are always blessings to be found in each and every day if we choose to look hard for them.

I'll close this post the way I have been most of these monthly updates...a few photos from this past month as well as a few videos I think you will enjoy seeing.  I will also close humbly asking for anyone ready and willing to get on their knees for me and our family to please do so.  I need something fresh, Truthful, and powerful to break down the lies stored in my brain and I need a whole new level of love to come from me to Nora.  I know it typically doesn't just "magically" happen in the world of adoptions, but I really, really want to at least take a step forward this next month into a deeper level of love and understanding of our little girl.  So, onward we march into the next month...or maybe I should say onward we dance.  Perhaps next month will not be so much like the Cha-Cha, but more like the Waltz.

Once again, I'm not sure why I've not been able to embed my YouTube videos here, but if you click on these two links, you will be taken to the two videos I mean to have posted here:

Pampered toes ready for warmer weather!

Love playing games each day with this guy.

Lily's "crazy hair day" which, I think, turned into more of "cute hair day"

Toby, our LEGO master creating his own chomping alligator

Lily and I at the Count  Basie Orchestra concert

Swimming time!

Our day trip to the Meijer Botanical Gardens in Grand Rapids, MI


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Can We Talk About Prayer?

Friends, can we talk about prayer here for a minute (or more than one minute because, who am I kidding, my blog posts mini books take much more than one minute to read)?  Prayer has been a struggle for me throughout my entire journey as a Christian.  Feeling like I don't pray enough, I'm not prayer "focused" enough throughout my day, feeling guilty I wasn't praying more for others instead of myself, telling others I would be praying for them and then forgetting to actually do it, not praying for my husband like "The Praying Wife" book told me I should be, and even looking up to those I labeled "prayer warriors" and thinking I would never be like them because, for whatever reason, I just couldn't grasp how to pray the right amount of times in the right way with the right attitude.  

Sure, despite all of the above, I still prayed.  I mean, I'm a Christian, right.  Prayer is what we are supposed to do.  I prayed at meal times, during the church service, with our children before bed and occasionally at night in bed with my hubby.  I even took times to journal out more detailed prayers when I was facing big decisions, hard situations, or joyful experiences I wanted to remember, but even those prayers didn't help me feel like I was "a praying woman".  Prayer, as I knew it, was supposed to be a time of talking with God, but in my times of prayer, I still felt distant from I couldn't fully trust Him so I prayed what I felt I was supposed to pray instead of what I really wanted to say to Him.

Within the last several years, however, God has had me on a journey of discovering some Truths about Him I was failing to believe.  Truths such as the fact He is good 100% of the time.  (Hard to believe when you've experienced situations where you are at a loss on how a "good" God could allow tragedy to happen.)  That He loves me fiercely.  (Hard to believe when you have experienced rejection.)  That He desires His children to have an abundant life. (Hard to believe when life doesn't always feel "abundant".)  That He is always in the business of answering our prayers.  (Hard to believe when you pray for something and it never happens.)  See the pattern here?  I was refusing to accept Truth out of some very real hurts in my life experience.  I was making God to be who I wanted Him to be instead of seeing Him for who He was, is, and always will be despite my own opinions.  I was not believing Truth and it was time to stop.

The more I allowed myself to claim the Truths about God to actually BE Truth, the more I found myself desiring to be near Him.  The True God was much more attractive to me than the one I had made up in my own head.  I began believing, despite my situations, that He IS good.  Truth.  I began believing He DOES love me fiercely.  Truth.  I began believing He does desire His children to have an ABUNDANT life.  Truth.  That He is ALWAYS in the business of showing up when we pray.  Truth.  Basically, I began believing that God desired relationship with me and the way to build that relationship was through open, honest communication.  No more praying the way I thought I was "supposed" to.  No more feeling guilty that my prayer wasn't long enough, good enough, on my knees, or for myself.  I just prayed/talked with a God I now trusted to be who He had always said He was.  I allowed the God who loved me to actually love me.  And, friends, that's when life began to change.  There is nothing so profound as living a life as a person who believes in the Truths of God and trusts Him literally draws you into communion with Him.   It draws out a passion and desire to be a person who prays.

​You see, it's not about me.  Prayer is not just about me.  That's too one-sided.  If prayer was all about me, that would not even be prayer...that would be self-reliance.  Prayer is about me AND the God who created me, loves me, desires to be with me, is genuinely interested in what I'm interested in, and aches over what I ache over.  Prayer is about communion with that God.  Relationship with Him.  Conversation with Him that allows Him to know me better and me to know Him better.  Prayer is intimacy with God.  An intimacy that drops down the walls of keeping another outside of your "safe zone" and allows them to stir up passions and pains you never even knew you had within you.  It is sharing the depths and nakedness of your heart and soul to the very One who created it, knows it best, and can affirm or convict it in the purest and holy way possible.  It is intense and life-giving at its core.

Currently, I do consider myself a "prayer warrior", but not because I'm praying all day long with bruised knees from being on them so much or because I think God listens to my prayers now any better than what He used to, but because I believe that anyone who is praying is a warrior.  There is a battle going on daily all around us and even within us.  It's a battle for the Truth of God to be believed or for the Lies of Satan to be believed.  It's a battle for the Goodness and Love of God to be shown and experienced by others or the Condemnation and Discouragement of Satan to be taken as truth.  When we spend time in prayer--in conversation--with God, we take our place on the battlefield as a warrior fighting on His side.  Even in times when our prayers are questioning God because we just don't understand what He is doing, or yelling at God because we are so hurt we don't know how to make another move, we are still SIDING with God by inviting Him into our intimate place of vulnerability.  We are trusting that He is going to meet us there to because that's what soldiers on the battlefield together would do.  No matter what my prayer is or when I'm praying it, I am a warrior for His Truth to prevail against anything attempting to take its rightful place in my life, in my heart, in my thoughts.

Because of this new-found desire to actually believe God is who He says He is and to trust Him enough to have intimate talks with him (prayer), I have also had the extreme privilege of having my eyes open to the work He is doing around me I never noticed or acknowledged before.  It is a humbling place to realize you really have nothing to give God, but if you simply give Him yourself as a willing and empty vessel, He wows you with His wonders in your own life and in the lives of those around you.  Friends, God is a powerful God.  Can I say that again?  God is a POWER-FULL God!  When I pray, I get to tap into that power.  That's when I have eyes to watch His power working all around me.  It's not my own power, it's not my own's simply God revealing Himself in a fresh and new way I never allowed myself to see before because I was too scared to open myself up to Him like that.  When I believe Him faithfully and trustfully, I am empowered to see His hand touching the world around me in such amazing ways.  I simply get to take it all the front row ticket holder to God's show.

Specifically lately I have been encouraged and challenged to see God's power through prayer in three ways.  First of all, belief in the supernatural, or what I'm going to call "Godnatural" occurrences.  Second, in my ability to see visions that speak directly into situations around me.  Lastly, the unity of people who come together in more corporate times of prayer.  Let me just touch on all three here.

Godnatural occurrences.  This past fall I was gathered with a few others from my church at our typical Wednesday night prayer time.  One of the women came in and began sharing with the group that in a completely random and quite interesting way, a carpet cleaner at her personal home that afternoon asked if he could pray for her foot.  He didn't know why, but just felt like God's Spirit was asking him to do that.  She told him he was certainly welcome to do that because she had always had some issues with her legs/hips.  The carpet cleaner got down and prayed over her foot and she literally watched her leg grow in front of her eyes.  Because of that small growth, she began walking around her room and did not have her familiar pain anymore.  What?!?!?!?!  Her leg grew?  Through the prayers of a man who originally came to clean her carpets?  What?  If that is your reaction, let me assure you that was mine too.  She shared this Godnatural occurrence as if it was as common to her day as picking up the daily newspaper.  We sat there in amazement that God had just grown her leg and praised Him together.  I piped up to the group, jokingly, and said, "I guess I should have him come clean my carpets cause my hips are always out of line too!"  We all kinda chuckled and went on with the rest of our prayer meeting.  As amazing as that event of the day was, I had no idea just how much it would impact my own life.

The meeting was done, I was getting my coat on, and low and behold one of the elderly women of our church who I have GREAT respect for came over to me and asked if I wouldn't mind sitting down on a chair.  I said "Sure!" thinking she would want to talk.  She looked at me and said, "Can I pray for you?  I haven't been able to shake what you said earlier about your hips and God keeps telling me I need to pray over you, but I've been fighting it.  I finally told Him that if you took a while to get your things gathered then I would do it.  Well, you took a while so now I'm doing it."  I thought, well, what the heck...might as well let her, you never know what could happen, but I highly doubt anything like what happened to the other woman was going to happen to me.  So, with that, she asked me to put my legs out straight in front of me and she noticed that one leg was just a tiny bit shorter than the other one.  I confirmed that yes, a chiropractor had told me that several years ago and told me to just wear a 1/4 inch lift under that foot and that would help my hips stay in line, but I had stopped doing that a ways back and was just trying to get chiropractic care to help with the pain.  She, in all her self-achy-jointed beauty, lowered herself down to my feet, grabbed my ankles, and prayed silently.  To this day I do not know exactly what she prayed in that moment, but I kid you not, my entire leg started to get warm and tingly and before our very eyes it grew out about a 1/4 of an inch.  All I could say was "I felt that!" with eyes wide open.  She looked up at me with a smile on her face and winked at me.  "Praise God!" she said towards the ceiling while we helped each other to our feet. Praise God indeed!

I want to say I couldn't believe that happened, but the best part of it for me was the fact I COULD believe it happened!  I had just spent a few hours in the presence of the Lord in prayer and I had come away from that time 100% sure that God was able to do anything.  I had complete confidence and peace that God had just done something completely "abnormal" in my body and made it seem completely normal to me.  I wasn't wigged out really or even shocked--I was joyful and thankful and humbled.  Of course God just grew my leg!  Why would I even doubt He could do that/would do that???  It is in His very nature to do what He had just done.  Why would I doubt that?  This elderly sister and I walked out of our church that day both touched by a powerful God.  She with the faith-building experience that if God lays it on her heart to pray for something, He will show up for it and I with my legs now the same length feeling oddly taller than I had ever felt in my life and walking straight for the first time I could remember.  My first ever run-in with a supernatural or Godnatural occurrence like that and it was to my very own body.  Yes, friends, God still does have the power to do the miraculous.  And just for the icing on the cake...ever since then I have had virtually no back/hip pain, I certainly don't need a lift in my shoe, and I am a stronger believer in the fact that God can go beyond what our human minds can even comprehend.

Seeing visions.  It seems as if God enjoys giving me visions during prayer that connect with something going on around me.  Some I understand and some I do not.  Seeing visions does not surprise me since I know I'm a visual learner in the first place.  He has brought to mind such images of rotting tomatoes, broken glass, petal-picked flowers, and many more to bring to life what He is asking me to be praying over.  They each have significant meaning that go beyond the images themselves.  They are illustrations brought to my mind while in prayer for things of deeper meaning.  The broken glass, for example, was in the parking lot of our church and there was a little girl very close to it. I was running over to try to keep her away from it and began the tedious task of picking up each shard so no one would get cut/hurt by it.  I found this vision coming to my mind as a group of us were praying specifically for our church.  I felt as if God was saying if we are asking others to come to our church and yet are still living lives like broken glass that can cut and hurt others, we first need to focus on cleaning ourselves up before inviting others in.  It was simple yet profound.  All of these visions God brings to my mind are just that.  Simple yet profound.  I have truly appreciated His way of speaking to me in my prayer times this way.

Lastly, unity in corporate prayer.  I enjoy praying alone, don't get me wrong, but lately I have really, really enjoyed praying with other people.  It helps me keep focused, gives me other insights, and broadens the scope of what needs prayed for.  It also brings me a unified spirit to the others around me.  Beyond the prayer group who meets at my church, I have found a similar unified group in my Moms In Prayer International group for my kids' school.  Each week these ladies and I gather to pray for our kids, their staff/teachers, the administration of the school system, their fellow students, and the events going on.  We praise God for who He is and watch Him answer our prayers and give us peace about the place our children are while away from us during the day.  I know these ladies have not only my back, but the backs of my children...through prayer.  There is a unity among us because we are all praying for the same thing...for God to be a wall around their school and a fire within.  Same with my church group...God is unifying us on what to pray for and what He is at work doing there.  It is always so exciting to hear your own heart's desires being prayed by another person in the group without them ever knowing what you were thinking.  Unity in the body is powerful and priceless.  Not only do those corporate times of prayer unify those of us who have gathered to pray, but it also unifies us with those we are praying for.  I have a deeper connection to all those who surround my children through their school day.  I'm more invested in them because I am praying for them and I am believing that God is going to do some mighty works in their lives.  In the same way, I have formed some pretty deep passions for the people of our church because of our weekly gatherings of prayer there too.  I care more about specific situations and people because I have been praying for them.  It's life-giving all the way around.

So, all of this...deep intimacy, connection, passion, desire, power, joy, excitement, love, healing, freedom, miraculous and Godnatural happenings, abundant life...this has all been taking place in my life because of prayer.  Because of spending time with God allowing Him to get to know me for who I truly am and me to get to know Him for who He truly is.  Prayer has been the KEY in unleashing the Spirit of God to work in me and through me to impact this world for His Kingdom.  It is breath-taking to be in the midst of.  To be honest, the more I am doing it, the more I want to do it more.  Prayer is a very GOOD way!

I hope by making your way through all these thoughts and stories, you find yourself in a place of being encouraged to pray.  If you are not a person who prays at all, maybe you will be nudged to simply begin by introducing yourself to God and asking for Him to come and sit with you for a bit of time.  I encourage you to open yourself up to moments of communication between the two of you.  If you are like me a little ways back, feeling overwhelmed with how "bad" I was doing in my prayer life, I would encourage you to investigate why talking with God is so difficult.  Perhaps you will find, like me, you are reserving a bit of yourself back from Him out of lies you are still choosing to believe instead of the Truth.  I desire for you to believe that no matter how little you are praying, you are still a prayer warrior and you have a God who is the Ultimate Victor on your side.  If you are in a place where you are hungry to see more of what God is doing in you, around you, and through you, I encourage you to pray, pray, pray, and pray all the more.  The more you get in His Presence, the more your eyes will be open to that Heavenly Work--that powerful, miraculous work--going on.  The more you pray, the more you will be able to join in and help Him love this world the way it needs love.  Finally, please remember no matter where you are in your prayer journey, there is no "wrong" way to pray, friends.  No possible "wrong way" to talk with God.  He is BIG.  He can handle the conversation without getting hurt feelings...he is only love.  And that God of love desires to talk with you.  What are you waiting for?