Monday, May 12, 2014

Making up for lost time...

The phrase "making up for lost time" never meant much to me. Then Jonathan. We lost experiencing 6 months of his life with him. I've realized you cannot make up for lost time. Nothing will ever get us those 6 months back. When I stop to think about all that happens in the first 6 months of a child's life I could easily get overwhelmed with sadness- and sometime I do- but most of the time God is gracious to help me take my thoughts captive with the reality that He has made beauty from an ugly situation- which He is in the business of doing all the time.

On Mother's Day I experienced great joy though! I have 3 sweet boys. I have the privilege of being mommy to Matthew, Andrew, and Jonathan. Jonathan never experienced a Mother's Day without a mother. That is an amazing blessing. Not many children who were once orphans could say the same thing. Mother's Day was extra sweet this year for me though because it marked the day that Jonathan had been in our family longer than he hadn't!! I have been looking forward to this day since November 18th! We were visiting friends from out of town and Jonathan was sleeping in a pack and play in our room and he actually started making sounds right at midnight which woke me up and it was so sweet to be able to enter into that day awake and be able to pray with gratitude for all that God has blessed us with.

I also spent lots of time leading up to, and on Mother's Day (like many other days actually) thinking about the woman that gave birth to Jonathan. I am thankful that she brought his sweet precious life into this world and wish that I could meet her. I am so grateful for God's protection over our little boy to get him into our family.

My boy is so joyful, sweet, energetic, fearless, trusting, determined, and handsome. I'm so thankful that the same number of days we didn't have with Jonathan, we have now had with him! This is such a sweet milestone- and extra special that it fell on Mother's Day.

 Blurry- but this was the night I met Jonathan! If it looks from my smile like I might explode soon- that's exactly how I felt!! 
 Our first day caring for Jonathan. He just wanted to snuggle on his daddy the whole time.
Mother's Day with my loves.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Refreshing Grace

Two weeks ago I got the AMAZING opportunity to attend an adoption retreat. It is called Created for Care, and it was 450 adoptive moms at a beautiful location for a weekend of refreshment, encouragement, fellowship, and no dishes or kids.

Going into the weekend I was a little nervous. I was meeting up with some girls from South Carolina that I knew for one year in high school. We weren't even great friends at that time. Thanks to Facebook though, we have stayed connected, and years later our paths have merged on the adoption trail. I was also wondering what I needed to go to the retreat for. Our adoption story is short and easy, to the praise of the Lord. Our transition into life with Jonathan was easy and he is the PERFECT baby. I have no behavioral issues yet, he is only 10 months old. Everything that I thought this conference would offer, I didn't think I had issues with. I was still excited for some time away from kids, and daily responsibility though.

Adam was gone the whole week before I left, and on Thursday, I'm certain everyone survived ONLY because I knew that on Friday I got to leave. It was ugly. Like…I would be mortified if someone had been hiding in my house that day and saw how I acted. I felt like it had been a long time coming…but I snapped. My flesh had fully taken over, and there was no walking in the power of the Holy Spirit. 

I went to bed Thursday night exhausted. I knew I had to get up early to get on the road and wouldn't even see the kids before I left. I was so defeated about how the day before…and really moments of each day leading up to that had gone. I was not a picture of Jesus to my kids. I was not anything at all that I say I want them to be. I fail daily and felt so defeated. I felt like a terrible mother that had all the best intentions going to bed each night…but most of the time failed daily before my feet ever even touched the floor the next morning. 

That was what I was wearing going into the weekend, that I had exhausted the amount of grace I was allowed…and I was a failure. During the very beginning of the weekend I felt like God whispered to me through a song, This is Amazing Grace by Phil Wickham. 

[Verse 1:]
Who breaks the power of sin and darkness
Whose love is mighty and so much stronger
The King of Glory, the King above all kings

Who shakes the whole earth with holy thunder
Who leaves us breathless in awe and wonder
The King of Glory, the King above all kings

This is amazing grace
This is unfailing love
That You would take my place
That You would bear my cross
You would lay down Your life
That I would be set free
Jesus, I sing for
All that You've done for me

[Verse 2:]
Who brings our chaos back into order
Who makes the orphan a son and daughter
The King of Glory, the King above all kings

Who rules the nations with truth and justice
Shines like the sun in all of its brilliance
The King of Glory, the King above all kings

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain
Worthy is the King who conquered the grave
Worthy is the Lamb who was slain
Worthy is the King who conquered the grave

I had always heard that people had a hard time receiving grace but had never understood. I fully understand now. I feel like constant failures wear me down more than random BIG failures. My daily routine consisted of me not being who I wanted to be, and no matter how hard I tried…it didn't work. EVER!

So the thought of God's grace never running out on me was one of my first thoughts of the weekend. As I figured out again how to relax and unwind without the possibility of someone somewhere needing something…my mind had the chance to unpack what God's unending grace meant for me. A few things that I came to understand are these…

1. God's grace isn't a back up plan for me. It is the only way I survive. I need to be thankful for moments in my life that highlight my need for His grace, as opposed to avoiding them.

2. Satan wants nothing more than for me to believe the lie that grace has run out on me. The Gospel tells me that while I was still helpless, Christ died for me. If that was my state when He saved me then I can't get any worse. :) If I believe that I have failed my children too many times then I will stop working my hardest to guide them in a way that will point them to Jesus. My failure, if treated properly is a HUGE benefit to my children. I am not their standard. Jesus is. I will fail them. Jesus won't. I don't want them to rely on me and want to be like me. I want them to seek after Jesus and have their lives look like HIS. 

3. There is nothing on Pinterest to help me with this. There seem to be a billion plans on how to raise good children, potty train children in 3 days and 5 steps, 100 acts of service that will make your child the most considerate person on the planet, a million different spiritually centered crafts and activities for Jesus holidays (Christmas and Easter) and on and on and on. And honestly…it exhausts me. I LOVE PINTEREST! Don't get me wrong. :) BUT… raising children in the way the Lord would want me to is something that I can only learn and do well from spending time communing with Him. Reading my Bible, HIS words that He has given me for ALL I need. Prayer- constant communication with Him. Not just listing what I need, but listening. If I only talked to friends that way I talk to God usually- I wouldn't have any friends anymore. Being in a constant state of dependence and repentance when I fall short. If my life is FULL of Jesus and His word, and His will…that will overflow from my life. Not my anger…my desire for comfort…my in patience…but JESUS! I am a vessel that the Holy Spirit wants to work through. I have been fully equipped with Christ living in me. Pinterest would be a much easier way for me to teach my kids about Jesus than to live what He has called me to live. Living like Jesus requires sacrifice and daily dying to myself. Pinterest please! Haha. 

4. God knows JUST what I need. I had no amazing adoption break throughs at Created for Care. I just had time away with Jesus. I need to fight for that daily in a house of 3 little ones 4 years old and under. During the Date with God time at C4C, a time where they set up lots of different creative stations and ways to commune with God, I sat in a corner and read my Bible the WHOLE time. I couldn't get enough. It literally felt like water to my thirsty soul. I was empty and needed to be filled. Just as He promises…He filled me. Then I realize that I am filled to be emptied again. I knew that as soon as I got home I would quickly be emptied…drained dry…but I was reminded the importance of being filled daily. 

I came back ready to squeeze my boys and continue training in righteousness. That was 2 weeks ago and yesterday was another ugly day. But God. His grace is amazing and His love unfailing. I did not believe Satan's lies yesterday. Sometimes I want to laugh when people ask me what I do all day. Besides the never ending chores that regenerate themselves daily, I am an instrument of righteousness in the lives of my children that are out of relationship with Jesus. It's exhausting. So to you momma's in the same boat…carry on. Drown in His grace. Correct and punish for the sake of righteousness…again.  And rejoice that God does the work, and that He has chosen us for the hardest job in the world. For those of you that aren't a mom…encourage one that you know with truth from scripture. It's what they need and it will mean the world to them.

I'm so thankful for my weekend away. I'm thankful for sweet time with new friends. I'm thankful for God's faithfulness to me. I'm thankful for my in-laws that worked hard to take care of my kids so I could have time away. I'm thankful for the lesson I learned and will continue to learn. I hope this has encouraged some of you.

Friday, February 14, 2014

4 years...

4 years used to be the longest time I had ever lived in one place without moving. 4 years was the magic number that always uprooted my life to move all the way back around the world and try to figure out where I belonged in society.

Tonight when I think about 4 years I remember my last day of living for myself. Well...I try to live my life in a manner that pleases the Lord and will bring glory to Him, but no other human decided what I was going to do. I was (still am) married, and that is quite the tool of sanctification. You learn a lot about yourself and your sin when you are committed for life to another person. You both promise to be used to help encourage and make the other more like Jesus. Sometimes this is painful and ugly. Change is hard. Seeing your sin is ugly. Seeing your spouses sin is ugly...but you have chosen to love (action not feeling) and you do what you can to help make progress into Christ's likeness. But...Adam did not dictate how my days would go, what I would do when etc. That was up to me... February 14, 2010 was the last day that was true for me because on February 15th at 5 something (I now have three I have it written down somewhere- but my mind no longer holds these things) in the morning I met Matthew Joseph Alexander. His head looked like the black guy with the ridged head from Star Trek, he cried a lot, I had no idea what to do to help him, and I was absolutely in love. I would have argued with anyone that he was the cutest baby (hindsight is 20/20), but he had my heart. 

Motherhood is something most girls dream of. I have learned as I have grown up that this is not a gift some get to experience. That has been hard to learn through the pain of others. I also have learned that motherhood is not like we pretend when we are little girls. I used to play kitchen...I still sort of do that, but real food sticks much harder to plates than play food. Eating the same thing over and over is not fun, but menu creativity is hard. Babies are cute, but the ones with skin are MUCH needier than the ones with plastic. Taking your baby somewhere is easy when you can carry it by the arm and it weighs 2 pounds. It is not so easy when they don't want to go, wet their pants on the way out the door, can't find the matching shoe, or have to be wrestled into a 3 point harness. All of this may or may not be happening while it's raining. Friends used to come over and play with dolls. And play dates are a real thing...but conversation is totally different. When you play with dolls, you talk for them. When real kids play you may possibly share broken, mixed up, half finished conversations with your friend. And dolls always get along. Real kids need much more...guidance. When you play with dolls and it gets monotonous, you move on to the next game. When you have real kids and the day in and day out gets tedious, you carry on. Unfortunately, from my experience, in these times of no frills, exhaustion, and the 5-o'clock-daddy-please-get-home-NOW hour...I lose it. I come face to face with my selfishness...and so do my kids. I try so hard to live for myself again...but all in vain. My life has been hijacked by little people and thank you Jesus for that. 

Motherhood is something I dreamed of. It is something I for sure idolized and glamorized. It is something I wasn't ready for (I didn't know that at the time...but I realize can't ever really be ready...just go with it). It is amazing. 

I have realized over and over recently that my idol is comfort. Not big houses, nice cars, fancy clothes comfort...but please leave me alone to do what I want to do comfort. On February 15th when Matthew came crashing into my life I started to learn that lesson and this sweet little boy has learned every hard lesson along the way with me. Andrew and Jonathan have missed a few, and benefited from lessons learned from last mistakes. Not Matthew. He has been with me each step of the way. I have learned that my actions speak louder than my words by watching him follow in my footsteps. Sometimes it is a sweet mirror to look into and other times it is horrifying. I have learned that children are so forgiving...and I'm so thankful. I've learned a level of love I never knew could exist in my heart. Matthew is amazing. He is tender hearted, funny, loyal, handsome, smart and so much more. Adam and I prayed for Matthew to be a great big brother and he is! His little brothers think the world of him. He can make them laugh more than anyone else. Andrew wants to do everything Matthew does. I had no idea what motherhood would hold when I held that little baby for the first time- and I am so grateful for God allowing me the opportunity to Matthew's mom. I don't do a whole lot right, especially the first time, but I am committed to raising Matthew in a way that would honor the Lord and I pray that someday his life will reflect this. 

The night before birthdays are always bittersweet for me. I look at the boys every night before I go to bed, when they are sound asleep, but on birthday eves I linger a little longer. Usually with tears running down my face as I realize time is flying and they are going to be grown up. I want my boys to be Godly men someday...but for now I just want them to stay my babies. 4 years has gone way too fast!! Matthew- I love you. Thanks for giving me the best job title I could ever ask for. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Return

I am back in Jacksonville now, and have been for 26 days. Things have been non-stop busy and I am just now getting a chance to write. 

The trip back with 3 little ones by myself went really well. 

We left our house around 2:00 in the afternoon on the 23rd. Goodbyes were sad. It was hard to say goodbye to the ladies that have become such close friends. It was sad to leave the kids that my kids loved. It was sad to say goodbye to the Ugandans that we had seen every day for over a month and developed relationships with. It was sad to be leaving the country my son is from, and my heart has fallen in love with. It was just plain sad. (Don't let the smiles in the pictures fool you- haha)
Our WONDERFUL driver. Andrew preferred him to me. He would pick us up whenever we needed and went above and beyond to help us. He loved us well. We all miss him a lot.

This is the lady that took care of the guest houses we were in. She was SO sweet and did way more than I'm sure her job description required. Andrew loved her too! Apparently not here though...haha

Our next stop was the US Embassy. The boys waited in the car with our driver and I went in to pick up Jonathan's passport, visa, and packet of paperwork for customs in America. It all went smoothly and then we drove to the airport. The airport is a while outside of the city we stayed in. The boys did good even though it was right in the middle of nap time that we started our whole adventure! Andrew fell asleep standing up on the seat and laying on my arm. Crazy kid. 

Matthew was my helper. He did SO great. We started with him trying to pull our carry on. That didn't work so well so eventually he ended up pushing Andrew in the stroller. 

We got to the airport really early. We needed to make sure we didn't get stuck in holiday traffic, or random Ugandan traffic jams. We made it in PLENTY of time and had to wait in a waiting room for a while. Our driver left to go home and be with his family for Christmas and I was going to have to find a way to make the transition with all of our stuff from waiting room to check in. 

We made a friend in the airport that helped me with our big cart of luggage which was much needed. I don't think there would've been any way for me to push a cart filled with suitcases, pull a suitcase that didn't fit on the cart, and wrangle Matthew while he pushed Andrew in a third world umbrella stroller. The girl was from Denmark and very sweet. We made it through customs to leave easily. We had heard that we could be given some trouble at this point, but we had very nice people and made it through without any problems, ugly comments, or smirks (by them :)) We got a little snack (since we hadn't eaten since lunch and it was now around 7 at night. After our snack and diaper changes we packed back up and headed to the bathroom for Matthew and I. The bathroom trip went pretty smooth with everyone, and I only saw the cockroach of my trip there. After that we went through security (AGAIN for some reason...)and were waiting for our plane. While we were waiting I changed everyone into their pjs so that hopefully we could all fall asleep right away. Our flight took off at 12:30 so we were all REALLY tired. The flight attendants moved us to a row with an extra seat which was AMAZING because then everyone had room to lay down next to me. The boys slept A LOT this flight which was really good because they needed it, and it was a long flight. I'm not sure how I would've entertained them that long on my own. There was some turbulence at the end of the flight that got both Matthew and I sick, but as soon as we used our handy little paper bags we were good to go!

When we got to Brussells we went through security AGAIN! We had a little situation of Matthew and Andrew falling down on an escalator because there was NO elevator to be found for us and our stroller, suitcase, and three children. A man ran DOWN the escalator to help scoop them up which was a GOD send.

We made it to our gate again and waited a while. The boys had a chance to run around and we got some more snacks and did diaper changes. We boarded our plane finally and they had a bassinet for the floor for Jonathan which was really helpful because we didn't have the extra seat this time. The boys played a little, watched more movies, and slept again. It was another good flight. I cried as our wheels touched down in Newark. I whispered to Jonathan, "welcome to America." It overwhelmed me that my son was now on American soil. We got off the airplane quickly in Newark because I knew I was going to have to do customs which would take a while. We had 3 hours in Newark. When we went through customs we had to give our packet of papers from the embassy to the agent. He handed them to a police officer who took us to another room where we waited. I saw a man looking through the papers and then he called my name. I had no idea what I was supposed to do, but when I got to the counter he handed me Jonathan's passport and told me I could go. I was in shock that I didn't need to do anything, and just like the embassy...that was it. No confetti...nothing. :) We headed to baggage claim to get our bags and recheck them. I found a guy that worked there to help me, because if not I still would've been in Newark at baggage claim trying to figure out how to get my children and my bags where they needed to be. After that was done we had to catch a train to another terminal. Worst idea ever for someone traveling with 3 little ones. It went pretty well. As we walked around the corner I saw that we got to go through security AGAIN! I mean seriously... the amount of times I went through security for NEVER once having left the airport was RIDICULOUS! Each time I had to take the boys tennis shoes off and put them back on with Jonathan in the carrier. I also had to get out our liquids and my laptop and fold up the stroller. Absurd. The guy at the LAST security point I went through told me that the boys didn't have to take off their shoes... after they were off and I had done it a million times. I just laughed to keep from crying and moved on. We made it to our gate 12 minutes before they boarded. I had promised Matthew chicken nuggets, but we didn't have time. I felt bad, and he had a melt down, but I was not about to miss our flight to Jacksonville for some chicken nuggets. :)

The plane to Jacksonville was a little one. Matthew sat on one side of the isle with a stranger who was very kind to him, and Andrew, Jonathan and I were on the other side. Everyone was exhausted and fell asleep (except me). When we landed I could hardly wake up the boys. They were GONE! We had to gate check all of our stuff so the airline just sent it to baggage claim since it was our last stop which was really nice. 

As we walked SLOWLY (sleepy kids don't move fast) through the airport in Jacksonville my mind was racing. We had made it!! Traveling from Africa to America with 3 little ones had happened! We were all alive and not too bad actually. I was excited to see Adam. I was wondering if anyone would have ventured out on Christmas Eve to welcome us home at the airport. I was in awe of the fact that God had written THIS story for us from before time began...and how I think He's a little crazy and A LOT faithful. 

As we rounded the corner and I saw Adam I started to cry. I cried because I knew I was finally not on my own anymore, and crying was okay because there was someone there to step in for me. I also cried because behind Adam was a big group of people that had come to welcome us home and to meet our little boy! Some of my favorite faces were there and ones that have walked different aspects of this journey with me. People I needed to see as encouragement to my worn out body and mind! They had balloons, signs, smiles, hugs, sweet words, and even a dozen chocolate frosted Dunkin Donuts. This may come as no surprise to you, but I'm crying writing this. What you all did that came to the airport on a night that is usually spent in tradition with families will never be forgotten by this mamas heart. Thank you. My sweet friend Carrie took are some of them.

Sweet friends.
Waiting for us...

This little boy missed his daddy!

 Meeting Pops
 Enjoying his donut. :)
 Some of Matthew's friends that were there.

 When we finally made it home that night, my house was decorated for Christmas thanks to some friends.
 Cutest little tree ever.
From friends who couldn't be at the airport. By the way this has not moved since we've been home. I love it and have no idea what else to do with it. :)
Our sweet boy's first night at home.

Adam had cleaned. Amy made us a DELICIOUS Christmas Eve dinner. My house seemed like it was fit for a queen after living in Africa. I couldn't get over how nice it was. :) After the boys went to bed Adam's family helped wrap Christmas presents that had traveled to Africa and back for the boys. I finally got a shower and collapsed into bed. It was so soft. The mattress in Uganda was...well...not so soft. I was out before I knew it...Adam said I was saying some funny things but I hardly even remember laying down. The boys slept to a decent time the next morning and we got up to celebrate Christmas!! Talk about a crazy return, but I think it was just what I needed. If the day after getting home had been normal I think I would've had a hard time. My heart was sad to leave Africa, so celebration was a good thing to come home to. One of my FAVORITE Christmas traditions is reading the Christmas story. After Matthew's first year Adam and I talked about how it needed to be more kid-like so it wasn't above their heads. Adam came up with something wonderful we have done for a few years now that I LOVE. He reads the story and we all play different parts. The kids love it and it helps them interact and pay attention instead of only staring at the presents waiting for them. :)

 Christmas day was great. It was fun to just be with family again. I also spent part of the day packing because the day after Christmas we drove to my parents house in North Carolina. This really helped with my jet-lag because every day around 3 in the afternoon I wanted to crawl into bed, but because there was family and fun things to do it kept me going! Not one single nap! :) It was so good to be with my family. Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, Grandparents...everyone came. It was fun to have them meet Jonathan and to have some excitement to return home to...not just normal days. My brother who graduated this December with a degree in photography was there so...why not get a picture of all 5 of us together?! Thanks Max!

When we got home my sweet small group leader had cleaned the house again and stocked us up with groceries...and gotten me flowers. :) It was another wonderful surprise that helped my heart! Thanks Janet! I have been trying to get settled since being home. I'm not sure laundry has been caught up on yet fully. We seemed to have lots of doctors appointments, figuring out how to finalize the adoption here, home study visits etc. since being back. One thing I don't like about America is the pace of life and I feel like despite my plan ahead efforts to not get sucked up into it...we are right in the midst of it. I'm trying to figure out the balance. One of my favorite things about Africa was my NEED to abide in the Lord...and the opportunities to do that. I feel like in America I can have a comfortable enough life without NEEDING God moment by moment (false...but how I feel sometimes) and a busy enough schedule to not be able to have that time even when I want it. I am trying not to get frustrated...instead trying to figure out how to make my desires a reality. Part of the reason I felt like my heart was most at home in Africa was because I abided in the Lord...and that is how it should no surprise I felt FULL! I'm thankful for that time away to make me realize that, and I'm thankful that God will teach me how to do that here in America as well. 

Today is the day that we should've been returning home with the original tickets we had purchased. I have thought every day since being home that I was still supposed to be in Africa...and I have missed it. Today has been pretty hard knowing that from now on I won't be able to think that...and accepting that I am home now and Africa is a LONG way away. I am thankful to be reunited with friends and family here. I am also grateful for a husband who is understanding of me even when he doesn't understand me sometimes. Third culture kids are complicated...and me getting to live in Africa a while opened that up a little again. Here are a few pictures of Jonathan. It's crazy that I can post as many as I want out world. :)

Just a quick note that I don't have time to go into right now...WOW- this kid is growing and developing SO rapidly!! He can sit up, eat food, want mommy over other people, enjoy bath time, cry when he wakes up...all of these are miracles I celebrate daily!! 

 Grandma Great

 With my cousin...
 These boys have my heart...I'm nervous for their teenage years.

 Getting used to a car seat pretty well I'd say...

Thank you for all of your prayers while we traveled. God heard and answered. I'm thankful for you and your support of our family. We feel so loved!