Epiphany

If you know me, you know I love all things Spain. It started in 7th grade and just never stopped. It was after spending a year living in Spain that I met David. This gave him an automatic discussion topic in those early days. His curiosity was a thin disguise to spend time with me. Just ask one question and I’d talk forever.  Somewhere along the way I knew I didn’t want to share that-or any other-part of my life with anyone other than him. Even as newlyweds we’d dream and plan our trip to Spain together…..one that is still in the works a decade later. Though we weren’t able to visit, we decided that we’d incorporate some Spain into our lives.

One such opportunity came in the event of Three Kings Day, January 6. As we dreamed our future, we envisioned celebrating Three Kings Day with our children: opening gifts, extending the Christmas holidays, maybe even taking the day off school. Our thought was we could share Christmas with our families and still save something special for “just us”. As time has passed, we never really celebrated like we thought. Sometimes I’ll buy a Roscón de Reyes (a traditional treat in Spain) and I always think of my Spanish friends enjoying parades and the expectation of the Kings’ coming.

God knew even then what He’d be doing in our family. It’s so funny to look back now and see how He works all things. You see, today we’re celebrating on January 6 in a big way for the second year in a row. Not because it’s Epiphany, but because it’s our sweet Little Lamb’s birthday! For me, this is a precious gift from God. Long before she was born, He planned for this day to be special to our family. Never could I ever have imagined the joy we’d share! Our Creator is thoughtful and specific and involved. I am absolutely convinced that He is showing me that He sees me.  He makes my heart full to overflowing.

Happy Birthday, Little Lamb! We’re so glad you came 🙂

–Mandy

We’re expecting…

….a new placement! It could be days or weeks, we really don’t know. But for me, the excitement and nerves are already building. I spoke with the social worker at our agency today to discuss age, gender, legal risk, etc. and to officially change our status to “open”. Now comes the part where my heart quickens every time the phone rings.

Since there seems to be a small lapse (a year qualifies as small, right?!) in posting about our foster experience, here’s what you’ve missed:
-Little Lamb, placed with us last September, is still with us. She is more adorable than I can ever describe. Being in the same room as her brings lots of laughs. As a language enthusiast, seeing her brain make connections is amazing. Some of her funnier phrases include: huge big, nanks (thanks), long long time? (asking about duration of trip EVERY time we get in the car), What? No way!. She adds to her vocabulary and ability daily. Kids are so amazing to watch!
-Sweet Pea, placed with us last October, was placed with her aunt in July. Since then we haven’t been accepting any new placements for several reasons–we needed time to grieve and readjust, summer and beginning of school was busy, and we wanted to get through an important court date. Sweet Pea and her family came to town a couple of weeks ago for another court date and she got to spend the day with us. The girls enjoyed playing and it was so fun to spend time together. She is doing great! This is absolutely the best way to achieve permanency for her!

And now we’re ready. For what, we have no clue! But we have been asking God to prepare us. To help Little Lamb with the transitions that are ahead. She will have to learn to share again-especially Dad. We’ve settled to a new normal and all that will surely change. We’re also praying for the little one who will be coming. Kiddos don’t come to us because their lives are great. So, even now, this little may be in danger, may be experiencing neglect or abuse. It makes me so sad to think of what their life looks like at this exact moment.

So, until then, until we meet, we keep praying. And expecting. My tummy will never grow with the evidence of all that is to come. But our hearts are certainly swelling.

–Mandy

Sweet Pea

Today, as I was standing by the sink and loading the dishwasher, Little Lamb comes over and pats my tummy. “Baby?” she asked. I laughed at her and said, “No. Do you have a baby in your tummy?” She laughed and said no and we went about our merry way (after I made a mental note to head back to the gym or at least do some sit ups!).  Maybe she knew something I didn’t because within an hour of this conversation, I got a phone call for an emergency placement. Emergency placements basically mean they are coming now! So, I had about 2 hours to prepare for our newest member:

Sweet Pea arrived today at 4pm. She is 4.5 months old, chubby, bald as can be, and very smiley! We received basically no information at placement, so we’ll be learning so much in the next few days. Obviously, this will be a huge adjustment as we’re still settling in with LL.

I told Little Lamb that a new baby was coming after nap time and she was excited. It took her a little bit to warm up to Sweet Pea. I think she’s trying to make sure that we will still love her the same. Thankfully, my brother was over tonight and we could do bedtime routine like always. And I assured her she could help me with the baby tomorrow.

Dave took tomorrow off work to be an extra hand. LL has her first doctor appointment and will be getting more shots (she had to get 6 last week and I’m still pretty traumatized from the ordeal) as well as a general check up. I’m hoping that having Daddy there will make it go a bit smoother. At the very least, there was no way I could do it with a new baby!

We’ll share more as we have time and energy! Prayers readily accepted 🙂

–Mandy

Little Lamb

Yesterday marked two weeks since LL came into our home. What a whirlwind-both the process and her! This is our first official placement as licensed foster parents and its definitely taking a while to get used to all the new rules our family has to follow-medication logs (even for Tylenol and itch cream), recreation logs, background checks for my parents, paperwork for babysitters, etc. And there are so many more people we have to stay connected with-social worker, caseworker, CASA worker, bio mom, school, doctor, etc. Honestly, it can be pretty overwhelming to keep track of everything. And that doesn’t even include the task of learning everything about this darling child!!

Curls

As far as LL herself, things are going pretty well. She has fallen right in with our family and the routines that we follow. She has a sweet personality that endears everyone who meets her. She is quite opinionated and likes things just so. Each day brings new revelations about what she likes to eat, to wear, to do. My favorite thing is that she loves to have fun and so we stay pretty busy going to the park, library, or just playing at home. I know all ages have their merits, but I really enjoy having a three-year-old!

One thing that has stood out to me in the last two weeks is how carefully God is building our family. We may not have our forever child yet, but every child that stays here is for a purpose. For example, we received calls about 2 other placement possibilities that didn’t work out before we were called for Little Lamb. We were so excited about the possibility of a sibling set, but God knew so much better. LL was absolutely the right placement for us. From her need for method and routine to her inquisitive nature, she is so much like me and Dave! Without a doubt, God orchestrated this placement.

And being reminded that His hand is in every second of my life helps me trust Him even more. He is still revealing His plan for our family. But we know clearly that His heart is for adoption. He has already adopted us and made us co-heirs with Christ. We love that we can reflect His love for us in such a visible way!

–Mandy

I’m not better than you

I have recently been thinking about pride and humility. In the past, I held the view that not being arrogant or boastful meant that someone was humble and not proud. This may be true for a lot of people a lot of the time, but I don’t think it is the rule I wanted it to be. Humility is remembering who God is, remembering who we are, and remembering that he has given us his own righteousness.

I have been learning that I really do consider myself above others, and this is something that scripture says to repent of. The first part of Phillipians 2 talks about this. Frankly, this realization surprised me. Maybe it shouldn’t have, but it did. In the past, I have compared myself to people around me. This is typically a ‘pretty good’ person with a degree of some sort and it is easy for me to accept that we are similar and that I’m not better than that person. But, as I am around people with different stories than mine, I struggle with my pride. I value education, and it is very hard for me to say and believe that I am not better than an uneducated non-working person.

But the gospel of Christ is clear – all men are dead to sin and need a savior to raise them out of death and into life. Jesus will do this for anyone who believes and calls on him, because he is always faithful. So, as I continue to live my life for and with Jesus, the holy spirit reminds me that God is holy, not me. I need to humble myself and remember that his kindness is a gift that didn’t have to be offered. What gives me value is that Jesus gave his own precious life for mine, because he is the most valuable and important thing in the universe.

Lessons from a baby

So, this morning babygirl (BG) woke up earlier than normal. We know it’s time to get her up because she wakes up happy; if she is still tired or needs something, she lets you know by crying. Mandy asked me to feed her before I headed off to work, and while I didn’t really want to do it, I could see Mandy was tired and I want to care for my wife and serve her in practical ways. Feeding BG is something I am comfortable with, and it is usually no big deal. But this morning I got frustrated with the kid! BG started to eat, and then wanted to look around at the ceiling. I don’t know what is so interesting about it, but I can tell you that trying to hold her head still is NOT the thing to do. Usually, if you follow her mouth with the bottle or pull the bottle out of her mouth until she faces forward again, she will get the point and start eating again. I tried all three techniques today without success. I got so mad; I put her down on a blanket and walked away. BG cried, loudly, through most of this struggle which eventually woke Mandy up, so Mandy fed her and I headed to work. I was thinking about this failure as I drove, there were several points that came to mind that I want to share.

I didn’t practice patience. I didn’t love the kid like Christ loves me. I got mad and tried to force my way on her, which she rebelled at and complained about. The Father doesn’t force his way upon us. He doesn’t get mad and walk away, like I did. My actions led her to rebel, while the kindness of the Lord leads us to repentance. I was reminded that God is a perfect Father, who knows how to love and care for us in the best way. And, I should not be surprised when I don’t do this perfectly. I’m not God, and sometimes I will fail, even at feeding a baby.

You know, it’s really funny to see yourself in others sometimes too. BG had the thing she wanted and needed right in front of her – her food. And she even began to eat. But very quickly she became distracted from the goal. This is just like my spiritual life – God will be teaching me something important that I need and want, and I will see something shiny and focus on that thing, rather than remaining diligent and focused on what God has for me.

BG could not be forced to eat; she arched her back, turned her head back and forth, and complained loudly when I tried. This craziness is just like my reaction when things don’t go my way. I might even cry out and ask God ‘why can’t I pause whatever thing you have for me, so that I can have what I want right now when I want?’ The heart is selfish and wicked.

But I remember Grace. Because God loves us so much, He is happy to forgive us and move past our rebellion! This is what Christ’s death on the cross allows, undeserved forgiveness. That is an awesome truth, one that I often take for granted. The Lord deserves even more praise and worship than I thought, because of how wonderfully good He is. I hope you see these truths like I do. I will try to learn this deep down, so that I can be a little more like Christ tomorrow. I am thankful for who He is, and I desire to be with Him and I want to be like Him. And with His help, it will happen.

Letter from John Piper

Below is an exert from a letter John Piper wrote to a grieving mother. This section spoke to me as I deal with infertility and continue to walk with Jesus.
-David

God’s crucial word on grieving well is 1 Thessalonians 4:13: “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” Yours is a grieving with hope. Theirs is a grieving without hope. That is the key difference. There is no talk of not grieving. That would be like suggesting to a woman who just lost her arm that she not cry, because it would be put back on in the resurrection. It hurts! That’s why we cry. It hurts. And amputation is a good analogy. Because unlike a bullet wound, when the amputation heals, the arm is still gone. So the hurt of grief is different from the hurt of other wounds. There is the pain of the severing, and then the relentless pain of the gone-ness. The countless might-have-beens. Those too hurt. Each new remembered one is a new blow on the tender place where the arm was. So grieving is like and unlike other pain.There is a paradox in the way God is honored through hope-filled grief. One might think that the only way he could be honored would be to cry less or get over the ache more quickly. That might show that your confidence is in the good that God is and the good that he does. Yes. It might. And some people are wired emotionally to experience God that way. I would not join those who say, “O they are just in denial.” But there is another way God is honored in our grieving. When we taste the loss so deeply because we loved so deeply and treasured God’s gift — and God in his gift — so passionately that the loss cuts the deeper and the longer, and yet in and through the depths and the lengths of sorrow we never let go of God, and feel him never letting go of us — in that longer sorrow he is also greatly honored, because the length of it reveals the magnitude of our sense of loss for which we do not forsake God. At every moment of the lengthening grief, we turn to him not away from him. And therefore the length of it is a way of showing him to be ever-present, enduringly sufficient.So trust him deeply and let your heart be your guide whether you honor him one way or the other. Everyone is different. Beware of blaming your husband, or he you, for moving into or out of grief at different paces. It is so personal. And what you may find is that the one who seemed to recover more quickly will weep the more deeply in ten years. You just don’t know now, and it is good not to judge.May God make your grieving a bittersweet experience of communion with Jesus. Matthew tells us that when Jesus heard that John the Baptist had been beheaded, “he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself” (Matthew 14:13). So he knows what it is to go with you there.We do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize. He was tested in every way as we are — including loss.
Grace to you and peace.

Affectionately, Pastor John

Parenting

Dave and I have always been affectionate. When we were dating, someone told us we’d get over that after we got married. Right then and there I decided that we would never stop being newlyweds. I didn’t want our marriage to resemble the bitter, angry one the speaker had. Since then, we’ve worked hard toward the goal of keeping our marriage happy, exciting, and joyful. I’d say we’ve been successful so far–we often get asked if we’re newlyweds even after almost 7 years! It always makes my day 🙂

Last night, we were chatting with some friends who have been on the receiving end of discouraging comments in relation to parenting–in the line of “I feel sorry for this guy. He has to go home to kids.” And my friend said something that should have been so obvious to me. Like us, they have made a decision: to not only love their kids, but to like them, to think they’re funny and to have fun with them. To be less irritated and annoyed. Duh! We’ve applied this thought to our marriage, but it never dawned on me to extend it to children. [For the record, we’ve seen this in action in so many of our friends’ families. I just never knew how to express in words why their families were different.]

I really needed to hear this yesterday! I was coming off a day dealing with a teething tiny person. And I was more irritated and annoyed than I needed to be. Today, BG’s teething troubles were worse; she was unsettled all day. The day was still long, but my attitude was much better.

And my outlook on parenting is very different. It isn’t something to endure, always looking forward to the end. I must make the choice to be present, joyful, engaged, and eager. Right now, I don’t always demonstrate these qualities. But I look forward to improving!

–Mandy

Waiting on {OUR} world to change…

…and yet it already has in so many ways! Although it’s been a year, the move to Pampa still feels newish. We’re remembering what we did this time last year but also feel like this is the first time for everything. It’s a very strange feeling.

The biggest change this year has come in the form of a sweet baby girl–not our own, but a foster daughter. We received a phone call on Valentine’s Day alerting us to the need for someone to care for her. We quickly agreed and within a couple of hours we had this precious being in our care. Holy cow!! We are approaching the 3 month mark and must admit we have fallen completely in love. (That being said, we know that her mom is working toward completing the steps required to regain custody. We believe that she will be successful in that.)

Providing foster care has long been our dream. Although we have had some training in the practical do’s and don’ts, I don’t think anything could have prepared us for the variety of emotions involved: joy at seeing her sweet face each day, wonder at how quickly she learns and grows, heartbreak knowing that each day she is with us brings us closer to her return date, stubborn trust that God has a good plan for all three of us. If I had known how reality felt, I don’t think I’d have been so eager to embark on this adventure.

While having BG (Baby Girl) in our care has brought tremendous change, there are still so many areas where nothing is happening despite our best efforts. We have been unsuccessful in finding a house. After 5 years, we are still struggling with infertility. We’d like to trade our truck for something less expensive. I’m sure I don’t want to return to teaching, but have no idea what I should be doing instead.

This waiting is the hardest part. It is long and painful and confusing and, and, and. The only thing I can do is continue to put my trust in Jesus. I don’t understand or like this place, but I believe that I will know Him better and look more like Him on the other side of these struggles. Psalm 25:4-5 has been my prayer the last couple of weeks: that He make me to know His paths, that He lead me in His truth and teach me. And so I choose to wait for Him all the day long.

Mandy

Identity

On the ride home from work, I will usually listen to NPR to stay current on national/world events. Today, there was an interview with a journalist who visited the Syrian rebels for 5 days last month. Pretty interesting stuff, as he described how they are acquiring their weapons, what condition they live in, how they maneuver, etc. And then he told a story which made me both angry and sad.

The rebels captured a Syrian soldier prisoner and sent him on a mission, which of course meant to end his life as well as help the rebel cause. The rebels made the journalist and his photographer aware of the prisoner and their plan to place him in a van loaded with a bomb as they were still putting the plan into action and forcing the prisoner into the vehicle. When asked how he responded to this, the journalist explained that of course his first instinct as a journalist is to find fact where it exists and in this case interview the rebels. This point stopped me in my tracks and it should stop you… This man was made aware of a murder plot, did not attempt to stop it, and did not feel compassion for a life threatened. He placed words above life, and feels justified because of his occupation.

This greatly upset me. And it served to remind me that our identity cannot come from an occupation or role. Our identity must be: we are created by a God who loves us. He loves us, pursues us, and desires to give us righteousness that we don’t deserve. Who you are inside changes what you do on the outside.

Obviously this story wasn’t about how a Christian responded to sin, but it did lead me to think about who I am and what I do.