Thursday, March 10, 2016

Julia is tiny.  Compared to many girls her age, she's a good bit shorter and lighter.  And she doesn't make herself known.  She sits back, does her thing, and allows her actions to speak.
When this basketball season started, she was completely unknown by the coaches.  I knew she was a good player.  But they didn't.  For several weeks I watched her sit on the bench, observing her teammates in the games, just waiting. She wasn't upset that she wasn't getting put in.  She was patient.  She went to practices, gave her best on the court, shot baskets at home to refine her talent, and waited. She watched other players receive recognition for their skill and effort and performance. She knew she had it in her to shine as they did, if only given the chance.  But she didn't become discouraged when the opportunity did not arise, and she didn't resent the girls who were given a place in the starting line-up.
Then one day, they saw it.  Someone suddenly noticed her speed, agility, and healthy aggression.  In just a matter of days she went from sitting on the bench in a clean uniform watching the clock run out, to becoming a starter and spending entire games on the court.
They began putting her in the game for the main purpose of stopping the ball.  Because although she is small, she is quick, and tough, and can steal a basketball before her opponent even realizes she's there.
And though she still isn't the player who makes the most points or receives the most attention, she is the only one who can fill that particular role with such consistency and effectiveness.
She went from unassuming, unnoticed, and sidelined…to recognized, respected, and chosen.
Julia was a dark horse.
I was reading from 2 Samuel this morning, about David and his exploits in battle.  He was revered as a mighty warrior, an honored king, and a man after God's heart. The guy screwed up a whole lot.  But at his core, he was a man of strength, courage, and nobility. He was an elite among men. Among his warriors, there were also some elites.  The most superior elect were "The Three", whose skillfulness in the fray were renowned and esteemed above all others. 
Then there was Abishai.
Abishai was likely a well-known warrior in his own hometown, and he was even a part of a select 30 who were recognized among David's men.  However, he never earned a place in The Three.
But Abi was eventually recognized and trusted with a very important role.  He became deeply valued for his resilience, performance, and talent.  So he was given a position for which he was the only qualified candidate.
Though not included among The Three, Abishai rose to be the chief of this trio of "MVPs". 
His commitment to his craft of battle and his bravery led him to step out of the shadow of these revered warriors, to emerge as their leader.
Abishai was a dark horse.
So as you watch others around you rise to positions to which you aspire, or you see God using someone in a way that you think you could be used even more effectively, remember that you don't have to be revered and elite to be relevant and essential.
And consider the possibility that God is biding His time with your talents.  Shaping you.  Refining you.  Changing you.
So that when He chooses to open the gate and set you loose to run with all the talent and training He has given you in the shadows, you burst forth into the light with the energy and passion to rise to the occasion, fill your unique role, and finish the race strong.
Maybe, just maybe, YOU are a dark horse.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

I found out I was pregnant on the fourth of July.  
I wasn't thrilled.  To be honest, I was pretty upset.  The 4th was on a Saturday.  On Sunday, I laid in my bed and cried for three hours. I feared the extreme first trimester sickness.  I dreaded the weight gain and muscle loss.  I worried about the emotions that come with pregnancy hormones and how it all affects my family.
As the months went by, it didn't get much better.  I just couldn't get my mind right about this pregnancy.  I resented what it was taking away from me more than I appreciated the gift I was being given.
I loved this baby.  But I didn't love what was required of me to have her.
I prayed a lot.  For my attitude.  For thankfulness.  For perspective.
Slowly, my heart changed. But I still struggled with being excited about what I had been given, rather than merely accepting it.
Then one day, something completely shifted.
Over the past few months, my Instagram followers have been steadily growing.  I use Instagram to write and photograph about life, faith, lessons, struggles, and victories.  There are many people I don't personally know who follow along and are so gracious in their comments about my stories.  On this particular evening, a user tagged another user in her comment on one of my pictures and said to her friend, "I thought these words might help you".  I don't always do this, but I clicked on the name of the person who had been tagged in the comment.  It led me to the account of a beautiful, precious mother who had recently lost her baby at 37 weeks pregnant.  A daughter whom she clearly had anticipated with immeasurable joy and excitement.  A baby this mama still loved immensely.  A little girl lost.
It was as if God had taken hold of my shoulders and spun me around to face this grieving mama, look into her eyes, and see what I had been taking for granted.
Then He slowly turned me back to Him, cupped my face in His hands of grace, wiped my tears of repentance, and opened my eyes wide to the miracle still growing inside me.  My heart became swollen with love and thankfulness for my baby girl. I began to cherish each moment I had with her, knowing that every day is numbered for each of us, and there was no promise of feeling her precious kicks and hiccups in my belly.
When I went past my due date, it almost felt like I had been given a whole new gift.  Freedom from time and expectations of when she would arrive.  
Then, early Monday morning, when there were still hours left of darkness, I awoke with signs of impending labor.  Such clear signs that I became sure that we would have a baby by midday.  I began to pray for peace and rest and the preparation of my mind and heart for what was to come.  I slept and woke restlessly for the next few hours.  By the time the sun appeared, everything seemed calm.  Contractions had stopped and I just felt tired.  I told Justin what was happening and, despite my pressing him to go on with the day as planned, he decided to stay home from work.  Absolutely nothing interesting occurred over the next few hours.  No contracting.  No evidence of changes in my body.  At 10:30 we loaded the kids in the van and headed to the gym for an 11:00 workout.  I contracted every few minutes during the workout, but that's pretty normal for me in late pregnancy.  They were uncomfortable, but didn't feel like anything to get excited about.  We took our time and visited with gym friends when we were done, joking about the possibility of giving birth on the gym floor, then headed out to lunch.  By the time we arrived at the restaurant, contractions were coming every 4-5 minutes.  I was having to stop and breathe through them, but I told Justin I thought we had time to go ahead and eat there. When our food arrived, I was uncomfortable enough to refuse my salad.  Then, minutes later, I admitted that we may be cutting it close and told Justin that I needed to head home.  He quickly packed up the food and hurried the kids out.  In the 20 minute drive to the house, I had six good hard contractions.  Between each one, I calmly reprimanded Justin about texting while driving.  But he was almost frantically trying to get word out to everyone who planned to attend the birth.  He may have known better than I did that they all had very little time to get to the house if they were going to make it before baby arrived.
When we got home around 1:00, my mom had just pulled up. I immediately went inside and took up residence in the shower, my favorite place to labor.  Justin changed the bedsheets, double checked the birth supplies, settled the children, and began greeting the friends who quickly assembled to support, encourage, love on our family, and pray this new life into the world.
It was an unseasonably warm and gorgeous day, so when I emerged from the shower I decided to spend some time laboring outside.  I put on a long loose skirt and a sports bra, leaving my bulging belly exposed to the beautiful sunshine, and walked our land with bare feet, taking in the calm of nature, and stopping every few minutes to breathe and sway through the strong and steady waves of birthing progress. Children, some my own and some those of friends, eagerly followed me through the grass, watching with excitement.  Justin stood strong and steady while I leaned on him for physical support as the contractions became harder.  And my dear friends spoke gently to me, attended to the children, checked baby's heart rate with the doppler, and quietly made all the preparations for her arrival.
Knowing it was still too cold in February for baby to be born outside, I went back to the shower around 2:00.  As the contractions grew longer and stronger and closer together, I prayed.  For a relaxed body, a focused mind, a tender rather than angry heart in the pain, and protection over my baby as she made her way from my body to my arms.  My support team read scripture over me, prayed with me, reminded me to keep my muscles relaxed and my birth song (the unmistakable moaning of many women in the late stages of labor) low and loose.  I talked to my baby girl, urging her to come down gently.  I pictured her, fresh and pink, sleeping against my chest.  
When I began to feel the pressure of her descent, I left the shower to rest on the bed before the work that was coming very soon.  Justin pressed on my back.  Worship music filled the room.  The quiet voices of family and friends surrounded me.  
Soon, I knew it was time for the final work to start.  I forced myself onto my knees on the bed and worked through several hard contractions.  As the pressure intensified, I began gently pushing her through. The pain became more than I thought I could bear, as it always does in those final moments.  Tears filled my eyes as I felt my strength and will to press on faltering.  I knew I had to dig deeper to finish this.  So I did.  I prayed for strength, rose to standing on the bed, and allowed my moans to shift to guttural yells and my mind to shift to overcoming the obstacle of pain.
Julia planned to catch the baby, so when it was clear that birth was just moments away, she moved into position beside me. I stood, with the brave and strong hands of my 12 year old daughter hovering beneath me, awaiting the emergence of her baby sister.  When the moment came that I simply could not hold back any longer, I pushed with an equal measure of force and control.  
Her head came out, pressed and purple, with a rush of amniotic fluid pouring over Julia's arms.  And on the next push, at 3:42pm, the rest of her body came.  A friend unwrapped her cord from around her neck, I slowly lowered myself to the bed, and we all touched her and encouraged her to clear her lungs and breathe deeply.
And she did.  Sweet and beautiful breaths of life filled the room.  Every prayer had been answered.  Our wonderful baby girl had arrived.  And she was perfect.
The next hour were full of the glow that always comes with new life.  Her big brother cutting the cord, smiles, laughter, tears, admiration of the fresh little one, photos, and lots of kisses.
My heart had come full circle.
From mere acceptance to inexplicable joy.
Through pain, work, the gently leading hand of Grace, and the tender expression of His love through the gift of this baby girl, I was made new again.
Because He makes all things new. 
New hearts. New perspectives. And brand new lives to mold and cherish.
Maple Clementine Truly is our "new".  
We are so thankful for the privilege to unwrap the gift of her precious life and witness the gentle unfolding of God's plan for her.


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

::: mirrors and other reflections :::
When I was a little girl, I had a big, beautiful, full-length, three way mirror.  It was framed with distressed pale yellow wood and was my favorite part of my bedroom.  The two mirrors flanking the tallest middle one were on hinges, so I could adjust them to capture myself from any angle.  When I was very small, I used to sit in front of it, enveloped on each side by the reflection of my profile, and practice emotions.  I counted my teeth, perfected my silly smile, and read books aloud to myself, rehearsing animated expressions and made-up accents.  It was through that mirror that I learned that my hazel eyes turned bright green when I cried. My time spent with my beloved mirror taught me a lot about how other people saw me. And it helped me look more deeply inside myself.  I watched myself grow up in it's reflective glass.
When I was about 9, I made a mistake.  I took nail polish into the carpeted family room, even though I knew I wasn't supposed to. I sat on the floor, with my new Cabbage Patch Doll, Sharon, on my lap, and carefully painted my fingernails.  Within minutes, the inevitable happened.  I spilled the polish.  Not much got on the carpet, but Sharon's pretty purple dress was covered in bright pink paint.  
I panicked.  
I stripped the dress from the doll, ran to my room, and threw it behind my beautiful mirror.
I never told anyone.
But for years, every time I looked into that mirror, I thought about what was on the other side.  I knew what I was hiding.  And it plagued me. The reflection was the same, but now there was more behind it.
Lately, as I go deeper into the Word, it becomes more and more like my favorite mirror.  Beautifully crafted, larger than life, allowing me to examine my heart from every angle.  When I stand before it, I see both an image of the good that God has put into me, and a reflection of what lies beneath the surface.  And it compels me to confession and change.  To take my soiled human heart, like that soiled purple dress, and present it before my holy God. And when I do, His unbreakable, eternal Love and forgiveness reflects back to me.

My children, you will make many mistakes and experience countless hurts in this life. They won't define you, but they have the potential to change how you see yourself. 
Don't hide from them.  Face them.  Confess them.  Accept them. Learn from them.  Embrace the ways they reshape your character.
I pray that you grow up in the loving rebuke and resulting grace of your Creator.  
And that your life, through all its changes and mistakes, will ultimately reflect His glory.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

In the summer of 1983 I discovered my superpower.
I was six years old. 
Most of my days were spent barefooted and muddy from running through sprinklers in the grass, and riding my dandelion-yellow banana seat bicycle, shirtless and sunburnt under the heat of the Florida sun.
I was a little girl with pigtails, missing teeth, and had a newly remarried Mama.
We had just moved into the house that my step-father and his 10 year old son shared.
I was the new kid on the block in every way.
My step-brother had three close friends who lived across the street.  They spent all their time together.  They were a gang of snaggletoothed, mismatched, sweaty little boys, but I longed to be one of them.
I would sit, daydreaming by myself on the driveway, watching them wrestle and race and peg each other with little bouncy balls until they tired of that and ran across the street on their gangly skinned-kneed legs to hang out in their treehouse.
It really wasn't much of anything.  Just some boards nailed to a trunk, forming a crude ladder, and a piece of plywood in the fork of the branches.  But in my six year old imagination it was full of magic and mystery and adventure.  And I wanted nothing more than to join them there.  But every time I asked, they just laughed and told me it was "top secret" and there were "no girls allowed".
Then one day, as I lay sprawled on the garage floor, escaping the sweltering heat and soaking up the coolness of the concrete, four rowdy boys came in with an unusually calm and quiet approach.  They stood over me, and I stared up at them.  They exchanged looks that were indiscernible to me, and nudged each other, harder and harder, until one of them spoke,
"…you want to go in the treehouse?"
I jumped to my feet, and one of my light blue flip flops flew off my foot and across the garage.  I giggled and ran to retrieve it, then turned to look at them.  I'm sure the excitement was all over my dirt-smudged freckled face as I eagerly shook my head and said , "Yes!"
Without another word, they took off ahead of me.  I ran, skipped, and maybe even floated on a cloud of elation as we crossed the street to the backyard where I was absolutely positive I would finally be let in on a wonderful secret.
I reached the tree, out of breath but full of joy.  The boys were standing in the dirt, absently kicking roots and hiding grins.  
"You go first," one of them encouraged.
I kicked off my shoes, wrapped my little hands around the second board and strained to lift my leg high enough to plant my foot on the first one.  As I climbed, I thought my heart might burst with joy and anticipation.  It wasn't a long climb, maybe 6 feet up, and I enjoyed every second of it.  They watched me and cheered me on as I reached the top, then hoisted my tiny body onto the the landing place.  
And that's when I felt it.  Puddles of something wet everywhere.  I smelled it too.  The unmistakable scent of fresh urine.
It was all over the tree.  And all over me.
I couldn't move.  I just stood up, my back to the boys, and stared straight ahead.  
They lumbered up the trunk, standing on the boards, laughing behind me.  
I wanted to cry.
I wanted to kick their taunting faces.
I wanted to run away.
The only way down was to jump off the opposite side of the tree, or turn around and climb past them.
I felt my chest rising and falling in deep, uneven breaths.  And I felt tears threatening to breach the fortress of my pride. 
At that moment I had a decision to make.  One that I didn't realize then would change something in me.  One that I can only see the magnitude of when I look back on it.  
I could be weak, or I could be strong.  I could be overcome with disappointment and despair, or I could walk away powerful and in control.
I didn't think it all through like that, of course.  I was only a little kid, after all.  But I knew that I didn't want to give those boys the satisfaction of seeing me cry.
So I spun around on my bare heel, glared at their smirking faces, and resolutely stomped down the boards, jumping off before I even got to the last one. I picked up my flip flops, and walked home with my shoulders back and head held high.

Instead of feeling victimized that day, I chose to feel victorious.
Rather than letting them steal my grit, I reached deep into myself and found my power.

Looking back on that day, I can't help but tell myself that if the little girl me can do that, then the big girl me can do it too.
And so can the big girl you.
God's word tells us that we are made in His image, and I believe that refers to the deepest parts of our souls and spirits.
We are human, but God created us as a mirror of His spiritual, intellectual, emotional, motivational, and confidently sturdy nature.

The more we are in His presence, filled with His Spirit, relying on his influence, the stronger that power to overcome grows.
When we define who we are by the reflected image of Christ in us, we have found our driving force, our supernatural strength that shoots forth from our many fault lines of weakness, our Superpower.

And there's no stopping a girl who has discovered her Superpower.

"But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest on me." 2 Corinthians 12:9

"His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence." 2 Peter 1:3

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Two nights ago, Julia wanted to talk about her adoption.  Although I have told her many times that I want her to be completely free to ask any questions and always tell me how she feels, she still doesn't bring it up often.  But this time, she was clearly craving information about her beginnings.  
"Do I look anything like my birthfather?"
"How do you know he was really my father if they weren't married?"
"Do you think I would have my own bedroom if they had kept me?"
"What makes a mother decide to let her baby go join a different family?"
She didn't appear to be too affected by our answers to her questions until she asked this:
"Did they think about keeping me after I was born?"
We all stood in the kitchen together, the other kids nearly as interested in my answers as she was.  Everyone was waiting for me to say something.
I paused.  Unsure how much to give.  But I have always promised her that I would be completely honest with her and tell her all I know to the best of my recollection.  So I responded:
"When we saw you for the first time, the two of them were sitting on the hospital bed and you were in her arms.  It was a small room, so even though he whispered I heard him say to her with tears in his eyes ,"Do you think we should keep her?  We can keep her if you want to."  And she looked up at him and replied, "No.  We are not keeping her."

My girl became silent and I saw a flash of something I couldn't identify settle on her beautiful face.  Julia isn't a very emotional young woman, but this news clearly affected her.  She stood still for a few seconds, then ripped a paper towel off the roll behind her, wet it in the sink, and started wiping the counters.  

I walked up behind her, wrapped my arms around her, and told her how much I love her and how much her birthparents loved her to be able to choose what they believed was best for her, no matter how hard it may have been for them.  She stopped cleaning and let me hold her.  Then, in his typical compassionate fashion, Asa came over and made it a group hug. He told her that he loved her and that his life wouldn't be nearly as good without her.  When she looked up, Ethan said, "I'm really glad you're my sister".  Astrid skipped over and added, "I would have had to sleep in a room by myself all this time if you weren't here!  I wouldn't like that at all!"  Justin told her what an amazing daughter she is and reassured her again how much her birthparents loved her.

The details surrounding adoption can be a rocky terrain for any family to travel.  For there is the fragile heart of a child to consider, and the heavy weight of what can feel like rejection to help her carry.

But don't we all bear that weight on our hearts sometimes? We all long to be wanted.  It can be painful to feel as if someone had the choice to be with us, but chose something different.

This is why we cannot base how we feel about ourselves upon the choices of another person.  No matter how deeply those choices affect our lives.  It is a dangerous place to live, measuring your worth against the arbitrary decisions of a fellow fallen human.

Our identity has to be rooted in soil that is deeper and richer and painstakingly cultivated to fulfill the needs of our hearts.

Infinite worth is found in our relationship with an unchanging God.

Human hearts, plagued with hurts and scars and selfish ambitions cannot fill our need for unwavering love, but "who can separate us from the love of Christ?  Can trials, or distress, or mistreatment, or hunger, or nakedness, or danger, or weapons", or anything else?  (Romans 8:35)

He is where our identity is secure.
He is where our hearts can be filled to overflowing.
He is the only one who will always and forever say, "I'm keeping her."