This blog is a chance for us to tell our story and shine the light on the God who wrote it.

It is also a place for me to bring into the spotlight the millions of orphans around the world who are waiting for the Body of Christ to fulfill God's command to "care for orphans and widows in their distress" (James 1:27)

Soli deo Gloria... (All Glory to God Alone).

4.17.2015

Naming Miracles (Part 2)

...(continued from yesterday.  Please read yesterday's post first.)


This was one of those below-the-surface names.  But it came bubbling up one day in a conversation with my husband and he called me right out on it.  Told me I'd named it wrong and gave credit to the wrong side in doing so.  (It is so outside of his nature to confront or call me- or anyone- out like that that it got my attention right away!)  

We had been talking about an extremely dark and painful season our family had gone through over the course of about six months over a year ago.  It is not an experience that can be easily summed up so when we were discussing it, I made an offhand remark calling it "Our Little Nightmare".

And certainly, that name is totally valid.  Many of those days felt exactly like we were living in a nightmare.  We were coming up on the one year mark of the precipitating event, and I was having flashbacks.  And it was like I was reliving the nightmare all over at random times throughout the day.  In the carpool line.  At the grocery store.  In my bed at night...

All the sudden I'd be there again...
Lying on a pull-out sofa in the hospital at 2 a.m. unable to sleep and literally shaking from the inside-out, my body succumbing to a state of shock.
Standing in the courtroom and my knees just giving and I'm buckling and I don't know how I got here.  
Clutching the hospital room phone in the bathroom choking on my tears and trying to find the words to tell my friend what was happening and could she please come quickly.

It still felt like a nightmare because that's the name I'd given it.

Which would've been fine if that's all there was.

If all it was was darkness and pain and brokenness.  But truth is, all that darkness was the just the perfect backdrop for our faithful and powerful God to do His best work.

Because into the nightmare pushed the Light.  All His people and the love poured out.

And then came the miracles.  

We must have been told literally a hundred times over the course of the next few months-  that just doesn't happen.  There is no way this is going to happen.  We've never seen this happen before!  We even signed waivers saying we wouldn't hold anyone responsible if said thing didn't happen.  Lots of waivers.



Truth is, right from the start we saw the power of God.  We walked through some very difficult days and fear threatened to take up residence in me.  But in the end, it was all just a chance for God to show Himself faithful.  Just a chance for Him to show the lengths He would go through to fight injustice and bring one of His precious daughters into a family.  This temporary "nightmare" was simply the perfect setting for a flood of breathtaking miracles.  For where does light shine so clear and pure if not in the darkest night?

 It was here, in our dark night, that God came and showed us all that He still does miracles... still shows up on behalf of those who call out to Him in weakness.

Like Joseph, we could say with confidence, "What you meant for harm, God meant for good!"



And this was Scott's gentle challenge to me as we sat there a year later remembering - how will you name this, Haley?  Who will you give credit to when you remember this season in our lives?

 The fact that I'd named it all "Our Little Nightmare" revealed that my focus was really on the power of darkness that took us so off-guard.  But what our experience taught us was that we may have underestimated the power of darkness, yes... but we also saw that the power of darkness is limited.  And God's power is limit-less.

Really, I was continuing to give darkness power over me by letting fear in.  Naming the whole thing in honor of the darkness.

But how do you stop the memories?  I didn't want to think of these things- they just came flooding back when my mind would wander.

Then one day a friend who knew of my struggle encouraged me to ask God to show me where He was in all of those horrific moments.  She, too, had a traumatic memory of her own.  She had gone through an unwanted abortion years ago and had found profound comfort when God answered her prayer to show her where He was in that room when she lost her baby.

By God's grace, over time as I prayed and others prayed for me, He has replaced the horrible feelings of abandonment in my "nightmare" moments by literally showing me where He was in each of them.  Of course He was there and everywhere, and I'd always known that.  But now I'm able to remember each of these moments and the emotions that come are the feelings of being held and protected.  I see the scene in my head but I also see God taking a very active role that I just simply could not see before.

You see, God is renaming my story!

Before I felt abandoned.  Now I feel held.

Before I felt fearful.  Now I feel protected.

Before I felt attacked.  Now I feel victorious.


Because my God is in the business of restoring and redeeming, He has given me new memories.  New adjectives to describe my experiences.

But there was one thing He left for me.

As I've gone through this healing process, there was still one thing missing.  I needed a new name for it all.  And God had left this naming part up to me.  It would be an act of faith for me to no longer remember it all as "Our Little Nightmare".   To give it another name that better reflected the limitless power of God and the fact that, in the end, victory belonged to Him.


And that's where Gabby comes in.  I left that basketball game on World Down Syndrome Day and drove to a little nearby fishing town.  And I sat quietly for a long time.  I thought a lot about Eden and Gabby.  And I thought a lot about the chance I had to rename our experience.  And that's when I remembered that Gabby had another name- that once she was renamed, too, to better reflect what God was doing in her life.  Gabrielle was renamed Miracle.  


And that was the day "Our Little Nightmare" became "Our Great Big Miracle".





"I will tell of the kindnesses of the LORD, the deeds for which he is to be praised, according to all the LORD has done for us-- yes, the many good things he has done for (us), according to his compassion and many kindnesses".  Isaiah 63:7




4.13.2015

Naming Miracles

They called her "Miracle" until she was almost nine.  It was only after meeting her again years later that I learned her name was really Gabrielle.

Why 'Miracle'? I asked her mom recently.

She told me about the early days of Gabrielle's life.  Born with Down Syndrome and many resulting complications, they were told Gabby wouldn't live but a few days.  And if she did, she would never walk or talk.

But God had other plans for Gabby.  And as she began to do all the things the doctors said she would never do, she was given the name, "Miracle".  One doctor even crossed out the name "Gabrielle" on her chart and wrote "Miracle".  Like a statement- let's name this what it really is!

miracle (noun)-  a surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency

Look, Gabby's journey has not been easy.  She and her family have faced many, many difficulties along the way.  In the early years of her life, Gabby had a number of surgeries.  Which means her family spent countless hours at the doctor and in the hospital. And perhaps there were times when they longed for an easier road.  More beach vacations and less blood draws, maybe?

But her parents chose to call her "Miracle" anyway.  The way I see it, it was an act of faith.  It was a choice to focus on the incredible work of their faithful God instead of the daily challenges they faced. And it was a decision to focus on the beauty and abilities their daughter possessed rather than the "disabilities" listed on her medical chart.  Like drawing a line in the sand and saying this is holy ground.  

I'm sure many of their days have felt not-so-miraculous and more-like-ordinary. And many, many days have presented challenges that felt insurmountable.  But maybe some days remembering that they were participating in a miracle kept them going.  Kept them moving forward when they wanted to buckle.  I'm not sure, but I am sure of this-

What we name something or someone matters.  


I read today that there are more than nine hundred names for God in the Bible.  Each one revealing a facet of who God really is.  And God himself renames a number of His followers at pivotal moments in their lives- with new names that seem to define how God sees them.

Simon becomes Peter.  Peter means "Rock". Jesus speaks purpose and meaning into this man when he renames him.  Peter didn't know this at the time, but there would be a moment in his life- not far away- when he would look more like shifting sand than like rock.  I wonder if in those identity-shaking days between his denial of Christ and Jesus' reinstatement of him - did Peter ever cling to his name for dear life?  I'm Peter.  I am a rock.  God has chosen this name for me and he doesn't make mistakes and though I feel like I have utterly failed Him I choose to believe He sees something I don't here.

Clearly, in the mind of God, there is something in a name.


Sometimes we don't even know we've named something.  Some, faced with the same circumstances as Gabby's family, would have named her something else.  Not right out loud, but somewhere just below the surface a name is given and it sounds more like burden than like miracle.


Somewhere along the way, Miracle became Gabby again, but her family has not lost sight of what a gift... what a miracle their daughter really is.


Today I watched Gabby play in a basketball game with our daughter, Eden.  These girls love their basketball games!  When Gabby scores she turns toward the stands and does a pretty awesome toe-touch.  If she gets enough applause and the music is playing just right, she'll do a dance for us.  Oh, and we got the Gator chomp a few times today, too.




Every week when we see Gabby at church, she gives me a hug.  Or six.  This girl knows how to love big.  She is a gift to the world- just a beautiful miracle sent from God to remind us He's there.


The day of the girls' basketball game was World Down Syndrome Day, and I thought a lot about our Eden and her precious friend, Gabby.



 I also thought about naming things.  And the weight a name bears.

And then I remembered something I had named.  Something it was time to rename.


(will be continued tomorrow...)

12.24.2014

He Came Anyway

It's one hour before Christmas Eve and one more day before the end of my favorite time of year.  Advent.  Those few weeks leading up to Christmas where we slow our lives and light the candles each night and we prepare our hearts for His coming.

This year was going to be the best.  I decided this one week before Thanksgiving when I bought a Children's Advent devotional just released by my favorite author.  Ann Voskamp and Advent.  Be still my heart.
.  
This year we would slow and breathe and seek Him.  We would make space and read our devotions (almost) every night and I would not give in to that stress that everyone says "just comes with the season".  Looking back I can see I wanted so much to "get it all right"- my version of what it looks like to "prepare Him room".  And my intentions were (mostly) pure.  Truly, at the heart of it all, I don't think it was about performing but really came from a deep desire to welcome Christ into our home and our hearts this season.

Which is why, in His grace, He saw what I really wanted in my heart and blew my carefully laid plans out of the water.



This is what my actual Advent looked like...



I am going to give you a mental picture that perfectly epitomizes our Advent season.


Picture me.  Stressed-out mom trying to run this mothership.  One week into Advent and I am failing real good at this slow and peaceful thing and feeling pretty guilty about it.

Now picture me driving my Zoe-girl home from ballet one evening.  As we pull into the driveway a song comes on the radio and I catch the words and my mind stops going in a thousand different directions. I am reminded of grace and drawn back to Jesus.  So I just slow down and stop in the driveway and turn up the music and listen and forgive myself.  I remember how gracious He is and what this is all really about.  I smile at how God's glory can come into our craziest moments and I let Him come.

Now Zoe is dancing in the yard to the music.  And she is beautiful really, and I remember how blessed I am.  And how can I just keep going and going and forget to be thankful?  Awed.  Her dance just fits the music and it feels a little heavenly and I'm tearing up some.  This is what I wanted my Advent to look like.  

Now if you could just close your eyes here and picture beautiful Zoe dancing free and flowing and rejoicing.  The music fills the air-



Hallelujah, hallelujah 
Heaven's love reaching down to save the world 
Hallelujah, hallelujah 
Son of God, Servant King, 
You're here with us 
You're here with us 



And then it happens.  That perfect Advent scene comes to a screeching halt.  As one of Zoe's graceful leaps goes terribly wrong.  Now she is on the ground crying out and clutching her foot and this is the kind of cry that means something actually happened.

Indeed my Tiny Dancer had landed on her brother's foam sword, which caused her to twist and subsequently break a small bone in her foot.  One week before she was to perform in the Sleeping Beauty ballet she had been rehearsing for the past two months.  Awesome.


I give you this mental image to characterize what our entire Advent looked like.



Now here is an actual visual image of what our Advent looked like.  A hot mess.




That is our Gingerbread House we made this year.  Impressive, eh?


This Advent was hard.  And messy.  Really messy.  

But He came anyway.

I am dancing along all free and joyful and then I fall.  Over and over.  And He comes to me.  Over and over.

And I see it now.  I don't want to miss it.  I was never going to have the "perfect" Advent.  No, He loves me too much for that.

He knew from the beginning we'd miss more of our Advent devotionals than we'd make.  That we'd be a mixed-up, broken-down mess this year.  That I would fail time and again in so many of the ways I was trying to make a quiet, clean, sacred space for Jesus to come in.



But the reality is that this Advent He came to me exactly the way He came into our world two thousand years ago.   It wasn't like God didn't know where Mary and Joseph would be when He sent His Son- Himself- into our world.  In fact, He planned it that way.  It may not have been Mary's "birth plan" but it was His.  The long journey away from home, the messy stable, a feeding trough for a crib, and rags for a layette - these were all a part of the Divine Plan for how God would come quietly into our world.

 There wasn't any space for Jesus when He came then.  No room in the inn.  No quiet, clean, sacred cradle in a warm home to welcome Him in.  

But He came anyway.  And maybe it wasn't quiet and clean but He made it sacred.


He planned that He would come right there into that mess and maybe He still does.  Maybe He came that way- made His grand entrance that way so that we would never doubt He could come into our mess, our broken places.


Down here on earth we build cathedrals and play organ music hoping to find ourselves a space where we can just meet God.  A place where He might come.   If we make it beautiful and reverent, won't He come?
And He does.  He does often come there and it is expected and all we have to do is construct it, right?

Look, I am all for creating sacred spaces to meet with God.  I read all these books with titles like "Sacred Rhythms" and "Sanctuary of the Soul" in the hopes that they will give me insight into practices that will deepen my fellowship with God.  And sometimes I practice these things- like meditation and listening prayer- and He comes and I am thankful.

But a lot of the time, I don't.  And He comes anyway.  And it is unexpected and takes my breath away.  And it's why I love Him so much.

Truth is, He is bursting in on the scene whether we've got it all together or not.

It's not quiet and clean here.  But let me tell you this... It is sacred.  Holy.  And I won't try to clean up my mess before I let Him in.  Because I just might miss Him.

Jesus, you are welcome here.

Right here.



I'd pictured you coming near in those quiet moments as we gathered around the Advent wreath.

Instead you came this Advent season in those quiet moments where I wept and cried out to you with friend betrayed, another heartbroken, a marriage grabbing for some lifeline, a child fighting depression, a loved one thinking it might be better to just end it all.  Because we're all bleeding here.  And you just keep coming into our mess with your redeeming love.

And again, you came last week when I gathered up my son and drove him to the same ER where last year we were told we could've lost him.  And you were there when the traumatic memories came flooding back.  And I felt peace.  Not peace that came from lighted candles but from the Light of the world pushing into my darkness.  This isn't singing-Kumbaya peace.  This is Emmanuel, God-with-us-in-the midst-of all-the broken-and-hard peace.

You were there when I got too busy- again- and put silly temporal things before Eternal You.  And when I repented and felt like an Advent-failure, you reminded me that you came just for the likes of me.



Look- (this is going to come as a shock to those of you who know what a Domestic Goddess I am... ahem)- my Advent isn't going to be on Pinterest or featured in "Perfect Advents for Christian Families".  For the love of Pete, I already showed you our gingerbread house and I just looked up at the star on the top of our tree and it is tilted at almost a 90- degree angle - (which is 45 more degrees than the tree is leaning so maybe it balances it out?).  Scott has had walking pneumonia for a week and several of us have succumbed to the Puke Plague.  We are limping into Christmas here people.  Limping.



My Advent might not have been pretty.  But my heart is ready for Him this Christmas.  There is no doubt in my mind eighteen years after I met my Savior that I still need Him just as much now as I did then.  I wonder if I'd gotten it all "right" and this season had gone as I'd planned, would I love Him less?  If He came in all those "perfect" moments I'd expected Him to, would I be filled with all this awe and wonder... and a deep, humble gratitude?


Emmanuel- God with us.

We weren't ready for Him then and truth be told, we aren't really ready for Him now.  

But He.came.anyway. 

He comes anyway. He comes over and over into our world in a thousand broken but sacred places. 


There is no greater Love.  No greater Gift.  I am Held.  We are Loved.  Christ has come!




9.21.2014

A Letter to My Son... On Being Colorblind

Dear Beniam-

There's something I want you to know.

I am not colorblind.

Some say "Love is blind"- meaning when you love someone you overlook their faults.

Your skin color is not a fault.  It is a gift from the God who made you in His image.  



Your dark brown skin... those long lashes... that amazing smile... and that one little dimple in your cheek.  He thought about each feature and He made only one you.










He made me in His image, too.  Your mama with the skin you call salty-caramel... and a hundred million freckles.



You might wonder how can this be?  We are so different from the outside, you and me.  How can we both be made in His image?  Which one of us really reflects who God is?

And the answer, my son, is both of us.  Or really, all of us.  You and me and your Chinese sisters and your biracial friend and his Puerto Rican father and little Sela in Indonesia.




Hey, Ben, can I tell you something awesome?  


God cannot be contained in a race or a gender and the truth is it takes all of us.  All of us put together portray the truest image of God.  God has chosen to reveal himself through our diversity.  (Diversity is when everyone is different and when you put us all together we make something beautiful.  Breathtaking.)


Just like he makes the sun set every day in a different way- one day bright orange with hues of pink and purple.  And the next covered by clouds with only faint yellow streaks poking through.  Every one is different.  Designed by a creative God to get our attention and whisper to us- "I am here."  Because if they were all the same, we would never stop and look and all of the sudden feel small and free and know we are not alone.  Crazy how a sunset can do all that.






And it's crazy how I feel when I look at all these kids God gave us.  You and your brother and sisters.  When you're playing together and I stop and really look at you... like so many sunsets.  And I feel small and free and know I am not alone.









So you see, Beniam, your mama... she's not colorblind at all.  Doesn't want to be.

I'm just standing here with eyes-wide-open not wanting to miss one second of this breathtaking view God has given me.   I see you.  I. see. you.  

I see you and your beautiful brown skin.



And I love it.




7.28.2014

So Grateful I Get To Be Your Mom

Beniam Ananya,

Six years ago today you became our son.







Ben, you bring so much laughter and joy to our home!  You love to make us all laugh and always surprise us with the funny things you say.  Someday I will write them all in a book and get rich.  You give the best snuggles and kisses... and always keep us on our toes.  I think you were three when you first tried riding the garage door all the way up and letting go.  And four when you pulled the fire alarm in the middle of Pastor Max's Sunday sermon. (It's all good because he worked it in as an illustration.  After everyone evacuated of course.  And at least that time we didn't have to pay for the fire engine coming.  That time.)


"How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?  Indeed you are our glory and joy."  1 Thessalonians 3:9


Today, Beniam, we celebrate six years since you became a part of our family.  And I don't know what else to say.   I am just. so. grateful that I get to be your mom.



(This post from 2011 shares a little more about the day we met Beniam.)

7.23.2014

What We Look Like Now



One day I'm going to change the header on this blog.  It's like three years old and well, a lot has happened in the past three years.  Like that bald baby with the impish smile is about to start Kindergarten.

But honestly, the header is an accurate reflection of how up-to-date I am in general.  So I am presenting an authentic portrayal of what you'd see if you came to our home.  I decorate almost never and the pictures on our walls are incredibly outdated (so is the paint).

And the last time we all got dressed up and took family portraits was... well, never.
Until last month.

Some sweet friends of ours offered to take some pictures and all the kids came and actually smiled.  Not simultaneously but really really close.





Being realistic here, it may be awhile before I change the header (partly because I have no clue how).  So I'll share these for now.  This is what we actually look like now.




Naw, I'm just playin'.  We only looked this cute that one day.  But I'm gonna frame it and call it my life anyway.




I think this looks... serene.

Much better scripted than the slightly more authentic Easter morning picture that I must throw in here because I honestly just cannot handle when everything looks scripted and perfect.  It just ain't real people.  This.  This is real.


If you had any idea how hard it is to get Beniam to be present in a family photo.  The irony of it all is that he has the best smile in the family, in my opinion.  His dentist calls it his "Hollywood smile".  (He also said to start saving now because "Hollywood smile" now means overcrowding and braces later.  Awesome).



One time in my goddaughter's three year old preschool class they asked the children "What do you want to be when you grow up?"  The answers were posted for all the parents to see at the Open House the following week.  Hers said "When I grow up I want to be ... Asian."

When I grow up I want to have Beniam's smile.



** Note- If you like the photos... They were done by some sweet friends who are working to build their skills in photography-- so they can do photos for other families for lower prices than the professionals.  So, if you are in the Gainesville area and want more info on connecting with them, let me know and I will give you their information.  Email me at haleyuf@hotmail.com.

7.18.2014

Eden's Ability

This is my daughter Eden.



She has Down Syndrome, which is usually described as a "disability".  When we began the process to adopt our daughter, there were those who wondered if we would be overwhelmed by her "disability".


The truth is today, four months into parenting our daughter with Down Syndrome, I can honestly say that yes, I am overwhelmed.  I am overwhelmed by her ability.



I sit on the grass at the splash park in the hot summer sun, and I watch her run through the water spraying up from the ground.  Her arms open wide to the sky, her head tilts back and she is taking this one moment and living it full and free.  She lives most of her moments that way.  And I am overwhelmed by her ability to embrace life and taste every moment.







Eden laughs exponentially more than any other person I've ever known.  And I am overwhelmed by her ability to find joy and delight throughout her day in all the little things the rest of us take for granted.

video



She wraps her arms around my neck and pulls me close to her.  We don't have too many words yet, but she looks right into my eyes and doesn't look away.  Plants a sweet kiss right on my lips.  She isn't afraid to love this way.  I am overwhelmed by her ability to love wholeheartedly and without the inhibitions most of us learn to wear over the years.


I am overwhelmed by her ability to go slow when all the world rushes around her.  My favorite writer says that hurry is a "sure mark" of an "amateur".  This girl's a professional.





I am overwhelmed by her ability to bring joy to those who are around her.  We visit friends overnight and I overhear my friend trying to describe Eden to her husband.  She's trying to find the word... "She's just ... just... delightful."  And I smile huge inside... God knew that was the perfect description for this child when he gave us her name.  Eden means "delightful".







I am overwhelmed at her ability to live freely.  She's not encumbered by worry or self-importance.  She isn't climbing any ladders.  It's like somehow she already knows the secrets about life the rest of us don't learn until we're eighty.



I am overwhelmed because when it's all said and done, Eden is able to do and be so many of the things I desire so deeply to embody myself, and yet never seem quite able to do.  Perhaps it is my disability.  I am often too hardened, inhibited, self-important, and cynical.

"At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.'"  Matthew 11:25 

Perhaps I am too wise and learned. 

There is this childlike-ness that Eden will probably always possess.  It is part of her "disability".  And I can only pray that I will have the ability to learn from her.
"And he said: "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven'."    Matthew 18:3


Thank you, Lord, for giving me a child with abilities that have eternal value.  As we journey through this life together, help me to overcome my disabilities as I learn from Eden how to live a life that delights you.