Snuggles, Tantrums, and Perspective

One day this past weekend I came downstairs this afternoon after snuggling my two babies to sleep, and my heart was full.

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As I was lying between them, I’d told myself, “This is what you were made to do.” 

This return home has not been without its hard times. Our original 3 are all working through the adjustment to having another child join the family, and we’ve seen some jealousy, some big feelings, some good (and not so good) conversations, and some world class tantrums. Jet lag is so intense. Matt and I are working through how to do marriage as parents of four and how to support each other in the midst of this new reality. I still have the last little bits of unpacking to tackle. This past week and a half has been immeasurably intense.

And in the midst of that, I’ve been so thankful for the encouragement of friends. A sweet friend of mine from Chicago, whom I don’t see nearly as often as I’d like but who is still such a blessing in my life, texted me the other day and said, “The gifts God gave you are an unusual mix – smarts, common sense, discipline…exactly what you need to do what he’s called you to at this time.” Those words of life-giving perspective were just what I needed in the midst of that afternoon.

I need to remember that parenting is good work. It’s work that God has called me to, it’s work for which He has and is equipping me, and it’s of the utmost importance. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that. Parenting isn’t generally grandiose. But the hearts and souls of these little people whom God has entrusted to my care are so precious, and the ways in which I interact with them matter. It’s easier to be peaceful and joyful in those interactions when I have a precious toddler sleeping on either side of me; harder when one of those toddlers is going on minute 25 of an intense tantrum. But whether a sweet moment or a challenging one, I am trying to remind myself that the time I’m spending investing in these little ones is important, and it’s the main work God has given me for this time in my life, and He is with me in every minute of it.

I actually thought I’d be less emotionally intense about the entire adoption process and the adjustments when we came home, having been through it all before, but that has not been the case. I was emotional while in China, and I’m emotional now.

That applies to the good and the bad. We got to go to church on Sunday morning and worship God as a family. Even up until the night before, we weren’t sure we’d attempt it. FangFang exhibited some pretty strong “mommy shopping” tendencies in China, but that has diminished some since we have come home, so we thought it might work for all of us to go and just to keep her close, and I think it went pretty well!

We sang the song, “Rejoice” by Dustin Kensrue, and as I sang the lyrics, I couldn’t help but reflect on our adoption journey:

All our sickness, all our sorrows
Jesus carried up the hill
He has walked this path before us
He is walking with us still

Turning tragedy to triumph
Turning agony to praise
There is blessing in the battle
So take heart and stand amazed

Rejoice, when you cry to Him He hears
Your voice, He will wipe away your tears
Rejoice, in the midst of suffering
He will help you sing

Rejoice, come and lift your hands and
Raise your voice, He is worthy of our praise
Rejoice, sing of mercies of your King
And with trembling rejoice

It’s such a blessing to be home with all four of our babies, and I know that God’s hand was in this whole process. I think of the health obstacles, the emotional obstacles, the financial obstacles, and everything else we had to work through to get to FangFang and bring her home, and I think of how it all came together with what in so many ways is perfect timing, and I know we couldn’t have done it all on our own. In the midst of the good and the bad, in the midst of sleeping babies and intense tantrums, in the midst of enjoying reconnecting with Matt and not really enjoying nights full of interruptions to our sleep, I’ll rejoice, thanking God for this work He’s given to me to do and thanking Him for bringing us to this place.

We Made It to Hong Kong! Plus Some Plane Ride Reflections

We made it to Hong Kong! Our flight landed on time around 6:00 a.m. local time this morning (Friday), and we had a full day of adjusting to local time and sightseeing thereafter.

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It was awesome – but I have been awake since something like 3:00 this morning and got only about 5 hours of (frequently interrupted, not very good) sleep, and that was after a week or so of limited sleep as the preparations for our travel intensified. It’s now a little after 9:00 pm Hong Kong time, and I am exhausted. Everyone else is already asleep. Tomorrow I’ll try to write more about our travels and day one in Hong Kong, but for tonight, I’m going to try to get some sleep! However, I will leave you with these reflections that I wrote on our flight –

I’m writing this post from somewhere over northern Asia, about 10 hours into our flight from Newark to Hong Kong. Anyone who has asked me recently how they could pray for us in our travels knows that I’ve been nervous about the flights – I’ve flown many times before, and I know the probabilities of anything going wrong are extremely small, but still, I’ve been nervous. I’m feeling calmer now that we have one flight down and are over halfway through our second.

I’ve been trying to remind myself of the truths that I know – looking at Psalm 103 and its truths about who God is, remembering that God tells us in Psalm 46 that He is our refuge and strength, and reciting Deuteronomy 31:6 – one of the first verses I ever memorized – to myself – “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” A good friend also texted me while Madeleine CaiQun and I were having dinner in the St. Louis airport and told me that she’d been meditating on Psalm 40 and David recounting how God had delivered him in the past, so he could trust Him to do it again.

I really appreciated that and spent some time reading and praying through Psalm 40 on our first flight. It was particularly poignant to me, because on Tuesday night, less than 24 hours before we were to leave to begin our journey to China, I connected with a woman who played a huge part in FangFang’s story, a woman and a part I hadn’t known existed. There is another adoption agency working in China that has a partnership relationship with FangFang’s orphanage. As such, they send medical teams there to evaluate the children’s needs and gather more information about them for prospective adoptive families, and they provide assistance in caring for the children and in preparing their files so that they are eligible for international adoption. This agency sent a team to FangFang’s orphanage in January, and this woman was part of that team. While she was there, she saw FangFang, and she talked with the orphanage about it perhaps being a good idea to transfer her to the foster home at which she has been residing for the last 9 months. The transformation in FangFang’s development and in her demeanor since moving from the orphanage to the foster home is nothing short of amazing, and this woman was part of bringing that about. And what’s more, all of this was happening just as we were seeing a blog post advocating for FangFang and praying about pursuing adopting her and praying that, regardless, she would have a family and that she would receive the best care possible for her while she remained in China. It was around that very same time that God was putting into motion all that would need to happen for FangFang to move to what I believe is the best foster home in the country for caring for children with osteogenesis imperfecta and, we believe, calling us to be her family.

I don’t believe any of this is accidental. I think God was answering our prayers 11 months ago, and I interpret the timing of this connection I made the other night as a reassurance from God that He is at work in FangFang’s story. He hears and has been answering prayers for her for months now. That doesn’t mean He’s a genie and that her life will be perfect and anything I request on her (or my) behalf is going to happen. How could it? In that case, she would never have endured the staggering loss of her first family. But it does mean that He is involved in her story, and because I can see the fingerprints of His faithfulness in her past, I can trust that He is going to continue to be faithful in His care for her in the future. My hope is that that means safe travels around and home from China! But regardless, I am honored to be a part of His work in this precious child’s life.

on identity and hope

I’ve been thoughtful, these last few weeks about my identity and about the source of any hope that I have. Honestly, these recent days have been discouraging. Matt and I started winter break talking about everything we’d like to accomplish during these weeks in which he had no teaching obligations and I had no extra baby-watching obligations. At the top of the list for me were getting Atticus’s room more organized, cleaning out my closet, working some extra hours, finishing up thank you notes that I’d meant to write over the summer but never finished for people who helped us after Atticus was born (you know, a mere 13 months ago) , and maybe even reading some fun books or writing some blog posts.

And with about a week of winter break left, I’ve accomplished exactly zero of those things. Matt threw out his back the weekend after Christmas and was in excruciating pain for days afterwards. Just as he was beginning to be able to move around a bit, we were struck with the great plague of 2016 – Miranda woke up at 4:00 am on New Year’s Day with a stomach bug, which ran its course through all 5 of us before departing to the homes of some of our friends (sorry). Due, in part, to those unanticipated events, we’ve been far less productive than we’d hoped during these Christmas vacation weeks.

As a naturally task-oriented person, it’s so easy for me to fall into frustration and discouragement in this situation. I want to catch up on all of these items that perpetually occupy my “to do” list. And while I love my husband and children to no end…

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who could resist these cuties?

…I also like to feel like I exist as my own person, distinct from them and from my serving of them.

I’ve been wondering, lately, how do other moms stay themselves? Particularly other homeschooling moms, who are with their children 24/7 – what do they do? How do they take time away from their families as a blessing, enjoying it but equally enjoying their reentry into family time, taking care of the dishes that have piled up in the sink and the crumbs that have covered the floors during their few hours away, without complaint? What do they do that is their own, not about their husbands and children, and how do they do it while still caring for their husbands and children?

As I’ve contemplated these ideas, I’ve become convinced of a few things –

  1. My life doesn’t begin the instant I move outside of serving my family but exists in serving and loving my family. I can (and do!) find joy in building a train track on the living room floor, curling up on the couch and reading together, tickling my baby, and hanging out with Matt at the end of the day. That those moments constitute a large majority of my time is a blessing and fulfills the calling I believe God has on my life.
  2. In many cases, I can choose the lens through which I see my life and circumstances. I can accept with gratitude and thanksgiving whatever God sends my way, or I can spend my time wishing for something else and becoming increasingly discouraged.
  3. My sense of self and ultimate hope cannot be based in my checking tasks off my list, in meeting budget goals for the month, or any other earthly accomplishment. When Peter exhorts us to be prepared to give an answer to “anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you,” (1 Peter 3:15), he’s referring to nothing less than our trust in Christ. If I am binding my sense of self and hope to anything else, I am setting myself up for disappointment. Only if I center my life around God and being and doing what He has called me to can I live a life filled with true hope and joy.

Lord, please help me to live a life of gratitude, even if my hours are filled more with cleaning up vomit than with accomplishing tasks on my to do list!

thankfulness 2015

This year I’ve been particularly reflective about the blessing of family. This time last year we were eagerly awaiting the arrival of our third baby, little Atticus Garrett, for whom my labor started the morning after Thanksgiving.

This past year has brought much growth in all of us. My girls became big sisters to a baby brother, and they have been challenged to love him well but also to grow in their own independence. They’ve also continued to develop in their own right, growing closer and closer to being the women they’re going to be. Matt and I have been so encouraged by the ways in which they’ve grown this year, and we’re enjoying them more and more as people.

And that Atticus boy – I’m trying to soak him in. There are his adorable curls and the way he smiles and reaches for me when I walk into a room. There’s the way he curls into my chest and reaches his hand inside my shirt when he’s wanting to nurse. There’s the way he tucks his head into me and scrunches his eyes shut when he’s ready to go to sleep. There’s his increasingly steady gait as he practices walking longer and longer distances. There are his excited squeals and gesticulations every time he sees an animal, whether cat or dog or even fish. There’s the amusing way he seeks a way to climb on anything and everything, whether stove, staircase, or couch. I want to take every part of this fun time and sear it into my memory for revisiting in the future when my little guy has moved beyond this stage.

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And of course there is my relationship with Matt, my partner in parenting and beyond. With the girls at Awana every Wednesday night, we’ve been able to get out for some regular date nights this semester, which we’ve very much enjoyed. This year we’ve been studying parenting, experiencing the writings of Madeleine L’Engle, and trying to dream big about future possibilities for art, writing, learning, building, ministry, and travel.

I feel myself, now a mom of three, being stretched and growing into more and more the mother I’d like to be. I’m more comfortable in this role of constant out-pouring of love, energy, and grace. I have the perspective of five-and-a-half years in this parenting role to know that the interrupted sleep and the need for constant supervision of my baby-almost-toddler will come to an end. I’m realizing that focusing on the difficulties of certain stages is less helpful than enjoying their positives and strategizing about parenting well in the midst of them. I’m content in not being able to do all that much ministry outside of our family (though it is a blessing to be able to do what I can with some lay counseling and children’s ministry and hosting our missional community group and a few other things), realizing that this is a season, and there will be other seasons that look different. For now, I can focus on loving my kiddos well, reading that extra book, taking those minutes to snuggle, listening to that made-up joke, rubbing that back, rocking that baby.

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And this year at Thanksgiving we are immersed in the added blessing of being with my family – my always-serving mother and game-playing father and my awesome brothers and Danny’s fiancee, Sharon. I see now what I didn’t as a child, that the friendships I had then were important, but it would be with my brothers that I would have my most enduring and meaningful relationships. I’m grateful that even as we live spread across the country from one another, we’re able to maintain relationships and support, encourage, and enjoy each other.

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And of course I am grateful to the God who is the author of it all. I find myself yearning to know and understand Him more and more. As Atticus cries for me and only me at night, I wonder what it would feel like to know that He and only He has what I need, to cry out for Him and refuse to settle for anything less. I pray for that.

Two-And-A-Half Months with Our Little Guy!

Our little guy is now over 2 months old!

Atticus is an incredibly happy baby.

054And he continues to be everyone’s favorite little snuggle bug.

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He’s definitely growing well. At his two-month appointment with his pediatrician, he was in the 88th percentile for length and 73rd percentile for weight. He seems so big to me that I was actually surprised those numbers weren’t higher!

He’s also getting stronger all the time. He enjoys tummy time more now that he can hold his head up a lot better – and of course the girls are always eager to come hang out with him on his blanket.

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He truly enjoys his sisters. He’s a social little guy, so he doesn’t like being put down and left alone, but I often set him up in his bouncy seat and ask one of the girls to sit and talk to him while I get dinner going or switch the laundry or something of that nature. I’ll return to find them cooing and smiling at each other happily 🙂

He gets a ton of language exposure. I was actually worried that he wouldn’t pick up words as quickly as Miranda did, since I wouldn’t be able to give him as much direct one-on-one time, but now that I’ve seen what his life actually looks like, I realize how silly that concern was! Matt and I both still talk to him quite a bit, but the girls are also speaking to him constantly. On top of that, we read to the girls a lot, both for school and for fun, and he’s around for much of that and just soaks it in along with them.

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And – in response to the #1 question for parents of babies his age – he is sleeping very well 🙂 He gives us good, long stretches of sleep at night, usually just waking to nurse 2-3 times each night. His naps are more variable, which is not ideal (from my perspective), but it’s very typical for a baby his age, and it’s not a real problem.

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All in all, I think things are going pretty well. We’re not back to our normal patterns from our life before his arrival, but we never will be. It feels like we’ve established at least the outline of what our new normal (for now) is, though. We’re able to do school, run errands, and take care of most of the everyday tasks of cooking and cleaning. And for the most part, Matt and I are both able to do the work we need to do and have quality time together. We’ve even been able to start spending a little bit of time with friends and having people over for dinner again.

There are hard things about this stage of life, though. I often feel like everything continues to run smoothly as long as I am working toward that end constantly – using any spare minutes to get a few more dishes into the dishwasher or start a load of laundry. There’s more to do, and everything just takes longer these days. I never know when I’m going to have a free 20 minutes to accomplish (or even start!) any task that needs to be done, and the unpredictability of it is hard for me. I’d so like to be back to my pre-pregnancy weight and be able to wear something from my closet other than yoga pants. It can be hard to connect with friends when we have 3 young kiddos. And I don’t feel like I get true breaks – since Atticus won’t take a bottle, the instant I finish feeding him, the clock starts ticking down toward the next time he’ll need me.

But the thing about adding a child to our family for the third time is that I know this time is fleeting. This stage won’t last forever – or even very long at all. Soon enough Atticus will begin eating solid food and no longer need me to be his sole source of sustenance – and then I’ll blink, and he’ll be done nursing entirely. His naps will become more regular – and then someday he’ll give them up completely. I think that this time around, I still feel the pressure of the challenges, but I can work with them. I set him up in the bouncy seat and talk to him while I do the dishes, and I grab a book to read while he sleeps in my arms. And I know that these particular challenges will pass, but in the meantime, there’s a heck of a lot of joy available.

I get to see my girls growing in their roles as helpers and nurturers. I get to see the pure joy of Atticus’s smiles and coos and laughter – and I get to be the one at whom he so often directs those beautiful gestures. I get to love and snuggle and read books and answer questions and teach facts and encourage kindness and pray for growth. I get to grow myself, learning more about patience and gentleness and kindness as I feel myself stretched.

These are good things. We’re thankful for them and thankful for the little guy whose arrival ushered us into this new stage of life.

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