It's Not About Who YOU Are, But WHO You Know

My cousin (first, twice removed) died this morning. He lived a long and productive life, honoring God in all that he did, always taking the opportunity to share his faith and follow the calling God placed on him when he was a young man. A hard worker, a faithful husband, a loving father, a loyal family member. No matter how busy he was nor how important he became, he never forgot those who supported and encouraged him in the early days.

My cousin was Billy Graham.

My great grandfather and Billy's dad were brothers. When my great grandfather took his cotton gin and moved to Oklahoma, Billy's dad stayed in the mountains of North Carolina. Despite the distance, my grandfather and Billy (first cousins) remained close, and long after my grandfather passed away, Billy continued to welcome my grandmother to his crusades and sent flowers when she graduated to Heaven. 

Growing up Graham, I was used to getting the question of whether or not I was related to the famous evangelist, but as the years went on and the country changed and Billy slowly aged out of the spotlight, the question came less and less often. There is no doubt that Billy was a man mightily used of God throughout the world. His integrity was of the highest standard, his faithfulness to follow the calling of God something that each of us should look to as an example, and his humbleness something to emulate. And yet...Billy was just an ordinary man who allowed himself to be used by an extraordinary God. 

I remember my mother (a Graham by marriage) telling people that Billy put his pants on, one leg at a time, just like everyone else. He didn't live on a pedestal, nor did he desire to do so. When he was a young evangelist, he used to come out to the family farm in Oklahoma where his uncle, my great grandfather, would encourage him to persevere in his calling. Billy had good days and bad days, just as we all do. He knew discouragement, but he also knew Who to seek out when those times came.

In 1990, the Graham family decided to hold a big family reunion in North Carolina. Cousins poured in from Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Georgia. Word on the street was that Billy and Ruth would be in attendance, and sure enough, there they were. I love the photo of my grandmother speaking with Billy (above), but what I treasure more is the family photo we took shortly thereafter.

Of course it's fun to have a memento of meeting Billy, but as I was looking at this photo again this morning - after the news that Billy passed away - I was struck by something remarkable. What an amazing heritage I have been blessed with, and it has nothing to do with Rev. Graham. Standing with her arm around my shoulder is my grandmother, who loved Jesus right up until her sojourn on this earth ended 9 years ago. Next to her is my father who almost died 12 years ago, but whom God has graciously left with us for an extended period of time. Behind my father (top of the head) is the second "Billy Graham", my Uncle Bill, a godly man who was a pastor and then a business man, a loving husband, father, and grandfather, and who was waiting in Heaven to welcome his cousin Billy this morning. Just to the left of Billy is Uncle Tom, another Graham pastor who served God until the moment that he heard "Well done, good and faithful servant" two years ago. What a heritage! Men and women who loved the Lord, just as their parents had. 

You see, what struck me this morning was how Billy was just one of any number of Grahams (and Smiths and Joneses and...) who have spent their lives ministering, serving, teaching, and admonishing. It's not about being a Graham (though I am profoundly grateful to be surrounded by such an incredible group of people, and am blessed to call them family), it's about being a part of the family of God. 

God calls His children to love and serve Him, wherever they are. We may have a worldwide stage or we may be called to remain quietly at home, serving and instructing our families for Christ. Wherever He places us, may we be faithful, no matter what our surname. 

“Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.”


Be Anxious for Nothing (A Clarification)

Okay, so look... I wrote a blog post (the first of several - still to come) last week about my experience with anxiety and panic attacks. There's a key word there - did you catch it? MY. This is important, so keep reading.

I was going to write part two today, but I feel that before I move any farther into the story, I need to get this out there - clearly.

I am not attempting to speak for anyone else, nor am I saying that my way of dealing with it (which was the way that GOD directed ME) is the best or only way of dealing with these kinds of issues. I am not saying you shouldn't go to see a counselor. I am not saying you don't go see your doctor. I am not saying you are a bad Christian if you do either of those things.
God sees each of His kids as individuals, and I would ask that as you follow along with this story, you do the same. 
The tendency to view others through our own experiences, whether that be our experience in school, in marriage, in parenthood, as a woman, as a Christian, in our careers, and so on, is common. But it's important to realize that your experience is yours alone.

My experience will not be the same as yours, and even though the end results might be very similar, God will work on each of us differently based on our relationship with Him, our personalities, and what we need to work on in our individual lives. Praise the Lord for His unique love for each of us and His grace to walk through the valley and come out on the other side.

What I AM saying is that this is MY story. This is how God worked on ME. And all I'm attempting to do right now is share it (in bits and pieces - leaving out some details, also important to keep in mind) in the hopes that someone might be encouraged by it. If you're dealing with panic and anxiety - you are not alone, you are not losing your mind, and there is Hope!


What's On My (Kid's) Nightstand

When we first met our kids, we discovered the sad truth that they had never been read to. When I asked a caregiver about this, his comment was that it was basically impossible to keep their attention for any longer than 5 minutes or so, and that when he had tried to read to them (not just our kids, but all the children who lived in that home), it was a disaster. Solution: plop them in front of the TV.

Now, here's the deal...while we do not have cable TV in our house (and our one television is almost 20 years old and sits, unplugged, in the basement), we are not above stealing some breathing space by popping in a movie (from our carefully curated collection - safe for little eyes) and sending the kids downstairs to kill a couple of hours in our movie room (complete with projector and pull-down big screen). So I get that, and I'm not knocking it as a valid way to spend time on occasion. However, as you might have guessed by now, we are BIG proponents of reading around here.

When the caregiver essentially told me that these kids couldn't handle being read to, this English major/bookworm/INTJ took it as a challenge. In the early days at home, it was tough going. For one, they didn't know any English, and my attempts to read to them from the few Spanish books I had, were often met with laughter (for good reason). But I persisted, quickly moving to English-language books, reading them nightly, even when they had no idea what I was saying. The break-through book came in the form of (who else?) Dr. Seuss's ABC.

When we met the kids, the three youngest (at the time ages 4, 5, and 6) did not know the alphabet at all (in either Spanish or English), so this book truly was not only a way to get them used to being read to, but a tool to help them learn the alphabet. Our oldest daughter (at the time of her adoption, age 12) took this book and used it to learn some of her first English words (you can still see her pencil marks over the words she knew). 

We moved on from the basics and the kids were soon hooked on one of my favorite childhood stories, Tikki Tikki Tembo, by Arlene Mosel. If you are not familiar with this book, I highly recommend looking it up and adding a copy to your shelves. My kids love - as I did as a child - saying the great long name, and pointing out that the two boys did not obey their mother when she told them not to play at the well. This book was one of the first that actually helped our kids grasp the idea of consequences - so once again, fun with a purpose! 

We met our 5 kids a little over 16 months ago, brought them home a little over 14 months ago, and have been reading to them nightly for the last 12 months or so. I am happy to report that our home library is well used these days, and nightly reading time is something that - at times - all 7 of us are involved with, sitting around, listening to the stories being read. Current favorites continue to include Dr. Seuss, but this time in the form of much longer books - I Can Lick 30 Tigers Today (and Other Stories), Scrambled Eggs Super!, and The Sneeches and Other Stories.

Sometimes I look around at all of us snuggled up with our pile of books, and I wish that caregiver who poo-pooed our kids ever being able to sit still for reading time could see them now. I wish he could be a fly on the wall when our middle gal pulls books off the shelf and says, "Mom, I think I'm going to read now" (when she couldn't read more than her name 5 months ago!), or when our 9 year old brings out The Young Readers Bible and proceeds to read 23 stories in a row to me as I knit on the couch. I wish he could hear our son, who has some learning and speech challenges, finish his emerging reader homework, turn his face up to me and say, "MOM! I'm READING!" Or when our pre-schooler comes - with book in hand - and says, "Mom, listen to me read this."

They may not grow up to have a book addiction like I do, but if I can at least get them to have a respect for books, and an understanding that reading makes you grow, it helps you to learn, and it's a valid way to pass the time of day... I'll be a happy Bookworm

Do you have a favorite children's book?


Be Anxious For Nothing (Part 1)

Confident. Independent. Happy. Secure. For the first 32 years of my life, I was all of those things. Then in the middle of the year of 2014 - and half-way through our 4 year adoption process - God began to break me. 

Instead of feeling confident, I was in a constant state of anxiety. Instead of being independent, I felt like I was falling apart. Instead of being happy, I was continually on the verge of tears for no known reason. Instead of feeling secure, I was overwhelmed by fear. When I started waking up in the middle of the night in an utter state of panic, gasping for breath while I sobbed uncontrollably and barely able to get out the words, "GOD...HELP ME!" I knew something had to change.

What in the world happened? What was going on? And most importantly - how could I fix it?

In early December 2014, a few days after my 33rd birthday, I finally went to the doctor to make sure that I wasn't dying (as my brain told me that I was), and after being informed that some of the symptoms I had shared were actually related to my gallbladder (which was removed the next month), she looked at me and said, "You're having panic attacks." No, not me. I don't do that. Panic attacks only happen in the minds of people who don't trust God, and I obviously trust God totally because I'm following Him on this crazy journey of adopting a bunch of kids, right? Not quite. As it turns out, I had fallen much farther away from God than I realized, and the next few months would turn into some of the hardest - and BEST - journeys back to Him that I have ever experienced.

As I took in what my physician was saying, I heard her offer to write me a prescription for an anti-anxiety medication and refer me to counseling. That was when my INTJ brain snapped into place (and one of the many times that I have been grateful for the personality that God gave me) as I glanced at the Hubs and then replied, "No, thank you. I just need to spend a whole lot more time with Jesus." I could see the skepticism on her face, but she accepted my response and assured me that if I changed my mind, she would be happy to provide one or both of her previous offers.

When we left the office, I felt a sense of relief in knowing that - physically - there was something I could do (have my gallbladder removed) that would help, but that I also had an answer for what was going on in my brain. As an INTJ, all I needed was an answer in order to become highly focused on finding a solution to fix it, and that's exactly what I set about doing for the next four months as God broke me apart, repaired the fractured bits, and helped me discover all that I had been missing in my relationship with Him.

Over the next few weeks, I'd like to share that process with you in the hopes that it may be an encouragement to anyone who may have dealt with similar issues, or may be going through a difficult time right now. This is my story - the one God wrote for me and took me through - and it will be different than yours, so I ask for grace as I share it with you over time.

Of Note: If you are in counseling or taking medicine to help you get through this time, please don't tune out now because you think I'm going to judge people for that. I'm not - I simply want to share my story, and how God allowed me to go through this valley so that I could learn to totally rest in Him. Let me be CLEAR: God uses any number of things to lead us back to Him - so I am definitely NOT saying you should try to be a lone reed here. Please hold your comments on this aspect until I have had time to share the whole story. Thank you for respecting this.


What's On My (Daughter's) Nightstand

Over the last few months, I've found myself reading (and re-reading) a number of books because my oldest daughter needs to read AND comprehend them for her 7th grade language arts class. Since English is her second language (and she only started learning it a little over a year ago), she struggles to grasp a lot of the meanings of words in a book like The Hound of the Baskervilles.

In most cases I read them out loud to her, and then spend the next few minutes trying to simplify and define words/sentences so that she can understand what's going on in the story. I have never been so thankful for my English degree, nor so challenged to clarify words that I take for granted. Throw in another culture and era (like Sherlock Holmes' London), and you can begin to see why it took us over a month to get through a short story like the Baskervilles.

In addition to Sherlock Holmes, we've also read The Giver (another challenging book to explain to her - more the concepts than the vocabulary - fortunately, I'd read it before and enjoyed it), and most recently the young readers version of I Am Malala.

This was actually a book that had been on my radar for a while (at least, the adult version of the book), but I had never gotten around to picking up a copy. Turns out, all I needed to do was go adopt a 13 year old and go through 7th grade literature class with her! Once again, it was challenging to explain the background of this book - our kids were pretty sheltered in their home country and didn't know anything, really, about the rest of the world. From telling her what happened on 9/11 to explaining the Taliban and clarifying what war was (no joke), this book was as much a history lesson for her as it was about the vocabulary.

As for the story of Malala - I was, perhaps, more sucked in than my daughter. Malala was an incredibly brave young woman, but I also appreciated how she never tried to make herself more than she was. She shared the normal sibling rivalries that she had with her two brothers, the complicated friendships that she had with her fellow female students, her love of certain tween television shows, and her worries about staying first in her class.

Throughout the book I kept reminding myself that this was a real person and not a story, because what she was able (and willing) to do at such a young age is truly remarkable. Standing up to the Taliban, even though she knew she could be killed, continuing to go to school, even in the face of known danger, and becoming a voice for young girls and women in the Middle East are just a few of her many accomplishments. I also appreciated her openness about the difficulties she faced as she and her family started their lives over in the United Kingdom, her realizations of the difference in education standards, and her drive to do more for girls all over the world who have limited educational opportunities.

As a side note, while Malala was - and is - an incredible young woman, the person who interested me the most in her story ended up being her father. An educator who believed that schools should be open to both males and females, he was a revolutionary in his own country. Pushing the cultural boundaries, encouraging his daughter to stand up for what she believed in, and fighting against the powerful Taliban leaders - Ziauddin Yousafzai is a unique man in his own right.

And that's what's been on my daughter's nightstand... how about you?


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