Not Lucky, But Blessed

As we wrap up spring break 2018, I've been thinking a lot about the difference a year can make. One year ago, I was stressed to the max, trying desperately to get some sense of the new normal of our lives with 5 new people taking up a large portion of each day. Most days I collapsed into bed either completely exhausted or feeling like a failure... or sometimes both. I lived for the minutes between their bedtime and mine, and wondered how I was going to make it through the next day. We have a photo of my mom with the kids during spring break 2017 when my dad sent her over to help me after I called in tears. She brought lunch, helped them with a craft, and loved on me as only a mom can. 

As only a mom can... it's something I'm still learning how to be. I want to give our 5 the same sense of peace and calm that my mom still brings to me - even at 36 years of age. The way her hugs make me feel like I am loved, no matter how much I screw up, and that everything is going to be okay. I want to be able to do that for our kids, who started out life on the wrong foot, with everything against them, fighting to stay together and finally moving to a new country with people they had known for just 8 weeks, learning a new language, and trying to find their space in this new life. 

There have been many, many times in the last 18 months that I have not been the mom that they needed. The mom that God wants me to be. But I am a work in progress... always have been, always will be. I know I can do better - with God's help. This week I called my mom again, to see about getting together, but this time I did so because my kids wanted to spend time with their grandmother, and we all enjoy being together as a family. What a difference a year makes. 

Not lucky, but blessed.


Thoughts from My Desk

Spring break week for the work-from-home mom looks something like this...

While the kids take over the house, I am earbuds-in, door closed, and working away in my bedroom home office. One thing I never anticipated when I started freelancing six years ago was the freedom that it would give me to continue to use another section of my brain if we ever had kids. In fact, at the time of taking that leap from traditional employment to self-employed, the Hubs and I were happily kid-free by choice (and had been for 12 years) with absolutely no plans on changing that. Unbeknownst to us - GOD did.

Now here I sit with Mozart cranked in my ears, attempting to focus on the writing job that I need to complete by tomorrow while our five (yes, 5!!) adopted kids are hanging out in the basement movie room (directly below my office - and no insulation) cackling over the antics of Cliff and Claire Huxtable and their 5 television children. My, how life has changed. 

As I was saying, the freedom that comes from knowing that if life gets a little too crazy (or boring or mundane, "do I really need to answer the same question five times, or can you not all listen at the same time?!"), I know that I have a way of escape through the work that I do, with the bonus that this sanity saver is also putting some much needed extra change in our savings.

Because I chose to continue to work from home, I can say "yes" to the kids trying new things: taekwondo, ballet, gymnastics, summer camps. Because I use the skills that God gives me, I can model the idea to my girls that being a wife and mom - willingly or not-so-willingly - doesn't mean that they are limited to one or two roles, if God opens a door for them to use their talents in other ways. Because I set aside a few hours each week to write, edit and consult, I can view the ever-growing grocery receipt without blanching because I know God's already provided for it.

When we were about to leave to go get the kids, I took an indefinite leave of absence from the company that had been my primary bread and butter for freelance work, not knowing if I would have the time or energy to work once we had the kids, nor whether they would still have work to offer me if I did. I'd been home about a month when the woman who took me on the first time contacted me a second time and asked if I'd be willing to come back a few hours a week - as needed - in a revised role. You wouldn't believe how fast I jumped at the chance. I needed the normal. I needed the distraction from the chaos that was my life at the time. I needed to be able to zone out from everything that was making me feel completely incompetent and be able to competently contribute to a project. I needed to be someone besides "mom".

It's not always easy - like the juggling that occurs during spring and summer breaks - but I'm still grateful for the opportunity to play multiple roles - wife, mother, daughter, sister, editor, writer, consultant, co-worker. I didn't think I'd be a mom, let alone a working mom (those were rather taboo in the Christian community when I was growing up), but here I am, and I thank God daily for the way He continues to orchestrate every aspect of my story. 


What's On My Nightstand ("Are 'Classics' Really Must Reads" Edition)

The last few weeks, I've been reading The Secret Garden out loud to our 7th grader for her Language Arts class. I remember starting this book as a kid, and a copy of it has remained on my shelf for all these years because, "it's a classic!" But as I read it through this time with my daughter, I remembered why I lost interest in it early on as a child. The language was over my head, the written Yorkshire accent lost me, and the story just really wasn't that interesting. I was looking for something a little more like "The Little Princess," and definitely less boring.

This time I actually made it through the whole book, and when I closed the back cover I looked at my daughter, she looked at me, and I said, "Well, that was a bit of a let down."

Although you start out the story with the sad tale of Mary and her life in India, about half-way through the book you lose Mary and pick up Colin. Poor Dicken is just along for the ride, bringing his mother into it just two chapters from the end. So called magic that causes plants to grow and boys to walk, "scientific" lectures, a doctor cousin who could have just as easily been left out of the story altogether, a young maid who basically disappears with Mistress Mary, and finally a chapter devoted to the absentee father, a calling back to the garden, and Master Colin comes walking home. The end. What in the world is that??

And this started me thinking: how many books have I kept on my shelves, unread, because they are listed as "classics" when really, if I tried them, I would dislike them as much as I did The Secret Garden now that I've read it all the way through? Just because a book is a classic, written by a famous author, does not mean that it's good. This experience has brought about yet another purge of the shelves, because just like in life, I want to remove the unnecessary, the superfluous, and the bad in order to leave room for the important, the eternal, and the good. So whether we're talking about books or activities, this week I would encourage you to be completely honest with yourself about what you're keeping and why, and then clean out to make room for something better.

What about you
Is there a "classic" book that you just didn't enjoy? 


What's On My Nightstand (False Spring Edition)

Last week it was almost 80-degrees in the mountains of East Tennessee. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed having a posy of daffodils on my desk (freshly cut from our very own yard), and my windows open, and the glorious sunshine... but it's only February, and I have lived here long enough to know that it can't last, so it's all a bit of a tease. That being said, I enjoyed spending some time outside in the sunshine, book in hand, and soaking it all in before the cold returned.

Although I still have my stack of ongoing books, I was sidetracked last week by the "new" book from the author of Kisses From Katie, Katie Davis Majors. Yes, she married. Yes, she now has a biological son in addition to her 13 adopted daughters. Yes, she still lives in Uganda. Yes, she's still inspirational.

Katie's first book was one of the many things that God used to soften us to the calling of adoption that He placed on our hearts in November 2012. It took me about 3 days to read Kisses From Katie in March 2013, and I cried the whole way through it. I even recall pounding my fists on the couch cushions and telling God, "NO. I do NOT want to adopt!" Obviously His plan was different than mine!

Much has changes since Katie wrote her first book and I told God no. While the Hubs and I walked the path of adopting 5 siblings, Katie continued to serve with her family in Uganda. She nursed women through the final stages of AIDS, she loved on babies, she provided wound care, she fell in love, married, and added a son to their overflowing household. And though our storylines are so very different, the same God we serve was busy teaching us a very similar lesson: He is enough.

While she sat on the floor of her Ugandan bathroom and poured out her anguish to God, I stood in the bathroom of our Costa Rican rental condo and cried in anger over what God had asked us to do. While she argued with God over the loss of life and the "no" answer to her fervent prayers, I argued with God over His plan for our lives. Both knowing full well that God was still in control, we still questioned and fought and pushed back when we didn't understand - and in the end we realized that it was all a part of the process of surrendering control because in the end, He was enough.

Katie scribbled post-it notes with why she could give thanks and put them all over the walls of her kitchen. I made mental "thankful for" lists while I was driving school runs each day. She clung to passages in 1 Kings, Isaiah, and Habakkuk, while I held onto Exodus 14:14 and Matthew 14:28-31. In Uganda and in East Tennessee, God was working on His children to surrender - totally - to His will, and to trust Him in everything, the good, the bad, and the unforeseen. He was challenging us, changing us, and reminding us, once again, that He would always be enough, for whatever the day held. 

Katie's new book, Daring to Hope: Finding God's Goodness in the Broken and the Beautiful, was released in October 2017, but I would not have been ready to read it then. With each month that passes, things continue to change, little people continue to grow, and I continue to surrender a little bit more to this call of God on my life. February 2018 was the perfect time to read this book (for me), and I was able to have those C.S. Lewis moments of, "What? You too? I thought I was the only one."

Although I loved Kisses from Katie (because of the perfect timing of it in my life), I appreciated Daring to Hope even more - possibly because of the (once again) perfect timing of it, but more because as Jesus has grown me in the last 17 months, I no longer see her as super-spiritual, but I recognize that even though the details are different, her story could be my own. I can finally see how God works in each one of us in such unique and beautiful ways, leading us towards Him and away from our old broken selfish ways of doing things - whether that's a change in your definition of ministry, or the plans you had for your life. His desire for each of us - no matter how He gets us to that point - is to utterly surrender to Him, and to know that no matter what He calls us to do (rescue orphans, write books, help with homework, make dinner), He will be enough.

What are YOU Reading?


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.”


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