Dominoes Falling

Dominoes fallingFor years the dominoes had been set, one at a time, in swirling circles and patterns around us.  We couldn’t see the hand that spaced the pieces even distances apart, then left them poised and waiting.  Until Labor Day ’16, the tip.  Only it wasn’t a gentle finger tap that sent the first and critical dominoes cascading forward- it was a wrecking ball. A heavy blow to our family, sending splinters of hurt in all directions.  Amid the emotional chaos one of the flying pieces of debris- quietly and completely unseen- was the exact catalyst needed to spark a change. It spiraled out from the mess to provide the tipping of a most unexpected series of events, each one prompted by the previous. I still can’t believe it, even looking back a year later.  It’s a bit incomprehensible that at the very moment we felt most forgotten, the most isolated, the very point at which I screamed out “we can’t do this anymore”, right in the middle of the wreckage wreaking chaos.  RIGHT THERE: the moment of IMPOSSIBLE. That was the exact moment the unveiling of a new path tenderly, carefully, beautifully began.   It is very hard to grasp that beauty from chaos doesn’t just mean that God takes what’s left over from wreckage and turns it into something.  It means He is standing firmly planted, right in the middle of the chaos, using even the destruction itself to prompt beauty rising. How can that be?  But it is.

I don’t know this, and there are lots of semantics some may argue on “God allowed” versus “God did” versus “God redeemed”. But I have this picture in my heart that is so unreasonable to me, I can’t shake it. Maybe He even swung the wrecking ball that day.  Maybe with tears He pulled it back with one hand, while extending His other in a careful cup around us so we wouldn’t get totally blown away.  He didn’t block us from the blow, but he stood ready to let us grasp hold when we went reeling.  He was carefully intentional. Knowing that the fear and pain of that moment was exactly what would set it all in motion.

Miracles are amplified, and His glory most fully recognized, when there is no other way out.  When by all other accounts it is impossible.

“Your road led through the sea.  Your pathway through the mighty waters- a pathway NO ONE KNEW WAS THERE.”  -Psalms 77:19

You know what I think?  I think the parting of the Red Sea wasn’t one bit glamorous to those who had to trust that the walls were going to hold.  I bet it was terrifying.  But they had no other path.  The Israelites were chased by a terrifying enemy, one IMPOSSIBLE to beat.  And in the very moment when they felt most forgotten, the most isolated, the very point at which they might have screamed out “we can’t do this anymore.”  The moment of IMPOSSIBLE… was the exact moment the unveiling of a new path began.

The Israelites had to look complete destruction in the face, terrifyingly chased by the enemy with seemingly no escape for the miracle to be necessary and noteworthy. For God’s full glory and power to be revealed.  The Israelites couldn’t see it at first, but God made a way.  A way no one knew was there.

Many dominos had fallen before we caught on to what was happening.  Months later we could see pieces that had long before been poised and ready and we noticed they were falling.  When we moved a bit of the rubble that had blocked our view, one day we saw it.  And gasped.  Two months after that terrible Labor Day, on my birthday in October, papers were signed.  And 2.5 months after that we stood before a judge promising forever to our 3 bonus ones.  For nearly 6 years we had prayed for redemption and rescue for those three.  And suddenly there was a path.  A most unexpected path.  An impossible path.

You know what I’m thankful for? I’m thankful that the Bible tells us the Israelites had wandering years even after that up-close view of His unexpected provision.  Because don’t we all?  There are tiny splinters stuck in my fingers from life’s flying shrapnel. And sometimes I get so obsessed with those reminders of the past destruction that I forget to remember the beauty that rose up.  I lose faith that the same God that provided an unexpected path will indeed provide bread and water.  I cry out for MORE.

But He is kind and good and faithful. He’s given me a gift this Labor Day of looking back at the last one with an amazing picture of His powerful presence right in the middle of our storm. I can see him cradling us there and I can see that He carried us both before and after.  I know He stood in the middle of our pain creating a path.

Only 365 days later, three kids who didn’t last year, were yelling “Mommy, watch me ride!” and “Daddy, lets go!” as they joined in with family and friends in Labor Day traditions.  When we recounted the weekend of fun over dinner on Monday night, all three stared at me in disbelief when I reminded them they’d only been part of those traditions once before.  It was as if, in their hearts, they’d always been there. It was as if they were finally home.  How did we get here?  God made a way.  And how will we get to tomorrow?  He will make a way.

ABL

 

I wrote this post on Monday night, Labor day.  But I didn’t post it.  partly because ANOTHER mellow dramatic post about our adoption.  really. and partly because we are still struggling through faith, family, life, marriage, relationships.  I don’t want to risk ever being misread on that- we haven’t “arrived”.  BUT THEN.  This morning we listened to a Sermon on this very topic:  The provision of God, the faith that it builds, the impossible paths He asks us to take, and the lies that threaten our ability to completely grasp hold.  As we sang the final song, I was flooded with pictures of families I know waiting on an impossible thing, for their marriages, their kids, their health, their family members.  Kingdom changing, impossible paths, yet to be revealed.  and I was reminded: THE SAME GOD.  The very same one.  In His name, NOTHING shall be impossible.  This is a truth that needs to be shared.  If the daily struggles of my life threaten my witness of His power in our story then what is it for?  I won’t stop sharing and hope you’ll join me.  Tell someone.  

Unstoppable God

Visiting friends this summer. 10 kids with “Unstoppable God” stories.

 

Unstoppable God
Let Your glory go on and on
Impossible things
In Your name they shall be done

Nothing shall be impossible
Your kingdom reigns unstoppable
We’ll shout Your praise forevermore
Jesus our God unstoppable

Unstoppable God lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Essential Music Publishing

Learning to Race

IMG_2406In the courthouse hallway, waiting for “our turn” we were surrounded by many of those who love us best.  There were grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends who are like family.  But I felt this need to pull the seven of them close.  To distract them in a little “just us” circle.  If I could only occupy their minds, their hearts couldn’t wander too deep into what was really happening.  Looking back, maybe I was just guarding me.  But there was something that told me that my mom-skill to occupy had never been more needed.  So we played a few rounds of our favorite crazy-when-you-can’t-be-crazy game: “hand tag.” And waited, on the brink of forever.  

I haven’t really written much about life after adoption.  I think today, for the first time, I realized why.  For six months we’ve been living a lot like that day…  Trying to do normal while what swirls in the air around us is anything but. We’ve felt surrounded, in all the best ways, but the space inside our little family circle didn’t seem like the worlds’ to know or see.  One doesn’t really post pictures of snuggling a 7-year-old like a baby because he is learning to be loved that way.  A person can’t really describe online what it’s like to “fact check” with an 8-year-old girl about the lies she is flooded with related to her identity.   How can you write about creative strategies still being learned, but much needed.  Like how to help a 9 year-old surrender some of his self-care into parent-care.  While I hope someday soon we can share more, it hasn’t yet been time to tell the world the toll much of this has taken on our marriage, the fight of our lives that’s been required.  Because all of this had to happen in our little circle, while normal swirled around us.  We needed to hunker down and slowly learn to run this race together.  And sometimes, frankly, that’s been pretty exhausting.  It’s different than lonely because we were so well surrounded.  But still, isolating.

You see, I underestimated the power of standing before a judge.  His definitive words of forever catapulted us into a space we had not been before.  It’s a little hard to explain how that is possible when not a single thing about the physical components of our life changed.  In fact many times people comment “you’d already been living together. So it probably wasn’t much change.” And if you’d asked me on January 12th. I would have agreed.  But then the catapult. When we landed from the excitement of celebration, and dusted our britches a bit, we found ourselves in a whole new world.  Turns out it is something quite different indeed to begin “forever” than it is to live in “for a while”.  There are tough realizations that must take their course,

 “no. It won’t ever change. Yes. We will always be your parents. Always.” 

And sometimes those are just words a kid doesn’t want to hear.  Or believe.

And sometimes a kid must wrestle with that truth while going on about a life where not a single person they interact with can truly understand how occupied their heart truly is.  My loves got adopted on Friday and went back to school on Tuesday- to friends playing “family” on the playground, to teacher expectations for attentiveness.  They did not always thrive there.  Their’s is a quiet struggle making it hard to know how to give space for their grief until it comes bursting forth in behavior, or words or simply tears.  And so there has been tension.  Is this about adoption? Or not at all? What is going on in their heads? What are reasonable expectations? How do we advocate for what we cannot comprehend? How can we simply love when so much of us wants to correct and fix? Most days of this 6 months could be summarized as “This is SO FREAKING HARD.” And then again tomorrow.

But not all of the path we’ve landed on is grief and hard. There is also immense joy.  Because with being able to grieve what was lost long before there also came relief. An exhale of our collective breath holding.  Maybe a bit like organs of a body after receiving a transplant, there is gradually new rhythm.  New breath.  The air is becoming clearer.  Deeper and deeper we can take in life and JOY as we release grief and heal.  

As a runner there is nothing that can replace the training.  To breathe deeper during a race you have to exercise your lungs before the race to increase capacity to endure.  That’s what these six months have been.  Daily exercises.  And sometimes those exercises have been a wreck.  A bloody mess of a wreck.  But sometimes, often actually, we go a little bit farther than we did the day before.  Sometimes it is a natural rhythm instead of a forced one.  

My son turned to me as we hiked this week and said “Mommy, sometimes it feels like I’ve just always been a Lewis.”  He leaned in closer.  I grinned.  And hugged him.  And then tried to contain myself at the miracle of his words- OUT LOUD verbalization that he is becoming part of us.  “Me too buddy.  Me too.”

These are the moments when their little minds seem to be occupying all on their own with the goodness of life instead of having to be reminded who they are.

Their training is becoming life. And breath.  Deep and strong. And every day of these 6 months, even the sometimes grueling training, this beginning, has been worth it.  For the first time in a very long time, I feel like we are reaching the top of a hill with a great view of the possibilities. and a bit of wonder.

What is next?

ABL

Peace. Perfect Peace.

Even though I couldn’t remember many of the lyrics, this morning I woke up humming the hymn “Peace, perfect peace“.  It was a gift.  An adoption day gift.

Peace, perfect peace, in this dark world of sin?
The blood of Jesus whispers peace within.

Peace as we walked through January 13, 2017.  A day for the history books of our family.  A day of new beginnings, a day of promises fulfilled, a day of hope blooming.  One we will never forget.

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Peace, perfect peace, by thronging duties pressed?
To do the will of Jesus, this is rest.

Peace as we got up early, painted fingernails, gel-ed hair, dressed our best.  Piled in our big brown van and headed downtown.

Peace, perfect peace, with sorrows surging round?
On Jesus’ bosom naught but calm is found.

Peace as we sat at a table and reviewed the simple documents, just black ink on a few pieces of white paper.  Simple documents with power to terminate a family.  And BEGIN a new one.IMG_6940

Peace, perfect peace, with loved ones far away?
In Jesus’ keeping we are safe, and they.

Peace as we held up our hands and promised to tell the truth.  And peace she asked us:

Do you understand that …by appearing before the judge you are asking him to grant you all the rights duties and responsibilities just as if they were born to you? 

Do you promise to love them forever,

take care of them forever,

and be their father and mother forever?

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Peace, perfect peace, our future all unknown?
Jesus we know, and he is on the throne.

Peace to answer:

Absolutely.


Peace, perfect peace, death shadowing us and ours?
Jesus has vanquished death and all its powers.

Peace as we were surrounded by many who have walked with us.  And peace as we enjoyed celebrating with our families.

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It is enough: earth’s struggles soon shall cease,
and Jesus call us to heaven’s perfect peace.  

Peace.  Not the kind that can be orchestrated or summoned.  Only the kind that can come from One who whispers calmness into a storm, who commands the very stars of the universe to hang in place.


Peace, perfect peace.

Today our family changed forever.  But, if you had stopped by our house it would have looked a lot like any other school holiday.  I forced my kids to play a couple of board games with their parents.  They resisted and then loved it.  Our girls found a happy place in their room, brushing their dolls’ hair.  It was 40 degrees outside and my football loving boys went out to play, groaning because I had the nerve to tell them to put on more than shorts and a t-shirt.  The littles were full of mischief and mess-making and loved every second of it.  There were piles of laundry, some mail to go through, and there was rest-time for all.  We ate pizza on the living room floor, watched a movie in our PJs and I snuggled on the couch with my Momma.  In many ways, our new beginning today looked a lot like yesterday.  A lot like any other family day.

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Really, I suppose, that was the miracle of today.

The very miracle was that everyone was at peace.  At home.

Because sometimes the redemption of broken looks a lot like kids who were not born to you shouting “Mommy, come check this out!”

Sometimes the most unbelievable thing is a kid running off to play with his brothers, hours after they officially were.

The sight of sisters giggling and brothers hiding to read with flashlights is not always as mundane as it might seem.

At the end of today I find myself believing that sometimes Angels sing over normal.

Because there is beauty in peaceful family days,

Where there wasn’t family before.IMG_0442

Peace, perfect peace.

ABL

Another Gift

          The day I was hiking alone,

the day the papers were signed,

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That day we received another gift

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A gift of the Lord’s timing

 

kids-edit-weband a gift of a man using his talents to bless others.

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The beautiful photos came with an apologyfam-at-door-edit-web

something like

“I’m sorry it has taken me so long to get these to you”

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To which we laughed.

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Because it couldn’t have been more perfect.

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Beautiful pictures to use when telling the story of our family,

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On the very day we knew it would be forever.

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Our God gives good gifts.

ABL

 

When I was claiming the promise of family for our three bonus kiddos this fall, part of it was having family pictures made.  We’ve had pictures made of the 9 of us before, but this was a bit more vulnerable.  These were FAMILY pictures.  So, even though we have amazing photographers in our family, we decided to use someone we didn’t know well for these pictures.  We used Chad Brackeen photography because of several connections (go Wildcats), but mostly because he has 2 boys plus a bonus son.  My gut said this would make him great with our crew.  And we were so right!  He called me the night before and gently reminded me that he was sure my kids were very well behaved so there was no reason to prove it during pictures, we could just have fun.  And we did (well, as much as a typeA accountant mom can).  He let the kids participate, ask questions, touch equipment.  While the results totally speak for themselves, it really is the picture taking experience that would lead me to highly recommend him for family photographs. If you are clamoring for more (hi to our parents), here is a link to the preview video Chad made of all the proofs.

“AND” not “INSTEAD”

One of the sweetest ways we have been guided is through the stories the Lord has woven with ours.  We have had a different level of conversation with all of our kids because of the examples that have been set for us by those journeying a few steps ahead on this redemption road.

This school year one of our daughters has a little girl in her class whose adoption was finalized a few weeks ago.  We do not even know the family well, but their story has become part of ours.  At the beginning of the school year, our kiddos who knew that sweet girl came how asking, “did you know friend has a new name?”

From there, conversations about changing names evolved in the sweetest way.  We’ve talked about adoption, new beginnings, name changes, God changing peoples names, how parents choose and give names, and about what names mean.  These are conversations I could have never set-up, was honestly afraid of, didn’t even THINK to pray for. Amazingly, all of this started well before we even knew for sure that adoption would be our path.

RRL and I talked only very briefly a year ago about names.  But had decided if adoption ever happened we wouldn’t change anything except their last names, because of their ages and our family situation.  However, one of our bonus loves was adamant from the beginning of these conversations.  He wanted to change his name.  The idea of a new beginning resonated with him.  He was desperate for something that reflected his whole story.  More than anything he wanted a “C or K” to match his brothers.  BROTHERS.

Slowly, slowly, slowly we all came to the same conclusion.  Though it seemed a bit crazy.  It also made perfect sense.  Our bonus 3 would receive names that included something from their first parents, and something from their newest parents.  One piece at birth and one piece at adoption.  Both pieces so significant to their story.   Birth AND adoption.

Our oldest bonus son has always gone by his middle name and will keep that name given to him at birth.  AND will add a new first name.  He’ll be named after a faith warrior in the Bible.  Someone who “saw hard things and believed God anyway”.  Maybe even more. Around DRRF he will be Cal.

Our bonus daughter will keep the part of her name that was given to her at birth in honor of her grandmother. AND will add a middle name for my grandmother.  Together her names mean “Shining Joy” because she is one indeed.  On this website she will be Joy.

Our youngest bonus treasure says “I already changed my name this summer”.  In a super special way at camp he was given a new nickname and he clings to it mightily.  As he should.  So, he will keep his first name with that very special nickname AND will add a middle name from my grandfather, my mom’s maiden name which happens to be a “K” name.  His new middle name that means proud and brave.  Here he will be Benji.

Our new Christmas stockings.  Hung with SO much care.

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I already treasure these names and pray they will, too.  Their names are not just words.  The ANDS in their names are so important.  Because while adoption comes with a lot of new beginnings, it does not erase what was before.

Our three bonus loves have blood and DNA and life and memories and joy from the birth parents who love them.  There is zero percent of us that will ever ask them to forget that. Adoption IS NOT INSTEAD of birth.  They were born.  Born to a home other than this one.  Named a name.  And forever that is part of who they are.

AND they are beginning anew.  They have parents in this home who adore them, who have cradled them and loved them and are committing to continue to raise them.  Forever.  6 years ago they began to gather memories and joy from us.  Adoption is an AND to birth.  I hear my voice and see my mannerisms in them at times in ways that spook me- it shouldn’t be possible.  Yet it is.  Part of us is now part of them.  They are welcomed into this home as our children.  Named a name. And forever that is part of who they are.

There is freedom for me in recognizing that “before” us is part of us.  3 of our children did not come to our home as newborns.  And there are differences because of that.  When I started preparing 3 new canvases to hang where there had been only 4, I quit over and over because looking at their newborn pictures was H-A-R-D.  And then one day I decided.  I want pictures of when they began with us.  Now 4 have canvases from one  month after they were born.  And 3 have canvases from one month after they joined our story.  Their pictures are the intersection of their ANDs.

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There are so many ways the Lord is teaching me through adoption, but maybe none more than this.  We are AND not INSTEAD to Him.  We are sinners, we are broken, we need H-E-L-P.  AND Jesus.  We will stumble through this earth, trying to do the best we can with the opportunities He give us.  But he doesn’t take our feeble efforts and come up with an instead plan.  He takes those efforts and gathers them, blows grace all over them AND makes beautiful things.  We were given names at birth AND we will be called a new creation when all of this is redeemed to perfection.

We were born. AND we are adopted.  Praise the Lord.

ABL

My Birthday Journey

Alternatively titled, “The Time I Didn’t Die”

Thank you so much for the ways you have responded to my last post.  We have the best people.  As we begin our new chapter and especially as we enter this week of purposeful Thanksgiving, I really want to try to share some stories from the ways the Lord has provided for us.  Because so many of our prayers were answered long before we knew to pray them.  And so many of the blessings have been more about bringing our hearts along on the journey.  Here is just one of those testimonies.

For my birthday this year, I only asked for one thing: Time to hike alone.  As things tend to go, we got busy and just didn’t set it up.  Until on Monday before my bday when RRL said “please, just go do it”.  So, I booked a room via AirBnB only 45 minutes from my house, but far enough away to feel I was escaping.

That was Monday.  On Tuesday we found out that this would be the weekend relinquishment papers would be signed.  It was the sweetest gift that I already had these plans.

As I did some last minute research on Friday night, I found this article which promised me the best hikes in Dallas.

The 6 Best Hikes in Dallas

So perfect!  Who knew we had all of these amazing spots?  So I headed out to find the beautiful scene pictured at the top of the article and a day of adventure.  I got what I asked for.  Plus some.

This is my hiking journal.  Before you go to any of the places mentioned in the article, you might want to read this.  And then ask me if I think you should go alone. 

9:20 AM I arrive in Dallas and follow directions to Piedmont Ridge. Wind up in the middle of a neighborhood. No trails. 

9:40 AM after more in the car research, I arrive at Gateway Park. There is an unmarked trail behind the tennis courts. Take it for a while. It leads nowhere except to more piles of empty beer cans.

10 AM back in my car. Pretty sure everyone who saw me get out of my car with my backpack on 20 minutes ago, looking like I didn’t belong here, is now laughing. A bit more research and I think the trail is across the street.

10:10 I find a trailhead. Not THE trailhead, but according to the articles I’ve found, I’m pretty sure they are connected somehow.  Regardless, I’m ready to start hiking and head out.

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10:14 AM walk from a trail in the woods straight out onto a golf course. Oops must’ve missed the turn. Head back toward where I came out of the woods and see a little orange/red tie in the trees. Maybe it’s marking the trail?9_20-am-i-arrive-in-dallas-and-follow-directions-to-piedmont-ridge-2

10:21 a cool bench is a good sign I’m on an actual traveled trail.

And an actual trail sign along the way helps

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The leaves  on the floor make it impossible to know where the trail is.  I’m increasingly thankful for these ties which I can now tell are definitely trail markers and also signs indicating different branches of the trail.  Praying for whoever took time to leave them. Find myself thinking about ways people who have gone on other “trails” ahead of me guided me from their experience.  Even though I’m alone I’m not lonely.  I’m also thinking about how hard it is when the path I’m on doesn’t seem to have been traveled before. That is lonely.

10:45 um this is concerning.

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10:47 So. Seconds after I convince myself that a slashed open stuffed spider isn’t scary…  I met the person who hung him there.  Same person who marked the trails.  One of the top scariest seconds of my life when I heard a voice call “so good to see someone using my trail”.  I’m not sure why I didn’t run.  

Instead, I met Jeff. Jeff and I walked and talked.  He explained about making a Halloween adventure for his 16-year-old and friends last night (Thus the stuffed spider hanging dead from the tree, the large man he was carrying under his arm and the scary mask on his pack).

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He got me on track, pointed the way to the “scyene overlook”, and emailed me a hand drawn map of “hiss” trails.

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Dear Jeff, I’m sorry I lied. Maybe it wasn’t a lie completely. You asked if I was familiar with the area. I did Google the area this morning so technically I was a little familiar. But I was also terribly lost. In my defense, please recall that you were carrying a large stuffed body and I was hiking alone.

Sincerely- ABL, the hiker you helped/terrified

Found the open field leading to Scyene overlook

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11:40 AM I have finally found the elusive Piedmont Ridge Trail, my original destination, nearly 3 hours later. Number 4 on the list actually IS in Grover Keeton Park, just like the article claimed, but at the very front of the park where you’d miss it if you didn’t have a trusty Jeff map.  Which I now do!

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And I found the bench with a veiw.  The deep slant of the bench meant it wasn’t quite the comfortable spot I hoped based on the article description. 9_20-am-i-arrive-in-dallas-and-follow-directions-to-piedmont-ridge-8

But the view was peaceful.  And I was alone.  Exactly how I hoped to spend the day. So, I sat for a while on the famous bench. thinking. 

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12:15 I’ve decided to not heed Jeff’s warning about overgrown trails and try to get to the last 2 overlooks.  I’m especially thankful for his markers now bc he was right- this trail is very overgrown.

I see a promising path.  No red marks but looks like it might be a path to a view. It was not and I slid through rocks and thorns coming back to the marked path. 

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A few minutes later I found the extraordinary view of Dallas.  This is why I hike.  This feeling of being alone, removed from the busyness that I know lies below that skyline.

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Unfortunately, as i relished that view, I also lost the trail. irrecoverably this time. 

I have my phone and using the map I know which direction I need to head.  I think I’ll just walk that way.

So.  Now I’ve spent the last hour pushing through, stepping over and crawling under thorny brush. I discovered that a briar patch is a for real thing that a person can actually get stuck in. 

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I lost my favorite sunglasses trying to crawl out.  Got plenty of “adventure badges” on my legs to prove my error. 

9_20-am-i-arrive-in-dallas-and-follow-directions-to-piedmont-ridge-12I just got back on the trail and definitely kissed the first red marker I see.  I look at the picture and can see the dirt in my hair, face and neck from crawling through the woods.

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1:50 PM finally made it back to Barton Road. And for the first time in hours I’m thinking about something other than the step (or crawl) in front of me.  I’m thinking about her and what she’s having to push through emotionally to get to Denton today to sign.  I choke back tears as I praise the Lord for giving me something hard to do during these hours.  What if I had been anywhere else?

5 miles and much time later, I finally make it back to the Trailhead.  

Dear Piedmont Ridge, me and you are breaking up. It’s not you. It’s definitely me.  Adios.

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2:20 after sitting at the car for a while, I am heading toward cedar ridge preserve.

3:05 Drove through Dallas, arrive at cedar ridge preserve. Upside I can already tell it is much better marked and from the trailhead map I can tell there is lots of mileage to explore.  Downside- lots of people agree with me. Parking lot is packed, trailhead is crowded.

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3:20 after talking to photographer “Enrique” in the parking lot, changing shoes, going potty— I’m off.. just as I get started at a good pace, I get the message “she signed”.  I don’t stop to even acknowledge it right away.  Too many people.  Up and down rocky hills I hike.

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Then I find a bench alone.  I call RRL and text our tribe who has been praying.  Not sure I can fully digest it.  This day, this moment, I will never forget.

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I have really enjoyed the last couple of hours at cedar ridge. 

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Not so thrilled about this, though…

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Pollination habitat. Walking the other way now.

If I squint maybe these two hills by the pond would look like the maroon bells over maroon lake.

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I laugh thinking about our uphill biking adventure and the view we never saw.  I’m so thankful, as today marks another epic adventure beginning, for traveling with him.

5:40 pm dinner.  Some bdays call for special restaurants. Some for sitting in a park bench alone.  I asked for an adventure alone today before I knew what today would hold.  I needed to be alone today.   I needed to do something hard.  I needed to exercise my body and rest my spirit.

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After dinner I walk slowly back to my car.  But there is still one section of trails in the preserve I hadn’t hit. My gut told me if I ran it I’d get a good sunset.  So I unloaded as much weight from my backpack as I could and took off down the trail again. My gut, which I believe was divinely prompted, did not disappoint.  About halfway down there was a bird watching stand.

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As I climb to the top, I call out loud to the Lord “THANK YOU”.  In the moment I am thanking him for this tiny slice of provision- a perch facing west over the lake.  But also most certainly for His goodness.  The ways he laces even the hardest things with sweetness of love and tender mercy.  The things he has created on this earth to remind us of his ultimate redemption story.  The promise of days that will end and new beginnings that will rise.  

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From my perch alone above the trees, i watched the sun set on a most unforgettable birthday.

I Read Psalm 118

You are my God, and I will give you thanks; you are my God and I will exalt you.  Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.

And finally, for the first time today, I cry. All the tears.  By an act of God I am completely alone, with a clear view of his provision, when those tears come.  This is no small thing.

7:00 pm I smell terrible, my legs look like I’ve been whipped and I’m sooooo tired.  But I’m also hungry.  Even though I claimed tuna was my dinner, I think I will going to buy myself one Sushi roll on the way to my overnight stop. 

Sunday 8:30 am so- last night I tried my first airbnb.  Success! good night sleep, wake up just sore enough to smile and want a little more of the aloneness of the trails. So i’ve packed up and I’m headed out again.

9:20 am- Arrive at Cedar mountain preserve. This is a pick of my own- not included in the article.

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Short paved path and then an open field along the highway. I am not in the mood for another trailhead hunt this morning.

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Just as I think I don’t have it in me, I see a white arrow. Hopefully this is not the beginning of another crazy adventure.

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Path marked clearly with white arrows. Makes me think of white blazes and the AT.  Maybe another birthday.  Someday.

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Here I am completely alone. The sun is peeking through and animals singing. And it is good to be alone for a little while before going back.  It feels like true worship to just walk. And be.

I set up the timer and take a picture of myself on a fallen tree. I realize I look tired. I feel tired.

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As I come across another view of the busyness I’m removed from, I also realized I haven’t really been thinking.  Anything.  Just walking. Mission accomplished. 

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I’ve got to be home by 12:30. I have time for one more stop. And it sounds lovely. 

10:46am  Drive onto a dead end. There is another empty trailmap holder ahead.  Great.  But in the spirit of adventure, I push on. 

At the end of the bridge a clear path heads left and goes along the ridge, but not into the woods. I walk a way and them decide it’s not correct and head back.  Another lesser trail is obvious to me walking back this direction, but it isn’t marked at all.  Ah well. I’m here.  SO I might as well give it a whirl.

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I never even made it off of the paved trail and onto the natural path because the paved part was so overgrown and had fallen trees across much of it.

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At least I found the “amazing” Trinity River overlook just in time to watch a train pass.  So, there’s that. Yeah, beautiful, huh?  But quiet at least.

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Doesn’t quite make up for the fact that I ran most of the way through the Jurassic Park-like area because I was so uncomfortable.  I even texted RRL at one point just to make sure he knew where I was…just in case.

11:15am  I’m already back at my car and disappointed.  The Buckeye Trail, number 3 on the list, was the most disappointing stop because I could tell it was once great, but not maintained.  And I didn’t feel like I could even really make it to the areas the article talked about.

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So.  There you have it.  That’s 4 of the best of Dallas.  Dear Dallas, you sure tried hard.  
I mentally drafted a little note to the editor.  Something simple and to the point:
Dear D Magazine:  Please update this article and/or take it down.  I didn’t die.  But could have.
Sincerely,
Hiker led astray
 
 But I didn’t send it.  Because honestly, this article lead me so far astray that I was exactly where I needed to be.  I found a slice of the metroplex in which I could be alone, cover a lot of hiking ground (about 13 miles altogether), and do something hard.  I could never have planned this.  It was my own little piece of the redemption puzzle, a sweetness personalized for me during these days of transition.
I drove home renewed.  Ready.  Thankful.
Exactly why I went.
ABL

A Redemption Story

DRRF family-

I wish you could all sit in our living room while I tell this story.  Because if you sat across from me I could lean in close and ensure that you heard me emphasize His Goodness.  His Mercy.  And our Joy in that.  I’d know you looked into my eyes and saw them implore you to treat this part of our story delicately.

It requires tender hands because of what we believe.  We believe in God the Father.  We believe in His power to put broken pieces together in canvases that we could not have dreamed.  But we also believe there are pieces with jagged edges that are sharp.  Pieces that won’t be fully refined until Glory.  Because this is a redemption story.  You see, in order for something to be redeemed it must be rising from something broken.  The broken pieces are important because as they demonstrate what He has redeemed, they magnify His glory.  But the broken pieces also create tender spots.

Because I know you’ll honor and respect that tenderness, here we go…

In September something happened that broke me.  Nearly at least.  Something happened that crushed the children I love and I couldn’t stop it.  Not only could I not stop it, I felt like God could have and should have.  But didn’t.  I actually said the words to RRL, “I don’t know if I can keep believing.”  And I entered a couple of days of darkness.  I’m not over-dramatizing when I say that I felt like I stood on a cliff with a choice.  I could keep walking along the narrow ridge of hope or I could jump into the darkness and try to find something else.  At that cross-roads, the Lord pursued me.  He reminded me during those two days of all of my “remember whens,” the other times when His goodness overcame my lack of understanding.  The times when He had prepared me for just this moment.  So I chose.  I decided to choose “by faith” that our family would be 9 and that adoption would be part of their redemption story.  It was not the first day “adoption” was on the table.  But it was the first day I fully embraced it as a possibility.

That day I ordered a picture of my 7 favorites to hang in our dining room where there had been a picture of 4. I ordered canvases of my bonus 3 loves to hang with the baby pictures of my biological 4.  I contacted a photographer friend and asked to schedule family photos ASAP.  And we started shopping for a van.

We were going to be 9.  In heart if not legally.  And there was going to be healing.

Since we are friends, I have to tell you something.  These steps of obedience were one part brave, one part faithful, and a whole lotta of parts “I have no idea what else to do.”  I was too weak to pray more than a groaning.  I was too weak to have decided this alone.  We were carried.  In part by the prayers of many of you.  Thank you.

And then.  THEN.  Two weeks ago, not long after we were given the van and exactly 9 months after we began our Wide Right, the day came.  The FOUR parents to our bonus three kiddos- TWO by body, TWO by heart- all officially, legally, agreed.  We all took a beautiful, hard, brave, scary, glorious, faithful, step forward together in the best interest of the mutually loved 3 children.  A step toward their forever home.

And so it is with great joy that RRL and I announce

our family will soon be forever 9.

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This does not hold even the tiniest resemblance to what we dreamed 5 years ago when three little ones stumbled into our home for the first time.  But our God has been so good and tender and patient with us as we came to this pivotal moment.  He has grown a desire in our hearts that reaches beyond the kind of love we are humanly capable.  He has given us peace.  He has honored our cries for help and He has not left us.  There is still so much about the “why” that we do not like nor may ever understand.  But I can tell you with absolute certainty, we would not be the same if we had not been given the honor and privilege of being parents to our SEVEN.

BUT please don’t stop there.  There is something I need you to know to depths of your core.  Our bonus 3 have biological parents who love them.  And those two, they are the bravest kind of brave.  None of the other choices before or after matter as much as choosing this.  And I want you all to know, this is hard.  The hardest kind of hard.  Sure, it is hard for the 6 of us who said “yes”.  But it is million trillion times harder for the 5 who will never stand together in quite the same way again.  This step they have taken is a sacred and selfless one.  So from all of us, and all of you that have journeyed with us, there is only one appropriate response.  One that honors and respects, forgives, appreciates and loves.  And most of all, one that prays.  Will you pray with us that the power of redemption will be felt through our family within the walls of our home, AND also by those who will always be part of us but do not live here.  Because it will be a hard path from broken to beautiful.  Please don’t ever remember us without remembering them.  They will always be part of this story, part of us.

One more time, lean in close. Hear me and do everything you can to cradle this truth in your heart:  You can not take one part of our story without the other.  Don’t you dare ignore the hard part.  You can’t fully praise Him with us for what He has done, if you won’t acknowledge the broken pieces He is gathering and redeeming.  And don’t you dare forget the evidences of His promises fulfilled.  You could never fully grieve with us over what is lost if you won’t acknowledge that His miracles are still very real.  If you can’t see how good He is to take every single ounce of that same brokenness and redeem it beyond belief.

Do you want to know what gave way to this miraculous turn of events?  It was that very same day that nearly crushed me.  For all 11 of us, that day ended up being pivotal in our hearts.  It became a day for recognizing something we’ve all seen but not fully known- our bonus 3 are home.  The hardest of days was one He used to bring us to a place of obedience, a place where He could work.

If you don’t hear anything else, please know…

In adoption there is grief.  But He is good.  So there is also Joy.  Adoption is a place where Grief and Joy swirl together in an impossible way.  A way only He could design.  In adoption there is a miraculous new beginning from the most unlikely of places.  In adoption there is a redemption story.  Ours is just beginning.

We love you,

ABL

For the TL9

The Wide Right

It started with a red box.

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A shiny red gift box that was left on our porch this summer.  There was no way the giver could have know the crushing reality of that day.  It had been the day that our deepest fears about the circumstances were confirmed.  It was the day we knew we really needed to make the turn we’d already begun.  And then the box.

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You need to know.  We didn’t want it to be this way.  It isn’t what we prayed for.  The miracle wasn’t supposed to look like this.  For 5 years we marched faithfully toward what we believed would be the Lord bringing the impossible to reality.  We prayed and prayed for redemption of a family.  We believed we would see kids return to their parents.

 

Then the whispers. “Turn.  Come this way.”

BUT LORD.  That’s not the way.  I know you can split this sea.  I know you can move this mountain.  I know you can restore this family.  I know you can conquer and heal and overcome.  WE NEED TO GO STRAIGHT THROUGH.

 

“Not this time.  This time we are going to turn.”

BUT LORD.  YOU CAN DO THIS!  Why won’t you do this?  We can’t give up now.  So       much effort.  So much time.  So much heart.  All laying here.  Right here.  THIS WAY.  PLEASE LET IT BE THIS WAY.”

 

“Turning is not quitting.  I’ll go every step with you.  Redemption is this way.”

And so, in February, with a deep collective sigh, we started a slow wide right turn.  We packed up nine fragile hearts and started traveling toward a new definition of redemption.  The hardest part was the unknown.  Were we really turning the way we should?  What would it look like?  There was such low visibility about what was ahead that we felt we were walking blindly.  With 7 kiddos in tow.

 

And then, a few months later, the red box.

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The note inside said we should use the money (the LOTS of money) however we wanted- for needs or frivolous fun.  So for a minute we dreamed a bit about Disney World or other crazy spontaneity.  But really we knew.  We knew exactly what the money was for and we knew why it had come that day. So we stored it away.  It wasn’t quite time, but it propelled us to keep turning.  It affirmed that although we couldn’t see ahead, we were turning the right way.

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No one knew, but months and months ago, at the beginning of our turn, Ricky actually said, “A van.  When transportation shows up so that we can all ride together.  That’s how we’ll know that this is what we are supposed to do.”  Because for months we’d been doing the temporary- driving two cars while we cared for 7 kids “for a while”.  But a bigger van- a van with seats for everyone- in that van we’d know that we were forever 9.

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Because the Lord is gracious with our tender hearts, He didn’t just drop a van in our driveway the next day.  Instead there were gifts, building the van fund a little at a time.  I think he knew that a turn like this would take some time.  We needed the van to get put together in pieces, like a crumb trail guiding us along the turn. With each piece of the gift, a piece of our hearts turned, too.  As money was provided, provision was proclaimed.  The partnership was affirming that we may be turning into unknown but we aren’t turning alone.  All of it was affirming that even though we SUCK at this sometimes, screwing up royally many days….redemption does indeed lie ahead.

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Isn’t it just pretty fitting that the physical picture of our WIDE RIGHT is a giant vehicle that does just that….makes wide turns.  In the last week, right up until the day we picked up our new ride, another group of more than 20 families got together to finish up the van fund.  It was a group of some of our nearest and dearest and please don’t ask me to talk about it in person because UGLY CRY.  The luxury and lavishness of such a gift is not lost on us.  We know this isn’t something we HAD to have and we are incredibly humbled.  But we are also so very grateful, astounded and most of all AFFIRMED.

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Thank you for your generosity.  Thank you for being a huge part of our story.  Thank you for making this turn a little bit easier (and a whole lot fancier).  Thanks to you, the nine of us are riding together!  And there is joy…

ABL

My war on meth (an open letter)

For an entire month I’ve been praying with some dear friends that we would have the eyes of Caleb and Joshua (Numbers 13-14). Eyes that don’t exaggerate the giants, but instead see and claim and shout out His amazing and abundant provision.   One answer to that prayer is a call to spend a lot more energy documenting my family victories, our adventures, the abundant provision, the glorious ways God is building beautiful from crap.  So that’s how I’m going to fight this sucker.  Because I’m fed up. I’m over letting hard be in charge.  

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But first.  Some business. I’m done with not calling out the real source of pain. And there is one opponent that needs to be addressed, who needs to be told….”Momma is here to fight.”



Dear meth-

You cannot have us.

You don’t know my name. And I wish I’d never heard yours.

I have never seen you. But I know you.

You may only be a substance. But to me you have a face.

I don’t know where you came from. But I know about places you’ve traveled.

You weren’t invited. But you’ve been in my home.

I’ve never touched you. But you’ve woven your far-reaching fingers into my life.

I love one who has danced with you. But you don’t care that she is beautiful, passionate, and creative.

The ones trapped by you are beautiful. But you are disgusting.

 

I hate you. With every fiber of my being, I hate you. But I will make you some promises.

I promise I’ll never find TV shows or movies about you entertaining. And I promise I will never use you or the impact you have on people as punchlines of jokes.

I promise to fight against your impact on my family. And I promise that my weapons will be Truth. Love. Forgiveness.

I promise to keep pointing light to those you pound into darkness.

No matter how hard this gets, I promise to not give up. To not quit hoping. To be there when they walk away from you.

I promise to keep loving those you leave as orphans and widows and grieving parents.

I promise to keep believing in the source of the power that will defeat you. My God.

You break all your promises. But I will keep mine.  

 

Let me make myself very clear. You may have taken moments of our lives, you may have destroyed holidays, you may have caused great pain, grief and confusion. You may have trapped people we love and made them do things that don’t make sense. But you cannot have us. You will not make us hate each other. You will not be allowed to make us bitter. You absolutely will not instill in us a spirit of fear.

Even when we struggle, stumble and falter, you will not be powerful enough to take our Joy. Our Love. Our Peace. Our Patience. Our Kindness. Our Goodness. Our Faithfulness. Our Gentleness. Or even our Self-Control. Because those are fruits. Fruits of the Holy Spirit, living in us, and they cannot be touched by you. Because you are the hands of satan. And he has already been defeated. I know the ONE who will redeem every ounce of what you’ve destroyed. He will take what you’ve left for ruin and make it beautiful. And Glorious. It has already begun. I am seeing it happen.

That is the part I will tell everyone who will listen.  That is how I will fight you. You cannot have us.

ABL

 

Tito is four…but almost five

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IMG_5483Starting the very day after you turned four you began to say “but I’m almost 5”.  And now if anyone asks your age you’ll say “I’m four…but I’m about to be 5.”  And in many ways, though the calendar may not prove it, we know it to be true. You are sure doing everything in your little power to run towards any milestones you can find.  And you appear to have a single goal: to try to get a little closer in age and achievement to all of your older siblings.

You love to use big words.  Some of my favorites are “definitely” inserted into all sentences for emphasis; and when you say “generously” when reciting James 1:5.IMG_5480

Also, during our 31-mile challenge in March, you decided you were too big for the stroller.  Reluctantly I let you out to run along.  And you totally did.  For short increments at first and then eventually for the entire mile.  Impressive, dude!

IMG_5485I knew you were very aware of all that has happened in our home when you came running excitedly out of your class one day to tell me “I GOT TO CHANGE MY COLOR”.  You were so proud that you’d moved your clip down to yellow because you thought that was such a big kid thing to do.  We had to have a little talk about what moving your color really means and about how being respectful in the classroom is the better kind of big kid thing to choose. IMG_5488

You love to day dream and make plans for when you are “a Daddy” with your best-buddy and cousinbrother, B.    You two crack me up when you talk about what life will be like when you grow up.  Your occupation changes- usually either police-officer or construction worker or occasionally a monster truck driver.  But one things stays the same: you’ll always “bring your mom (wife) and kids HOME to visit me a lot of times.”

IMG_5504And there I find my prayer for you this year.  As you continue to grow and chase after the next-big(kid)-thing, may you know deep within you where your home is.  May you know and believe that amidst the chaos of being the youngest of 7, you have a very important place in our family and a role to play of your very own on our team.  And all the more, may you long for HOME that is to come.  May you already have a stirring for knowing the One who created you, a desire to know more about His will and His word, and a longing to teach others and compel them towards HOME, too.  And may those truths help you become a bit more of what you were designed to be, each day as you grow a whole lot closer to “almost five” and then 25 and then 95.

We love you so much and can’t imagine how boring our lives would be without our Tito!

Momma

 

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