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.

coming-soon

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

 

The #31milechallenge

On March 1st we ready-set-goed our way into the #31milechallenge.

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IMG_4599It turned out to be one of my simplest hare-brained-ideas yet.  Little research, little planning.  Just running.  We could do it anywhere, anytime and we could all participate.  One mile each day, for one month.  We ran mostly around our neighborhood, but also in parks and to
the donut shop (train ’em right) and even in the dark with headlamps while we were camping.

There were three reasons we started the #31milechallenge at our house.

31milechallenge31) The kids are dying to play organized sports. A team, ANY TEAM. But our spring schedule just wasn’t havin it. We needed a flexible and free sport.  So, I sold the idea of this “really tough challenge” I’d “heard about” by claiming I thought they MIGHT be up to, if they were willing to try.  And with that challenge bait… I had them.  HOOK.LINE.SINKER.

2) We needed to finish something. Together. We have some big goals and dreams for our team of 9. But some of them are completely out of our reach right now. This one…running one mile a day for an entire month… was a challenge. But attainable. It took teamwork, dedication, some creativity at times, but we could do it. And we needed to know we could. So we did.  Even a certain nearly 6 year-old ran most of the miles and the 3 year-old conquered a few himself.

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You know what? This was maybe my very favorite thing I’ve done with the kids. But each individual day of it was not entirely um…delightful. There was some whining, some “but I cants”, some dragging everyone else down…all of which happen to be my hot buttons. There was a day when I literally put my hand on someones back to keep them moving forward.  That someone did not like the idea.  Stopped dead cold in his/her tracks.  And we both have the scrapes and bruises to let you know how that went for us.  We just kept going, even on those days. And because we kept going there were a lot more days of making up songs while we ran, setting new records, telling jokes, making up 31milechallenge5random encouraging phrases and inventing crazy team names. That’s why it became such a picture of real life and doing hard things.

 

3) We ran to train. For life (like choosing positive narratives, encouraging others and making your mind strong), but also for the 7th annual Teen Lifeline 5K.  Our 31 days of running and training ends tomorrow and Saturday we’ll run in the annual event which helps support an organization that teaches teenagers to live life better.

About a week ago our two littlest team members helped me see why this part of our #31milechallenge is so important…

 

The first day we ran, a certain 5 1/2 year old whined his way through one half of the mile. including one complete meltdown related to a scrape approximately the size of a flea on his leg. And sat in the stroller sniffling for the second half of that same mile.  Two weeks later he RAN (and I mean RAN) two miles in a row one day.  A few days after that, being the PRO-RUNNER that he had now become, he turned to the single member of our team who happens to be smaller than himself and said (without prompting at all) “You know what, Tito? I think today you can run a whole mile.  I’ll help you.”  And he did.  They did.  Holding hands 99.5% of the way.  One passing along the very same encouragement to the other that he had received, “This is gonna feel so good when you are done.”   And as I watched them cross the finish (photos absolutely NOT staged this time) I couldn’t help but think…”YES.  This is how its supposed to be.  What good is the finish line if that’s the end of your race?  Of course you are supposed to turn back and encourage someone else to run too.”  OF COURSE.

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So many teenagers need to learn exactly what we learned from running.  They need a push sometimes.  Need to believe they are strong.  Need to know they can run, even in the rain.  Need to remember to turn back and find a buddy and run to the finish together.

Many of them have all the tools to run great races right at their finger tips, but haven’t ever been told how to use them.  And many have huge obstacles standing between them and their fastest fast.  Maybe grief, maybe divorce, maybe life choices, maybe a new baby.  Many need to find an entirely different course to run on.

Whatever the need, whatever the obstacle, I believe Teen Lifeline can help.

That’s why we need your help to finish this last part of our #31milechallenge. We don’t want it to just be about us and what we accomplished in March, but about what we helped others do, too.

Will you help these 7 know you are cheering them on to cheer others on? Tomorrow when they cross the finish line on their 31st day and Saturday when they run the big race, I’d love to be able to show them the names of all of you that are supporting them!

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Every dollar you give to the TeenLifeline 5K helps teenagers. And encourages us to keep running, too!

Donate here:  SUPPORT TEAM LEWIS for the TL5K

Thank you for loving us, for cheering us on, and for supporting us in so many ways.

We hope you are finding ways to challenge yourself to challenge others, too!

ABL

Adventuring. Together.

I don’t know if you’d call it a mid-life crisis.  I’m not sure it could be when it’s always stirred within me. Sometimes it stirs like an insatiable fire.  But most of the time, it’s just an itch.  Especially an itch in comparison to the raging absurdness I’ve watched my world traveling brothers take on.
It is but one word.
Adventure.
It’s kind of a hard itch for a type-A planner to quite know how to deal with.  Which is why quenching my desire rarely results in a spontaneous adventure. Usually, it’s more like an overly-researched slight push of the limits, an exploration of new things with a well marked map in hand.
And thus was born our 14th anniversary celebration.  We’d already be in Aspen.  With grandparents (read:babysitters). Bound to be some hiking.  So the research began.  By all internet accounts the best hike in all of Aspen was resoundingly “take a hike to maroon lake to see The Maroon Bells”.  Awesome.  We will go there.maroon lake in winter1

But then a bit more research.  Turns out it is the best hike in Aspen…in the summer.  In the winter, the road to the trailhead is closed. And covered in snow.  Which turns a 5-6 mile hike into a 12-15 mile cross country ski or snowshoe.  Still possible- obviously- since there were gorgeous pictures to tempt you along.  But as much as RRL absolutely LUH-UH-UHVES my hare-brained schemes, I was fairly certain he’d draw the line at 15 miles of snowshoes.

The Maroon Bells from Maroon Lake in winter, Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, Colorado

OR…
There was another option. As suggested by a park ranger I talked to.  Bikes.
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I actually found precisely zero people online that could tell me about their experience of snow biking to Maroon Lake to see The Bells in December.  But see, I tend to kinda pick a goal and barrel forward.  So, I started calling bike shops.  Sure enough, they had the equipment and were CERTAIN it was an attainable goal.
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Insert note to self:  Self, if you want to know if something you’ve never done will be attainable for you…don’t ask the people who do it for a living.  At least not when it comes to biking 7+ miles with a 1000ft incline, starting approx 8000 miles above your hometown elevation. You will ABSOLUTELY disagree with their conclusion.

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We didn’t bike much that day, but we did invent a new sport called “uphill bike pushing”.
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 We didn’t quite make it to our destination, but we saw some beautiful things.
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 We didn’t quite see eye to eye when we had to make the decision to turn back, but we always stayed together.
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In the end I think it was one of our best anniversary dates.  Definitely memorable.   But most of all, it was together.
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Happy Anniversary, RRL.  I’m full of hope as we face another year of marriage.  I’m thankful for the times we’ve hiked some of life’s toughest mountains.  And for the times even the best research couldn’t have prepared us for what we’d face together.  And slowly I’m learning to even be thankful for the times we’ve had to go back down the way we came, sometimes short of the goals we have set.  May we find rest there, at the bottom, until we are ready to turn, dream anew, and set out again.  Together.

 You, my love, are my very greatest adventure.
ABL
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