Friday, December 30, 2011

Advent - It's Not Really Over

It's that time of year - Christmas has come and gone, and the New Year is a couple of days away. I have read and heard countless people lamenting the end of the Christmas season, as well as those who are reflecting back on the past year while setting goals and making plans for the year to come. A couple of days ago, after hearing about the "after Christmas" letdown many people experienced, I realized that this year I didn't experience even a hint of it. I began overthinking mulling that over and then talking to God about it, wondering what was different this year as opposed to years past. And although I didn't hear His voice, I am certain He revealed to me this answer to my question.

For some reason, our society (I include myself in that as a chief participant) tries to manufacture a sense of "magic" during the Christmas season - a Hallmark Movie/Card emotional reaction to things we make up and have convinced ourselves are the best part of Christmas. We create a sense of anticipation around what is under the tree and what we will unwrap on Christmas morning. And when the anticipation reaches it crescendo, we laugh and take pictures and video at 4 a.m. as our children/grandchildren or other special people in our lives tear through gift after gift. But when all of the candy is eaten, the stockings are laid flat across the room, and the wrapping paper is stuffed into a giant garbage bag, we feel as empty as the space under the tree. And here's why--even the largest gifts, the most beautiful wrapping paper, and the excited frenzy of those moments don't give us a glimpse into the real wonder of Christmas. 

Now, don't get me wrong. If you love Santa, give gifts, and cherish the child-like moments of Christmas, I am not trying to heap guilt on your head. I have been where you are, and I am not claiming to have the answer to the best way to celebrate Christmas. But what I can share is my experience. We like to build gingerbread houses, bake Christmas cookies, decorate our tree, and put out our Dickens Christmas Village set. We enjoy watching "A Charlie Brown Christmas" and drinking hot chocolate together while singing Christmas carols. These are some of our family traditions, and we continued them this year. However, we began some new "purposeful" Christmas activities and made a point to center our wonder upon the love of God come down, the Christ who put on human flesh because God loved us and didn't want to leave us in our state of sin and despair.

And here's what we learned: the manufactured magic never stacks up against the awestruck wonder of knowing that the God whose very breath was breathed into Adam, who created galaxy upon galaxy and set the stars in the heavens, that same God who is bigger and greater and mightier than all of the stars in the Universe, that He put on flesh and became one of us. We who live on this tiny dot of a planet in this small solar system, in a galaxy on the edge of the vast Universe, we became the beneficiaries of His wondrous love and amazing grace, the recipients of the presence of infinite God come to finite man. And the wonder of that tiny baby who was the God of the Universe and the King of Kings never diminishes. Christmas may come and go, but the wonder of the Christ who we celebrate remains with us each day when we know that the baby born among the animals in a barn in Bethlehem became our Savior on the cross and our Risen Lord, whose presence can still be known to us when we experience the grace and love of Immanuel, God with us. That wonder brings hope the day after Christmas and the day after that and all of our days.

This year, while focusing on the wonder of His presence, we didn't just see Christmas as Jesus' birthday, but considered what that should mean in our lives -- do we give each other huge gifts on someone else's birthday or do we give the honoree gifts? And how does it look to give gifts to Jesus? Many people have blogged much more eloquently about these questions and the answers they have discovered for their families, but I know that the orphan, the widow, the lonely, the sick, the vulnerable, are near to God's heart as shown in countless scriptures. One verse I discovered this year is Proverbs 19:17 "Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord..." Even though our family has experienced some great difficulty in the area of job and finances this year, we are still wealthy compared to most of the rest of the world. So, it became clear to us that God was leading us to give as he led to those who are in great need. There is such joy in giving, not just out of abundance, but out of need. And God blesses and uses even the smallest gifts given out of obedience to Him.

So, the joy and wonder we experienced this Christmas and are still experiencing today are wrapped up in the love of God, the gift of Himself and His presence. Advent traditions for year may be over, but Advent is alive and well as we rejoice that He has come and will come again.

May this New Year bring to you the wonder and joy of knowing God in the person of Jesus Christ and experiencing His presence through His Spirit living in you!

Loving, Learning, Rejoicing, and Longing for His coming again,

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Advent - This Year

This year, I have debated doing a Christmas letter, a Christmas card, or working with the big kiddos to create a family newsletter as one of their end of the semester school projects. We may still do a newsletter in January, because it will be a great project for them. But it will be more focused on specific things they are learning and their observations on our family's life in 2011. As we continue to prepare our hearts to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ through our family Advent worship and some fun and purposeful activities and events this season, I am reflecting upon this past year and some of the things we have learned as a family. So, in lieu of an official Christmas card or letter, I am going to share some of what we have learned in hopes of bringing you a little encouragement. At the end of the post, you will find some photo highlights of our year. Some of them are not the best quality. There would have been video and a slide show with more pictures, but alas, most of them were lost on either: A) my laptop hard drive that was fried in the summer OR B) my micro SD card contained in my mobile phone that was stolen 3 weeks ago! So, bear with me as the words will be much more abundant than the photos (which if you ever read my blog you know is typical of my posts, anyway).

In 2011...

We have learned that following God's plan for your life doesn't mean you will have a fairytale ending in all situations. In fact, following Christ means that we will experience suffering and hardship. This year, we have learned (and are still learning each day) to let go of our self-reliance, our self-righteousness, and our self-focus and cling desperately to God in realization of our need for His grace to make it through each moment of each day.
"But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead." Philippians 3:7-11
We have learned to be more cheerful givers, more cheerful receivers, and to give out of need, not just out of abundance. We have accepted help and gifts of time, service, and money from others, when once we would never have thought of needing or accepting those things. We have seen the beauty of the Body of Christ in so many believers around us and in our brothers and sisters from around the world. We have experienced being at the receiving end of believers giving out of love for Christ, as well as have been a part of giving to others when God has called, even if it was the smallest of gifts.
"For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.  Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function,  so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality." Romans 12:3-13 
We have experienced a deeper understanding of loving a child from a hard place, and have known the wonder of experiencing life through the joyful attitude of our special needs sunshine. There are many perspectives on adoption, some very positive and some extremely negative, from adoptees, birth parents, adoptive parents, and others involved in the process. Our experience has been that adoption is a gift and parenting an adoptive child is both wonderful and hard.  Adoption is how our precious youngest child came into our lives. We love him as deeply and fully as we do our two biological children, and are beyond grateful for God's providence that allowed us to become his family. Adoption has also brought us to a deeper trust in and understanding of God's amazing love for us as shown by making us His daughters and sons. Adoption is about parenting and loving a child for life, and we are certainly blessed that God chose us to be Anderson's family.
The words of an adoptive mother with 7 children say it much better than I can:
 "Because let me tell you something: If you are intrigued by the idea of adoption, with the crescendoing storyline and happy airport pictures and the sigh-inducing family portrait with the different skin colors and the feely-feel good parts of the narrative, please find another way to see God's kingdom come.
You cannot just be into adoption to adopt; you have to be into
parenting. And it is hard, hard, intentional, laborious work. Children who have been abused, abandoned, neglected, given away, given up, and left alone are shaken so deeply, so intrinsically, they absolutely require parents who are willing to wholly invest in their healing; through the screaming, the fits, the anger, the shame, the entitlement, the bed-wetting, the spitting, the rejection, the bone-chilling fear. Parents who are willing to become the safe place, the Forever these children hope for but are too terrified to believe in just yet. But "yet" is a powerful word in the context of faith, if we are indeed to believe in the unseen and hope for what has not materialized.
I followed a God into this story who heals and redeems, who restores wasted years and mends broken places. This God specializes in the Destroyed. I've seen it. I've been a part of it. I have His ancient Word that tells of it. I love a Jesus who made reconciliation his whole mission. My children will not remain broken. They are loved by too good a Savior. I will not remain exhausted and spent. I am loved by too merciful a Father." -- Jen Hatmaker,
After the Airport

We have learned that even though we long to be a part of something "huge" for God's kingdom, sometimes the most radical choices we make are to be faithful and deny our selves in order to glorify God as we go about our moments and days. It takes surrender and trust in the smallest moments, too--not just surrender in the "big" decisions.  We are asking God for and learning by grace to have hearts of thankfulness, obedience, and surrender in the now, even as we wait for answers to some of our big questions for what is to come.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." Matthew 6:25-34
We have experienced these truths in the midst of hardship:  God is faithful. God is good. God loves us. God is gracious. God is merciful. God provides. God is at work. God is Sovereign. He is real and He is who His word says He is. He works for our good in all things. No matter the circumstance, He does not change. Our feelings may tell us otherwise, our pain may shake our belief in these truths. But we choose to believe, because we know and have experienced deeply His father love and are forever changed by knowing and being loved by the One who created us, spoke the earth into existence, and formed the universe from nothing.
 "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 8:38-39
 "Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, 'I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!'"Mark 9:24

 We have learned that laughter and joy can exist even in times of great difficulty. Here are some of our "fun" photos from this past year.  I don't know if we laughed more than usual, but we certainly took time to stop, to be grateful, and just to "take in" those moments of fun and joy.
Our first outside pic of 2011-this was the one of many hours spent outside throughout the year!
Anderson's Birthday Breakfast March 21 - Powdered Donuts

Alex having fun in the Vines' annual St. Patrick's Day Parade

Aerin's "eyeless" grin at the Biscuits game in May

Anderson and Daddy watch the St. Patrick's Day festivities

The big kiddos with their cousin at the park

Celebrating America's Birthday July 4th

This is one of those rare moments
(all 3 quiet and asleep) - I had to take a picture

One of our new family activities for this year - Letterbox hunting in September

Mommy and Anderson at VBS in July

Just let him eat cake (with chocolate icing)!

Alex with his 4th grade class at our church's W3 dress up night

Indian princess Aerin singing her first solo ever
at our CAP homeschool co-op feast December 2011

Our family with Judge Martin on Anderson's adoption finalization day.
It was National Adoption Day--November 18, 2011

If you have stayed this long (or you scrolled down just to see the photos), thank you! From our family to yours, we wish you a Christmas filled with the joy and wonder of celebrating God's love come down at Christmas - Jesus. And we hope for you and your family a 2012 filled with the presence of God as you live His purposes and will for your lives. We pray first that you would come to love and know your Creator by His grace demonstrated in Christ's life, death, and resurrection and your faith in Jesus Christ as our only way to have a relationship with a holy God. If you do not have assurance that you are a follower of Christ or you have any questions about what we believe and why, please email me at . We would love to talk with you further. 

Merry CHRISTmas,

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Advent - Laugh

We are using Ann Voskamp's Jesse Tree Advent Family Devotional series (info on how to download it is here on her site) for our family's Advent celebration and worship this year. And a couple of days ago, the title to one of the daily devotional readings was "Laugh!". The reading focused upon God's promise to Abraham and Sarah that they would have a child, even in their old age, after Sarah had been barren for years. Sarah declared after Isaac was born that "God has made me laugh" (Genesis 21:6, NCV) and that all those who heard would laugh with her. And don't we today have even more reason to laugh and be filled with joy at the coming of the Jesus, the beautiful babe whose life brought joy and hope to all the world?

If you read my last post, we focused on worshipping in our sorrow and crying out to God with expectant hope for His coming again even as we grieve our losses and pain in this life.  And at our house, we have shed some tears already this Christmas season - tears of loss and hurt, tears for friends and family in real pain, tears for the suffering of so many others we see. But we laugh and love around here, too! And it seems so strange that moment by moment, sorrow over sin and hurt can walk hand in hand with joy in the knowing we have the love of a Father who sent Jesus. A Father who gives us the gift of Himself and His love over and over each day in the smallest and largest moments of grace. Sorrow and joy do walk hand in hand. And even as we ache for what has been, what will not be, or what is lost, we reach for Who is to come, and we are a people filled with joy because we know the love of a Savior who came and the care of a Father who is with us. So, I wanted to share some reasons we have laughed this Advent season, and to let you know that I pray for joy and laughter to find you every day of Advent, even if your sorrow looms great or your loss still wounds deeply.

Our laughter moments over the last few days:
Little girl doing an impression of Rudolph by getting down on all fours and lifting her head slightly, saying "Blink, Blink"!

The sunshine laughing hysterically (and so making us all laugh with him) as his big brother pretends to fall down  in slow motion with a big "OOOOOOhhhhhhh".

Daddy reading aloud chapters from The Best Christmas Pageant Ever - too many laughing moments to list. This one is second on my list of must reads this year if you have young children (the first, of course, is the Christmas story - as told in many places in scripture, and is especially beautiful in the Gospel of Luke).

My laughter and joy at hearing Little Girl and Superhero make a list of gifts to give away from the Samaritan's Purse Gift Catalog. It was difficult for them to narrow it down to 10 items! Oh, how God speaks to me through my children.

May you find you find the laughter and music of joy this Advent!

Loving, Longing, and Laughing,

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Advent - The Coming

So, the first days of my Advent blogging have been non-existent. There has been a little craziness, a lot of sickness, and very little sleep at our house over the last few days, but I am back on the blog wagon today and hoping to be more consistent from now until Christmas.

As I approached this season, I have tried to plan more, be better prepared, and reflect upon how our family can "do Christmas" without focusing upon the trappings and craziness of the culture we live in (because honestly, I don't really even like most of those trappings), while still focusing upon the anticipation of Christ's coming as our ultimate hope. One result of this is just to ponder and wonder at the hope we have in Christ because He came. The hope of Christmas is real, even though it is a brief chapter in an amazing love story that our Creator has been writing since the beginning of time. He left the beauty and glory of His throne. He put on our skin. He came to bear the weight of our shame, our guilt, our flesh. He breathed the very air of the human condition, our sin sickness. And He bore all of our darkness, hopelessness, sadness, fear, guilt, evil, and decay as He died in separation from His Father, our Father. And He did this because of LOVE; great love for you and for me. That makes me want to sing, cry, shout, and hang my head in realization of my unworthiness even as He raises my face to tell me I have been clothed in His righteousness. As the Israelites of the Old Testament groaned and prayed and anticipated the coming of the Messiah, we can rejoice that He has come. He is Immanuel, God with us. And He Is. And His Spirit dwells within us who have become His followers.

And here's what I think. We can shout God's glory with the angels, we can stand in wonder with the shepherds, we can seek Him as the wise men did, and like Mary, we can "ponder" in our hearts the amazing love and grace that came at the miracle of His birth.  But Advent means coming, and we not only worship when we celebrate His coming more than 2000 years ago as a baby in a manger. We also worship when we hurt and ache and reach and long for Him to come again, to make all things new.

So we can grieve at the brokenness of this world even as we rejoice in the fact that He has come and will come again. And we can grieve all that is not or will not be here in our broken world, because it makes us cry out to Him "Come"--come into my moments, my days, my life, my family, my world. And as our longing for Him deepens, we grieve and we share and we speak into the lives of other people who hurt, proclaiming the Hope of His coming and His coming again, offered to us all. Advent is a beautiful thing, even if the only way you can manage to celebrate it this year is by asking Him to come and heal as you cry and grieve. And that healing may not come at Advent, but He will come to you even as you hurt. Because even if the sorrow of the night is where you are and the worship of grief and pain is all you have to bring to Him this Advent season, when you whisper "Come" to the Great God of the universe, I pray that this will be real to you and you will know:

He has.
 our Redeemer and Lord.
He does.
 our Father and Friend.
He will.
 the King of Kings.

Come Thou Long Expected Jesus - Christy Nockels with Chris Tomlin

Loving and Longing for His Coming,

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Those words - Thanksgiving and Advent

So, I confess that I shied away from the commitment of doing an "I'm thankful for..." post on my blog during November because I am self-conscious about my lack of consistency and just knew that if I didn't post every day I would heap amazing amounts of guilt upon myself. This is not because I think there are hundreds (or even tens) of people sitting on the edge of their seats waiting for my next post, but because I too often put unnecessary demands upon my time during especially busy seasons.

I did write a very detailed post just before Thanksgiving about how our family has been trying to live thanksgiving every day by focusing upon the gifts of the moment that God gives and how we can share His love with others. But after fighting with the new Blogger format and forgetting to save my post, I lost the entire thing when my Internet Browser decided to stop and restart for some unknown reason. So, for the vast audience ;) who reads this blog and who blogged Thanksgiving daily on your own blogs, I read your posts and am thankful for your faithfulness to share your gratitude in blog world. Forgive me for "skipping over" the Thanksgiving season on my blog--I certainly did not skip it in life, but blogging seems to be way down the list of important things for me these days.

Even as I type those words, I believe that an Advent blogging project is in order for me, if not for any of you who might be reading, as much for me to process and record what God is teaching me daily through this time of preparation and celebration for the coming of Christ. So, beginning tomorrow through December 25th I will share some of the new ways our family is learning to focus upon the gift of Christ and giving His love away, as well as ways that God is teaching me through our worship, fun, and giving.

More than anything, I want to be honest about the Christmas season-it is beautiful, joyful, and wondrous--but for those who have experienced great loss and grief, or who are very alone--it can be just. plain. hard. Even though beauty is found in brokenness, sometimes you have to travel through some ugly, dark places of sadness and grief before you see the beauty.  (Ann Voskamp's analogy of the bulb or seed being planted in the dark depths of the ground in winter and enduring all that entails only to spring to life as a beautiful flower or plant in spring is my favorite when it comes to these kind of experiences). Some of us will have fully joyous Christmases this year, some will have Christmases tinged with sadness from the past or present, and some of us will just wish for it to be over because we have not yet made it to spring--we are buried in our brokenness and the wounds are still raw. No matter where you are, Happy Christmas to each of you. My prayer is that if you decide to read any or all of my Advent posts, that they will bring you peace and hope in the amazing God who keeps His promises and makes us beautiful even as we are buried in our pain.

Loving, Learning, and Anticipating Christ's coming,

Monday, October 31, 2011

With great thanks...

When I feel paralyzed by my own failings...
When I try to catch my breath and feel my heart seemingly beating out of my chest...
When fear claws at my mind with lies of unworthiness...

I fight with gratitude and praise to the One whose perfect love casts out all fear, to the One whose light of truth shines on the lies, to the One who whispers that His power is made perfect in my weakness.

Overflowing with thanksgiving here today as we celebrate Reformation and remember the courage and faith of Martin Luther. "My conscience is captive to the word of God..."

Just a few of those things for which I can shout thanksgiving to the God who loves us all
...the way little one wakes with sleepy eyes and says "Mommy" with trusting love in His voice
...words of pure kindness from a new but oh so true friend and women of courage, past and present, whose love for Christ teaches and humbles
...God's always faithful provision
...strong words of love spoken by the love of my life
...campfires and s'mores
...sweet family time for cousins to play
...the Scriptures, readily available in print, audio, or electronic form, in a language I can understand

Loving and Learning,

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Prayer and A Song

Dear God,

Thank you. Thank you for breath and life, for hope and grace, for love more full and sacrifice more deep than I can ever comprehend. You reign, so I can rest. You give, so I can exist. You shine, and the darkness flees. You forgive, and I am made whole. You sing over me, and the noise of chaos is silenced.

Pain is real. Suffering surrounds. Despair destroys. There are questions to which I can find no answer and fear that seeks to choke out the beauty you give as weeds choke the plants in a garden. But when I look to you and seek your face, I see your glory and know that my only Hope is in you.

Give me grace to be thankful for each path you take me down, no matter the cost or the pain. Give me voice to speak and sing and shout your praise in every circumstance and to speak your truth to everyone who needs to hear. Give me vision to see where you are leading and give me courage to live with abandon and follow you no matter what.  Give me opportunity to show your heart, to share your love, to give as you have given.

You alone are worthy. You do not change. You Are.
I love you, Lord. Amen.

Day after Day (Kristian Stanfill)
"Men will try to rule the world You made
But we know power is Yours alone to give and take
A day will come when every knee will bow
And every tongue confess that You are Lord both now and forever

Day after day our God is reigning
He's never shaken
My hope is in the Lord
Time after time our God is faithful
Trustworthy Savior
My hope is in the Lord

The fear of man and what they plan will fade
When we know you alone are God of everyday
Like the flowers man will rise and fall
But you are everlasting, never-ending, God eternal

Let the songs of adoration rise
Our God is reigning up on high
He's worthy to receive the praise and the glory"

Loving and Learning,

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Possessions, Poverty, and My Own Sin

I have to say thanks to Amy at "Thoughts from an Overthinker" for linking to the below post, thus allowing me to discover it. It is about money and truth and the church and poverty and the Gospel--topics that are much more complex than I can began to address or summarize.
My own sin in this area is forgetting and closing my eyes...I don't want to forget what I have seen of suffering and poverty. I don't want to stop asking the hard questions of myself and asking God to open my eyes, my heart, my much is enough to keep and how much to give away? God didn't give me what I have so that I can hoard it for myself and those few people in my family. He gave it to me as a means to love others, show His love, give as He has given to me, and live the Gospel (not just preach it). Suffering is real, and as a child of God, I am supposed to use whatever He chooses to give me to give to and love on others. I want to love God and desire Him, not the stuff He gives.
Read it. I think you will be glad you did.

Loving and Learning,

Friday, October 14, 2011


I usually revel in the fall - enjoying the falling leaves, the crispness of the air, and the color of a fall blue sky (something different about its shade from the sky of summer). This season always reminds me that harvest is a blessing, that the dying must happen for new life to burst forth in spring, that thanksgiving is something we get to live every day of every season.

This fall has so far been a season of hardship and uncertainty for our family--filled with change and risk that have brought little peace or confidence in our decisions. I have felt completely attacked on every front as a mom, wife, friend, and child of God. And it has taken so much of my energy to listen for God's voice in the midst of the lies that the deceiver throws my way. There are so many questions that I do not have answers for, but I am thankful that I don't have to have those answers. God has them, He is good, He loves us, and He is Sovereign. I do not say those words lightly or flippantly, and am fully aware that the really hard circumstances with which we are dealing may be God's exact plan for our family. He is teaching me that what I want and need are oftentimes so far from one another, and I know from His word that Him making me like Jesus is far more important than giving me temporary happiness. HE is an awesome and amazing God whose grace I experience every day, but my thoughts are not His thoughts and my ways are not His ways (see Isaiah 55:9). I just pray for His grace that I may accept with gratitude whatever He gives me and walk by faith even when the road is dark and I cannot see the way.

This season has also been marked by reminders of God's goodness--encouraging words, faithful prayers, and kind gestures by sweet friends and sisters in Christ; a realization of how God has strengthened our family and marriage as we face these changes united in purpose and love to walk by faith; and the support and love of our extended families. God has also shown me some amazing scriptures and reminded me of some old hymns that are His gifts to me when I am having a particularly tough day. So, I will close this post with one of the passages and one of the hymns that have encouraged me through this season. I pray that your current season whether it be one of joy or sorrow, comfort or hardship, doubt or certainty, will be filled with His presence and peace. His grace is sufficient.

Psalm 40 has been a great comfort and prayer for me in these days. I hope you will read the entire Psalm, but here are a couple of the verses to which I particularly relate.
"But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who long for your saving help always say, 'The LORD is great!' But as for me, I am poor and needy; may the Lord think of me. You are my help and my deliverer; you are my God, do not delay." v.16-17

I will arise and go to Jesus, He will embrace me in His arms. In the arms of my dear Savior, oh there are ten thousand charms.

Loving and Learning,

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Piper on God and Racial Unity

I have for the last several years been challenged and encouraged by reading and listening to John Piper's wisdom and sermons. His humble and passionate love for God, for people, and for God's word is apparent in what he does and says. Today, I just discovered this amazing documentary, Bloodlines, from Piper. Take 19 minutes to watch this. It is truth. It will be more than worth your time.

Bloodlines Documentary with John Piper from Crossway on Vimeo.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

This is How Emptiness Sings

No, I did not come up with that title...if only I were such a writer. But I discovered this song and the songwriter who wrote it today, only to also discover that she is the writer of some of the songs that have become part of my life's soundtrack. Her name is Christa Wells; she wrote "Held" and "Our Hope Endures" as recorded by Natalie Grant, and many, many more. This song so perfectly expresses much of what I try to verbalize about how to reconcile the joy and beauty of experiencing God's grace against the brokenness and suffering I see around me. God is good. His gifts are amazing. He is at work in this world to bring glory to Himself and to make all things new. At the same time, people suffer, children die, orphans wait, so many lose hope. And sometimes, I just want to go home. But as long as I am here, I fight to sing in the empty places, rejoice in His gifts, and to really love people beyond myself, my fears, and my hurts. Most days I fail miserably, and I often cannot comprehend how He takes me, loves me, and wants to use me in all my brokenness. But I know He is the only One who is worth giving my life for, so I love Him and I reach for Him and I grasp on to His grace for the day.

How Emptiness Sings from Northview Church on Vimeo.

Singer/songwriter Christa Wells performs her original song at Northview services July 16/17.

Loving and Learning,

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Things I want to remember

I just looked at the date on my last post and realized it has been 3 weeks since I have done a blog post. Those 3 weeks have been a whirlwind of celebrations (Gotcha Day and Wedding Anniversary), firsts (football game, day of school, time to really crawl), and change (our word of the year at the Tatum house)!

In the midst of stress and some sadness, I never want to stop noticing and celebrating the beautiful and wonderful gifts of this time in our lives. Here are a few of God's amazing gifts to me at this time (and they will change soon) that I do not want to forget!

Anderson says "pinkle, pinkle little tar" when he sings "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star"--it is precious and so funny! A friend heard him sing it today and told me I had to get it on video.

Alex's face lights up when his Dad comes home, and loves spending time with Jeff more and more. It is such an amazing thing to see how God is growing their relationship and how Alex is learning much about being a young man from Jeff.

Aerin is very proud (and so am I) when she picks up her school reading books and can read most of them on her own! This is a HUGE accomplishment for our sweet girl, and I love to see the look on her face when she reads the pages with very few pauses and little "stumbling" over her words.  Last year was a difficult year of reading for her, and we cried many tears together. So, I am beyond proud of how hard she has worked and far she has come. She enjoys reading now (99% of the time) rather than dreading it as she has in the past.

My favorite times together as a family are when all 5 of us somehow find a way to pile onto mine and Jeff's queen size bed and have family prayer/bible/worship time just before bedtime. I wish this happened every night, but it is more like once a week. One night last week, we talked about trusting God and how we know that we can trust Him--what His word says about how He has planned our good (Jeremiah 29:11); that we do not need to worry about our needs being met but should seek His kingdom above all things-He will take care of us (Matthew 6:25-33); and that we are more than conquerors through Christ- nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:28-39). For "extra" fun in school (and family), we learn a traditional hymn each week--listening to it, reading the words, and reading the story of who wrote it and what inspired the writer(s).  Last week's hymn was 'Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus. So, after talking together about trusting God, reading the scriptures, and praying together, we listened to the Casting Crown version of the hymn here. We didn't even watch the video, just turned off the monitor and listened and sang. The kids kept asking us to replay it, and we ended up listening to it 4 times before Dad declared it was time for bed. I am so grateful to God for us being able to share that time together as a family.

There are so many  moments I want to remember, because they all bring me back to the place of gratitude - thanking God for His gifts and realizing that even the hard moments are filled with His grace and marked with His love. Praying that you see and take time to stop and remember some of those grace moments in  your life today.

Loving and Learning,

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

His gifts

Today, I am thankful...

1...for sisters in Christ, who I call friends and whose love for God shines in all they do--willing to go to the hard places to be obedient to their Father and to show love to those around them. I am thankful for their hearts of compassion and their constant example of grace and thanksgiving even in the hard moments.

2...for the strong and steadfast man who God gave me as a husband. He has been a firm place to land for me in the past year, despite all of the craziness and stress in our lives.

3...that there is one little boy in our home today who was not here last year at this time (10 days from now is our Gotcha Day celebration)!

4...for on time deliveries from UPS and FedEx.

5...for our GPS class friends and leaders--we are learning so much from all of them, and are thankful to meet people who have big hearts for both adoption and for the precious children who are in foster care.

Loving and Learning,

Friday, August 5, 2011

Indifference or Action?

This is not the first time I have seen this video. At some point during our adoption of Anderson, I posted it to my adoption blog. God brought it back to me today. I needed to hear it again, and I am thankful. So, here it is again for those of you who need to hear it. Save the link, embed it in your blog, bookmark it--because you will want to hear it more than once.

May our hearts break over the things that break God's heart and may we move to be His hands and feet.

Loving and Learning,

Thursday, August 4, 2011

So much...

 So much I have been given. So much I forget to thank Him for.
So much to say. So much wondering, waiting, working, worrying, and more. 
So much to do I have no time to blog or just to "be".
So much we are experiencing, joy and sadness, trust and uncertainty.
So much is how much He gives His grace each moment of each day.
So grateful and so humbled by His love that holds me,
A love that is greater than any words I can say.

Okay, this is by no means even within the realm of real poetry. W.B. Yeats and Seamus Heaney are two of my favorites, and I imagine this little "verse" (if you can call it that) would make them both squirm at its lack of so many things that make even decent poetry. But I wanted to share it, because it came to my heart. And since I don't really have time to do a full blog post, it is a good filler.

I am so grateful for His love and grace. God sustains me when all around seems to crumble, and when I become my own worst enemy. He is good. His plan is perfect. We trust Him. And I am thankful, even in the midst of change and uncertainty.

"I love you, LORD, my strength. The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I called to the LORD, who is worthy of praise, and I have been saved from my enemies." Psalm 18:1-3

An old one, but God put it on my playlist today, and I so needed to hear it!

Loving and Learning,

Saturday, July 23, 2011

We interrupt this program...

Or maybe it is more like we interrupt your plans and your life...I missed the post for School Fun Friday and probably will miss the next two Fridays of posting about organization. I have put my organization project on hold for now due to several sets of circumstances and changes in the life of our family as well as some happenings in our community. Life happens, and some things are way more important than blogging. My prayer with every blog I write is to bring glory to God and to encourage others by being real about my life and our family's journey to follow hard after Jesus, wherever He leads. So, when my life takes a turn, so does the frequency and content of my posting.

We have several praise updates and prayer requests for our family, so I am just going to put them out there and ask you to pray.

Urgent Prayer for Healing and Recovery
If you are a reader who is new or not a part of our community in small town, Alabama, I ask first that you pray for a young man named Austin Childress, his wife, Camille, and their entire extended family. Austin was in a motorcycle accident in Nashville, TN last Sunday, and had life-threatening injuries. He has made some major progress, and his family is praising God for each small step of the journey to recovery.  Please pray often and fervently for Austin's complete recovery and for this precious family. They have been a light for the Lord and a blessing to so many in our community, including our family. We attended church with them several years ago, and are so thankful for their love and support of our adoption of Anderson. We are praying like crazy! God is already being glorified in and through this circumstance as Austin makes progress and his family faces this road with grace and love, praising God through it all.

Praising God for Vacation Bible School
In our faith family this past week, we were so blessed for our big kids to attend VBS. And for the first time, I actually got to hang out and even help a little during the week! We truly love our faith family and I am so grateful for our friends and teachers this week who led the kids and loved on them and taught them so much about God's love and His word. Thanks to some great photographers, there are tons of pictures of kids and happenings at VBS. Anderson got to play with his friends, too, and he had a wonderful time. Please pray for the many children who attended who do not have a church home and whose families we hope to reach out to as a result of this past week.

God is growing our family again
Jeff and I have begun attending a weekly class to prepare our family to adopt again, this time through the foster care system. We know that many people will not understand our decision to adopt again so soon, but we also know that this absolutely something that God has led our family to do. To steal the wisdom of a friend from church, when God calls you to something you have two choices--obey or choose disobedience--and we know that disobedience is never a good option. So, no matter how crazy we look to the world, we are grateful and excited about the journey to grow our family again, and we ask for your prayers for God's provision and wisdom. There are many details that I cannot share about this new journey, but I can absolutely tell you that we feel God's presence in every detail so far.

God's Presence Through It All
If I continued sharing with you the sorrows and joys of this past week, my post would be so long that you might just fall asleep reading it. Not just our family and local community, but so many people we know and friends of friends who are facing major life-changing decisions, dealing with pain and sickness, grieving a tragic loss, and suffering through the evil of this world. At the same time, many we know who are celebrating new beginnings and milestones worthy of great thanksgiving and praise.

Throughout this week of praying for those who are walking through valleys, praying for those living in the midst of grief and sorrow, rejoicing as I see my children learning to love and serve God more every day, and walking a path of complete faith and trust in God with no answers, I have cried, laughed, and prayed so much. And God has been speaking to me so clearly that HE is here. No answers, no understanding of the suffering I see around me, no explanation. And that is okay. Because He is HERE and He is the I AM and we can rest in HIM when all around us is crumbling and when all around us is blooming. And HE is much better than answers or understanding--His presence alone is the air of grace and peace and hope to our souls suffocated by the darkness and sin of this life. He is making everything new for His glory.

"Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, 'He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.'” Psalm 91:1-2

Because of Jesus Christ alone, I can still dream and believe. He is my refuge and my fortress. May you rest in HIM as you believe in His sovereign and unfailing grace for each moment of each day. Thank you for your prayers for these dear ones and for our family.

Loving, Learning, and Believing,

Friday, July 15, 2011

School Fun Friday - Organization

Our home keeping system and my home organization skills are definitely works in progress, so I have been reading any and every blog I can find  I have time to read about planning, organization, household binders, family calendars, and making lists work.  I am going to attempt to put some systems into place that will give me practical help at keeping our lives and home in some semblance of order without being over the top (ahem, stressing myself out). If you are looking for methods of color coding your pantry and keeping an inventory of your spices, you are far ahead of me in this process!

I had planned for this post to contain the entire list of the methods and systems I am going to use this year, but the laundry and mopping and dishes had to be done today, so I didn't finish it! Since this is School Fun Friday, and in my time zone I am 44 minutes away from Saturday, I decided to wait until next Friday to include the list. By then I should have some wisdom to share, along with links to some great forms and sites with organization tips and printables. Until then, I would love to hear from any of you who may have ideas, tricks or or any tried and tested methods in the area of keeping home while doing school at home. Please share your wisdom by emailing me at or by leaving a comment!

Really, your ideas are greatly appreciated. If we (I) don't get a handle on doing school and housekeeping well together, in the first month of school we might lose a child under piles of clean laundry that desperately needs to be folded and put away (most likely unmatched socks--I despise sock matching), or find that we have managed to use every clean cup in the house in the span of 3 hours and have to drink from bowls!

Remembering, that even though keeping a clean house and being organized are only small parts of my ministry at home, it is important that I don't neglect them. God is honored in excellence.

"She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness."          Proverbs 31:27 

"So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God."                             1 Corinthians 10:31

Loving and Learning,

Monday, July 11, 2011

Today's gifts

Today marks some milestones and brings a great deal of uncertainty. Today is not perfect, but I opened my eyes this morning and my Father reminded me that in all of it's imperfection it is a gift. Today, I have already heard God whisper to my heart through the words of a sweet sister. Here are the gifts for which I am so grateful from today and many other recent days.

21. Singing The Arms That Hold the Universe with my little one. (I must video his sweet voice and face singing this song and share it with you all some time. It will bring you to tears.)

22. Dirty footprints on floors from big kiddos who have been picking vegetables in the garden

23. 1 Corinthians 10:31 (our newest memory verse)

24. Saturday night grilled hamburgers with my Daddy and sister

25. Sunday worship with our church family

26. Sunday birthday celebration with Jeff's family--75 years of life for Jeff's Dad. Happy Birthday, Granddaddy!
Jeff's Mom and Dad

27. First fireworks, Chicago dogs, and the men and women of our nation's military, past and present

28. Taking the first step of the journey to grow our family again

29. Good results from surgery for a precious boy brought home by his forever family in May

30. God's faithful provision in times of uncertainty

Loving and Learning,

Linking up today (along with many other seekers) to the author who inspires so many of us to share our gifts and see His beauty everywhere.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

In The Valley

Good words from the book The Valley of Vision  put to beautiful music. He is so gracious. May you find His grace and glory wherever you are today.

Loving and Learning,

Friday, July 8, 2011

Homeschool planning, curriculum, and helpful links

For the next few weeks leading up to the start of the 2012-2013 school year, I will be doing a series of homeschool posts on Fridays. In each one I will share my own experiences and any helpful information or links I have found while planning for the school year. Please join me for School Fun Fridays and leave in the comments any helpful information you would like to share!

Being a 2nd year homeschooling family, we (I) still have so much to learn about planning and organization as the new school year approaches. I was a classroom teacher for a few years, and have taught 7th, 8th, 10th, and 11th graders, but it did not prepare me for school at home. I had no clue (until last year)  the home organizing, meal planning, schedule-juggling, pre-schooling, all-subject teaching, service project incorporating, habit building, life-skill modeling, scripture memorizing, Bible studying, nature walking, music playing, story-reading, extra-curricular participating, and just plain fun-having that need to be a part of our learning at home. Whew! It makes me tired when I read that list. But I also had no idea how amazing it would be to spend the days with my children, watching them learn a new concept, seeing their enthusiasm for a particular story, sharing their laughter over a funny character or strange fact from history, watching them bond together as a sibling unit (since bringing Anderson home), and just spending more time getting to know them.  It is not all sunshine and lollipops, and some days are difficult. But I truly love teaching my children. And the confidence I have in this endeavour is not confidence in my own abilities or knowledge--it is confidence that God is faithful to provide what we need when He guides us to a new endeavour.  I know that when I have asked God to give us wisdom to teach our children and to guide our choices for everything we learn and do, He has been faithful this far and He continues to give grace for each moment of each day.

As we approach the new school year, I am trying to be more diligent about planning and scheduling so that we can develop consistency and routine. My focus has been to put together a general planning grid for the year. From that, I will do my weekly plans based on the books, workbooks, etc., that we are using. Right now, we are doing some reading and math assessments to determine what levels to begin the year for my 2nd and 4th graders, we are finalizing curriculum choices for both of them, and I am putting together preschool activities and hands-on learning experiences for my youngest. So, I wanted share some of the scheduling tools, printables, information, and "just for fun" things I have found during this time of planning.

1. Lapbooks - I plan to use lapbooks as supplemental activities for our main curriculum rather than as the core for our school work. Because I am not super creative, I love the premade kits you can purchase and instantly download. I found some of my favorites here. If you are asking (like a was just a couple of months ago), "what in the world is a lapbook?", you can your answers and much more here. I even found a free Lego study lapbook unit for my oldest son. If you have a lego-crazy child, I highly recommend it.

2. Preschool activities - I love all of these printables and am going to use several of the alphabet printables to teach my preschooler his letters this year. I also like these ideas for letter of the week crafts. The preschool crafts listed on the same site look really fun for anyone with preschoolers, not just for homeschooling families. I have also found more awesome ideas for more toddler activity bags, (a few of which we did for Anderson with his OT last year) and for preschool activity bags, both of which are portable and super fun!

3. File Folder Games - Because we live in a small home, I like any game that can be "filed away" and take up minimal space. So, I have enjoyed seeing so many creative ideas for games created from simple file folders like the one you see here and one I plan to recreate here. There are tons of samples, freebies, and even packs you can purchase to make the games, but I am still trying to use the examples I have found to put together my own games based on the subjects we will be covering. I hope to have some pictures to post soon, once I have a couple of them made.

4. Scripture Memory  - I found this system at Simply Charlotte Mason and am so excited about using it! There are free tab printables at the bottom of the page to get you started!

5. Curriculum - I am still finalizing my curriculum choices but here are links to what we are using for most of our "core" subjects.  1)Sonlight for History, Literature/Read Alouds, and "little girl's" reading. 2)Singapore Math for both big kids . 3)R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Earth & Space for both big kids.  I am still undecided but leaning toward All About Spelling for my 2nd grader. My 4th grader is an advanced reader, so I am also still working to put together a reading list that will challenge him and be manageable at the same time. 4. I will also use "Drops In the Bucket: Reading Level A" workbook for my daughter, who loved the exercises and learned so much from this great tool.

Any of you who have sage advice, tips, links to great (and even better, free) curriculum or supplemental materials, please feel free to share. Hope you find some helpful tools, ideas, and information from this post.

Here are some of the verses that I pray will guide me as I prepare for school this year and as we learn together each day--because life and learning are all wrapped up together, and we are wrapped in the amazing grace of the God who created us to live, love, and learn.

"If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you." James 1:5

"So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God."
1 Corinthians 10:31

"Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity." Colossians 3:12-14

Loving and Learning,

Friday, July 1, 2011


...Alex and Jeff left this morning for their first father-son camping trip. I love watching the two of them together. Jeff is a man of few words, but his actions speak volumes to our son.

...I looked at my "little girl" getting ready to go out for our "ladies' lunch", and realized that she is growing more than just in height. She is becoming more responsible and caring, and I see her servant's heart in the way she helps all of us.

...Anderson is laughing and asking to go eat "Mesikin" (Mexican) food.

...I thank God for love. I thank Him for my family. I thank Him for my friends. I thank Him that I get to walk through this life learning from Him what it means to love well, even though that is something I am still learning. Because honestly, when you open your heart to love, you make yourself vulnerable to hurt and pain and loss. But it is worth it. Really living means loving, even if it means hurting. Because protecting ourselves from pain means putting up walls that keep out love, too. And that leads us to be prisoners of our own sin, our own selves, our own preservation. Our Creator loves, and He made us to love.

"There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one,not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell. I believe that the most lawless and inordinate loves are less contrary to God’s will than a self-invited and self-protective lovelessness…We shall draw nearer to God, not by trying to avoid the sufferings inherent in all loves, but by accepting them and offering them to Him; throwing away all defensive armour. If our hearts need to be broken, and if He chooses this as a way in which they should break, so be it. What I know about love and believe about love and giving ones heart began in this." C.S. Lewis from The Four Loves

 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
1 John 4:7-12
Loving and Learning,

About Me

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I love Jesus Christ, am a seeker of beauty, and am a grateful child of God who would be lost and hopeless were it not for His grace. I am learning to walk in love, see interruptions as divine appointments, and value people and relationships above agendas and results. I pray my life is grace-filled, and brings joy and encouragement to everyone I know and meet. We are a family of 6, built by God through love, birth, and adoption, living in the beauty and the struggle that accompanies parenting kids from hard places. Got questions? Email me at

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