August 26, 2015

lately.


I've been quiet around here lately. Words floated around in my head without ever reaching the keyboard. Days slowly turned into weeks and, it turns out, I found a bit of freedom from not powering up this old laptop.

I had to step away from this space to figure out what I was doing here. This blog started as a chronicle of our adoption journey. Since, it's become somewhat of a family journal {I adore looking back at old posts to see what we were up to at a particular point in time} and even a community of sorts. A gathering of people seeking joy and grace when the deafening clanging of this world becomes too much for our heads and our hearts.

I love this space and each one of you who read the words here. I think I'll just continue writing and recording our moments. I realized that I tend to overcomplicate things, this little online space included. It's simple really - I want this to be a space that my children can read through and understand the heart of their mama. I want my grown babies to know that they have always been treasured and loved fiercely. I want them to know how much their mama values their daddy and this family. I want them to know that their mama battles fear with faith and fights for justice for the ones who can't. I want them to know that our days are full of laughter and dance parties and joy, all of the good stuff right alongside the fights and tears and brokenness. 

... And, I should add, cranky faces. :)

I felt a little nudge this morning to sit and type. There is just so much to share from this past month...

The routines of kindergarten...packing lunches, early mornings, drop-off, car line, un-packing lunches, homework, folders, worksheets {so many worksheets and papers!}... have filled our days lately. We are starting to get the hang of this new rhythm of ours. The boys are thriving at school {Nathan was even chosen to be a school "ambassador" based on his kind behavior - I could not possibly be more proud}. Weekends are for rest and memory making and laughter. Those precious forty-eight hours have become even more valuable.



Sylvie absolutely LOVES fishing. Can you tell??!!?

We have a new puppy. Did I tell y'all this? She is adorable and chews on everything. Her name is Maddie. She and her two brothers were dumped at the end of our little dirt road. Our neighbors found them while out on a walk. We couldn't say no to her sad eyes and now she is our wild, clumsy, hilarious little gal. Go big or go home: four kids, three dogs, 15 chickens, and three goats {our cat has disowned us and has taken up residence at the neighbor's. It may have something to do with the aforementioned three dogs}.


Oh, yes. And, my parents are moving here. You guys. This is the most insane news ever. Ever. I will have to share more about this soon. It's a crazy story and still doesn't quite feel real.

I've been knee-deep in planning an upcoming trip for Dave and a team to visit our kiddos in Congo {clarify: we are not adopting again, I am referring to the children we love in our feeding program}. We are also preparing to launch a new season of the Bentonville Sessions next month {local friends, please plan to join us!}. This work has been somewhat all-consuming. I do not have enough hours in the day. Yet, I have made a conscious effort to put away all work after school hours. That time is spent focused on my people.

I have this girl all by her lonesome two FULL days a week now that school has started. I've never had one baby before. This is ah-mazing. One baby at a time? Highly recommend it. :)

With that, I'm off to straighten up the house in preparation for our post placement visit with our social worker. One more visit after this one and then we are done. I can't believe it. We have been meeting with our sweet social worker for almost four years. It will be strange not having her drop by our home anymore.

Happiest of Wednesdays to you all, friends.



August 17, 2015

Permission to Shine. {Guest Post on AWB}



We all have a unique voice. We all have a noteworthy story to tell. Yet, somewhere in all of the noise of this world, our story is often pushed aside. Our voice muffled.

There are countless blogs and storytellers out there. I don't know about any of you but I often fear insignificance in this space. I believe we all want our words to matter. We all desire to make a difference within our sphere of influence.

And, the beautiful, hope-restoring, simple truth is this: we all matter.

We each have distinct gifts and there is room enough for us all. When one of us succeeds, we can cheer her on knowing that her success does not take away from our own. We can lift one another up without fearing our own demise. We can be vulnerable and brave. We can hit publish and send our words out into the world.

Read this post in it's entirety over at Arkansas Women Blogger's site.





August 10, 2015

when your well runs dry. {Guest Post on AWB}

There are seasons when schedules are packed and laundry is piled high and to-do lists continually multiply regardless of the effort exerted to check off tasks.

In these seasons, work feels uninspired and overwhelming.

Copious amounts of coffee are consumed. Self-care is buried under responsibilities. Exhaustion settles in like a morning fog, desiring rest in order to lift.


Read this post in it's entirety over at Arkansas Women Bloggers today. I'm honored to be their guest blogger this month and am sharing today about the importance of intentionally seeking gratitude. 

Come on over and join in the conversation. 


Happy Monday, friends!



August 5, 2015

Ethiopia Creative Trip {Guest Post}

I fell in love with the country, the people and the culture of Ethiopia years ago, without ever stepping foot on the soil of this beautiful land {I hope to go next summer but that's another story for another time}.

Today, I want to introduce you to a friend who has faithfully served in Ethiopia and continues to use her gifts and talents to advocate for the vulnerable children and families there. Alyssa is looking for fellow creatives ready to serve in a unique way on her upcoming Ethiopia Creative Trip for One Child Campaign. Read her post below for all of the details and prayerfully consider joining her on this life-changing trip. I can't wait to follow along on this journey!


I've watched medics go on medical trip or teachers go to work with students and secretly wished I possessed a "useful" skill that I could contribute. As I traveled with One Child Campaign and did humanitarian photography, I simply thought of it as a tool I could use to advocate. 

Then one day, in the middle of yoga class of all places, enough blood had flowed to my brain for me to have an epiphany. The photos were ending up in my hands; and unless a ministry specifically contact me to use them, that's where they stayed. While I may be able to make a small difference by using them, how much more could be done if the photos were tailored to the needs of the ministry and then given to them to use for advocating and fundraising?!

One Child Campaign was all over the idea and has asked me to lead Ethiopia: Creative 2016 trip from February 12-22. We are in need of videographers, writers, web designers, and photographers. We want to gather team of artists who want to learn how to hone their skills in the area of humanitarianism while also creating beautiful content and telling stories for partner organizations of One Child Campaign, while engaging their areas of influence to be a part of the solution.nDuring this trip we will be traveling to Addis Ababa and Awassa and coming alongside four different organizations that have my mad respect for their work with street kids, poverty, at risk families and women, and child trafficking. We will be providing them with tools and art to use for their websites and social media. 

 But hear me on this- whether or not this is up your alley, YOU have skills and talents. Pray, seek, and ask our multi-faceted God how He can connect your passions and His work. 

If you are interested in more information on this trip, please contact me at alyssa@alyssaannephotography.com



August 4, 2015

a big day.

Y'all. They were babies. Oh my heart. 


Fast forward to yesterday... my Kindergarteners!!!!!!!!!!! Holy smokes. It really happened.



Nate. Oh, this boy was excited. His enthusiasm was literally contagious.

He confidently walked right in to his room and started chatting with his classmates. He was ready for this day and my instinct to scoop him up and carry him back home dissipated when I saw him in the classroom - he was in his element.

On the way to school, Nate said a prayer: "God let us have an awesome day and help us to be kind and nice today at school. Amen." That boy. He has my heart.


Random side note: I don't know what's happening with Ben's smile lately. The concept of "smile naturally!" is lost on him these days. {See left photo below for evidence}.

Ben was a characteristically shy and reserved yet he walked right in, put his backpack and lunchbox in his cubby and then found his seat. He gave me multiple hugs and kisses and then said he was ready. My momma heart burst with pride and love and sorrow and excitement all at once. After I walked out the door to join Dave and the girls waiting in the hall, Ben ran back out to give us all another hug and kiss. Oh, that boy. Sweetness all wrapped up in an adorable, silly smiling package. 


As we walked to the car, the tears came. It hit me: this is it. This is what we do as parents: we prepare them as best we can, we encourage their hearts, we soak up the moments, and then we send them off into the world.

After bringing Sylvie to pre-school, I spent the morning with other moms from our school having brunch at a friend's house. It was a sweet start to the day {and an awesome distraction}. Then, Charlotte and I came home and had a calm, quiet, super fun day together. This was my first day alone with Charlotte in a long time. ONE child. All day long. Glory!

By 2:30, I was anxious to pick the boys up and hear all about their first day. After enduring my first experience with the dreaded car line, I finally made it to the front and saw my little guys running toward me with broad smiles shouting out, "mama!" They both starting talking at once, excitedly telling me all about their day. RELIEF washed over me. They both had a "great" day and "love" their teachers.

Favorite part of the day?
Ben: "seeing Nate in the hall and on the playground!"
Nate: "seeing Ben in the hall and on the playground!"

Well, there you go.

I'm thankful that they loved their time in separate classes. I was so worried about the fact that they would be apart for the first time. If this one day is an indicator, they will thrive {and appreciate their time together even more}!



We came home and celebrated an awesome day with chocolate chip cookies and Sonic slushes. Smiles all around.


I walked them to their classrooms again this morning and loved seeing their confidence as they entered. Ben did hesitate briefly at the door when he realized he didn't say goodbye to Nathan. We walked across the hall to Nathan's classroom and caught his attention as he was placing his backpack on it's hook. Nate ran over and gave Ben a huge hug. They both said "bye, buddy!" and "I love you!" Obviously, I melted. I love these two guys with everything I am.

Kindergarten, we like you. A lot. Well done.



August 1, 2015

be free.



Lately, I've had a heavy cloak weighing me down.

As God has been opening doors and revealing more of His plans for my life in recent months, my autopilot response has been fear and insecurity. I literally sat in a meeting listening to someone whom I respect greatly share amazing, amazing plans for the work we hope to accomplish together {I can't wait to share more with y'all...sorry for being vague, there are a bunch of details to work through first} and instead of excitement rising up, I pressed heavily into fear.

Fear of falling short. Fear of letting everyone down. Fear of inadequacy. Fear of failure. 

Honestly, I suppressed all of these fears fairly well. I carried on with my life and pushed the fears to the background. It became a white noise within my day to day routine. Not debilitating, yet present. Ever-present. And, exhausting.

Do you know what I've learned? It is EXHAUSTING to think God's work actually depends on my performance. {And, yes, when I write that out I can see how ridiculous that line of thinking really is}.

Last weekend, I spent some time away from daily life. I was holed up in a cabin in the woods with some of my absolute favorite people. My people. They push past the surface. Our conversations are full of transparency, brokenness, authenticity, deep questioning, laughter, joy, and tears. They broke through the layers I had worked hard to build. Those shaky layers of self-sufficiency, strength and confidence. With a simple question, I suddenly started spilling it all out. All of the fear, the insecurity, and the doubt came out in the form of a sobbing, messy, confession. I would have been humiliated if this hadn't been such a safe place to lay it all down.

Oh, friends. We all need a safe place. Instead of carrying that burden any longer, I let it go. I relinquished my fear and instead soaked up the words of Truth that these dear friends spoke over me. The cloak was destroyed. My burden was light.

Once I returned home, I felt a nudge to retrieve an old journal from the back of a drawer stacked full of similar old journals. I know the Holy Spirit was leading because I couldn't remember what was written in any of these journals off hand yet I was led to that specific one.

I turned the pages and landed on my notes from Rebekah Lyons teaching during last year's IF: Gathering. The words jumped off the page and spoke directly to my soul.

"As we let our own light shine, we give others permission to do the same."

The lie I had believed: my light isn't good enough to shine. Others are doing such an awesome job of shining; they should continue to do so. I really have nothing to add. 

Truth: "When He knit you, He gave you distinct birthright gifts. There's room enough for everyone! No need to compare - we are ALL unique and we can all live out our gifts."

LieKeep score. You need to know that you matter. 

Truth: "You can be in your calling and still not be free. If you do what you do for an audience of ONE, you'll always matter." 

Lie: confirmation from the world is going to heal.

Truth: "The fall may be all around you but the fall is not in you. Christ is in you. You are FREE. Now, go and be who you already are."

"Heal my heart for good. Make my heart new, not just mended but actually new
Create in me a heart that prays bold prayers and believes bold things. 
In the Mighty Name of Jesus, I pray. Amen."

And I will give you a new heart with new and right desires, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony heart of sin and give you a new, obedient heart. And I will put my spirit in you so you will obey my laws and do whatever I command. {Ezekiel 36: 26-27}

Read the transcript from Rebekah's reading at IF: Gathering here. 
Read Rebekah's full prayer from her talk at IF: Gathering here. 



July 23, 2015

as a new season approaches...

They ran excitedly up and down the aisles shouting back and forth, "Ben! Look at this one!" and "Nate, I'm getting the blue one!" as we piled the cart high with supplies from our checklist. Markers and glue sticks and crayons. Check, check, check.

New lunch boxes were the most exciting purchase. The ones that were given as gifts on their 2nd birthday have made the rounds to picnics and playdates and preschool. The stickers inside from the days of stickers-on-everything! are half rubbed off. New ones were in order. The adorable monogrammed sharks and fish replaced with "big boy" camo.

Aunt Angie had given each of the the boys a Star Wars backpack filled to the brim with books for their birthday. Nate loved that it was a "big boy backpack" and decreed it would go on to school with him. Yet, last night, Ben stood in front of a minion backpack with large eyes that poked out to create pockets and asked if this one could be his. I couldn't say no. It was cartoonish and child-like. If he wanted anything that kept him small for just a minute longer, I would have said yes.


As I tucked them in last night, I saw it clearly. The last remnants of my babies had gone. Arms and legs had lengthened and jetted out in all directions, filling their twin beds. Beds that once seemed so big, too big, to hold them. Faces that were once round and chubby, have changed. Slowly transformed into the faces of boys, no longer toddlers or preschoolers. Blankets that once covered all the way to the toes, now held in the hands for comfort, only reaching slightly past the torso. "Babies" once held within clenched fists as he drifted off to sleep, now strewn about the bed in slight disregard.


Friends assure me that kindergarten will be such fun. They will love it. I will love it. It will be a year of learning and new friends and joy. I don't doubt this to be true.

Yet, I know that in eleven days, they will cross over an invisible line as they walk through the doors of their new classrooms. They will no longer be "BenNate," my inseparable little guys. They will be in separate classrooms, meeting separate friends, creating separate memories. Since their time together in the womb, they have hardly ever been apart. By choice. They are the best of friends. Their bond is unique and steadfast. They find confidence in the others presence and can happily work independently, knowing the other is near.

They will also go from being by my side 99% of the time to spending the majority of their days in this new place. They will grow and transform and change in new ways. They will learn new things and explore new places. Without me. I will have peeks into their world when I come to help in the classroom or when I join them for lunch occasionally, yet, I will not be in this world of theirs.


These five years have passed in a blink. They have been the most frenzied, exhausting, hilarious, surprising, fun and joy-soaked of my life. What an honor it is to be the momma to these boys of mine.

As we prepare to walk into a new season, I'm intentionally filling their love tanks full to overflowing. I am soaking in each moment. Holding them close. We are seeking adventure together.

When I send them into this new world of theirs, I want them to know that they are loved and valued and known. I want them to overflow with kindness to others. I want their hearts to be secure in Truth. My prayers will surround them and go before them.


They've slept in this morning. Now, I'm hearing footsteps coming down the stairs. The computer is closing for another day intentionally focused on being present and creating memories. We need to wash jars and prepare dough for the first honey harvest of the season tonight. :)

Go on and have an adventure-filled Thursday, sweet friends.