May 21, 2015

Charlotte Turns One.

If a pictures is worth a thousand words, then what are a thousand pictures worth?

Kidding. I won't share that many photos. But, I may cut it close.

You guys. My baby turned one. We had a sweet little celebration with family and collectively marveled at this little firecracker. She is spunky and sweet and cuddly and fearless. A perfect combination if I do say so myself.

We started the day with a waffle breakfast and then she opened a couple of gifts. My favorites were the ones the boys wrapped for her...they found a couple of their old toys and wrapped them up special for their baby sister. These boys are enamored with this little gal. Future boyfriends beware. 

We had a fun little party that afternoon. Overload of pink and cake. What else do you need?

My friend, Julia, made the gorgeous cake and little smash cake. She is so talented!

A first birthday party is a perfect excuse to print off 15 billion photos from her first year.

We made homemade pizzas for dinner and snacked on watermelon and feta salad, caprese salad and twenty different types of yummy pizza. I didn't stop eating the entire time.

I'm slightly obsessed with fresh flowers. 

Drink station: pink lemonade and raspberry mint champagne punch. Because, we were celebrating.

She's wild. Particularly when I'm trying to get a photo with a headband on her head. It lasted 5.5 seconds.

Headband is gone...replaced by crazy hair!

My parents and younger sister and niece came to town for the big day. It was so much fun having them here!

Dave's side of the family...{Sylvie's expression is hilarious - she gives Nate that look often}.

My fam...

Similar to her disdain for headbands, this girlie is not a fan of adorable bibs. This is the only photo I managed with that cute bib actually on. She was clearly thrilled.

Cake time!

She loves to share her food {didn't learn that from me]...

This photo cracks me up. I don't know where Sylvie learned this new trick but it's her go to for photos right now. Charlotte is chowing down on her cake. Nate is either angry or very serious, not sure which it is. And, Ben is just being his sweet, smiley self.

Somehow, Papa ended up opening all of the gifts. It was mass chaos and hilarious. All of the kids were pitching in to help.

Can this car be any cuter?

I'm sorry, she looks about twelve here. Nothing to see, just reading her card aloud...

As we do, fireworks had to be involved. 

This makes me laugh! They were shouting,"yes! awesome!" after every firework.

No surprise here. Nate was right there helping daddy.

I'm so thankful for such a sweet day to celebrate our littlest love. She has added so much joy to our lives and we are so very blessed by her presence in our little family!!

Charlotte-girl, you are loved to the moon and back and around the globe times a million!

May 11, 2015

slow healing.

Charlotte is in to everything these days. And, she is fast. I turn my head for a second and she is pulling down the wall shelving from the hair salon while Sylvie gets a trim {everyone was fine, just a little shaken up}.

Most recently, she pulled over one of my lamps and the bulb shattered leaving glass pieces scattered on the floor. As I leaned over to collect the thin, sharp bits of glass, I was suddenly struck by an unexpected imagery.

Sylvie left everything she had ever known ten months ago when she boarded a plane to join our family here. She left the people, the sounds, the scents, the songs, the familiar tastes and food, the dirt and the dust. She arrived a broken, frightened little girl. Shattered soul. Sharp edges. Fragile heart. 

Healing for our Sylvie girl tends to look a lot like that light bulb. We work to gently pick up the broken pieces.

Healing comes slowly. We find ourselves stepping on tiny shards of glass in unpredictable moments.

Even with the sharp glass strewn about, we have the most immense privilege: a front row seat to redemption. Glimpses of Glory shining through the ordinary.

Last night, little feet silently tip-toed into our room. I hear her coming. This hasn't happened in a while. I can't remember how long - days, maybe weeks? I remain still. Waiting. I know from experience that she will stand at the edge of the bed, waiting in silence, for someone to turn and provide comfort. Maybe it's fear that prevents her from crying out in the dark of night.

But, instead. Instead, she crawls right over Dave's legs onto the bed and lies down at our feet.

This may seem small. It may seem insignificant. Yet, I see it. I see the healing. The comfort. The trust building. The vulnerability. She felt safe enough to climb up on that big bed knowing that her people were up there.

I also see that trusting momma wholly is still very scary. Daddy's side of the bed is safer. Mommas always leave. 

Not this momma, baby girl. Not this momma. I am here always. Waiting. Bending low to pick up the sharp pieces of pain and work on the mending. Fully trusting in the only One who heals and restores.

May 7, 2015

lessons from a second chance at a first year.

In one week, the little surprise that rocked our world is turning ONE. A full year passed by in a blink.

There's a perspective that comes with your fourth child that you can't possibly comprehend with your first {if we want to get technical here: Charlotte was our third at home, my second pregnancy and birth and our fourth in order of age - is that confusing at all to anyone?!?!}.

This little one took us by such surprise, I never expected to have another chance to parent an infant. It was such an unbelievable gift and my heart swells every time I think of how precious these days are.

Because I don't want to forget any of this, I thought I'd record a few surprising lessons I've learned the past 365 days with this adorable little gal...

Lessons learned from a second chance at a first year:

1). Your capacity to love expands exponentially.

I know many moms who are worried about having another baby after their first. They're worried that they can't possibly love another babe as much as they love their first little love. I was so anxious about this. I had two little guys that had my whole heart and a girlie across the ocean that occupied space there, as well. It just felt like there wouldn't be enough room for them all.

When in fact, there was. More than enough room.

Our Charlotte girl has lit up our lives. She has shown us that love is not confined by numbers or by our plans. She has given us a surprising glimpse of our Father's love. The way He can love us all - which always seems a little overwhelming when I think on it. Now that I have this little princess {let's stop here for just a moment and acknowledge the fact that the royal family clearly decided to name the newest princess after our own Charlotte Elizabeth, but I digress}, I have received a new perspective on His unending and unfathomable love for little ole' me.

2). Having older siblings is pure joy.

Babies are fascinated with these creatures that are closer to their own size than mommy and daddy. Dance parties are entertainment, silly faces are hysterical, and crazy loud noises induce belly laughter. I love having the older three to distract Charlotte when she is fussy during a diaper change or challenge them to make her laugh when she is screaming in the car. They are built-in baby entertainers. And, their love and devotion to their baby sister is astounding. Watching the gentle way they care for her and love on her makes my heart swoon.

3). Each moment is a treasure. 

Watching the little ones run past me who once occupied the same crib as this babe gives me a daily dose of reality: this season is short. This baby will grow very quickly.

The squishy baby rolls and adorably chubby hands and feet will soon lean out and be replaced with a lanky little person who no longer fits on my lap. Rocking a baby to sleep gives way to bedtime routines that no longer include the slow fading to dreamland in my arms.

As much as I want to rush the rocking and the nursing at the end of a particularly long day, I bring to mind the hard truth that this is just a {very brief} season. The dinner dishes can wait. This baby needing her momma won't last forever.

4). Let it go. 

You release the pressure of doing it all. You learn to say "no." You learn to let go of perfection. You cut yourself some slack.

You know that milestones are not predictors of future successes. You know that sleep will return someday {and repeat the daily mantra: I will sleep again. I will sleep again. I will sleep again} and survive on coffee and baby snuggles.

Strict schedules held with your firsts go out the window and you let your baby lead with her own hunger and sleep cues. You hold her often. You know that she can't be spoiled and you don't listen when well-intenders tell you otherwise. You finally stop comparing your baby and your parenting style to others. You relax enough to let life unfold and learn to just enjoy the ride.

5). You will surprise yourself. 

When those two pink lines appeared, you may have second guessed your ability to do this again.

Because, well, life was cruising along just fine. You had just started sleeping again. You had just cut diapers/pull-ups/wipes out of your budget. You had just replaced sippy cups with little cups without lids. You had just received a taste of the freedom that those four hours of pre-school provides: no littles at the grocery store. Cue the Hallelujah chorus.

Fear and uncertainty may have tried to overpower you. But, you quickly learn something about yourself: you can do this. You lean on God. You draw strength and stamina and patience and compassion from HIS well. His supply is unending, while yours is very, very sparse.

You can do this and you can learn to find the joy in the midst of these chaotic early years. As the old saying goes, the days are long but the years are short. Oh, the truth in that statement. So, you embrace it all. The chaos, the tears, the hiding in the closet to eat your chocolate so that you do not have to share, the laughter and the mounds and mounds of laundry. You take an excessive number of photos and videos. You tell yourself that someday you will have the time to create pretty albums and they won't always sit in files on your computer. You get up everyday and do your best. You pour out love and you mess up and you ask forgiveness and you pray. You pray that you are holding up to your end of the deal: to be a guide, a nurturer, a safe place for these little lives entrusted to your care.

You take a step back every once and a while to take it all in. The profound honor it is to be their momma. And, you give a great big exhale of gratitude. You thank the Creator who formed these good and perfect gifts so lovingly and gently placed them each in your arms.

You know with certainty that the first time you held this little babe after birth was the closest you will ever come to Heaven on earth {the only other that compares was the day her brothers were born}. Newborns are so fresh from God, there's the faintest sense of the warmth of His hands remaining on their tiny bodies. You marvel at photos of that day. You close your eyes and remember the sacred and the holy moments of her entrance to the world. You make plans to gather your people to celebrate this year passed. This breathtakingly beautiful year.

May 1, 2015

fight for the beauty.

Discontentment, jealousy, comparison, disconnection. Thieves of joy have been cropping up in my heart lately.

It happens slowly, doesn't it? I hardly notice at first. Busyness. Rushing in the morning. Sidestepping my spiritual nourishment. Running on empty. Interrupted sleep. Harsh words. Sharp edges.

When I start to skip my time with God, in His word, seeking His voice, I notice how the smallest things can creep into my heart and cause disillusionment. I find myself comparing my life with the lives of Facebook friends posting all their good things and big adventures. I start to feel burdened by the weight of so many responsibilities instead of empowered by the opportunities fueled by passionate pursuit of God's best. I start to question my abilities and my purpose. I start to feel small in a vast sea of voices and opinions and needs and wants and hurts in this great big, broken world.

Over the past week or so, I've felt a pull to stillness and toward actively seeking gratitude.

Last night, while nursing Charlotte back to sleep, I read this article as tears gently slid down my cheeks. These words were my undoing:

"This is the season of boo-boos and spit up and dirt. It’s the season for 10 minute showers, half shaved legs, and one eyed mascara. You will get lonely. And jealous. And maybe sometimes you’ll begrudge your life and wish you had someone else’s. You’ll get frustrated and angry and you’ll want to escape. This will be the most unglamorous and unappreciated time of your life, and sometimes it just totally sucks. That’s ok. But have peace in knowing that this will be the season you look back on longingly. One day, we’ll gladly give up all the friends in the world to have our babies small again. To be able to fit them on our laps and read them stories and go on adventures and eat pancakes at every meal." - Kristen {When at Home}
Oh my heart, such truth. This is an unglamorous time. This season can be painfully lonely, even when you are never, ever actually alone. Yet, the crux of it all lies in the fact that these days are fleeting and precious. The memories created in this season will go on to build the foundation for the lives my littles will lead. 

Someday, and that day will come sooner than I'd like, they will stop asking me to lay down with them at night and sing songs and tell silly stories. 
Someday soon, they won't need me to kiss their boo boos or wipe their noses. 
Someday soon, they'll put shoes on the right feet and pants on in the right direction. 
Someday soon, they'll stop thinking that hanging out with their momma is cool. 
Someday soon, they won't spend hours digging in the dirt pile I consider an eye-sore and they consider a mound of buried treasure waiting to be discovered. 
Someday soon, they'll stop asking how to spell a word or what a phrase means. 
Someday soon, playing the rhyming game in the car will no longer be considered fun. 
Someday soon, they will run right out that door to conquer this world and chase their dreams. 

If there were ever a time to fight for peace and contentment, it is now.

It is right smack in the middle of these hard and lonely and frustrating days. It is right here in the heart of tickles and giggles and ice cream in the afternoon and dance parties. It is right now when laundry and dishes beckon from indoors while we choose bike rides and adventures outdoors. It is now when my coffee is cold and my calendar is marked two weeks in advance for a night out with the girls. It is now when my sentences are interrupted and my thoughts are scattered. 

It is now. In these beautiful, messy joy-soaked days. Often, we have to stop, count to 10, and look up to see the beauty right there in front of us. Beauty that we would have missed if we hadn't intentionally fought to look for it.

Let's be the mommas who keep on fighting for that beauty.

* I have a brand new Facebook community for Blessings & Raindrops. Join us for discussion and encouragement there!

April 23, 2015

How to love her well {infertility awareness week}

Photo Credit: Alyssa Sieb

For me, infertility was isolating. It was full of heartache and disappointment and, often, bitterness. It was all consuming – emotionally and physically. I couldn't escape the pain. The struggle was fresh and raw each and every month.

Yet, above all of the emptiness and hurt -- a persistent, unrelenting spirit of hope remained.

Hope that this would be “the” month. Hope that this new doctor, this new test, this new procedure, this new medicine would finally work.

As someone who walked this dark road for several years, I can attest to the difficulty of being a good friend to anyone in the midst of infertility. I know it was hard to be my friend during that time. Innocent remarks such as, “so, do you have any kids?” or “you need to soak up all this free time you have now before you get tied down with kids!” sent me reeling. Pregnancy announcements, baby showers, birthday parties, baptisms; even family dinners would leave me in tears. The grief was overwhelming at times.

If you have not walked in these shoes, you may wonder how you can best minister to a friend facing such intense heartache. Simply by reading this post, you are showing how much you care for your friend. You are likely seeking practical ways to encourage and love your friend in an authentic, Godly way.

First, I would recommend being careful with your words. Struggling couples find themselves especially sensitive to the words of others. At the same time, I know that the pressure to say the “right” things can be difficult for the loved ones of infertile couples. This doesn’t have to be daunting. Simple changes in the way you phrase common questions can be extremely helpful and prevent infertile couples from feeling put on the spot. For example, when first meeting someone, instead of the question, “so, do you have kids?” try asking something more open-ended like, “tell me about yourself.”

Withhold offering advice to help “cure” infertility problems. Medical issues cause infertility, and “relaxing” will not resolve the problem. Nor will going on vacation, wearing boxer shorts, drinking a margarita or deciding to “just adopt.” Adopting may be a part of God’s plan for your friend, but this is not a decision to be taken lightly. Not to mention that, statistically; adoption does not increase chances of pregnancy. Allow your friend the opportunity to seek Biblical counsel and to work through God’s path for her family without your opinions or stories of what worked for a friend-of-a-friend.

The book, Hannah’s Hope by Jennifer Saake, was a lifeline for me during our journey. Now, when I know of a friend that is struggling with infertility or adoption loss, I always send a copy of this book. The wisdom shared is comforting {it’s always nice to know you aren’t alone in your pain} and biblically sound.

I’m tempted to plagiarize the entire book because it is overflowing with wisdom on this subject. Instead, I’ll just share this well-written advice from Jennifer in one of the book’s “Burden Bearers” segments:
"Communication is imperative. You can have all the general guidelines in the world, but you can best minister to me by getting to know my heart and learning my triggers for rejoicing or heartache. When in doubt, ask me directly.
In some ways, you are in a 'no-win' situation. If you ignore me when it is time to send out baby shower invitations or birth announcements, it may make me feel all the more removed from normalcy. Yet, if you do include me and I’m having an especially hard day, I may feel you have been insensitive. One idea might be to send me the same baby shower announcement that you are sending to all of our friends, but inside include a handwritten note acknowledging that you know this might bring me pain. Let me know that I am free to come or not, as I so desire, but that you love me and are praying for me."
Such wise advice. I love the compassion shown with the inclusion of a few kind words written in love. Rather than ignoring or belittling your friend’s heartache, you are able to live out the Gospel in a beautiful way -- bestowing love and joining alongside her in prayer.

I’d also advise you to not be offended if a loved one does not choose to share their fertility struggles with you. This does not mean that she doesn’t love and trust you. Infertility is an incredibly personal and private struggle. My husband and I didn’t share what we were going through for several years. This decision was made consciously and, in our case, choosing to rely on God and one another for support and comfort strengthened both our marriage and our faith.

If a loved one does share with you, please know that she is placing a deep level of trust in your friendship. Respect this trust and do not share this news with anyone else. She has chosen you to be a confidant, a prayer warrior and an encourager. Do not take this role lightly. Pray diligently. Encourage sincerely. Love genuinely.

Finally, I would encourage you to take some time to explore resources for understanding what your loved ones are going through. A couple of my favorites –

Hannah’s Prayer Ministries – Christian support for fertility challenges.

Empty Arms -- A video that communicates how painful the journey of infertility can be, helping you to understand where your loved ones are coming from.

The Carry Camp -- A community designed to love and encourage women walking through the pain of infertility. 

This is an updated version of a post originally written for The Sieb Fam's: Together Through Pain series.  I'm sharing it again today in honor of Infertility Awareness Week. 

April 17, 2015

The Farm.

Remember when I mentioned that we were starting a local outreach of Feed Their Tummies in the form of a blueberry farm?

It's happening. Tomorrow is planting day. We have been furiously working in the fields to prepare. We have prayed over the rows of freshly turned earth. We have asked for discernment and direction over the course of many, many months. We have researched and studied and ordered crops.

The plants have arrived.

We have been frantically watching the forecast. As of yesterday, the rain chance for Saturday was 100%. Today, it has gone down to 50%. We are trusting that God has a big plan for these fields. Rain or shine, we will get the plants in the ground and we will wait for the BLOOM.

I shared a little more on the Feed Their Tummies blog about The Farm. I thought I'd share some of that post here, as well. {Read the full post HERE}.


When the land was purchased, there weren't ideas for how it would be used. No grand visions. No knowledge as to why we were being offered such a great deal on the property.

Now, we know. 

Now, we know that God would bring an agricultural expert into our lives as a great friend and mentor. Now, we know that God would give Dave a vision for the land. Now, we know that this land would become a field - ripe for planting. A field full of the exact nutrients in the soil necessary for blueberry fruit to grow.

I asked Dave, "why blueberries?"

I half-expected a simple answer about how we loved the fruit. Instead, he said this: "Blueberries are a crop that will yield fruit over a long period of time. If you nurture them and properly care for them, the investment will span decades. Just the way we are investing in the lives of the children in our program. We aren't looking to solve long-stemming issues of hunger and poverty with a short-term investment. We are committed to the long-haul with these kids. We want to sow seeds of truth and righteousness and love. The fruit that will result will be long-lasting: eternal. "

Now, we know that this land will become the Feed Their Tummies Blueberry Farm. The yielded fruit will generate profits to feed vulnerable, orphaned and abandoned children in our program.

Now, we know that this farm will not only benefit the children across the globe, but also families right in our own community. Now, we know that God would bring a partner organization to come alongside us through The CALL: an organization committed to mobilizing Christian families to foster or adopt children in our state.

"One of the most common struggles Foster Parents face is helping the children in their care learn to enjoy healthy food options. By providing the families an opportunity to get the children involved in picking the blueberries and making the berries readily available to the Foster Families, this program will help get children in foster care excited about eating fruits and vegetables and improve their nutritional intake and overall health."
— Ann Meythaler, NWA CALL coordinator


We are praying that God uses this project to His Glory. These are not just blueberries. This is not just a farm. This is more, much more. This is an opportunity to be the hands and feet of Christ. To literally feed the hungry. To feed tummies. To heal hearts. 
Love always wins.

** I'm linking up with today Suzanne Eller’s #livefree linkup where the conversation topic today is BLOOM.

April 13, 2015

on mission.

While we were waiting for Sylvie to come home, I was clinging to God each day, in each moment. It was my only choice. Life moved on all around me while I begged for Jesus to be near. Oh, how He was. How He showed me such mercy and grace and abundant love during that painful time. As hard as the waiting was, I felt closer to God than ever before in my life. I heard from Him, I felt His nearness, I earnestly devoured His Word.

Today, in this season, I often look up and realize that days have gone by without the pages of my Bible being turned. Life moves on all around me and I just move along with it. 

I know this is perfectly normal. Life isn't meant to be lived solely on the mountaintop or in the valley.

But, here's the thing: this may be normal but it's not okay. I don't want to be disconnected or stagnant. I want to seek Him with my whole heart and mind and soul. I've tasted the goodness of His love and I don't want to go back to living life in auto-pilot.

For several weeks now, I've been seeking clarity on an upcoming trip, asking for direction and discernment. Quick backstory: Dave and I had both planned to visit Haiti this summer with one of my absolute favorite organizations, Help One Now, alongside some of my absolute favorite people. It felt like exactly what God was calling us to. The chance to get back to serving and loving on the "least of these."

Yet, the stress and anxiety of leaving our kiddos was keeping me up at night. I knew the boys would be fine without us. Yes, they would miss us but they have a blast with Nana and Papa. I was very concerned about Charlotte. She is in a "mommy" phase right now. As in, if mommy isn't around, I'll just scream until I vomit. You can understand my concern. Also, Sylvie. Dave and I recently went away for a few days for our anniversary and the aftermath of the trip was brutal. Sylvie had a very hard time with us being gone - much more so than we anticipated.

The plan was for us to all fly to Florida together, stay for a couple days to get settled and then Dave and I would fly to Haiti from there while the kiddos stayed behind with my parents. If you're doing the math, you've concluded that this would be Sylvie's second ever plane ride - the first of which was that time she left everything and everyone she has ever known to fly here. And, similar to that first flight, the people who loved her would leave her in a new place. Yeah, soooo, I'm not an attachment expert but I feel like that is a recipe for disaster.

This morning, after praying about this for weeks and receiving the same message from multiple places {God knows I am a little slow and need to hear from Him several times to get the point}, I've decided to stay behind.

I feel peaceful in this decision yet I'm also sad to miss out on the experience. Now that I've made the decision, I can see that the answer was clear. Yet, I wanted to go and do big things for Him. For the Kingdom. I wanted to serve. I wanted to be reminded why we work so hard on Feeding Tummies.  I wanted to get out of my comfort zone.

I wanted. I wanted. I wanted. 

This servant-heart thing is not about what I want. It's about what He wants. He has placed these little hearts in my life. Little hearts that need to be shepherded. Little hearts that need to feel safe and loved and secure. Little hearts that need to be taught who He is. Little hearts that need to learn how to drown out the loud clanging and flashy desires of this world and learn to seek the still, small whispers of His Truth.

The other day, I happened upon these words by Jennifer Ebenhack and what a confirmation they were for my soul:

"I have been created, gifted, and trained specifically for these children, today. I am their mother, for "such a time as this" (Esther 4:14).
No, you and I aren’t in the times of Queen Esther, and our roles feel much less glamorous than hers, but can we stop for a moment and try to grasp the times in which we live?
Never before has the family been so brutally attacked by western culture. Never before have godly men and women been so few… so ridiculed… and, around the globe, so persecuted.
We mothers are the keepers of our homes. And while we may long for some noble calling that others will applaud on Facebook or in an auditorium, the battle is raging in our family room.
We’re not just soccer moms, homeschool moms or working moms.
We’re called to be warrior moms.
We’re called to use our gifts, talents, passions, and time to save our marriages, to save our kids, which can in turn save our churches, our countries, and our world.
Your day will come, as mine recently has, when you see your children’s desperate need for Jesus. When it hits you like a lightening bolt: Nothing in the world could be more important than this job I am doing today.
Yes. We long to do greater things than making another dinner. But out of obedience, we serve. We are here. We are present. And when our kids’ hearts break, when the moment comes that they’re ready for His Spirit to work, we will gasp in wonder. We’ll fall onto our knees with the heavy knowledge that God prepared and equipped us for such a time as this. This calling is worth it all."  
Jennifer Ebenhack
{read her full post HERE}:
It's not always easy to follow Him. It's not always an adventure - sometimes, it's a sacrificial way of living that allows Him to work in and through you in the midst of very ordinary circumstances. Sometimes, it's seeking Him while surrounded by piles of laundry and dishes and homework papers. Sometimes it means putting aside the desire to go and serving and loving right where you are. The greatest mission field can look a lot like our very own homes.

Today, I'm choosing to place on the full armor of God and become the warrior mom I am called to be. On mission. In my home. For their hearts.