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.

July 12, 2015


We stepped away. Cell phones are without service, work is set aside, the noise of this world feels distant. As the fog drifts over the mountains in our view, rest is slowly, quietly, seeping in. 

28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
{Matthew 11:28-30 MSG}

July 8, 2015

Reflections: one year ago.

One year ago today, I wrote my all-time favorite post: He is FAITHFUL

I was finally able to share our Sylvie-girl's photo because she was on a plane coming home to our family{!!!}. I still get goosebumps when I read the words and think back on that day.

The miracles that unfolded to bring her home still cause me to stand in awe. Bear with me while I try to record the events that led to this amazing day {long post warning!}...

Because Sylvie already held an approved medical visa from USCIS, we had met with the ambassador at the US Embassy in Kinshasa multiple times to ask beg for his help in acquiring a medical exit permit for our girl. Our congressional office, senators, even other US ambassadors were advocating for our case. We had letters from specialists here in the US and in the DRC stating the need for Sylvie to be allowed to leave the country for medical reasons.

We had been turned away from the embassy each time we requested help. We were so very weary. Until, one of my dear friends {who lives about 20 minutes away} received the first medical exit permit since the beginning of the suspension in early June. Once again, we frantically started calling and emailing anyone and everyone who could possibly help. We were asking the ambassador to advocate for our girl. We received an email stating that he would help in mid-June and I thought my heart would burst. Hope was restored.

We rushed to get new medical check-ups and additional letters from specialists and have them all translated and submitted for immediate review by DGM. DGM agreed to review our case which was HUGE. We were guarding our hearts, preparing to be rejected by DGM. They reviewed the documents and asked for our dossier to be submitted immediately. Our agency liaison had all of our documents and refused to turn them in until we paid our final agency fee {which would have normally been paid when we traveled to bring her home}. The wiring process would stall us by several days. After much back and forth and many, many tears on my end, our agency agreed to release the documents once we provided proof of the transfer {we had to wire the money to the agency and then they would wire to DRC}. The documents were released to Sylvie's foster mom and our dear friend, Dr. Laure. She submitted everything to DGM for us.

At this point, we were trying to decide if Dave should go to DRC. It seemed like he should be there to ensure everything went smoothly and documents were all where they should be. However, we clearly heard from God: wait. Honestly, that didn't make a whole lot of sense but I was thankful he wasn't leaving because we had a newborn {Charlotte was about 4 weeks old at the time} and I had no idea how long he would be gone.

We assumed Dave's travel visa was still valid, as he had visited in February and had a 6 month visa. We felt confident that he could leave as soon as we heard word that it was time.

Weeks passed without word. I was walking in a fog. I hardly slept. I clung to my phone, praying that it would ring or an email update would come through. Instead I was met with silence. I wrote these words  just days before we finally heard news.:

"I suddenly realized I wasn't staying sane. I wasn't keeping it together... instead, what I was doing was letting go of hope. Over the past week or so, I've let go of believing that the latest news could actually mean our daughter will come home sometime soon. 
You see, about three weeks ago, we received some really good news and I was so hopeful, so sure, that this was finally it that I started planning logistics for her homecoming. And, then, nothing. No news. No updates. Just waiting... in silence."

My heart was so very weary.

Meanwhile, in DRC, another adoptive momma was living with her daughter awaiting news of a medical exit, as well. We connected and prayed fervently for both of our girls. She kept me updated from Kinshasa and I let her know of any news from my end. She went to DGM daily, waiting on word.

We both heard news from our contacts that the director of DGM would be reviewing our files on Saturday, July 5th. To say that I was a nervous wreck is the understatement of the century.

Dave considered leaving right away. Yet, we learned that his visa was actually expired. He submitted a request for a new travel visa. I was devastated. I never believed DGM would issue an exit permit if the parents weren't in country.

I was up all night waiting on word. I texted back and forth with the momma in country. She went to DGM's office to wait. Laure went to wait on our behalf.

A text came through early that morning. It was my friend asking where Laure was. "She is there at the office!" I frantically answered. My friend couldn't find her anywhere. She was texting me from the associate director's office. He had told her that this was the last day they would issue any medical exits. The two files on his desk were hers and ours. He had asked if she knew a "Jennifer Marrs." That's when she texted me.

Come to find out, they needed Sylvie's passport number. I emailed it to him and kept trying to contact Laure. Her phone didn't have service in the office and she didn't get any of my messages.

Finally, she went outside and saw all of my emails and voicemails. She went back in to find my friend and was led to meet with the director of DGM. He questioned her again about our case {as she is a physician and had been treating Sylvie for nearly two years}.

Meanwhile, back at home, our beloved dog had gone missing. A neighbor found him a few miles from our house - he had been hit by a car. We rushed to the emergency vet. I was an emotional basket case. Right as the vet came out to tell me of the internal bleeding, my phone rang with a Kinshasa phone number. My hands shook as I answered. Laure gave me the news, "She was approved. She is coming home!"

I was in disbelief. I looked at the vet waiting for my decision regarding Bailey. Tears streamed down my cheeks.

I asked Laure if she had the letter in hand and she said no. It would be ready to pick up on Monday. I felt ill. I knew that things could change in two days. This letter could go "missing" ... there was no guarantee that she was really coming home at this point.

I hung up and walked inside to say goodbye to my faithful friend of twelve years. Nothing else mattered in that moment. I was heartbroken. I didn't believe that Sylvie would really come home. It was a dark day.

During the talks with DGM, we requested that Laure be given permission to escort Sylvie home. Because we were still waiting on Dave's visa, we weren't able to travel right away. We knew the request was a long shot. We waited and prayed. We were emotionally exhausted.

Monday morning, I woke up the most incredible email I have ever received:

I ran to the kitchen where Dave was working on his computer {neither of us could sleep} to show him the email. I was sobbing, sobbing, on the floor. I just kept saying over and over: "it's over! it's over!" She was really coming home.

I called Laure and found out that she was back at the DGM office picking up Sylvie's exit permit along with her own! She was given permission to escort Sylvie home. I was blown away. Completely in awe.

We quickly booked flights. They would leave the next day. This was the first plane ride for both Laure and Sylvie and they had only 24 hours to prepare. My heart was elated and hurting. I knew Sylvie would board that plane and leave behind everything and everyone she had ever known. Her world was going to forever change.

I was {and this is a theme...} a nervous wreck throughout their travels home. I tracked their planes on my phone and prayed fervently. I was shocked to receive a phone call during their layover in Brussels from another adoptive momma whom I had never met. She told me that she met Sylvie and Laure and would be traveling back with them. She took photos and sent them to me. She gave me the most beautiful update on Sylvie. I was once again in tears. God is so good. He took care of every detail, even to the point of keeping my nervous momma heart updated with photos. Amazing.

Laure and Sylvie were held in customs for several hours. They were stuck in a room with a customs officer. We didn't know what was happening. They missed their connecting flight. Finally, the other adoptive momma traveling with them went in to the room and asked what was happening. She quickly realized that there was a misunderstanding. The officer didn't see the vaccination waiver in Sylvie's documents and was preventing her from entering the country because she did not have the proper vaccines. This other momma cleared everything up and got Laure and Sylvie to their gate {I had worked with the travel agent to rebook their flights}, and even bought Sylvie her very first American meal: McDonald's. :)

And, then, just like that, they arrived. 602 days of waiting. Over. 

Our lives will never be the same. As hard as some days can be, we are blessed beyond measure. This girl has rocked our world in the best possible way. God has big plans for this brave, tender-hearted, lovable, sassy, hilarious, nurturing, beautiful little one. She is the daughter of my heart and I am honored to have been chosen to be her momma.

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. 
Ephesians 3:20-21

July 7, 2015

the hardest job.

Even with all of the "mommy-wars" out there attempting to split hairs over bedtimes and food choices and parenting styles, I think we mommas can all agree on one thing: this high calling of raising little people is quite possibly the hardest job in all the world. 

And, I have had the honor and privilege of learning another lesson: this high calling of raising a little person with a broken heart is absolutely the hardest job in all the world. 

Adoption is beautiful. In fact, there are times when it is breathtakingly beautiful. When you adopt a precious one who has lived a life full of brokenness and loss, you gain a front row seat to watch God's redemptive power at work on a daily basis.

Yet, you also gain a front row seat for more than just joy and beauty and adorable family photos. When this new little one joins your family, you find yourself smack-dab in the center of a trauma ward. Your peaceful home suddenly becomes a place of hostility and stress and pain.

You find yourself tip-toeing around this little person, never knowing when your next move will set off a rage or cause a complete shutdown.

Your heart is on the line for hurt upon hurt. This little person doesn't hurt you on purpose. In fact, she doesn't even realize what she is doing most of the time. You tell yourself not to take it personally {which hardly ever happens}.

You learn that love is a verb. You can love with actions and words even when your heart is weary. You can muster up the courage to get back in the ring and try again. You learn that His mercies really are new every day. 

You research the developing brain and the effects of early neglect and hunger and loss. You read articles and books, watch videos, listen to podcasts and seek help from professionals.

You often feel broken and ill-equipped, you make mistakes, you seek forgiveness. You question your responses and reactions, you often feel like you're failing.

You quickly learn that isolation is a tool of the enemy. 

You surround yourself with safe people. Friends you text at all hours. Prayer warriors, encouragers, truth bearers. You seek authenticity, you need people who can simply say,  "me too, friend. Me too."

The enemy wants us to feel alone in our pain, to think we are the only ones struggling, to look at the photos and the status updates and believe the lie that we don't measure up.

God desires for us to believe TRUTH. 

The truth is that most of us have no idea what we are doing most days. The truth is we are all ill-equipped. The truth is, God works best when we come to the end of ourselves and rest in Him alone.

As we approach the one-year anniversary of Sylvie joining our family, I admit defeat. I admit that my human ability is not enough. But, God. God is. He can redeem all that has been lost and hurt. He can and He will. He can heal her broken heart. He can fill the hurting places with His love.

My Hope is in Him alone.

July 5, 2015

the 4th.

We piled in the old RV that hadn't been used in years - four adults, seven kiddos and one dog - and headed north to join extended family to mourn the loss of Dave's Uncle Bob. Uncle Bob was dearly loved by many. His laughter was contagious. His life was marked by love. He will be greatly missed.

We celebrated his life in true Bob fashion, spending the weekend sun-soaked and water-logged. The littles were over the moon. Long days and late nights swimming, fishing, and grilling on the shores of the same lake where their daddy spent his summers doing the same as a child.

The trip was unexpected and packing to leave was a bit frantic. The drive was long - I was car sick, Charlotte and Ben both threw up on me, the water stopped working in the RV, we had a camping chair set up for additional seating and five kiddos slept on the one bed. Every once in a while, we would hear a THUD and run to find the child who had fallen off the bed or the couch in his or her sleep. Yet, the kids absolutely loved the ride and the adults laughed our way through the "adventure."

The trip served as a poignant reminder that we need to stop every once in a while simply to be with the ones we love. I can't count the number of times Dave and I have talked about making this trip up to Minnesota with the kids. We never found the time before now.

We knew Uncle Bob was smiling down on his loved ones as we finally came together for this sweet weekend. Laughter and tears intermingled. New memories created while reminiscing on days gone by.

I hope you were all able to step away from the demands of life to enjoy this summer weekend and the birth of our great country. It was a bittersweet 4th of july for us this year but, nevertheless, an immensely blessed one.