September 30, 2014

IF: Local {a guest post}

"WE EXIST TO GATHER, EQUIP AND UNLEASH THE NEXT GENERATION OF WOMEN TO LIVE OUT THEIR PURPOSE."

I had the privilege of attending an IF: Local gathering recently. The event was impactful, beautiful, and Spirit-filled. One of my sweet friends, Nina, was one of the co-organizers of this event. I know that this was something that she has been praying about for a long time now -- because I have been praying with her, for her.  We hadn't prayed specifically around IF:Gatherings, but God has used this ministry to empower Nina to live out her purpose.  

You see, she had been fervently praying for God to use her to do His work. To fuel her passion for connecting women in our community and for sharing Truth in a transparent way. She has such a beautiful servant heart and I am honored and so very thankful for her friendship. 

I've asked her to share how God's hands were all over this work in today's guest post {because, if you were here yesterday, you know that I just love stories like this}...


"I have been trying to put IF: Gathering Northwest Arkansas 2014 into words. In our corner of the world, on-line and all over, God is doing something so amazingly fun to be a part of and to watch. He is connecting the hearts of women. When Jennie Allen and her tribe of ladies announced their plans for this vague event/movement/space I immediately thought, "I have no idea what this is, but I'm IN!". And just like Jennie describes...

God puts a stone in the water for you to step on and you do. And then you wait for him to give you another stone. You loose faith for a second. You ask him for more and there it is... another stone. And then another. And pretty soon you realize you are walking on water. 

The short version of the back-story goes something like this: God took me and showed me more and more of himself. So much that I began having a crazy passion-like desire (picture Jerry Maguire here) to BRING MY PEOPLE WITH ME into the PROMISED LAND. (See?... already yelling like J.M.).

I watched most of IF: Gathering live from Austin on my couch last February during another snowy weekend. I was in the middle of studying Restless by Jennie Allen (life changing. not being dramatic) and her passion for Jesus is contagious. I wanted to gather my tribe and tune-in to IF: Gathering together but I needed a co-host. Someone to say, "You aren't crazy to host an IF: Local gathering. It will change people. Let's do it!"

Fast forward 5 months and I get a message from a local pastor who has a friend named Amy at his church who wants to plan an IF: Gathering NWA. He Googled that very thing and my name came up. I went all crazy replying "YES, I'm IN" and I am pretty sure he thought I was nuts with all of the enthusiasm. And because I gave my number to a complete stranger (in my defense I Googled him right back to make sure he was real). ;)

As women do, I met 3 ladies from the City Church at the park for a play date. And so it began. My God-sent co-host, Amy Barclay came directly from Austin with a passion for community and Justice and most importantly, Jesus.

Jesus. The one who knows every hair on our heads put a calling in Jennie Allen's heart to "Gather and Equip our generation of women to serve Christ." God put the dream to bring IF: Local Gathering to Northwest Arkansas in my heart and in Amy's.


Then, He poured out His provision. He provided a space with beautiful decorations and an awesome praise and worship team. He provided food and childcare.


Seventy ladies showed up over the weekend to hear from Jen Hatmaker, Christine Caine, Rebekah Lyons, Jennie Allen and more via video and some cool local chicas as well. We laughed and cried and shared our stories as most women's events do, but something else happened on September 12-13th, 2014.



And that is still what I am having trouble putting into words.

But...I will try.

A community of women coming together from all different denominations. And some with no church home. Gathering to confess our questions, our sins, our fears. 



Unlocking each other's chains that immobilize us and replacing them with Truth. Chains of self-hatred, comparison, inadequacies. 

Empowering each other with God's promises. That He is Enough. That His mercies never end. That His grace is sufficient. That He. Loves. You. And, once you jump into that Love you are never the same.

And once you are free, you want to go set others free. You want to grab all of your running partners and do life together. To seek His face with each other every day.


And THEN... you want to GO and BE the hands and feet of Christ to the hurting world watching you. Oh, that we don't spend all of our days huddled up with other Christ-followers trying to solve all of our worldly problems while there are people ALL AROUND US who need us to look up!!! We will be brave together. We will do more for others.

Over the weekend we briefly introduced our tribe to organizations who are helping. Organizations who need us when we feel called. Help One Now. Cobble Stone Project Initiatives: Laundry Love, Cobblestone Farm. And so many others that are serving.


And then, we will get up tomorrow morning and do it all over again. I don't want to paint an unrealistic picture of Heaven on earth. Nope, friends and sisters (can I call you sister yet?)… we are still HERE on this earth with each other. All fleshy and broken. And that is good news for two reasons:

1) it keeps me running back into the arms of Jesus and

2)  it reminds me that this is not our home. "

- Nina 


Visit www.ifgathering.com for more information. For the locals, connect on Facebook at IF: Gathering NWA and register for the February gathering HERE.



September 29, 2014

feeding tummies {an update}.

Feed Their Tummies has had a big week. We've had several opportunities to tell the story of how God is working through this little feeding program to bless kiddos across the globe and change hearts stateside. 

I have to say, there really is nothing better than watching God work. And, it is so clear that His hand is ALL over this program. Clearly, I am an unorganized mess lately with little time for anything outside of diaper changes and keeping all of these little kiddos in my own home fed every day. Thankfully, God has brought some amazing people alongside us to make this feeding program happen. And, He continues to give us a vision for what is possible through this work of feeding little tummies. 

Last weekend, we had a chance to drive over to Joplin, Missouri to take part in Mwangaza International's Victory 4 Congo event. Our partnership with Mwangaza was absolutely Divinely arranged. There is no other explanation. Tresor, the organization's founder, has become not only a trusted advisor but a good friend, as well. The Mwangaza team in Kinshasa, led by Tresor's sister, has led the efforts on the ground and continue to bless us by their dedication to this work and to the children of Congo.


This was a 24-hour event with worship music and prayer sessions happening continually. Because we had the kiddos in tow, we only attended a couple of the afternoon sessions and opted to skip the overnight hours.


Dave and I were asked to share the story of how Feed Their Tummies began and what our partnership with Mwangaza looks like. We did this on stage while trying to corral all of our littles {and, we had just come from a birthday party so they were all hopped up on birthday cake...}... it was entertaining and chaotic. One of Tresor's friends told him that she liked us because we seemed "so real." Hmmm... well, if nothing else, we can make everyone else feel comfortable because there is absolutely no pretense here of us having it all together.


It was a beautiful event honoring our daughter's home country. A country and a people that we love and are honored to intercede for in prayer.


As if he hadn't already had enough sugar at the birthday party, someone was enjoying the baked goods for sale...



To top off our weekend of Feed Their Tummies events, we had a chance on Sunday morning to accept an offering from the precious little ones at our church. The elementary kiddos have been taking up an offering each week in order to feed the tummies of their peers, here and abroad. Seriously amazing.


So, I haven't really announced all of the fun behind-the-scenes stuff going on around here but I'll let y'all in. Dave is working to turn our little piece of land that we call "the farm" into an actual farm. He will be growing blueberries and blackberries here on this property in order to benefit our feeding program in Congo and also to feed local kiddos in our foster system.

God has unfolded these plans slowly and with such clarity that we can't not do this. We still don't know all of the details of how this will look but we just keep taking one step forward in obedience and trust.


And, "Farmer Dave" was presented with a check from the "joy jug" offering that will go toward the purchase of about eighteen blueberry plants. I just love this so much. These kiddos have all offered to come out in the spring to help with the initial planting. Love in action, friends. Oh my heart. I could not love this more.


As if that's not enough...

A new friend {whom we had never met before last week} decided he wanted to plan a series of concerts in our town that would take place at houses in order to have an intimate, casual atmosphere. Memberships to the monthly concert series would be sold and each month's show would feature a new artist in a new location.

Because he wanted the proceeds to be donated, he asked if Feed Their Tummies would accept 100% of the profits. {And, we had never met him at this point!!}

You guys! I can't make this stuff up. If you don't believe that God loves the orphans of this world and really means it when He commands us to care for them, then, read this post again from the beginning. He just keeps opening door after door after door ....


So, someone handed me a microphone and I sort of went on and on and on about these kiddos in Congo. I don't get out much and no one was interrupting me. I don't know what they expected... it was sort of inevitable that I would not.stop.talking. {I told Dave to grab the microphone from me next time... ha!}.



Our family has been abundantly blessed by this program and the support of so many to make it happen. Kingdom-building work just makes my heart beat wildly. What an honor it is to participate in His work here on earth.



September 23, 2014

being intentional.

When we first moved to this old farmhouse in the middle of a bunch of trees {and not much else}, I felt pulled toward a more simplistic way of life. I clearly wasn't going to turn into Laura Ingalls, but I did want to slow down and be more intentional with my time, my resources and my energy.

The natural tendency for my personality is to over-commit, over-schedule and over-exert. I have a hard time saying no. Yet, all of the striving and running left me feeling burnt out.

This move gave us a chance to step away and re-evaluate our priorities.

Even the fact that we were reducing our square footage energized me. I knew this meant a clean sweep of stuff. Because, we have way too much. In my pregnancy-nesting-get-rid-of-everything mode, I was able to donate, give away and sell a vast majority of unused items. Everything else ended up in the barn to be stored for months until this weekend when we cleared a ton of it out also. {A friend will be hosting a Garage Sale for Orphans and we couldn't think of a better place to donate our things}.

We looked like the Clampett's driving down the road... 

With all that said, lately, we have stopped being intentional. We have gotten caught up in schedules and commitments and just the busyness of life. The past couple of nights have been all-night-all-you-can-eat-buffets for Charlotte so I have felt drained during the day and unable to be "productive." The guilt associated with a lack of productivity has caused me to step back and stop to think about what is most important.

I've been reading Tsh Oxenreider's "Notes from a Blue Bike" and have been convicted to slow down. To be intentional. To love well. 

Because I want to hold myself accountable, I thought I'd write out a few ways to live and love intentionally {particularly in this season with littles and a newborn}...

1. Prioritize my to-do list and select the one most important thing to be done today. Allow myself the freedom and grace to not choose anything from the list some days. Instead, use that time to sit on the floor with my little loves to build puzzles, read books or build spaceships with legos.


2. Date nights: make them happen. Even if they consist of a bottle of wine and conversations on our front porch swing after the littles have gone to bed.


3. Call friends to come hang out for the afternoon. Even if the house is messy or the construction projects are never-ending and they need to step over a few boards and a pile of bricks to enter.


4. Travel. When Dave and I first moved to Arkansas, long before kiddos, we used to take turns planning little weekend's away to explore our new state. Even if it just meant a long drive and a hike and picnic in the afternoon. We'd also regularly travel the country and the globe to explore new places together. I miss those adventures and I want to cultivate a love for travel in my children. Travel is in my DNA and Dave and I dream of the days when we will all hop on a plane together to explore a new city or a new country {that may have to wait a few years with this crew} but, for now, we can plan little outings for our Saturdays. We can explore new places by hopping in the car and going for a drive. There are so many cute little towns or awesome hiking trails within a short drive from our home. 


5. Say no {when it's appropriate}. Be protective of our time together as a family. This time is not only rare, it is precious and deserves to be fought for. Even if this leaves me feeling guilty for not being able to commit to as many things as I would like to in this particular season.


6. Turn off the TV. Cartoons can quickly become a babysitter when I'm nursing or trying to get something accomplished {like this post or the dishes in the sink or dinner...}. A little TV watching is fine in our house and movie nights with freshly popped popcorn are one of our favorite traditions but I need to be better about helping the kids foster creativity instead of sitting in front of a TV screen.

This is happening while I type. Creativity in action. 


{I stole this next one from Tsh because this weather is perfect for being outside and we have the perfect little spot for a blanket overlooking the pond:}

6. "Do what you’d normally do with your kids—read books, sculpt play-doh, help with homework—but do it outside on a blanket."

For more awesome ideas on how to live and love slowly and with intention, check out Tsh's post, The beauty of living...slowly.



September 17, 2014

to be still.

As I sipped from my steaming mug of coffee and watched the sun rise over the mist-covered fields yesterday morning, I felt grateful. Grateful that instead of turning over and pulling the covers up high, I grudgingly forced myself to get out of bed early {too early, thank you coffee}. In return for the obedience of rising early, I received the rare gift of a few quiet moments to read my Bible and soak in the beauty before me. The neighbor's cows quietly grazing, the sun's rays shining through the trees, the mist slowly lifting over the still waters of our pond.

I was reminded of Jen Hatmaker's words from the IF: Gathering Local I attended this weekend, "serving does not equal striving." At times, we need to rest. We need to be still in Him. Even if we have to steal brief moments of solitude in between diaper changes and feedings and laundry and dishes stacked high.

I have to choose to rest at His feet. 



Particularly in this season, when I am completely worn out by the end of each day. In Jen's words again, "you may be broken and poured out for the redemption of someone under your own roof. You don't have to go far." This is true for me in these days. Sylvie's heart is healing. I am stepping into her pain and I am constantly asking for a change of my heart to reflect Him. And, you guys, it's exhausting.

Which is why I am thankful for moments of rest. Moments to be still in order to be filled up again.

Reading Emily Freeman's post: Why Rest Takes Courage was a balm to my soul.

The details of soul rest may look different for each of us, but probably includes some combination of silence, solitude, nature, your people, and the willingness to come into the presence of Christ and simply be ourselves.

I encourage you to read it and to choose rest, even in the midst of your busy days. We can't all step away from the demands and needs vying for our attention. Yet, we can create margin in our lives that allows for rest and restoration, however briefly these moments may last. 

How do you carve out moments in your day for rest? I would love your ideas...



September 9, 2014

two months.

For two full months, all of my children have been under the same roof. The miracles that unfolded to make this possible are not lost on me for one second.

Getting a photo of all four together? Well, we may need another miracle to make that happen. 

{This is the kind of stuff we're working with here, folks...}


Bahahahahahahahaha!!! I may frame these. They make me smile.


This girl:


These past two months have been so very full. You guys, she is so, so smart. I love watching her little mind work as she figures out a new toy or "reads" a book or plays on my phone {seriously - she is a tech whiz. I have to hide my phone during the day because she will snag it and send emails and take photos}.

Her language is expanding daily. She understands us perfectly and has started not only repeating words, but using them in the correct context. I am in awe at how quickly she is picking up english. We have really not had any issues communicating since she has been home. I can understand her french-lingala-english-toddler speak perfectly. :)

She has made so much progress...

She is no longer afraid of grass or trees or our dog. She now gets excited when she sees daddy and wants to be near him. She no longer needs me to be in her line of sight at all times. She no longer needs me to carry her whenever we are outside of our home, she happily walks along with her brothers or is content to hold my hand. She no longer shuts down when someone new comes into our home or talks to her when we are out and about.

It's been amazing watching her full personality come out. She is hilarious and fun-loving and so very sweet.


These two:


They are adorable together. Sylvie is such a great helper with Charlotte. She loves to help care for her and is always is the first one to jump up if Charlotte starts to cry. She has several baby dolls that she will feed, burp, rock and sing to while I'm feeding Charlotte. There is typically a "baby" in the swing or rock-n-play whenever I go to lay Charlotte down. This sister-love isn't one-sided either, Charlotte loves to watch Sylvie and she giggles at her sister all day long. Sylvie lights up when she makes Charlotte laugh. I love when she yells, "mommy! baby!" to get my attention in her french accent. It's ridiculously cute.


Now, I know I haven't posted much on this blog about what our transition has looked like. I realize that if you read this blog or follow my Instagram posts, you will get the impression that life is peachy and everyone is happy-go-lucky around here.

Here's the thing: I am all about transparency. I would never, ever want anyone to jump into adoption expecting ONLY sweet airport homecoming photos and silly videos and lots of snuggles and laughter. Those things are wonderful -- incredible, actually - but they aren't the full picture.

The full picture is hard. Adoption, at it's core, is about loss. Our girl has lost everything and everyone she has ever known and loved. She has never had a chance to trust. She has learned that everyone leaves. We are working hard to build a foundation of trust and love and safety. We want her to know that we are not going anywhere. We want her to know that she will have food and water and she doesn't have to be scared that it will run out. We want her to know that she is loved.

Yet, I don't want to share all of the details here because I want to protect my girl. She is dealing with a lot of hard, hard stuff and not everyone {well anyone, really} needs to know all of the nitty gritty details.


Still, I struggle because I absolutely do not want to paint a false picture. I want y'all to know that we are seeking God's grace and wisdom each day. We are learning more in this season about His redemptive love than ever before.

We have had an incredibly intimate glimpse into God's deep love and abundant grace for us. I've been gently reminded that I too have run from His loveI too have tried to control my own life and resisted His leading {even when I know that His plans are for my good}. Yet, He has been there. Steadfast. Even when I turn away.

Undeserving, magnificent Grace.


*********************************************************************************

Now, just in case you would like a little peek into our crazy, here is a photographic proof of the ridiculousness that occurred last week when I just wanted my one family photo at the beach. Is that too much to ask? Why can't everyone just get together and smile for Pete's sake?!!? 

So, I gave up on photos actually on the beach. The sunsets brought out the tears from exhausted, water-logged kiddos. We gave it one last valiant effort on the patio of the condo. It was an epic failure. 

{I stand in awe of families that are able to manage beautifully poised, smiling family photos on the sand. Complete with matching outfits and mommas with hair brushed and make-up on. Amazing. I can't even. We will clearly never be that family}.

This is classic - Nathan is throwing a liiittttlllleee fit {and, clearly, my mom doesn't realize she is in the shot and we didn't take the time to clean up the chairs behind us... details...details...}:


I'm giving him the "you better stand up and smile right now" face. Meanwhile, my nephew is trying to sneak out {nana trying to restrain him}:


I give up.


Yep. This is my life. I think I will frame this one:


Nathan's face is classic. Bottom-lip pout:


Zephaniah 3:17


“The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” (NIV)

I hope y'all have an awesome week! We are slowly getting caught up on laundry and mail and bills and emails. It's so great to be home and I'm REALLY looking forward to fall... I'm ready! This summer was an amazing whirlwind but I am craving chilly mornings, beautiful fall colors and pumpkin spiced lattes. ;)



August 25, 2014

at the edge of the sea once more.

We have all fallen hard for this place by the sea. This is our third year staying in this same home with it's gorgeous views and steps down to the white sandy beach.

That first year here, we were in the thick of the seemingly never-ending wait for our referral...


{Before we talk about anything else, let's just stop right now and discuss how teeny tiny my boys were... I had NO idea. I thought they were so big. They were just babies. Look at Ben's curls. Oh my heart. Two years have passed in a BLINK}.

Last year, we arrived here anxious for Sylvie to come home. Hoping and praying that it would be soon.

"When we booked this vacation almost a year ago, we were certain that S would be home and this would be our first vacation together as a family of five. We were apprehensive about booking because we had no idea exactly when she would be home and if it would be too soon for a trip to the beach.

To be honest, it hasn't been easy to be here now without her. I had so many images in my mind of what this week would look like. S and the boys playing together in the sand and surf for the first time as brothers and sister. Moments of bonding and trust forming. Joy and celebration.

Yet, I'm learning to embrace the story God has written for me and my family. Learning to rest in His timing and trust His sovereignty. Knowing that my plans are never something to boast about. Instead, trusting in His plans - which are far greater than I could ever imagine."



During that week, we learned of the devastating news about the exit permit suspension.

"... I'm choosing to remember the verse He directed me to and affirmed moments later as Beth Moore read the exact verse from the stage where she spoke.

There is wonderful joy ahead, even though it is necessary for you to endure many trials for a while. 
{1 Peter 1:6}

I'm choosing to remember the One who called us to this path. He is faithful and good. S is His beloved daughter. We will continue to wait for her to be in our arms. We will continue to pray and hope."


And, just to keep things interesting, the day before we left for this vacation last year, I found out I was pregnant.  I was shocked...these plans were not my own ... they were far greater and higher than anything I could have hoped for.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Needless to say, this year, as we pulled into this familiar driveway as a family of SIX, I could not feel more blessed. Answered prayers abound in this place. The dark night has given way to the joy of the morning.

















There is wonderful joy ahead, even though it is necessary for you to endure many trials for a while. 
{1 Peter 1:6}
Wonderful, wonderous joy.