December 20, 2014

a Christmas hat.

This Christmas hat came out of storage in order to provide an overload of cuteness for your Saturday. You're welcome.

First, a look back...

Ben and Nathan. {December 2010}.

{Ben}
{Nate}

Charlotte. {December 2014}.





Merry Christmas, friends!



December 19, 2014

the bentonville sessions.

Dave and I spend the third thursday of every month in someone's home, surrounded by old and new friends, with the sweet melody of laughter and live music filling the air.

We have been overwhelmed by our community's response to this unique evening that is The Bentonville Sessions. These events have evolved from an idea that our friend, JD, had a few months ago. He wanted to get a group together each month for a "house show" in our town. Essentially, he wanted to host live music in a home, in order to create a intimate experience and an opportunity for local artists to perform in an unconventional venue. 



Having an overwhelmingly altruistic spirit, he knew this community would embrace the idea and he wanted the shows to benefit something good. He asked us if all of the profits {from memberships to the series} could benefit Feed Their Tummies. Um. Yes. Yes, that would be just fine.

Here we are. Four shows later. In awe of the way God has worked in this community to create something that is so, so fun to provide resources that will feed precious little ones half a world away {seriously, you guys, it is just the most fun time -- everyone is so kind and welcoming and the artists are incredible and the feeling in the air is just pure joy, it feels impossible to capture in words or photos}.




We couldn't be more grateful for this work that we have been invited into. I looked around last night and just took a deep breathe of gratitude.

I thought back to two years ago, typing these words after the conversation with God that changed the course of my life.

I marveled at the other women’s faith and strength and perseverance.
I listened to their stories. Their testimonies. Their words of truth.
And, I felt like a fraud.
That is the exact word I gave to what I was feeling. I didn’t even know it until I said it to my gentle and loving Jesus.
I am not holy and sweet and kind like these other women.
I am sarcastic, cynical, and scared. I’m afraid of radically changing my life for Jesus. I know he is wrestling with my heart right now and I am afraid to move. I don’t know where to step. I don’t know what to do. I feel raw and exposed to all of the hurt and suffering on this earth and I don’t know what to do.
Yes, we are adopting. Yes, we are listening and obeying with that one thing. But, there is so much more we can do.  So much more we should do.
Look at these other women. I met so many mamas who have adopted 10+ kids. Older kids. Special needs kids.
I met women who started ministries and work across the globe for justice and mercy for the oppressed. These women are making a difference. They are building the Kingdom.
And, I am just spending my days going to work, doing laundry, running around, filling my days doing ordinary things. I am ordinary. I do not belong among these 450 women. They are all doing extraordinary things.
And do you know what He told me?
I heard these truths (not with my ears, but crystal clearly. I wrote them down in my journal immediately so I would not forget the exact phrasing):
“Precious, daughter, you are my treasure."
"You don’t have to do this alone.”
“You don’t have to do it all.”
“I am with you. I will guide you. You just have to trust.”
“All you need to do for me is be a light. Be My light. Bring My light into the darkness in this world.”
I stood with tears flowing down my cheeks. Soaking in His embrace. In His love. Knowing that He loves me. He treasures me. Me.  It was the one of the most profound moments in all my life. Feeling my gentle Savior showering His love and grace on me.
I am still aware of all the pain and darkness and oppression in this world. But I no longer am afraid to move. I know that the Lord will guide me. He will show me how to move. When to move. Where to move. I don’t have to feel guilty that I’m not doing enough. I just have to respond to His call. I just have to keep my heart open and share His love. "
I remember that moment with such clarity. I want to go back in time and give myself a hug. I look back and think: this, all of this, is what you had in store for me and I had no idea what was coming. I have clung to those simple, transformative words many, many times over the past two years : Be My Light.



There is such freedom in letting go of the guilt and embracing the story He is writing in my life. And, what a beautiful story it is. Surrounded by such an amazing little tribe of world-changing, Kingdom-builders. I never saw any of this coming but I could not be more grateful for the small part I get to play in it all.

If you are local to NW Arkansas and would like to join us each month, we would love it! Find out more at www.bentonvillesessions.com.



December 18, 2014

a farmhouse christmas.

I thought it would be fun to do a little Christmas tour of the farmhouse. It's been cloudy and overcast for the past several days around here so I wanted to wait for better lighting to take these photos, but I gave up waiting for the weather to cooperate and decided to just take them. Ignore the awful lighting. :)


{It's not Christmas decor, but I love my new Lindsay Letters' sign hanging in our kitchen}!



I adore receiving Christmas cards in the mail! I keep them all year and we choose one every so often to pray over that family because I can't stand to throw them in the trash. They're all so sweet!


I found this gorgeous Nativity a few years ago at a local boutique and it is my favorite piece of Christmas decor. 


We use our wood-burning stove all day, every day in the winter. {I would prefer for that basket to be all stacked with cut firewood because it looks super cozy but this is real life and we use the newspapers as kindling}.

{How cute is Chiquita curled up in front of the fire? This is her permanent spot in the winter. We have to carry her outside to use the bathroom because she refuses to budge most days}.


Our tree this year is all crazy lopsided and the branches keep drooping which causes the ornaments to fall off every few days. Oh well. It's still super pretty lit up at night and smells amazing. I just look past the droopiness :).



The photo above was taken right before our new sofa was delivered this morning. The one below is Nathan confirming that it is a comfy one!

If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I have been on a hunt for the perfect sofa for this space for months. Our other one is cute but REALLY uncomfortable so we decided to replace it {and move the old one up to the new apartment above the garage}. Dave insisted on a leather sofa because the kids would ruin it otherwise. I couldn't find one that I liked because leather is tough. They're either too fluffy or too manly. I just couldn't commit. I finally found this one a couple months ago when I was out looking with the girls while the boys were at school. There were multiple meltdowns occurring so I quickly ordered it and headed out to the safety of our car before the full-blown meltdowns kicked in. And, in the midst of the chaos, I forgot to make sure it was actually comfortable. Dave was thrilled with me. Lucky for all, it is comfy and it fits the space perfectly! Whew.


Look at that cute baby! :)



We're a little behind on our Jesse Tree devotionals this year, we need to play catch up this weekend. :)


Hope you enjoyed the little tour. Merry Christmas, friends! 




December 15, 2014

weekend smiles.

We had the sweetest weekend. It was a combination of chaotic and busy with moments of slow and still peppered throughout. We spent time with some of our favorite people and paused together in the midst of the craziness of the season to enjoy one another's company {and lament on the craziness of the season}.

Because I love to look back on these posts for memories' sake, I have to share a few of the things that made me smile this weekend... {iPhone photo edition since I didn't lug my "real" camera around in an effort to be present in theses moments].

1. These girls.


{The precious little ones in our feeding program received another food delivery last week and I started my weekend early with new photos of their sweet faces. It is such a joy to be a part of the restoration story happening in their lives. I could not be more grateful for all who partner with us in this work}.

2. This tree.


{Because few things make me happier than finishing a long day in the quiet house sitting in front of the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree after all the littles are in bed. Because, well, the tree is pretty but mostly, all of the littles are in bed and it's quiet. Praise Jesus}.

3. This barn.


{We attended the Help One Now foundation dinner on Friday at this gorgeous location. Never heard of Help One Now? You need to. They are doing outstanding work in orphan care, family preservation and social justice around the globe. Their model is designed to empower local leaders and restore whole communities. They are trustworthy guides in this work of "doing good." It was an amazing evening listening to the stories of their work alongside some of the most compassionate, Godly people I know}.

4. This new friend and mentor.


{Chris Marlow is the CEO and Founder of Help One Now. He is the kind of guy you could sit with for hours to learn from and listen to his stories. He is smart, humble and kind. The fact that he took the time to sit with Dave and I over lunch to share his experiences and lessons learned in this work is beyond me. I'm so grateful for the chance to know him better and for the work he is doing around the world}.

5. This. Happened.


{You guys. If you've read this blog for five minutes, you know how much I admire Jen Hatmaker. Her passion for social justice and orphan care and her down-to-earth personality make her just so likable.  In the current phase we are in with Sylvie, I've deemed her "After the Airport" post one of the greatest adoption posts of all time. Adopting or considering adoption? Read it right now and forever be grateful. It's not necessarily warm and fuzzy but, oh my goodness, it's transparent and real.

And, hello. We both renovated a farmhouse. Clearly we are meant to be besties. Dave can attest to the cloud I was walking on after meeting her and chatting like it was a completely normal thing. Gah! Dave and Brandon completely hit it off too...it is like the four of us are now couple friends. I mean, clearly.}

6. This Christmas brunch.


{Because sometimes you meet someone and you instantly know that you were destined to be friends. Monica is that someone. She is a light and her enthusiasm for life is contagious. I couldn't be more grateful for her friendship. And, our boys are obsessed with all things "boy" and cause lots of mischief together. They're a highly entertaining threesome}.

7. This parade.


{What's Christmas without a parade and carrying a 50 lb. purse full of candy? The boys were front and center for full candy retrieval optimization. Every handful would be raced back to me with gleeful shouts of "mom!!" to deposit in my purse before returning to the front line for more. I laughed and laughed}.

8. These two little guys.


{A morning with my boys did my heart good. (Sylvie stayed home with daddy because, well, just read Jen's post I linked above). Sometimes I get a little misty when I think of how fast they're growing up. I loved our morning together - it was reminiscent of the old days -- yes, as in, seven months ago... just let me have my moment}.

9. This little gathering.


{Because, make new friends but keep the old... one is silver and the other gold. These friends are gold. So thankful for an evening together chasing littles, making gingerbread houses, sharing a meal and lots of laughter (Charlotte's cheering on the house construction)}.

10. This reminder of a very different Advent season last year.


{I am re-reading Ann Voskamp's "The Greatest Gift" and reflecting on the miracles that transpired this past year. When I underlined these words last year, I had no clue how the story would unfold. Overflowing in gratitude for His Faithfulness}.

11. These little friends.


{Nursery duty during church is my version of a baby play date}.

12. This exasperated expression.


{Nana and papa spent yesterday afternoon with the boys. On the agenda: (desperately needed) haircuts. You can guess Nate's opinion on the chosen activity based on the photo Dave's mom texted me. It's hard to be four}.

I hope you all had a magical weekend soaking in the joys of this season!



December 8, 2014

Tour through Blogland {Small Talk Diary}

Remember when I said that last week's post was the last in my "Tour through Blogland" series? Yeah, well, apparently I didn't really mean it. This little series has been such fun. And, I couldn't let one of my dearest friends launch her new blog look today without sharing it here!

You guys, meet Suzanne. She is a step-into-the-mess-with-you-prayer-warrior and encourager and one of the sweetest friends you'll ever know. She was there through every step of our journey over the past two years. She celebrated and cried tears of joy with us when we first saw Sylvie's face. She cried and listened and prayed with us as we waited and waited and waited. She is steadfast in her faith. She prays BIG, bold prayers. She is pretty awesome. You will love her, I promise.

Oh, and she and her whole adorable family piled in the car and road-tripped {is that a word??} down to our neck of the woods {seven hours of driving in a day!} just to give me a gigantic hug and ignite the big ole' ugly cry of gratitude on the day Sylvie arrived home. That is true friendship.


I'll stop rambling and just leave her to it. I know you'll be blessed by her words today...

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


Merry Christmas!

I heard those words the other day and I was struck by the emotion that rose up inside.  It wasn’t necessarily joy or disdain….it was the in between.  You must understand, this is my favorite month of all!  I love December!  I love snow, Christmas lights, fires, comfort food, cheesy movies, the songs, and time with family, every last part!  But for the first time, I noticed that I think I got a little overwhelmed.  

There is so much.  So many details.  And y’all, we don’t even do Santa or the little elf thing.  I couldn’t figure out why I felt that way.  I got our advent book and calendar out and it began to make me feel like a failure before I even began.  Do I have the right things?  Did I pre-plan everything enough?  Am I being intentional enough with my family?  WILL MY KIDS KNOW JESUS BY DECEMBER 25th?!?!?!?!  

So I had to step back.  Take Christmas.  Advent Wreath.  Advent Candle.  Advent Calendar.  Presents.  Decorations.  All the hashtags of happy/thankfulness/hope/love/babyjesus.  All of it.  Let’s just take it out of the stratosphere for a moment.  Can we just break this down a little bit!?  I decided to nestle up in God’s Word.  I know the Christmas story.  But I thought it would be good to meet again the people who met that baby.  The baby that changed the world.  What did they do?  What was happening on the actual day of Christ’s birth?  

You will find the story of Jesus’ birth in two of the gospels; Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 2: 1-7.  Surprisingly, it is a short story.  But where God met me in my “bring it down girl” moment was the stories that followed.  The people that followed.  Let me introduce you to some of my new friends.  

In Matthew we meet the Magi after the birth story.  There is much talk about who they were, how many there were, how long their journey was.  But I wasn’t really interested in those details.  I wanted to see how they were spending the very first advent.  

“And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem.  It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was.  When they saw the star, they were filled with joy!  They entered the house and saw the child with His mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped Him.  Then they opened their treasure chests and gave Him the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

Some of the very first people recorded to worship Jesus were unbelievers.  And yet, as soon as they laid eyes on Him they knew.  They entered, they bowed, and they worshipped.  And this was the only place we see gifts and “Christmas” combined.  But the gifts were given in a response to who Jesus is.  And the gifts were their very best!  The Magi caused me to pause and ask myself a few questions:  When people enter my house this Christmas season, where will their focus go?  Am I giving Jesus my best gifts this month?  

And then I travelled over to Luke.  It is in Luke that you will find the rest of your nativity scene, but there were also two others that were new to me.  Let’s complete the nativity set first.

Angels and Shepherds

“Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others- the armies of heaven-praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased…” 

Pause

Can we just take a minute here?  A whole army of heaven’s angels appeared and praised the Lord over these rag tag shepherds who were just doing their thing in the fields with their flocks?  Can you even imagine?  But, hold on, here comes my favorite part…..

“When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem!  Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

Well, I would hope so!  Ha!  Can you imagine witnessing such a thing? I am sure I would get myself to Bethlehem too after seeing such an amazing sight!  What I love is that last sentence they say…the Lord had told them about it.  These men knew the Word.  They knew the prophecy.  They saw and they went.  We don’t get insight on what their reaction was to Jesus like the Magi.  But this is what we do get:

“They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph.  And there was the baby, lying in the manger.  After seeing Him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child.  All who heard the shepherd’s story were astonished…”

We don’t know their reaction inside the stable, but we do know that when people outside of the stable heard their story….they were astonished!  Am I still astonished by Jesus?  Do I pursue Him in ways that when I leave I am left astonished?  Enough that others are astonished by my encounter too?

“The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.”

After this Christmas season we will all be going back to work.  We will put our decorations back in their bins.  Vacuum all the little pine needles from our floors.  Unpack.  Laundry.  How will I be returning to work this year?  Will I go back with a report about all the things I did and all the gifts I got?  Or, will I go back to work like the shepherds glorifying and praising God for all that I had seen and heard?  

Simeon and Anna

Now here are two people not in our nativity scene.  We meet them 8 days after Jesus was born.  At the Temple.  Simeon is described as a righteous man who was eagerly waiting for the Messiah’s coming.  It even says that the Holy Spirit was upon him and led him to the Temple that day.  The very same day that sweet young couple was bringing their brand new baby to the Temple to dedicate to the Lord.  

“That day the Spirit led him to the Temple.  So when Mary and Joseph came to present the baby Jesus to the Lord as the law required, Simeon was there.  He took the child in his arms and praised God…”

PAUSE

I am sure Mary was a bit taken back….you don’t just take a baby from a Mother’s arms!  But this man was expectant.  The scriptures say he was eagerly awaiting the Messiah to come and rescue Israel.  He knew that he desperately needed to be rescued.  And so when he laid eyes on the one who was sent to rescue….he scooped him up in his arms and praised the Lord!  What about me?  Am I even waiting for Jesus this season?  Are my eyes expectant to find Him in the most normal place?  And Simeon didn’t question God or God’s redemption plan.  He didn’t even pause to say, “wait…a baby?  That’s your plan?”  What about me?  When I am expectant on the Lord do I have qualifications for the outcome?  Or am I completely expectant to whatever it is God has in store?  

While Simeon was talking with Mary and Joseph and holding Jesus in his arms (can you imagine?), there was another woman.  Anna.  She was a prophet and a widow.  She is said to be at the Temple day and night, worshipping, fasting, and praying.

“She came along just as Simeon was talking with Mary and Joseph, and she began praising God.  She talked about the child to everyone who had been waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem.”

She knew Jesus right away and she praised God.  And from that, she went and talked with everyone who had been waiting expectantly.  Will I know Jesus right away this season?  Will I be found praising Him each time I find Him?  Will I go tell others who are waiting too that the rescuer has come?  Do I have single-minded devotion this month?  How am I spending my time?  Am I like Anna? Fasting? Praying? Worshipping?

I am wondering if this month.  This season, I can just step out of the stratosphere of tinsel and manger scenes.  Wreaths and candles.  Presents or no presents.  And Pause.  Realize that God.  The God of the Universe.  The Creator.  The Almighty.  Came.  He came.  He gave up His royal throne.  He entered the womb of a young bride to be who was planning to be a wife not a mom.  And He was born in the quiet of the night.  And He was worshipped.  Praised.  Sought after.  Honored.  

Maybe this season I approach it like the Magi did going to see Jesus.  May I enter, bow down, and worship Him this month.  May I enter this season on my knees.  So that when I see Him this month I will just know Him more. 

Maybe this season it isn’t about what we do to encounter Jesus but how we encounter Jesus.  It isn’t about the daily activity but about how we are seeing God. How we are hearing God.  Like the shepherds.  Who told everyone about what they had seen.  Told everyone about what they had heard.  And the people were astonished.  That at the end of this Christmas break we too may go back to work not saying all that we had done but rather, like the shepherds, glorifying and praising God for all that we have seen and all that we have heard.    

Maybe this season it isn’t about preparing our houses, getting the best tree, having the best cookie exchange.  How am I being found this season?  Where am I being found this season?  Hobby Lobby?  Or am I waiting for Him like Simeon.  Am I eagerly awaiting His coming?  Are my eyes so focused on everything else, even as good as it all might be….are my eyes solely on Jesus?  The Holy Spirit led Simeon to the Temple that day.  Is there room in my schedule this month to go where God might ask me to go because He has an encounter for me?  Will I just flat out miss Him this year even amidst all my efforts to have Him here?  Charles Spurgeon says, “Wherever Christ is he is honorable.”   It doesn’t have to be a pinterest worthy decorated home, but a home that is willing to open its door to Him.  

Maybe this season, we have permission to climb down from the stratosphere so that we might become lower and He might be raised higher.   That our feet would decide to not travel the broad path but the less traveled narrow road.  Pursuing that road until I see Jesus.

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**You can catch up on this series by reading the other posts:  HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE.



December 5, 2014

the gift.

This morning a post that I wrote one year ago today came across my TimeHop. One year ago, when I was aching and longing and so very weary of the wait for Sylvie to come home. At the time, we continued to pray for a miracle - we wanted her home for Christmas. When I wrote these words, I didn't know how our story would unfold. I didn't know that we would spend yet another Christmas worlds apart. I didn't know that this year, one year later, Sylvie would be reading books to her baby sister while I typed on the floor next to my girls.

I needed to reread these words today. I needed to remember the ache. The longing. And, most of all, the persistent Hope.

I needed to remember in order to be ever more grateful for the abundant blessings under my roof. Because, honestly, it's easy to forget.

These days with four littles - including one from hard places, especially this one from hard places - are exhausting. I asked God this morning to be near. I asked that I feel Him in the tasks of the day - the dishes, the laundry, the diaper changes. That He be present and real in our home. Even when I am tired and worn out from the correcting behavior, the chasing down lost legos, the wiping noses, the lack of sleep, the attempt to understand trigger behaviors, the calming of fears. I needed to remember that "He is here. He whispers in the quiet. He embraces the weary. He catches the tears."

And, as I continue to lift up my fellow Congo mommas and their babies in prayer, I needed to remember that He alone is the miracle worker. He is still on the throne. Our Hope is in Him, indeed.


Read the full post from last year HERE.



December 2, 2014

#GivingTuesday {let's do this}.

Alright, friends. Here's the thing: I have contemplated closing up shop on this little blog platform many times over the past couple of months. For many reasons, including privacy concerns and safety stuff, but mostly, I have questioned the reason and heart behind why I continue to type words on this little corner of the internet.

Who am I writing for? Is this stuff important or relevant? There are so many voices out there ... do I really want to add to the noise? Will my kids read these posts someday with full hearts or will they cringe in embarrassment?

And, my ultimate desire: Am I using this creative outlet as a tool for serving and glorifying and praising God? 

I've continually asked God to lead me in this space and I pray that the words here can encourage, challenge, and move hearts. That you, my beloved readers, are reminded how good our God is through the stories He writes in my life. That these stories will cause you to take pause and look for Him in your own life with great intention.

All of that being said, God whispered to my heart last night as I read bedtime stories to my boys. The girls were already asleep and I was cherishing the sweet time with my bigs {four year-olds seem really, really big when you have two brand new littles} and feeling a little nostalgic for our old "comfortable" life. Cat's words yesterday reminded me of how God has completely uprooted our safe little family and taken us to unexpected and unimagined places. And, as much as I love this new life, sometimes, I think "man, things were easy and comfortable back then."

That's when it hit me: This life is NOT meant to be comfortable and safe. We are on a grand adventure here. As one of the pastor's at our church likes to say, "I only have a few turns around this globe before I have to get off, I want to make sure I'm using this time well."

Therefore, I'm keeping this space. I'm using it to rally for the least of these. The ones who do not have a computer to type out their stories. The ones who need their stories to be heard. The ones who need to know that they are not forgotten.

Where am I going with all of this? Here it is...

In this season of excess, I absolutely adore the #GivingTuesday concept --

Screen Shot 2014-11-29 at 3.07.58 PM

WHAT IS #GIVINGTUESDAY?

We have a day for giving thanks. We have two for getting deals. Now, we have #GivingTuesday, a global day dedicated to giving back. On Tuesday, December 2, 2014, charities, families, businesses, community centers, and students around the world will come together for one common purpose: to celebrate generosity and to give.
It’s a simple idea. Just find a way for your family, your community, your company or your organization to come together to give something more. Then tell everyone you can about how you are giving. Join us and be a part of a global celebration of a new tradition of generosity.  from #GivingTuesday

I want to throw out a challenge on this #GivingTuesday. 

The last time we met with Tresor Yenyi, founder of Mwangaza International, Dave and I committed to feed the girls at one of their partner orphanages on behalf of Feed Their Tummies. We felt safe saying yes to feeding twenty-six girls at $28/month. Our program's budget could handle that.

What we didn't feel comfortable with was committing to another orphanage with vast need. The orphanage caring for 120 children.

One hundred and twenty boys and girls.

We wanted to say yes. Oh, we wanted to be able to commit to providing food for these precious ones. But, we couldn't. We don't have the funds.

Last night, my heart heard: let's do this.

Let's step out in faith. Let's link arms. Let's use this amazing community here at Blessings & Raindrops and get these kiddos some food.

Here's what we are doing --

For every $28 donated, you will be mailed a {really adorable} Christmas donation card from Feed Their Tummies. These cards are professionally printed and can be used to gift to your loved ones. Think: teacher gifts, parent gifts, stocking stuffers, friends-who-have-everything gifts.


You can invite your loved ones into this work we are doing together. I know this generous community can rally together to feed these sweet ones for at least one month. Let's do this one time. And, let's ask God to continue to pour out provision as He has done all year for this program.

I'm reminded of what God taught me when we first began this program...

"We didn't know how much we could raise. We just wanted to do something, even if it felt like a drop of rain in the vast sea of need. 

And, that is what we have learned... 

Our something may feel small. 

Our something may feel insignificant. 

But, God. God is big.

He will use what we offer up to Him."

Join us HERE.