when things get really ugly

Transparency is something I have valued since childhood.

Because of where I went to school, because of the neighborhood I grew up in, because of the way I was raised and the fact that I felt underprivileged as a child (I now know this was ludicrous)…. for many reasons being REAL has always been something I value with ferocity. I have never wanted ANYONE to call me fake. Call me stupid, call me crazy, just not fake.

And yet, now, more than ever, I find that I cannot always be completely forthcoming about what is REALLY going on with me. There are many reasons for this, but a large part of it is because of who WE ARE and where WE LIVE. And I kind of, no I really, hate it. I hate it that if I were honest about some of the things that really go on inside my house, inside my family, inside my heart, we would probably just need to pack our bags and go home. I hate it that I need counseling, but can’t get it because of my location. There is very little help on this field for people in crisis. And the strange thing about this field is that when you live here, you often feel like crisis is something you deal with every day.

Another reason that I can’t be forthcoming is that I’m an extrovert who loves to OVER share and I’m married to an introvert who demands privacy and being conservative in the sharing of details and holding our cards really close. I have written countless updates and letters and posts that we have thrown away, deleted, and taken down because of this personality difference. He is deliberate and careful about everything that goes out. This is just so not me.

My whole life people have told me two things, “You have a way with words,” and also, “Wow, Hope…. filter…. turn on your filter.”

And so I find myself walking a tightrope that creates stress. Really, honestly desiring to both please those in authority and also to be authentic. I want to share with the world the ugly parts, the things I struggle with, but I also want to be respectful. And sometimes I hate it that I end up being FAKE. We all share the best parts with “our public”, but somehow it’s so much worse when you live far away and you do the job we are trying to do. How much should I tell?

This morning I was told that I need to share with everyone, “just how horrible you really are.”

And so I said, “OK!” I might have screamed it.

What a relief. I would love to tell you …ALL OF YOU… the curse words I have shouted. I would love to tell you the awful things I have said behind closed doors that have torn him down, that have hurt my kids. I will share with you that my youngest child woke up this morning to our screaming and his first words were, “Please don’t fight!”

But how much do I share? Because things seem hard and impossible today, but we REALLY live a roller coaster life. This is my fault. I have no middle ground. We are really, really happy. Or we are miserable. Those who are closest to us and closest to me know about this. They know that we have always struggled. They know about drama and really hard days. They know that just because today it all seems impossible, that doesn’t mean that a week from now we won’t be able to conquer it all. They know that the leaning on God and the grace that it all takes is something that we must have constantly- or else.

These are the things that some people I have known for years know nothing about. I want you to know who I am.

How much do I share? The details of what I have said and the things he has done? Where is the line? For me personally? And as I think about this I wonder how many of my friends and acquaintances feel the same way. I know that most of this is personality. Some people are private or introverted and do not desire to share the details and the secrets of their life with anyone. Others share whatever they want with little regard for how much people want to hear. There’s no black and white line here. It’s all grey. And now, at 36, I again say to myself, “This is your life. Who do you want to be? How do you want them to see you? Which way is the right way in this situation?”

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.
Philippians 4:8

We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check. ….Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.
excerpts from James

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my baby boy is six!

I am breaking out of my self imposed blogger silence today because I want the world to know about my love for this sweet boy.

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Being a momma has changed my life more than anything else ever has. But this boy, he has most certainly filled me with a joy quite unlike any other. When I think back about his birth, one thing I remember is how surprised I was at how DELIGHTED we all felt to have a new brother. We all felt that this child was a precious treasure, an unexplainable joy.

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There really aren’t words to describe the magic we all felt with the birth of our Caleb. From the beginning, we all felt it was so important be our best for him, to give this boy our “best stuff”, to show him how to love. And so we got busy doing just that.
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These days, our sweet Caleb is growing into a big boy that we are all proud of. He is learning how to love others above himself. He is making choices at home and at school that show that he understands the importance of doing what is right. Most importantly, this boy loves Jesus with his whole heart. He loves to worship loudly (anyone sitting in front of him at church understands this). He loves to play and laugh and really enjoys a good joke. He often looks at me with earnest eyes and says, “That’s hilarious. Right mom?” He loves with great affection and always wants to cuddle. He is loyal, adventurous, and super smart. Really, I don’t have words to tell you just exactly why and how I love this boy, but I feel that it’s important that I try.

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My Caleb greets the adventures of life full force, head on, with determination and courage. He is so excited and happy about getting to be a BIG BROTHER this year, and I am excited for him. He is ready for this challenge. I am so proud of you, son. I am so honored to be your mama.

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miracles (part 3)

Start with part one, posted Monday. Then read part two, posted yesterday. This is part three, which is not the end of this amazing testimony!! He is still doing great things in the life of Naomi and her new family!

The fact that God allowed me to be so involved is a treasure that I will NEVER quite be able to put into words, but I know that Jesus and I will talk about it in heaven.
His love is so sweet. He gives more than we could ever ask or imagine.

I got to share this testimony at our church in Niamey, and our pastor explained to the church that God sent Nana a specialist (Stephanie). He has so gifted her with the ability to supernaturally know what that little girl needs. I know that when God created Nana he knew that Stephanie was called to someday be her mom. The thing that gets me is the whole thing could have happened and I might never have known them at all. But God is so good that he allowed me to show up and nose my way to this beautiful story. And I just get to watch and enjoy and know that it’s all Him.

Our friends walked a long and grueling journey as they waited for the paper work to finally process. Stephanie’s ability to show God’s grace and endure through this process was a witness to everyone who had the honor of watching it. Their return home felt like a miracle in and of itself. God opened doors and timed things as only He can.
Naomi has been living in Colorado with her brother and sister and mom and dad for four months. And we are still seeing miracles happen in her body and all over her little life. The stories are priceless and they are many. I just keep posting that word MIRACLE in the comments on facebook as Steph reports to us after each doctor visit. Please continue to pray for her. I am itchy and excited for the day when she will run. It’s just so cool. As I look back on all of this I am struck with a deep impression that the miracles are just beginning for my sweet friend Naomi and her family. I am so very thankful that I get to stand in awe of all God is doing.

And that’s the (long) story that I’ve been waiting to tell.

Here is the update I have just received from Stephanie on Naomi’s progress(so cool!)….
April 2015: While she’s still working on consistently holding her head in the center, basic head control is something we hardly think about now! She doesn’t collapse to one side in the car seat or high chair anymore, and can hold her head up while being carried with no problem. She shakes her head “no”, and even (vigorously) nods “yes” to answer questions (even rhetorical ones).
Naomi is now able to sit cross-legged, supporting herself with her arms, for 5-10 minutes at a time! She doesn’t make much effort to balance correct with her arms (which can lead to toppling over, but she can take both hands off the floor for a couple seconds to reach for something. She’s also able to stand, bearing her own weight, holding onto furniture for support. She’ll lose her balance slightly every few minutes, but has had the strength to stand for about 45 minutes at a time!
We recently discovered with our therapist that the only remaining stiffness was in her quads where she couldn’t lay face-down and have her foot bent back towards her booty. I confirmed this myself the following day – I couldn’t bend her knee to raise her foot more than about an inch. Two days later, I tried the stretch again… and was able to bring her foot all the way to her booty on both sides!
Naomi’s grasp of everyday English is astonishing, and she’s incredibly creative in combining words, gestures, eye gaze, and signs to communicate. She’ll sign “sick” (one of several signs she’s invented on her own), I’ll ask “Who’s sick?” She’ll gesture toward the bedroom. “Daddy?” She nods and signs “sleep”. “Yes, Daddy’s sleeping.” She signs “medicine” (another invented sign). “You think we should give Daddy some medicine?” She nods vigorously.
She’ll imitate almost any word now, and has many new sounds. She’ll use any opportunity to communicate (mostly, we talk about people’s hair…). She’s able now to close her mouth. (It always gaped open even when eating and drinking) She even purses her lips now in “poison face” when she tastes something unpleasant.
She now lives with 2 loud, often hyper, small dogs and is constantly delighted by them (except when they lay on her doll by accident or try to lick the stray drips from her high chair). She plays a game with the beagle (who I promise enjoys this just as much as Naomi) where she lays on the floor and kicks the dog, who rolls around and chews on her toy. No end of delighted squealing and tail-wagging ensues.

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Naomi sits in her high chair in Colorado. Her mama has attached an easel to help her create new works of art. She LOVES all things related to art and music. She especially loves to sing worship music. Which, really, is no surprise!!

Psalm 145 Living Bible

I will praise you, my God and King, and bless your name each day and forever.

Great is Jehovah! Greatly praise him! His greatness is beyond discovery! Let each generation tell its children what glorious things he does. I will meditate about your glory, splendor, majesty, and miracles. Your awe-inspiring deeds shall be on every tongue; I will proclaim your greatness. Everyone will tell about how good you are and sing about your righteousness.

Jehovah is kind and merciful, slow to get angry, full of love.He is good to everyone, and his compassion is intertwined with everything he does. All living things shall thank you, Lord, and your people will bless you. They will talk together about the glory of your kingdom and mention examples of your power. They will tell about your miracles and about the majesty and glory of your reign. For your kingdom never ends. You rule generation after generation.

The Lord lifts the fallen and those bent beneath their loads. The eyes of all mankind look up to you for help; you give them their food as they need it. You constantly satisfy the hunger and thirst of every living thing.

The Lord is fair in everything he does and full of kindness. He is close to all who call on him sincerely. He fulfills the desires of those who reverence and trust him; he hears their cries for help and rescues them. He protects all those who love him, but destroys the wicked.

I will praise the Lord and call on all men everywhere to bless his holy name forever and forever.

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miracles (part 2)

If you missed the first part of this post yesterday, just click here to read it first.

God arranged it so that I got to be at the center on the day that Nana left her bed. And she never went back. This miracle (the first of many) felt huge to me, but I had NO IDEA what God had in store.

That day was the beginning of a friendship that I will treasure forever. We had Steph and Nana (who was now sometimes called Naomi) over for lunch and met them at the pool. We even took them to church with us sometimes. The months rolled on and Stephanie continued to wait for the adoption paperwork to go through. Nana began to make rapid progress in her new life with her new Mama. She began to make noises that sounded like words and she began to show signs that she clearly understood things that Stephanie was saying to her in English. Stephanie became really good at seeing the needs of Nana and finding creative ways to meet them. She sought out the expertise of an occupational therapist in Niamey and others via the internet. We began to marvel at the things that were happing inside Nana’s body.

Here are some details that Stephanie posted in June 2014 (reported with permission):
Let’s talk about neck/core strength for a second.
In December 2013: When we laid her on her tummy, she had to work really hard to lift her head to turn it to the other side. She frequently would collapse and face-plant into the mat, because she just couldn’t hold it up anymore.
Now (June 2014): She can push up to her elbows for a fair amount of time and hold her head with control. When she gets tired, she’s able to lay her head down gently. In the pool this weekend, she held her head up comfortably in any position for a couple of hours before she started showing signs of fatigue!
Before: When we’d sit her up (after a period of wrestling and bending each limb with no small difficulty), her trunk would be limp and her head would loll to one side and flop forward after only a few seconds.
Now (June 2014): She is quite capable of holding her body rigidly upright with reasonably good posture, and holding her head erect for long periods of time. Only when she’s fatigued does her head drop, and then it’s slow and gently, not spastic loss of control. She never needs a head support in the stroller now, because even when she rests her head on the side, her body and head don’t crumple forward. And the only thing preventing her from sitting supported by her arms reliably is her lack of awareness that her arms balance her.
In December 2013: most of her major joints were nearly frozen stiff, along with the muscles and tendons that held the joint straight. Her hips were the worst off. She could only be bent to sit with great difficulty and her knees were in a permanent frogged position.
Now (June 2014): she has full range of motion in nearly every part of her body, with the exception of her hamstrings. She bends at the waist easily, except when REALLY excited (when her whole body still stiffens from habit). She sleeps on her side now, with her knees bent, resting TOGETHER comfortably.
When we first met her: she didn’t even seem to understand or respond to Zarma, the native language the nannies at the orphanage spoke among themselves and to the kids, despite being at the orphanage two and a half years. She rarely vocalized except laughing, and if she did, it was mostly vowel sounds deep in her throat.
Now: she understands and responds to almost all day to day English about what we’re doing. She uses 5-10 signs to describe what she wants as well as the actions of dogs and people around her. Not only does she babble a wide variety of sounds with much more open tone, but she uses several spoken words including “hi”, “dog”, and “juice”. Before: she was TERRIFIED of dogs, and would cling to me for dear life, recoil in fear, and often cry uncontrollably.
Now: she falls asleep with a giant dog on the floor at the foot of her bed, reaches out to him with a hand or foot when he walks by, and talks about “og-gog” (especially about his nose) whenever he’s in sight. She still startles and picks her feet up when we come around a corner and he’s there or if he’ll walk directly up to her and smell her, but most of the time she’s at ease with him around.
Miracles after developmental miracles are unfolding before us – some fast and others gradually. We still have a LONG way to go, and there are times when I get frustrated when she’s too tired to perform the simplest tasks. Or discouraged that she’s not gaining weight more easily. But when I stop to survey how far we’ve come, I can’t think of a single system that isn’t being transformed. And in light of that big black hole she USED* to have in her brain? Well… that’s pretty great!

Months went by and the summer got closer. We were leaving for the U.S. and Dave and one night Dave and I got the bright idea to ask Stephanie and Naomi to live in our house while we were gone. “Why hadn’t we thought of that sooner?” we asked ourselves. We live in a house with extra beds, and Steph had been staying in guest houses and hotels for many months. So, they moved in and we left for the U.S. joking with her that “she better be gone by the time we got back.” You see Steph and her husband have 2 other (biological) kids that had been in the U.S. living with their dad and their grandma for about six months at that point. They were all ready to be united and start life together as a family of five. And we really wanted to see that happen for them. While we visited family and friends in the U.S., Stephanie and her husband decided that their kids should seize the opportunity that summer vacation provided and fly the kiddos to Niger to get to know their sister.

I will never forget the first morning after we arrived back in Niger. The plane had gotten in during the middle of the night when Steph and her kids were asleep. Early the next morning we woke up with jet lag to two darling little blondies playing on their tablets in the corner of the living room. I introduced myself to these beautiful, wide eyed, and seemingly timid children and they scurried back into their room to find their mom.

Life was fun and interesting in our house from August to December of 2014. We found a special blessing and a special grace lived with us, and our two families, as we all ate around the table each night and drove to church together on Sundays. The kids became fiercely loyal and loving with each other. Sam and Steph’s son have decided that they will be roommates in College. So many details about that time and knowing our friends in such an intimate way will always fill our memories of it with gratefulness. We would have never chosen to live with nine kids and three adults for months, but we knew it was what God had clearly asked of us. Stephanie ushered in a deep presence of the Holy Spirit and ministered to me in worship in a new and awesome way.

And then we began to see more Naomi miracles. She began to sit up on her own. She began to say more words. She began to communicate and clearly insist on things she liked and didn’t like. She began to have a voice and learn how to make it known. The beauty of that was spellbinding. I will never forget the day that Naomi crawled to me. She was in the living room having tummy time with her Mama and I was in the kitchen. She started to feel super motivated to move and I laid down on my belly in front of the oven and began to cheer her on. And she did it. Every day I just couldn’t believe the miracles I was seeing. Even more surreal was the fact that I was seeing it all take place in my own home. The fact that God allowed me to be so involved is a treasure that I will NEVER quite be able to put into words, but I know that Jesus and I will talk about it in heaven. His love is so sweet. He gives more than we could ever ask or imagine.
Naomi Crawling

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let me tell you about the miracles I’ve seen

I have decided to post this story in three parts. It’s long, but it’s worth the time! God has done AMAZING things. It’s not an exaggeration to call these things miracles. So, get ready to be amazed…
Over the past year I’ve been posting about living in a house full of miracles. I’ve also said a few times that I have some stories that I want to tell, and hope to tell soon. Well friends, today is the day. I am so excited to finally get to tell you about what God’s been doing. As I write this post I pray that He will give me the words to describe to you what a miracle it has been to me and the ways in which his faithfulness has completely stopped me in my tracks and changed everything about my attitude and my heart. He is so good!
Last year, I had the opportunity to spend time at a Center in Niamey for babies who had nowhere else to go. Each time I went, I would visit my friend Nana. I actually posted about her here. Her smile really found its way into my heart. She seemed to spend a lot of time in her bed, and had very little ability to move. Whereas most of the children in this center were babies, Nana and a few others were older, and they all seemed to be there because of their special needs. I tried to take her out of her bed every time I was there and bring her out into the sunshine. This was a challenge because her body was ironing board stiff. I remember trying to swing with her one day. By the time I got myself into the swing and got her legs and core into a sitting position and got the swing moving I was exhausted, but she was thrilled and making sounds that showed she was delighted. My guess was that she was about four years old because she seemed about as long as Nathaniel, but she was much thinner.
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As my heart became more and more invested with this sweet new friend, I became painfully aware of how glum her future looked. I thought of all the benefits she would have in my country. I began to pray for her, and as I prayed I felt so strongly that God wanted to get her out of her bed at the center. So, I asked Dave if we could adopt her. I knew this would change our lives dramatically, but if God wanted me to do it, I was so willing to love this little one with all I had. When Dave said no, I was first disappointed and then angry. I thought he would see the desperation of her place in life and know (like me) that something had to be done for her. His response was that God wasn’t calling us to help her. God would call a family to help her that lived in America. To me, this just didn’t seem fair. I was here, ready to love her, waiting for an “orphan ministry” to step into. I took my frustrations to God and began to seriously cry out to Him to do something for Nana. I reminded him, in boldness, that she belonged to Him and spoke to Him about her destiny and her future. I demanded that he do something to get her out of that bed, and I also told Him that I would help however I could. I think I even asked Him to let me help her.
And life went on.
But little did I know that He was at work. Sometimes He is moving and we can’t see it. I found out later that within two weeks of my blog post about Nana, some friends that I had never met got on the internet and saw her name (no photo) in a long list of names and felt the Holy Spirit move in their hearts. So much so, that a journal entry was written about feeling called to Nana.
Months went by.
Then a friend called me to ask if I was familiar with the center for babies. Did I know the director? Could I bring her there to introduce her? This is the way things are done around here. I gladly obliged. The meeting was set. Then there were some complication in our schedules and the meeting was postponed. Finally we walked into the Baby Center on a day in February (last year) to meet with the lady in charge. We sat in her office for a long time (that’s how things often go). As we talked, I saw a woman walk by the window outside and my attention was immediately turned to her. She looked like an American, and I had heard that there were some ladies that were in town to adopt from this center. As soon as the meeting was over, I made a bee-line to the other side of the compound where the children spent most of their time. As I walked down the sidewalk I saw the woman standing there wearing a red baby carrier and inside it was Nana.
As I approached her, the tears began to flow. By the time we were standing face to face I couldn’t speak. It began to sink in that this woman was here to adopt Nana. Could it be? I looked into this woman’s eyes through my tears and all I could say is, “She’s the one I love. She is so special to me.” It was a very emotionally charged moment for both of us. Even more so for Stephanie because this was the first day that she was taking Nana out of the center to spend her first night at the hotel with her new Mama.
God arranged it so that I got to be at the center on the day that Nana left her bed.
And she never went back. This miracle (the first of many) felt huge to me, but I had NO IDEA what God had in store.
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click here to read part two

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