Monday, January 25, 2016

My Name In Print

I distinctly remember the first time I knew I was a lover of words and stories.  I was a first grader, and Miss Kennedy's daily readings of Uncle Wiggily stories sent me into a head-over-heels plunge.  I was read to constantly as a child, but at 6 years old I took ownership of the love, and books became my best friends.

Soon I began to be drawn to writing.  Spelling came naturally to me as did grammar, not to mention I was that kid who thought writing in cursive was the coolest thing ever. I liked sentences and the way words sounded when put together.  As a fifth grader I was given a writing assignment by my Language Arts teacher; I had no idea it was an essay competition until the day I was called out of class and informed that I had won the S.C. Lt. Governor's Award for Excellence in Descriptive Writing.  My career aspirations took root as an 11-year-old when I made it known that I was going to be an English teacher and a writer.

Three years later, as an eighth grader, I won the Lt. Governor's Award award again, this time for Expository Writing.  For a brief moment I dared to believe that I had been gifted with the talent of writing and allowed myself to dream of someday being a 'real' writer.  But before I could finish basking in the glow of my newborn dream, harsh criticism (in the form of whispers of other 14-year-olds, behind my back, but just loud enough for me to hear, saying the only reason I won was because my father was the school district superintendent) delivered a devastating blow.  Fear, shame and embarrassment engulfed me and my dream crashed and burned - I believed the whispers.

Still a devout lover of words and stories and language, yet devoid of all confidence that I could produce anything of worth, I focused my energy on the teaching part of the dream, allowing it to be a conduit for my passion.  I didn't abandon writing altogether; I wrote in journals, I wrote sample essays for my students, I wrote poetry, I wrote letters, I wrote stories.  I wrote constantly, but for a highly controlled, severely limited audience.  The general public wouldn't see my writing again for more than 20 years. 

When I spent my first summer in Peru in 2006, some friends asked if I would journal the experience and share my entries with them (this was before blogging became popular, and before most people had even heard the word 'blog').  I agreed and my writings about my time in the jungle began circulating among close friends via email.  For the next two summers I continued my email journaling while my reader base expanded.  By 2009 I was living in Peru as a full-time missionary.  'Blog' had become a household word and the act of 'blogging' was an expectation in the world of foreign missions and its supporters.  So I launched my first official blog and my writing was now reaching an even larger audience.

Somewhere between late 2014 and early 2015 I caught a glimpse of something.  A flicker in my mind's eye.  A faint glimmer.  A distant memory.  I thought it was dead, buried long ago as an unrealistic whim of an idealistic teenager.  Some encouraging words here and there and a few comments of "You should write a book" and "You know, you're a really good writer" caused me to search the recesses of my brain and dig deep into my heart.  What I discovered was that the dream I thought had crashed and burned 30 years earlier was still there.  How was that even possible?

And so, with a lot of counsel and even more prayer, I took a bold step back in October by wiping the slate clean, starting this brand new blog, committing to writing, and investing in a gift that God intends for me to develop and use.  My first major commitment has been to the discipline of writing - thus the 2016 calendar year will see 52 posts made to my blog - one each week as I train myself to write on a regular basis rather than on emotion or whim.  Another aspect of this part of my journey with God has been creating a vision for at least one book and making a plan to bring it to fruition.  A third leg of this dream revived is honing my craft as an editor.  It's a leap of faith.  I'm scared.  And this time the whisperers aren't teenage classmates; the wolves that would threaten to eat me are bigger and meaner.  But that's ok.  

Once I told the Lord that I was ready for the next adventure with Him, He began to throw open doors of confirmation.  He's provided me with one miraculous 'coincidence' after another letting me know that I am, indeed, following the sweet sound of the Holy Spirit's voice.  One of the first miraculous coincidences was meeting and becoming friends with Brenda McGraw - writer, author, and founder of Ask God Today Ministries - whose enthusiasm and positive energy are contagious.  From the moment we met she has encouraged and challenged me in my writing.  Another miraculous coincidence was being introduced to a writer and author from Texas named Sandy Kreps.  Sandy took a chance and gave me, an unknown nobody, an opportunity to edit her new book, Mommy Simplicity.  I celebrate the publication of Sandy's book because it is amazing (I will write in more detail about the book next week), but also because, contained in its pages is my name in print, an acknowledgement of me as her editor - a huge step toward my dream coming true... 

(*Sandy's book is currently available on for pre-order in both Kindle and Paperback formats and will be available for immediate sale on Wednesday, January 27.  Click the book title link above to purchase your copy.)  

Monday, January 18, 2016

I Blinked

"For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by,
 or like a watch in the night."
Psalm 90:4

Recently my family and I took dinner to some dear friends to share a meal in celebration of the birth of their second child.  In spite of the fact that we were in the presence of a 2 1/2 year old, an 18 month old, and a 3 week old, dinner was peaceful and enjoyable (well, as much as it can be for our friends who are in the throes of the sleep deprivation, emotional and physical chaos, and adjustment that a new baby creates).  Despite the one year age gap between them, our toddlers were having a large time together, eating dinner at their own tiny table for two, then playing peacefully with only squeals of laughter alerting us to the fact that they were in the room with us.  Then it hit me.  Square in the forehead.  Right between the eyes.  My baby isn't a baby anymore.

Every mother has this moment, I think.  The realization that, at warp speed, the infant whom you firmly believed would never allow you to sleep another full night for the rest of your life has become a real person.  He doesn't need or want you to feed him anymore, or even cut up his pizza for that matter; he will eat his full slice like a big boy thank you.  He no longer has to be watched constantly while in someone else's home to make sure he doesn't touch or break things or otherwise get into something he shouldn't.  He's not attached to your leg or constantly climbing up your body out of fear or shyness or whatever it is that makes little ones cling rather than interact with others.  At some point, unbeknownst to you, he stopped being a baby and started being a little boy.  And even though you've been present for virtually every second of his life from birth to this moment, you never saw it happening, not really, until just now.

As an older first time mommy who moves in circles of other first timers who are 15-20 years my junior, I am aware that life and experience give me a slightly different perspective on the dog days of parenting.  In no way am I saying that younger mothers don't appreciate their kids or treasure many precious moments in the infant, toddler and pre-school years.  But a different level of appreciation accompanies the birth of a child to a forty-something first-time mother who had tossed in the towel ten years earlier believing parenthood wasn't a part of God's plan for her.  There has never been any doubt that I am a much different, much better parent now than I would have been in my twenties.

Unlike my twenty-something self would have been, I am determined to appreciate and embrace and commit to memory not just the happy, funny, easy moments, but the tedious, mind-numbing, pull-my-hair-out ones too.  And for the most part I do just that.  I typically start my day reminding myself to soak it all in - the great, the good, the bad, the ugly.  I'm conscious of little grins, quick hugs, and long snuggles.  I take deeper breaths and have a much calmer approach to incessant crying, temper tantrums, whining, and willful disobedience.  I get excited about back yard picnics, swimming lessons, trips to the playground, and reading 12 books at nap time.  I remind myself constantly that gibberish, toddler-speak, and a general lack of adult conversation or other intellectual stimulation is a finite phase, and all too soon I will be lamenting the loss of this stage.  A few short years ago I would have had no patience for any of this; in fact, this life that I treasure would have been pure torture for my younger self.  Now, lest I paint a false 'Ward & June Cleaver' image that anyone who knows me would balk at anyway, let me assure you I'm a typical mother too, experiencing things that are common to all of us regardless of age.  Are there days when my husband comes home only to wish he'd been asked to work late because the house looks like a tornado touched down, there's no dinner on the table (or on the stove, or in the fridge, or in the cabinet), and not only are Toby and I having massive meltdowns, but it's highly possible that the stuffed animals are crying too?  YES!'s much easier for me to recover from such days, evaluate them for what they are, and even find bits of humor and snippets of future great memories in them.

My point?  Knowing myself as intimately as I do, I am acutely aware that the mommy I would have been as a 26 year old with a two year old bears no resemblance whatsoever to the mommy I am now as a 46 year old.  The younger me never would have reflected on a week that consisted of little to no sleep, maybe two showers, a thousand poopy diapers, a little person lying in the kitchen floor kicking and screaming, saying the word "no" every 30 seconds, never going to the bathroom alone, and six loads of laundry piled on the bed waiting to be moved to the floor so we can sleep and thought, "these are the moments I never ever want to forget!"  But that's what I do.

My real point?  As much as I treasure this gift of motherhood that came to me much later and very unexpectedly, and as determined as I am to burn each day into my brain, time flies.  It gets away from me even as I am intentionally willing it to stand still.  I can't stop it.  I can't freeze it. I can't slow it down.  Holding my friend's newborn, it seemed like only yesterday that my little man was so tiny.  Yet as I watched him playing with the 18 month old, creating a soundtrack of their giggles in my brain, the clock was ticking.  A wise man named Kenny Chesney once sang, "Don't blink...You just might miss your babies growing like mine did...Trust me friend a hundred years goes faster than you think, so don't goes faster than you think...don't blink."

Obviously, I blinked.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Bags for Birth Mothers

Today's post is a bit different from my regular posts in that it offers you a chance to come alongside me in a ministry that God laid on my heart almost three years ago; today the dream becomes a reality.  

Perhaps the best way to give you a glimpse into my heart is to share a piece entitled Birth Mother that I wrote and posted on my previous blog, on Little Man's adoption day in 2013.  Reading that post will help you to understand why this new ministry, "Bags for Birth Mothers," is such an important cause.

Below is your opportunity to join me.  I hope you will...

Bags for Birth Mothers
Dear Friends,

My husband and I are adoptive parents.  Our beautiful baby boy, born June 15, 2013, is now a rambunctious, curious and ridiculously handsome two year old toddler.  We know the pain of infertility and the emotional roller coaster that is the adoption process.  But through it all, God moved me beyond myself and has given me a deep empathy for and sensitivity to birth mothers. Our birth mother is a special young woman who made a brave decision; she chose life and an adoption plan for her unborn baby. Her choice directly affected our lives, giving us an incredible gift for which I am eternally grateful.

For women whose paths to motherhood are similar to mine, the moment we become adoptive mothers is one of the happiest moments of our lives, yet also profoundly sad.  We leave the hospital carrying a newborn who is the answer to countless prayers.  Birth mothers depart empty-handed, facing days of doubting and wrestling with their decision, and perhaps being judged and criticized for allowing other families to parent their children.  God has laid it on my heart to minister to birth mothers, putting something in their hands that lets them know they are not forgotten, and that both their courage as well as their pain and grief do not go unnoticed.

I would like to offer you an opportunity to join me in this ministry.  Click this link, Bags for Birth Mothers, to shop my "Bags for Birth Mothers Thirty-One Party."  Place an order for one or more Zipper Pouches (cost is only $18 including shipping, tax, and Thirty-One Gives Round-Up for Item #3045 - any pattern) and I will donate my commission as a Thirty-One Independent Consultant to fill the bags with items that will minister to the physical and emotional needs of a birth mother.  (You may contact me directly to place your order, or if you wish to order additional items). My goal is 50 Zipper Pouches.  I am currently working with the adoption counselors to determine how to appropriately fill the bags.  When the bags arrive and have been filled, I will follow up with those who have participated, providing you with photos of the bags and their contents.  I will be donating the bags to the Law Office of James F. Thompson, Adoption Attorney, whose adoption counselors will present them to the birth mothers they have counseled and befriended as they are discharged from the hospital and the adoption placement is complete.

Birth mothers deserve to know that they are loved as unconditionally as they love their babies and as Christ loves them.  Help me demonstrate this love.

A child born to another woman calls me mommy. The magnitude of that tragedy and the depth of that privilege is not lost on me.
Jody Landers  

Monday, January 4, 2016

A New Verse

Happy New Year!

If you're like me, by the end of the year you're tired, worn out, and in need of some renewal and a fresh start.  All the holiday hoopla is over and you're facing a new year.  Will it really be any different from the previous 365 days?  Or will it be a 'same verse, different tune' kind of thing?  Maybe you make resolutions and keep them, then measure your success and celebrate.  Or perhaps your good intentions crash and burn before you've even finished the left over black-eyed peas and collard greens.

As for me - I don't just want 2016 to be different; I need it to be different.  More importantly, I sense God telling me it is His will for it to be different.  My husband feels the same way.  A year from now we don't want to take stock of our lives and find we are in pretty much the same place - stagnant and full of 'what-ifs,' regretting all that we did NOT do. Instead, we want to have stepped out in faith, into the abundant life that God has promised us. But where do we start?  How do we get there from here?

The Mini Marriage Retreat!

While it would be nice to participate in an organized, planned and targeted retreat, or even to drop our son off at a grandparent's house and run to the coast for a winter getaway by the ocean to plan our coming year, our budget doesn't allow for that at this time.  (We know friends who've enjoyed structured marriage conferences, and others who've conducted their own marriage retreats/planning getaways; we highly recommend either when they are realistic options.)  But time away from home wasn't possible for us, so we borrowed from our friends' plans, then added a dash of our own styles and personalities to create a meaningful time together that did not require leaving town, or our own living room for that matter.

Here's a peek into our personalized retreat in the week leading up to New Year's Eve:
  • In our own time and our own way, we each took a few days to pray and think about our lives as individuals, as a couple, and as parents.  Separately we asked God to show us what He wanted us to take away from 2015, as well as what He wants us to take into 2016.  This time included some serious introspection and brutal honesty with God and ourselves - not necessarily fun, but always productive. 
  • After several days of meeting with God individually it was time to put Toby to bed, then put pen to paper.  We turned off all electronics and prayed together.  Without discussing anything, we spent the next hour or so writing 3-5 specific goals in each of the following categories:  Personal, Work, Marriage, Family and Finance.  
  • The next day Little Man got to spend an entire day playing with a friend while Collins and I enjoyed some time to ourselves.  We cooked brunch, drank coffee, talked, enjoyed uninterrupted, individual quiet times, prayed together, ran errands, and put the finishing touches on our goals from the previous night.  
  • We picked up Toby, then had dinner and some family play time.  Once little man was fast asleep, we turned on the Christmas lights, diffused some relaxing essential oils, turned off all electronics and settled in for some quality time together. We devoted the remainder of the evening to sharing our goals in each category, discussing what we had each written and coming to an agreement on common goals for the Marriage, Family and Finance categories.  We also determined ways we could support and encourage each other in our respective Personal and Work goals.  Be assured that not all of our conversation was easy and free-flowing, as this kind of soul-searching opens the door for God to reveal some unpleasant things that must be addressed.  We incorporated a couple of breaks into the evening for times when things got heavy and even uncomfortable (stepping outside and taking a few deep breaths under a starry sky does wonders for your attitude and perspective!).
In a week's time we invested significantly in our personal walks with the Lord, in our marriage and in our family - a mini marriage retreat in the comfort of our own home.  (Let it be noted, however, that when we are able to have a true, out-of-town escape, you'll find me on the beach squishing some cold sand between my toes - it makes those difficult discussions a little less painful!)  

I'm positive that I speak for both Collins and myself when I say it was time well-spent and one of the best things we've ever done for our relationship.  I also feel safe in saying it was the inaugural year of a rich, new tradition!

Perhaps the crowning moment of our in-home marriage building was asking God to lead us to scripture that spoke to both of our hearts about where we currently are in our journey with Him.  We prayed for a passage to ponder and a verse we will memorize and meditate on daily in the new year.  He delivered...  

Let us not become weary in doing good, 
for at the proper time we will reap a harvest 
if we do not give up.
Galatians 6:9
(Galatians 6:1-10)