Birthday anticipation

I wasn't going to tell Arie about his birthday party until a couple days before hand because he doesn't really understand time yet. It seemed mean to get him all excited for something that in toddlerland was still years away.

But, as I mentioned on my facebook page (thanks for the ideas, all who responded!), we're doing a "Teddy Bears' Picnic" theme and when the book arrived in the mail via amazon, I just could not hold it in any longer.
So two weeks before his party, I told him about it and started reading him the book. And playing him the song.

Now he's waking up in the morning and asking if its his birthday yet. He's also asking after nap, after meals, after snacks, and just generally anytime he thinks about it. Which is approximately every 97 seconds.

Here's a clip my sister took when Arie was talking to her and my mom on skype during dinner today:

Now it has only been four days, so as you can see his anticipation is still pretty cute.... but I don't know how long I can keep the excitement level up! I'm thinking Arie has another couple days in him before he starts to meltdown and think I'm withholding his birthday from him or that it's never going to get here. He will either develop patience over the next 10 days or the need to see a therapist. Could go either way.

All the kids are bringing their teddy bears with them.
John went to his parents' place and  picked up an old teddy
 from his childhood!
I haven't told him that the adults aren't bringing theirs... ;-)
Hopefully the party will be worth the wait because I'm putting three years worth of energy into it. John and I decided that since all three of us missed out on celebrating the two birthdays Arie had without us, that we were going to celebrate this one three times above average. There will be friends and family, picnic blankets and a craft station, delicious food on paper plates, presents and balloons, singing and candles, and everything our little guy needs to feel like the most cherished little boy on the face of the earth for just one afternoon.
Some yard signs for the different party "stations" (enter, play, eat, etc). 
Little Arie can't wait to celebrate his third birthday- his FIRST birthday in our family- and honestly- neither can I. I am constantly amazed that God has entrusted this little boy to our care. The birthday of an adopted child brings out so many emotions, which I share more fully in another post, but the one I'm feeling most fully right now is gratitude. Gratitude that God saw fit to provide for our little boy when we could not, that he led us to find him, to bring him home, and to call him our own. It is a profound gift that is not lost on me. To think that last year on his birthday, we had not even met him yet.... and now we are celebrating him and our family's love with our whole hearts.

I truly cannot wait. 10 days!



Six months home

Six months ago we were welcoming our little man home.

From Moscow...

... to Michigan.

Six months ago we were playing on swing and slipping down sides in a park, nestled between Moscow's communist era high rises.

And now we are turning our faces to the warming summer sun, leaving our boots behind and sinking our toes into the sand along Michigan shores.

We've seen Christmas



And we've welcomed spring.

We've been first hand, front row, awestruck witnesses to the redemption God has poured out on this little man's life. He is restoring the wasted years and bringing forth streams in the wastelands! 

Through these past six months more than every before I have seen God reveal himself as REDEEMER!

Praise the LORD, oh my soul! All my inmost being praise his holy name! Praise the LORD, my soul, and forget not all his benefits- who forgives all your sins and heals your diseases, who REDEEMS your life from the pit and crowns you with LOVE and compassion, who SATISFIES YOUR DESIRES with good things so that your YOUTH is RENEWED like the eagle's. - Psalm 103:1-5

Amen! What more can I say?



Figuring out authenticity in parenthood... a start.

(photo source)
I don't have any pictures of my middle school aged self on my computer (or actually in my house for that matter. Left them at my parents' place- maybe on purpose...), but I was a touch awkward. I was tall and thin with giant knees that stood out on my legs like bulbous lollipops on the sticks of my tibia. I enjoyed braces and pimples and glasses for a couple years. Armed with a green hairbrush and a Conair  steam straightener (total crap, that thing) I fought and lost a battle with my bed head every single morning. I was happy, but I was also a little nervous and insecure.

There was another tall girl at my church, a number of years older than I, who somehow sidestepped the awkward knees and mouth full of metal and went right from being a cute little girl to being a beautiful young woman. She was confidant, funny, and wonderfully authentic. I remember once as I stood outside on a summer day talking to two of my friends, she entered our circle to say hello. She was in college by then and definitely the coolest person I have ever encountered. One of my friends was chewing gum and began to nervously fiddle with it, stretching it slightly between her teeth and her fingers as she spoke. The cool, older girl stuck a piece of gum in her own mouth and with a big smile and teasing sparkle in her eye continued the conversation while stretching the gum as far as she possibly could from her mouth- two feet or so. The three of us girls giggled breathlessly at her antics and I recounted the story to my parents with great pride as we drove home in our van.

As I entered high school that super cool girl- Dieuwke (pronounced Duke-ah) began to intentionally mentor me. It was one of the best things that has ever happened to me. She took me and a couple of my friends out for breakfast before school every few weeks where we talked mostly about faith and boys and our future. She gathered us up a few Sunday evenings one summer to talk plainly about romance and sex and all the complicated emotions and decisions that go with them. She helped us make hard decisions.

I admired Dieuwke not because I thought she always gave the best advice or the right answers but because she was so real. She has this wonderful way of sharing ideals and showing us high standards on one hand but being totally honest about her flaws and failures on the other. She talked a lot about Jesus and being a Christian and yet she never once tried to paint herself as perfect; she never really even set herself up as an example for us. She just pointed to Christ. At the time I was somewhat mystified by how she could aspire to be like the great and perfect Jesus and yet be unashamed about sharing her regular flaw-filled life.  Now, however, I know what she was demonstrating:


She knew something I had yet to learn: that, yes, the Bible paints us a picture of ideal life where we are all filled with humility and none of us have one night stands or hold grudges against our friends, but more than that, it is a story about forgiveness and how God loves us even though we're awful and unloveable a lot of the time. She knew that she didn't have to "measure up" in order to be a "good Christian." Rather, she knew one of the hardest things to understand about the Christian faith: that God's strength is made perfect in our weakness.  She was boasting about her weakness, her inability, and her failure so that the power of Christ would rest on her. 

And rest, it did. 

I used to worry (and often still do) about letting my weakness show because I didn't want to be labeled a hypocrite. Actually though, what Dieuwke showed me was that as a Christian what my weakness really shows is how much I need Christ.

Today I live one border and 6 hours away from Dieuwke but I often wish the distance was shorter because as she has married and expanded her family with three little girls, she retains her authentic and joyful appeal. She hosts a (mostly) weekly get together with other women in her life (and their children) which she has affectionately named "Mommy Madness." A few summers ago I had the opportunity to see Mommy Madness in person and it was everything you hope authentic community will be. Dieuwke doesn't clean the house for it, she doesn't put herself together any more or less than she would on any other day, and she always has diet coke to share in the fridge. If you want a snack while you're there, you bring it with. And the ladies who are skilled in the kitchen usually do. 

What I saw when I visited was people doing life together. Highs and lows. Joys and challenges. Laughter and tears. Celebrating newborn babies and holding tightly to the hand of a struggling new mom. 

You wouldn't think anything miraculous would happen when a group of people come as they are and share life as it is, but it does. Somehow in the middle of that community those moms escape the smallness of their playrooms and the claustrophobia of their cars, crowded with carseats, finding new life in the space of each other's open arms. They find themselves laughing about a goldfish cracker found trapped between their boobs- something that alone, might have made them feel like they were loosing themselves to mommyhood. They find new grace for their children's antics as they hear those comforting words, "We struggle with that too." They feel burdens lifted from their shoulders as they offer to help each other out with childcare or a frozen meal or an invitation to dinner with the whole family in a few days. 

Life is really, really hard when we're alone. 

Life is really, really good when we're together. 

I'm still learning how to be that genuine with my friends. Even how to be that honest, here. But I'm inspired to go deeper, to love harder, to show my true self more often, and to welcome others to truly show themselves to me because as I remember these women with their arms open to one another, I can't help but picture Jesus and his arms stretched the widest, on a cross, for us. 




I'm friends with a woman who used to be my professor. That is crazy amazing to me. In 2005 I was a quiet, pensive student sitting in the middle of her philosophy class, asking every question I could think of, having my world rocked, and just basically wanting to absorb her brain into mine more and more with every word she spoke. I went on to take two more classes from her- one on the New Testament book of Hebrews and one on the succinct subject of the Holy Spirit- and fall in love all over again with her teaching.

I remember once literally crying as I listed her her describe Old Testament religious rituals and sacrifice. As we in the class sat under the sound of her voice, imagining the experience of leading a lamp to slaughter, we were breathless. Raptured. She wove her words about the sounds and smells and sights of the experience all the way through the scriptures up until we got to the cross and


saw Christ there. Lamb of God, sacrificed for the sins of the world. Once and for all.

I can't do it justice. Wish I could take you all back to college with me.

Anywho now we're friends and something I still can't believe this amazing, brilliant, compassionate, inspiring woman wants to be friends with little ol' me. Crazy blessed by her.

Well, as vividly as I remember that ritual moment in class, there's something else she said- and still says- that I keep coming back to. Something about truth. 

I went to a small bible college for my undergrad education. The college attracted quite the array of students, but we all had the most important thing in common: our passionate love for the Christian faith. I love Jesus and I love people who love Jesus but I'll be one of the first to admit: when you marry passion and religion, what you sometimes get looks more like a boxing match than love. Perhaps that's why my then professor and now friend so often repeated this line about truth- this very, very important line:

We must hold onto truth with open hands. 

She said with compassion. She said it as a gentle and gracious reminder to us fiery students sitting (arguing?) in class. She said it with the same motion each time: fists turning up and open. Hands open to the heavens- ready to give or to receive, either one.

I've thought a lot about those words since I first heard them eight years ago. I am not someone who believes that each person has their own truth or that every religion is equal. I believe that truth is found in the scriptures and is universal and unchanging. But that's probably why I can hold onto it with open hands. Because it's not going anywhere and I don't need to punch anyone in the face with it to prove its validity or worth.

But that's not the exact topic on my mind today. What's on my mind today is a little adaptation of my former professors phrase. I want to change the word truth to everything.

We must hold onto everything with open hands.

Have you ever heard the worship song Forever Reign by Hillsong? My husband was humming it today and as I subsequently played it through my mind, I heard these words in a new way: My heart will sing no other name: Jesus. 

I thought: wait a minute. Has my heart been singing no other name? Or has it been more like Jesus!(andmoney!) Jesus!(andsparetime!) Jesus!(andabeautifulhome!) Jesus!(andenoughsleep!) etc etc etc

It is amazing how I need to learn these lessons over and over again. Thank God he's a patient God. Just when I think I've learned how to hold on to my life with open hands, my tiny fists slowly close in around things that aren't God. Generally I'm not one to bow at the alter of materialism but I often find myself getting on my knees and folding my hands to the Power of Sameness and Security and Life Turning Out the Way I Wanted.

I can't share the details right now but suffice is to say John and I are facing some major decisions in the coming weeks and I have been shocked and saddened by how many things and issues and personal desires cloud my vision when really I should only be asking one question: what is the Lord's will for us?

When John and I were considering adoption we me with another older, wiser couple who had also adopted to seek their advice. The husband flat out told us that he wasn't going to tell us what to do but he was going to give us this advice: when you are making a decision in life you should consider the following four things in the following order:

1. Bible. Search the scriptures for wisdom on the topic.
2. Prayer. Ask what direction God has given you through prayer.
3. Wise counsel. Seek out advice from a variety of trusted friends.
4. Circumstances. Consider what impact the decision would have on your life and loved ones.

This is how I generally make decision:

1. Circumstances.
2. Circumstances.
3. Prayer.
4. Bible.
5. Circumstances.

I'm stubborn and independent so I usually don't ask other people what they think. It's not right... but it's true.

So in the next few weeks I'm going to be doing a lot of deep breathing and a lot of unclenching of the fists. Not my will but yours be done, Lord. His will for our future will be his will for our future not matter how tightly I hold on to anything else.

Praying that this will be true of me: my heart will sing no other name: Jesus! Jesus! 



Mother's Day

I have to admit that it was hard for me to fully live into the bliss of my motherhood on Sunday because I have not forgotten how painful that day was for me; the reality that the day was still bringing with it grief for so many women was not lost on me. I think that's okay though. I try not to put pressure on myself to experience something that I think I should be experiencing. True joy isn't pretending, is it? I think we find true joy when we open our hearts to the reality we find ourselves in and just simply ask God to reveal himself there.

Strangely enough, on Sunday God revealed himself to me as I pulled up two pairs of underwear over my little boy's bum.

He's potty training- Arie, that is- and we were 4 days in on Sunday. I waited until he was good and ready so it hasn't been that hard but we've had our share of accidents and I'll tell you it is nothing short of pure frustration when your kid is "going to the bathroom" while he's telling you that NO, HE DOES NOT HAVE TO GO TO THE BATHROOM. 

I don't know what I hate more- the defiance or the laundry. Probably a tie.

Well, I have three pairs of extra thick potty training underwear which I like for him to wear "out" so that if he has an accident say... at church- while the pee will still require a change of pants, it won't make a puddle on the plush cushioned chair beneath him.

As we got ready for church on Mother's day I found I only had one clean pair of the thick undies left. They were decorated with tiny pale yellow turtles and therein lay the problem. In Arie's mind those tiny yellow turtles just could not compare to the big bold swinging monkeys that adorned the other clean pair of underwear in his drawer. The other thin, non-absorbent, pee goes right through 'em without so much as a hesitation, pair of undies.

As Arie sat grumpily on the toilet no amount of Oh look at these yellow turtles! You love turtles! Just like the ones at the library! How cool are these??? could convince my little man. Instead he grew increasingly agitated, insisting louder and louder to his apparently deaf mama that turtle underwear was not happening. Thankfully it was a cool day outside and the bathroom window was closed, otherwise my neighbours would have started their sunday with a rousing rendition of, "NO TUTAS MAMA!!! MONKEEEYS!!! NO TUTAS!!"

So in true moment of motherhood brilliance, I told my little man that boy was he lucky because he was going to wear TWO PAIR OF UNDERWEAR TODAY!!

Worked like a charm. Monkey undies on top.

As I was pulling up the double pair of underwear on my little man, his arms wrapped around my neck for stability, I was hit with an overwhelming sense of gratitude. The LORD's voice steady in my heart, reminding me that last year on this day I was crying for this little boy and now here I was pulling up his underwear.

That was my Mother's Day joy: a reminder that God has granted me the desire of my heart and that my little blessing is here with me, making laundry and peeing on my floor. I'm not saying I'm going to start rejoicing in those motherhood messes, but I'm going to try and remember to ask God to show himself, even there.



Our "Yes but not yet" adoption journey (guest post)

"We hope to adopt someday, too!"

Sometimes when John and I share our adoption story we get this response and I love hearing it. Every adoption story begins with an act of imagination. You imagine your family looking different- another face in the family photo, another pair of hand prints smudged on the front window, another space in your heart for both joy and sorrow, and another reason give thanks to the Giver of life.

Arie's hand print on our front door. An adorable smudge.
Over a year ago my friend Leanne wrote a post in her blog about this act of imagination and I have been wanting to ask her to guest post for me ever since. Well, the day has come and Leanne has agreed to share with us a bit of what it is like to feel the call to adopt but know that the time has not yet arrived. I'm so honored to have her words appear here because I know that so many of you will be able to relate:


I’ve read somewhere that if something makes you cry, it’s because your heart is
connected to it. It’s part of it and within whatever it is lies a resonance you shouldn’t

This concept perfect fits my heart for adoption. I can’t talk about it without crying and I
can’t relay my friend’s stories of adoption joy without tearing up. I often envision our
future family portraits on the mantle and they have a couple more children in them, and
they’re not necessarily ones I gave birth to, and I love that.

I’m currently not in the process of adoption, but I wish I was. I am however an adopted
Aunt to an 8 year old Ethiopian boy named Fetinet and my daughter started calling him
her brother without any prompting from us. He comes over on days when his school is
closed and he’s so comfortable in our home that he bosses my kids around a bit, but
that wasn’t always the case.

Leanne's husband Kel and daughter Leanne welcoming Fetinet home!
Again with the tears, I often tear up while I make him a turkey wrap for lunch because
he’s only been here for 9 months and is was just this past July that he was so
overwhelmed with his adoption that he wouldn’t speak to anyone, not even his adopted
mom, my dear friend Joely.

I remember the first evening he came over and fell asleep on our couch for the fourth of
July. He watched the rest of the kids swim in the pool and sat next to us in silence. I
couldn’t imagine how overwhelmed he was that night, I’m not sure if I would have
spoken either.

But now? Now he informs me that I buy the wrong eggs at the store and have dirty
ceiling fans. He bounces around our house and holds my children’s hands when we go
grocery shopping. He gets excited when I pick him up from school, he’s a part of my
heart forever and always, I love being a part of his story.

In the evenings my children and I pray for orphans around the world, “children without
mommies or daddies” in 3 year old speak. A few months back we sponsored a child,
Jhon, from the Phillipines. I may have oversold it because my daughter spent weeks
telling people about “Jhon who has a mommy and daddy but had to eat food out of the
trash... but not anymore because he’s on our fridge.:

I don’t want them to think we’re American superheroes swooping in with money to
save, but Christian brothers and sisters, mommies and daddies running in to help
children in need with hands full of God’s love.

I’m an orphaned adult, our children have no biological grandparents alive and yet we
don’t lack love or a place to go on holidays. Why? Because we’re an adopted family,
God works through love thicker than blood even when no legal documents are in place.

And I want to spread the adoption love around, like right now. When I see the photos
and hear the statistics my heart is frantic to help. I want to bring these children home
yesterday, or preferably sooner. Yet I know how long the road of adoption is and I know
that we’re simply not ready to start today.

I wonder how long it will be until another set of Pajamas jumps into our laundry routine.

I imagine the sound of a new set of feet bringing their unique chaos and cadence to our
breakfast routine.

I know that there are too many unknowns for us in the next few years, we are moving
1,000 miles next month and my husband may be starting grad school. I know that the
call to adopt is wild and real, yet I know that God’s words for us right now are: wait guys.

So I wait and I wonder about those little people of my future, have they been born
already? Are they mere miles or massive continents away? Can they feel God’s love
through surrogate hands? And am I making excuses or listening to God’s timing for our

Anytime I go to the airport to help welcome home a sweet new child I find myself a daze
on the way home. Crying (of course) and wondering when when it be our day to adopt.
Will it come through international adoption or foster care? And as always... am I doing
enough now? Should I have gone out to dinner or given than money to help so
and so’s adoption?

For now I have to be content knowing that my calling to help orphans is real, but for now
it must lie in a supporting role. For now I offer prayers to God, Advocate with passionate
words and support adopting and Fostering families directly through friendship and
fundraising help.

Every part of life is a season, one which comes and goes, and this is my waiting,
wondering season when it comes to adoption. It will pass and give life to something
new, probably something terrifying and full of paperwork.


Leanne Penny is a full time wife, mother and all around creative spirit who spends her days raising two beautiful children and trying to find a quiet time to think in between sessions of coloring and matchbox cars.  She also loves to write and does so often on her own blog in addition to writing occasional pieces for online magazines and blogs.  Her favorite writing topics are grief, grace, motherhood and redemption.

Follow Leanne at her blog leannepenny.com
You can also find her on twitter and facebook


Summit 9

“And once you live a good story, you get a taste for a kind of meaning in life, and you can't go back to being normal; you can't go back to meaningless scenes stitched together by the forgettable thread of wasted time.”
― Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life 

When I read Donald Miller's book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years it changed me forever. It showed me how I want to live my life: like it's a really good story. If I could boil down the message of the book into just one sentence it would be this: to live a really good story, you have to want something and then you have to go and get it

I put this hypothesis to the test with our adoption journey and it came out strong and true on the other side. I wanted Arie and the journey to go and get him made a really good story. I've never felt so alive, so purposed, so fulfilled as I did when we were working to bring him home. Though it was impossibly hard at many points along the way, it was entirely meaningful and the richest experience of my life so far.

The Christian Alliance for Orphan's Summit this weekend reminded me of that in a powerful way. In the three or four weeks leading up to the summit I was starting to fall into that awful state of being called boredom. As I prayed to God and shared my heart, Psalm 27:14 kept coming to mind, "Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord." I told John that I was expecting God to move in my heart at the summit and move He did. 

9+ hour drive. Trip up was nearly perfect. Trip back... was not. But still: worth it!

(Pit stop.)
We've got some juice, some marker, some ground-in playdough and a little puke on our shirt here. Tie-dye. 
Being at the summit with two thousand other people was like being surrounded by two thousand really good stories. A Baptist church in Nashville hosted us and every space of that church from the sanctuary pews to the classroom lecterns was filled with a person who wanted something and then went and got it. 

These were people who want Jesus and for his Kingdom to come. These are people who see so clearly that in God's kingdom, no child is an orphan. They are people who know that to participate in God's kingdom means to take of the orphan in her distress. 

Jedd Medefind, the president of Christian Alliance for Orphans, said something truly valuable about participation in this kingdom: "For the Christian, love for the orphan doesn't rise merely from duty, guilt, or idealism. Rather, we are simply responding to the lavish love of the God who pursued us when we were destitute and alone." During the final general session Pastor David Platt echoed this same idea saying, "We do not care for orphans because we are rescuers; we care for orphans because we are the rescued." I share these two statement because it is so crucial for me to remember that my story life story will not be something new and I will not be walking a path untaken. Rather, if I want to live a really good story I simply need to copy the story that has already been told of me. 

David Platt. My husband was in his glory, hearing him speak!
Jedd Medefind, president Christian Alliance for Orphans
The incredible story told of me is that what God wanted was me and that he sent his one and only son to get me. The story we are invited to tell with our lives is to be imitators of that great love by setting our sights on the least and the weakest in the world and by showing them the same unwavering love that has been shown to us. 

After only the first day of the two day summit John and I walked down the church hallway, pushing Arie in this stroller, and John said to me with a smile, "Well Jill, I've decided that this (orphan care) is what our family is going to be about. And I'm really hoping you agree so I can actually say "our."" Of course I laughed and agreed. We don't have a plan of attack but we have something that might be more important: a prayer that God will break our hearts for the orphan and give us a way to share the love he's shown to us. 

Stealing our chips at lunch!
Here are a few things to give you a taste of those thousand beautiful stories that were walking around Summit 9 last week: 

This clip is from the Today Show and tells the story of a town called Possum Trot (seriously) in Texas that has incredibly adopted over 70 children from foster care. Bishop WC Martin, who you will see on the clip, was a summit speaker. (I really hate that this clip makes Walmart such a hero at the end but it is the best one I could find about the town.) 

This video was made by Anthony Salem, husband of adoption blogger Adeye Salem at nogreaterjoymom.com. It is truly amazing how adoption changes lives!

Finally, this is the story of the Twietmeyer family who I look up to greatly! I had the opportunity to meet Carolyn at the summit and it was the highlight of the week for me! 

Carolyn is the founder of Project Hopeful which advocates and educates for the adoption of children with HIV.

Incredible stories. These people inspire me so deeply because they want Christ's kingdom to come and they're doing everything asked of them to go out and get it. They are the rescued, imitating the rescuer. 

That's the kind of story I want to write with my life. I'm coming away from this incredible week with a renewed purpose and great expectations for where the Lord will call us next. 

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