Thursday, January 4, 2018

You Didn't Get a Christmas Card from Me because My Life is a Mess

Literally, it took a while to find the computer under the heap of papers on the desk! And in a lot of other ways our life is a mess right now. I think this every time I sweep the floor and marvel at how much mess little people can make in the 20 minutes since I swept it last! And every time I look at my kitchen counters with barely an inch of space visible and cringe. But more than the physical mess, this year has been messy all around.

Don’t misunderstand, it was a good year, it was so full of blessings and I absolutely have SO much to be grateful for. It was a year when we added not one but two children (for now) to our family. In February we welcomed J who was then 17 months old but not yet crawling or standing. (She has come so far and is now running after her brothers!) And in September her brand new little brother came to live with us just 4 days old.  They are so fun, beautiful children who we are so grateful for the time we get with them. But 5 kids, Nathaniel (6), Samuel (3), Bella (2), J (2) and Tiny (3 months) brought a lot of challenges and is wonderful and hard. And foster care is wonderful and hard. And the ups and downs and worry (I know I’m not supposed to worry, I’m a work in progress) was a lot to handle. Just navigating time with the kids birth parents and answering all the kids questions and trying to help them work through it is hard. Sometimes, they just cry, because it’s a very hard thing. It’s a mess really. I know in those moments most of all, when I’m trying to explain how a mother can’t care for her child, that the world is such a mess. When my child cries himself to sleep because he misses his sister or because he’s worried about his foster sister leaving, it’s obvious we have made quite a mess out of this world. We know in the core of our being that we weren’t meant for this.

Last week I was too late catching one of the girls banging this poor angel on the table, and I couldn’t help but think it was a pretty good visual of how I’ve been feeling, and maybe how a lot of us feel around this time of year.

I even wrote a blog post that I never posted about the reason to be joyful at Christmas. But this month I was painfully reminded how little control I have over our life and how powerless I am to protect our foster children. After a phone call with the social worker I was feeling so fearful and sad and Nathaniel who didn't know what was going on was jamming to Christmas music all day. I found it so difficult to be joyful with that music playing so opposite what I was feeling in my heart. Christmas seems to be all about joy and hope and that can almost make it worse when you feel so differently. I was reminded how even though the birth of a baby is a beautiful thing, there was a lot weighing down the heart of our holy mother back then too. As I held this 3 month old precious baby boy in my arms that night and wondered what his life might be, what hardships he might face that I may not be able to protect him from, I realized Mary could have held Jesus and wondered the same. And I realized that God didn’t have to wonder, he knew (HE KNEW!!) and he handed him over still.

I think the saints mastered feeling joyful even in the absolute worst life had to offer. I know sometimes I can do this and sometimes I'm not there yet, but I know that no matter how we're feeling at Christmas time, no matter what mess our lives have become that God who is perfect, loves us enough to enter into the imperfect and the hurt with us. If being born in a barn, literally right into our manure, isn’t proof enough that there’s no where he wouldn’t go to be with us, I don’t know what is. Mary knew this, that even though she was facing something so hard, this baby was here because God hadn't forgotten about us, he came to save us from our mess.

So my life is a mess. I have more children than you can count on your fingers, and most aren’t living. One lives with her birth mom and I get to see her every few weeks on the weekend. 5 live with us, one of those has down syndrome and parenting her as a toddler has been harder than I expected, one of those refuses to use the toilet every other day, one of those is determined to break me by asking to play the iPad every 3 minutes, and two of those I have cared for as my own but I sit in the back of courtrooms while lawyers make decisions about them. I can count the number of adults I talk to in a typical week on one hand. Must-socialize-always-me, now is a hermit. I miss my church family where I used to practically live and now I visit for just an hour on Sundays.  I miss the staff and the residents at the nursing home where I used to work that I’m never able to visit anymore. I miss friends I used to have and wonder if people think I forgot about them. I haven’t, I think about you often, but that’s all I have time for between diaper changes and late night feedings,  home school lessons and meal after meal after meal (did I even leave the kitchen today?) Sometimes Dan and I dance in the kitchen, and sometimes we realize all we’ve said to each other that day is “can you pick up milk from the store? Where did you hide toys X, Y and Z? Did you pay the rural water bill (No is usually the answer, why is that so hard for me to remember!)  and my personal favorite, “Can you watch the kids, I need to walk to the mailbox. And yes, I know you already got the mail.”

But Thank You God, that you came to be with me right here in this mess. Because at supper Nathaniel was making silly faces at J and she was laughing so hard she almost fell off her chair. And because Samuel and I ran from alligators and were safe on our pretend boat and Bella loved her sled ride. Because Tiny smiles and my heart can hardly contain it. This is Emmanuel, God with us. "Whoever receives one child such as this receives me." Mt 18:5 This is how he comes to us, in these people, in these children. How silly are we to think we might find joy in any thing else? And even if we've made it a mess, even if we continue to mess it up daily (just ask my kids how many times I lose it a day), there is He is, right in our mess, right there with us.

I hope you know even though we didn't have time to send out a card this year, that we are so thankful for you and the way you bring God to us. We could never do any of this without Him and without you. Your constant outpouring of support as we follow where He's leading us on the crazy adventure is priceless to us.
Praying you find Him this Christmas season and this year in your good times and especially in your mess.
The Full's


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Smallest Yes

I don’t think she really knew what she was getting in to.  Mary, when the angel announces that she will be the mother of the savior of the world, gives her “yes,“ Let it be done to me according to your word.” It was a pretty big “yes”, it was a surrender of her life, of any plans she might have had, a letting go of her cares of what people might think and any type or normalcy. And we know she would have understood that suffering would be involved. But surely she never pictured walking the bloody road to Calvary with her precious child someday. If so, would that “yes” have come so joyfully, so instantly?

This was his design I’m sure. I don’t doubt that Mary would have refused God anything, but I believe He laid her life out as an example for all of us. Dr. Edward Sri discusses the many times Mary says “yes” to God after her big “yes” to the angel in his book Walking with Mary. He talks about how she was given opportunities at his presentation in the temple, the wedding at Cana, etc each time learning a little more about how His life and hers would unfold, each time getting another opportunity to say yes or no.

Dan and I are celebrating our tenth wedding anniversary this week. We’ve been reflecting a lot about the promises we made ten years ago, about the people we were back then, and most of all how we really had no idea back then how our lives would unfold. We realize, when we said “I do” we really had no idea what we were getting in to.

Had I stood on that altar ten years ago and someone asked me “will you suffer loss after loss of your biological children for the rest of your marriage?” would my answer still have been yes? Had they told me I was signing up for the heartache of saying goodbye to babies I raised as a social worker drives them away to parents who have abused them in the past, would I have run out of that church? If they said “your yes today means the rest of your life will be filled with a roller coaster of custody battles and children who trust you to protect them but someone else controls their future,” I just can’t imagine I could have choked out an “I will.”

We didn’t know all of that. We knew it would be hard, just laying down our lives for the other, and it was…still is. It was a big yes, to give our lives in service to God and to each other, laying aside any plans we might have for the new journey God would take us on. But in his wisdom, He really let us give a small yes. A “yes” to inviting life into our marriage. To letting the holy spirit work. A yes that led to heartbreak, that would have been easy to see from a distance.

But a Yes that also led to peace, growth, understanding, compassion, and even (especially) joy. I would not have been convinced of this until I was there. I wouldn’t have believed as a 22 year old bride that this suffering would be in fact a great gift. That it would be used to draw me closer to Him, draw us closer to each other, and draw others to Him. I wouldn’t have believed the incredible way I would experience the love of God through his presence and through community when I came to the absolute end of myself. I wouldn’t have guessed we could see the absolute worst in each other and actually love each other more.

So he asked for a little yes instead. And I joyfully gave it. And when our babies died we gave another little “yes”, to a different plan He might have. And when a little boy came to live at our house, our yes to him turned into a yes to foster care, a yes I don’t know we would have ever said otherwise. And the heartache is terrible.  I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, to raise a baby for a year and say goodbye. And I wish it for everyone. Because I got to love that baby for a year and I can’t imagine my life had she not been a part of it. Because I got to love like there was no tomorrow. Because she is made in the likeness of God, and each tiny person that comes through these doors shows me another side of Him I never knew. Mary kept saying yes because she knew the beautiful truth, that the hardest things are the best things. It didn’t really matter what the suffering was, because she was with God himself, and that’s always a good place to be.  

This scary, difficult life has brought us the joy of Nathaniel, Samuel, Isabella and so many others whose names I can’t share.  So now the phone rings and we say a little yes. Never really knowing what we’re getting into except that it will probably be hard, it will probably be joyful, and certainly God will be there.

These last few weeks we’ve been in complete wonder at the gift of life and the journey God has brought us on as we welcomed a brand new baby boy in September. We’re calling him “Tiny”, and we’re all in love with him. In true stork fashion, he was delivered to our doorstep just a few days old, less than 8 lbs and the most precious thing we’ve ever seen.

We could have said no, with a 6 year old and three toddlers our house is pretty full as it is and so are our hands (people keep reminding us when we’re out in public.) There’s a good chance this little guy will incredibly break my heart. But I’m thanking God tonight that I had no idea ten years ago what I was getting into and that I have no idea right now exactly what I said yes to. Because the only thing I know for certain when I look into his beautiful brown eyes, is that God is here. And yes is always the best answer when God is asking the question.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

I Think the Baby Broke My Wife

“I think she’s broken. I think the baby broke my wife and I’d like you to fix her.”

That’s what a husband of newborn babies said to the doctor on the “This is Us” tv show I saw on an airplane on our trip to Florida last winter. I remember wondering just how many husbands have thought those same words but never voiced them aloud. Baby’s change us.  And it’s not a slow change but an instant one that can leave a husband wondering, what happened to my wife? The calm, decisive, always-knew-what-she-wanted woman that he married is now the one who just spent twenty minutes selecting a diaper cream, and tears came at 10 minutes with a “this shouldn’t be this hard!” temper tantrum to follow. Yoga pants and tshirts become daily attire even for the woman who "always" dressed up, and happy and upbeat personalities become worrisome and exhausted.

But below the surface changes of motherhood, there was a deeper brokenness this man was talking about, because one of their three babies had died. It was that baby that had really broken his wife. It was that one who had taken the light from her eyes and drained the love from her heart. It was then that she became just a shell of a person, who looked fairly normal to the outward person but felt so empty inside.

I remember feeling this way in our early years of marriage during the loss of our first children. With every loss I was more and more broken. I remember realizing one day the broken state I was in, and wondering if I would ever again be the person I used to be. I knew the answer was “No.” I could never go back there even though I wanted to desperately.  These children, losing them, had changed me forever.

But there was a time I saw that light did come back into my eyes. That I would never be the same person I used to be, but different didn’t have to mean worse. There was a long time that I felt healed, that I know the Holy Spirit filled in those gaps and actually left me better than before.

And then last year something changed. I didn’t see it right away, I knew I was sad and hurting, and I knew I never got over it, but I didn’t realize just how badly I had been broken by saying goodbye to M. I didn’t see it until she came back to visit and we were a whole family again. I didn’t realize how hard my heart was until she was here and I was able to love so well. I didn’t know I was angry about it until a friend pointed it out.

The problem is that I wanted God to fix the situation and to fix me. But I was thinking about that man’s words to the doctor, and what my response would have been to him or what it would be to any new parents: “Don’t worry, this is not what has broken her, it’s actually what is fixing her.” It refines us, molds us, bends us, stretches us. Motherhood completely changes us, and it’s a good thing. It doesn’t seem so good at first as we stumble along trying to get the hang of it, hormones taking us on a ride. But motherhood is the ultimate cure for selfishness. It’s the end of pride and the beginning of humility. Its life’s greatest teacher in putting another before ourselves and trusting God with the million things we cannot control.  It’s just shocking for us because most of us didn’t realize we were so broken to begin with, so it’s hard to understand when God takes the chisel of motherhood and starts fixing. We pull away, we try to run from it, it seems to be wrecking the beautiful work of art that we believe we are. Except the sculptor knows what He's doing. He sees our beautiful potential and he knows just how to bring it out. But it's probably going to hurt a little.

So if those words echo in my heart, that means that this too, this desert I have walked for the last year, this pain of missing her and worrying about her, is really not breaking me but fixing me. It means there is some serious repair needed in my heart and this is the circumstance He’s using to do it.
It's not the way I would have chosen, but I trust that this is exactly the chisel He knows that I need.
Don't worry, you're not broken're just a work in progress....aren't we all?
Prayers for you today as you trust Him in the hardest times. After all, faith and trust when we don't see or understand is the most beautiful faith of all.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Dear Graduates...Dear Moms...Dear Everyone: Be Kind to Yourself

This theme of needing to be kind to ourselves has been popping up in my life over the past couple of weeks, and I wanted to share it with those who recently graduated. But the more and more I reflect on it the more I believe we all need to hear it or be reminded of it no matter what stage of life we are in. Therefore...
Dear Graduates, (Dear Mom's, Dear Everyone,)
This is such an exciting time in your life, to celebrate accomplishments and look forward with hope to all that the future could bring. Over the course of your graduation and transition to your next endeavor I'm sure you'll hear so much advice on how to be successful. You'll hear beautiful speeches about achieving your dreams and receive flowers and cards filled with wonderful words of congratulations and praise. You will celebrate your success and you should, because it is a great one!! I am proud of you!
But one thing that is rarely talked about on these days of celebration and dreaming about a wonderful future, is that there's a very good chance you will fail. I don't mean to rain on your parade or discourage you from chasing your dreams. I mean that on the path to success there are obstacles and risks and everyone who has ever been successful has also failed, often many, many times before finally finding their way. What separates the very successful, of course, is how they handle their failure. Do they get discouraged? Do they give up? Do they continue doing the same things expecting different results?  No! They keep trying. They learn from their mistakes and change their actions. They don't dwell on their failings but on their talents and potential to be successful next time.

So the advice I want to share with you as you set out into the world is: Be kind to yourself. When you fail, because you will, at something, or at a lot of kind to yourself. No one says worse things to us than we say to ourselves. And it's the negative voice that makes us want to give up, or makes us believe we won't ever succeed. So, when you fail, be kind. Talk to yourself as you would to a friend. Use encouraging words, see your positive attributes and your potential to succeed.

The second part to this advice, is that most of all, I'm not really talking about your success or failure with your career, although it relates as well. I'm really talking about your success and failure with relationships. Because those are the ones we really lose sleep over. At the end of the day, at the end of your life, the successes and failures at work will matter so very little, but the ones that will weigh heavy on your heart or fill it with joy have to do with the way you are in relationship with people.

This has been so prevalent in my life right now as a stay-at-home-mom, because honestly, most days I feel like a complete failure. There are 4 tiny people completely dependent on me for their every need. It has pushed me to the end of myself when I feel I have nothing left to give. And at that place I am not the mom I want to be. I fail them. I fail myself. I fail my husband. No failure I have ever made in the classroom or at work has ever left me with the terrible feeling that sits in my gut after I have lost my temper with these precious tiny people. I always tell people, I used to think I was a pretty good person, and then I got married.  My flaws were a lot more obvious when I was living with another person, but having children brought sins to the surface I had no idea were in me!

It's so ugly really, selfishness in all it's forms as a parent. And it comes out in a lack of patience, in harsh words, in LOUD words, in words that fail to see good. Maybe it's a whole terrible day, but most often its five minutes that I can't take back, words I can't retrieve, a tone I can't soften.

Maybe for you it's a family member you struggle to repair a relationship with. Maybe judgment always trumps love. Maybe you try and try but it always ends the same. Maybe its a friendship that seems irreparable. Maybe its the way you spoke to someone at Walmart that you may never see again. Maybe you really want to overcome this sin but your best efforts fail. When we know we were made to be better, but we fail, it hurts the most.

It's good that we feel that way to some degree, we need to know the difference between right and wrong, good choices and bad. We need to want to do better. But there is a danger of getting stuck in the guilt and rut of failure, and not believing we can get out. This is when it is so important to be kind to yourself. When you are at your lowest, when you see your failures, when you feel that hurt in your gut, when you know you were made to be kind. Because the voice saying all those terrible things about you isn't the voice of God. He still sees your potential. He still see's the good. He still thinks your worth dying for.

If He believes in you, then you should too. You will fail, at one, or ten or fifty relationships with friends, and coworkers and family and especially the people closest to you. When you do, be kind, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, try again. This is what defines successful people, at work and in relationship, they continue to try.

Saint Francis de Sales said it much better than I have:

"Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections but instantly set about redeeming them--every day begin anew."

Every Day Begin Anew.

Sometimes I even begin the day anew at lunch time.

The same day I read the quote from St Francis this song came across my phone...pretty amazing the way God reminds me that He's paying attention to me. I've been letting the refrain replay over and over again as I go about my day, I hope you will too.

Praying for you to be kind to yourself today!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Thank You for Dandelions

Some see weeds, popping up all over the place where people don't want them to grow, spoiling the orderly look of an all green lawn. But I see a beautiful yellow flower, that is so resilient it grows even where it is unwanted, un-cared for, in the harshest conditions of drought or flood, cold or heat. I see a flower that brightens areas that people don't want color in, that brings variety and diversity to the mundane.  I see something that brings a lot of joy.
They pick them wherever they see them, bringing them to me proudly, presenting them as a prized possession saying "I love you!" as they hand them over and wait for their kiss.  They are a prized possession. I still ooh and aah at them and smell them and put them in water every time. They are beautiful on their own and they are breathtaking in the tiny hands of my children who hold them up to me with such love in their eyes.
Tomorrow we're celebrating mother's day, and all over the country moms will be disappointed at the way the day turns out. They will have wanted to go out to eat when their husband made food at home. They'll have wanted a break from the kids but the kids wanted to play. They'll have expected rest or some certain type of day that didn't come. And they will be frustrated that their chance is yet again over as the only day of the year for them to "catch a break" is ending. I have been that mom.
But tomorrow all over the world, mothers who have lost their children, or mothers who have never been able to have children will also be disappointed at the way the day turns out. They will try their best to ignore it or to make it nice for someone else, but all their best efforts will still leave them fighting back tears and with an emptiness inside that seems to get bigger with each day. I have been that mom too.
Maybe that's why I love dandelions. Because I've learned that when I let go of my expectations for the way the day, or my life, must be, I can see the beauty already there. If you are expecting green lawn and red roses, dandelions disappoint. But if you just wait to see what you'll get, you'll be thrilled when those pretty yellow flowers pop up and add color to your world.
Now maybe we can transmit this same thought to children. If we have a plan for things to be neat and orderly, children will disappoint. If we have a plan for big careers or fancy cars, children will  get in the way. They might take all our energy or money. But if we stop our planning and wishing and wait to see what God will do, we might see how children shine light into the dark. They are incredible, the way they brighten up our "orderly" lives. The way they persevere despite the harshest conditions and still smile so sweetly. They are resilient the way they fight to live even when they are un-wanted or un-cared for. And they bring a million times more joy than any career or fancy car.
If we're still wishing for roses, we'll never appreciate the beauty of the dandelions in front of us, and wow are they beautiful. I guess that's why God keeps sending them, to bring light into the dark, to add variety to the mundane.
Thank you God for dandelions and thank you for my beautiful children, I am so incredibly blessed to be their mom.

Monday, April 17, 2017

You Aren't Good Enough

"You aren't good enough." We've all heard those words, haven't we? Rarely ever in verbal form, but echoing through our minds as the day wears on. Here's what's incredible. Last week I shared Isabella's story and over a thousand people read it. It's probably nothing in the terms of social media, but to me, that her story can touch the lives of more than a thousand people is amazing. The comments and reactions went straight to our hearts.
Since Bella's adoption and since adding another 1 year old to our family we've gotten so many comments about how great we are, even to be called saints and told how lucky the kids are to have us. I have a confession: when I hear those things I cringe a little.
The words sting. I am not a saint. I am not great. To be viewed that way feels insincere and I fight the urge to correct the speaker.
The truth is, there are many days, if not most, that I'm quite sure I have appropriately earned the Worst Mother of the Year Award every year since 2011. Most days, I end the day laying my head on the pillow re-playing the numerous scenes from the day I completely messed up and severely regret. How many times did I raise my voice today? How many times was I impatient? How often did I just fail to see what they were really needing? You don't see my temper lost, my worst self, but I do. I know all my failings and in case I forget the devil is sure to whisper them to me at every opportunity.
"You're not good enough to be a parent. These kids deserve someone better. Why are you taking more children when you are not parenting the ones you have well? Other parents never yell. Other parents do a much better job with discipline and teaching...."I could really go on for hours with the criticisms I have about myself. They're not all just about parenting, there's a long list about the wife I am and my roles in ministry within the church. The devil can be so convincing, and has often made me question if I should be doing what I am doing.
He is right. I am not good enough. I'm am not a good enough wife or mother or friend or youth minister or .....
BUT God thinks I am. He doesn't just think it, He knows it. He called me to this work, to be this man's wife, to be these children's mother, to be in the lives of these specific people. It wasn't by accident that I stumbled upon them. I've heard it said that the devil knows our name but calls us by our sins, God knows our sins but calls us by our name.
All we have to do is pick any character from the bible and we will find the least obvious choice, the most flawed, the most unqualified for the job, and we see that is who God selects. He doesn't focus on their failings but their potential. This lent especially I was reflecting on the donkey that carried Jesus into Jerusalem as the crowds worshipped and laid palm branches at his feet. He was a colt, untrained, never been ridden, too small. Probably the least qualified donkey in town. There was nothing special about him, and very few probably ever noticed him or his qualities or flaws. But He brought Jesus to a lot of people. He played an essential, but not noticeable role in a very important part of the story of salvation.
Don't hear me saying that the sins I struggle with are ok. I have a lot of work to do, I need the grace of forgiveness and the help of the holy spirit to overcome them. I know I want and need to be a better mom to these incredible children who deserve only the best. But do hear me say that if you're waiting to be perfect to share the gospel, then it will never be shared. None of us is good enough, but we are asked to try, to go where we are led and bring Jesus to people in our imperfect way that He makes perfect.
I tried something different tonight, when I was re-hashing the terrible moments of the day I happened to be clicking through photos I had recently uploaded to the computer. You know what, the photos told a very different story than my recollection did. Those really were genuine smiles and laughs on my computer screen. They really do a lot of fun things and enjoy life. One that I happened upon was my tiny farmer Samuel who grabbed the pail when we were outside and said "I feed cows mommy!"

He went right to get the grain just like he's seen his Dad do. Since he was willing, I helped him put a little grain in his pail and he proudly headed toward the cows who were quick to line up at the sound of the grain in the bucket. He looked so small heading towards those big, hungry animals. It took all of his strength to carry that bucket that was 1/20th full of grain.
He did it all by himself and came back for a second bucket. That time, it was a little more full and he turned back afraid maybe he had taken on a job he couldn't handle. So I came close, walked beside him, and helped him carry and dump it.  The cows were happy. I could have done it myself 20 times faster, but the joy that He and I both got because he did it was the goal. 
I suppose the lesson He's trying to teach me is that it really isn't all on my shoulders as it weighs heavy each night. He enjoys letting me help, but he'll gladly carry the load when it gets too heavy.

Thank You God for believing in me, even when I give you so many reasons not to, even when I don't feel good enough, because this really is a lot of fun, and it's really nice to be included in your work.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Introducing Isabella Marie Full

Sometimes....maybe most of the time....our prayers are answered in ways we never expect.

2 years ago in January a baby girl was born 10 weeks early in a hotel weighing 3 lbs 4 oz. Somehow (I think we all know how), she survived. She was placed into custody of child protective services, a social worker overseeing her medical care, nurses and doctors coming and going, but no mother to hold or care for her. Then, doctors discovered she had down syndrome. So far, its safe to say it was a difficult start to life. She overcame each health challenge and complication, slowly but steadily, sometimes with setbacks, but she slowly grew and got stronger.

We learned about her birth and began to pray. She is a biological sibling to our son Nathaniel, which made her feel like our daughter. I heard that she was tiny and clinging to life and alone in the hospital and I wanted nothing more than to race down there and hold her in my arms. But I know "the system" and it doesn't work like that. So we waited. And prayed. And waited. And almost went crazy thinking about her lying there alone. I didn't even know her name. That's when I prayed: "She needs a mother. If I cannot be there for her, Mary, please be her mother. Let her feel your peace and comfort." And I clung to that prayer that Mary would provide the comfort of a mother that I could not.

We soon found out she had been given a foster family from Sioux Falls who visited her often and loved her a lot. It was a relief to know she was being loved.
Finally, we got to meet her in May, still in the NICU.

It was love at first sight. Laying her back down in a hospital crib at the end of the visit and walking away though was not a feeling I ever want to have again.
Then we continued to wait, for paperwork that took MONTHS longer than it was supposed to. Nathaniel got to meet her a little later, still waiting...
Finally, in July she came to our house for her first visit, and permanently in August.
 *Ashley Stoel Photography & Design
We spent the next year in custody limbo and then prepared for her to return home to her biological parents but they decided after some visits to allow us to adopt her instead. (Thank you St. Therese!)

I didn't set out to adopt a child with down syndrome. Actually, a child with high medical needs was on our list of "probably cannot accommodate" for foster care. But God began to work on our hearts, and by the time it was our decision we knew He had already made it. She was our daughter.
On March 20 after 2 years of waiting, we finally got to hear the judge say that she would be "our own lawful child".  My sister-in-law gifted us with a beautiful lamp with her name and the phrase "For this child I prayed". It is beautiful, but when I put it up in her room, I lingered on that phrase. "Did I pray for her?" I wondered. Of course after I knew about her, but before she was born? I remember that I prayed for 4 years for Nathaniel, and for 3 years for Samuel, but Samuel had just been 5 months old when this little girl was born, I was wanting to expand our family but probably not so immediately. And I know I didn't pray for a daughter with down syndrome. But the more and more I looked at it I realize I prayed for her for a long time too, I just didn't realize it.
I prayed for patience, and she teaches me and stretches me in that way every day. I prayed for compassion and she requires it. I prayed to better understand the heart of Jesus, and she shows me. I prayed for my children to make a difference in the world, and she already has.
Tonight I read the book "You're Here for a Reason" by Nancy Tillman to my children. Please buy a copy for your kids or someone you love, because the words are so incredibly true: 
"You're here for a reason, you certainly are. The world would be different without you, by far. If not for your hands and your eyes and your feet, the world, like a puzzle, would be incomplete. Even the smallest of things that you do, blossom and multiply far beyond you."
The day after Isabella's adoption was World Down Syndrome Awareness Day.  There was a statistic shared that day that I cannot shake from my mind. The post was titled: "The most dangerous place in the world for a child with down syndrome is his mother's womb." It shared that 92% of babies with down syndrome are aborted and never allowed to live. When I look at my daughters beautiful face, that statistic rattles me. My heart grieves for those mothers that will never receive the gift that was meant for them. I hurt for the world that is different and missing an important part. Most of all, I hurt because it's like the majority of the world is saying Isabella is not a person, and how mistaken they are! She is sweet and so lovingly blows kisses and wipes the faces of her dolls like the most gentle mother. She is wild and crazy when wrestling and chasing her brothers. And she has attitude and makes sure we know it when she wants to get her way. She is the same as all of my children, life (just like it started for her) is just harder.
Over the past two years Bella has worked with Physical, Occupational and Speech Therapists. Low muscle tone from down syndrome makes it much harder to do things like roll over, crawl, sit up, walk, etc. Children with down syndrome have shorter limbs which makes a lot of things more difficult, especially climbing stairs. Speech and eating are difficult because of low muscle tone in the mouth and tongue. Often people with down syndrome understand so much more than they can communicate. Therapists work with us to give her the extra help she needs to do all those things.
I have watched Bella face incredible challenges. Everything for her in life is harder. We, especially as parents, instinctively want to decrease someone's struggle. We don't want things to be so hard. I can see how someone faces this diagnoses in their child and looks for a way out for their child. But I wish you all could see the joy in my daughters face each time she does something she's been trying for such a long time to do. I wish you could see that the things that are difficult are always the best things. Isn't it interesting that the people who life is "the hardest" for seem to be the ones who also smile the most? It's not coincidence.

I'm not a perfect mom and it isn't easy parenting Bella. She needs extra patience, consistency, and a lot of time, and I come up short on all of those things most days. I would never call it easy... but I always call it a blessing.

"You're here for a reason. If you think you're not, I would just say that perhaps you forgot - a piece of the world that is precious and dear, would surely be missing if you weren't here. If not for your smile and your laugh and your heart, this place we call home would be minus a part. Thank goodness you're here! Thank goodness times two! I just can't imagine a world without you." - Nancy Tillman