seven months.


Yesterday we celebrated our seven-month anniversary with the boys by going to court to finalize our adoption.

We’ve been in touch with our lawyer through the different steps of our legal process in these last months, and we knew that our hearing was coming up. We prayed all along for it to happen by Christmas, but were squeezed in at the last minute this week! David cleared his work schedule yesterday, and we all woke up early, got dressed, and took our Cheerios and coffee to go in the van for the hour-and-a-half road trip.

Poor Amie had been sick with a fever for three days, and we hated to drag her out of bed, but this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so we gave her ibuprofen and bundled her up along with her blankie and stuffed animals. Her DVD of choice for the car ride was Monsters University, a favorite with all four kids.We explained to them the night before that this was a ceremony to celebrate the six of us being a family forever, and told them we would have to be very quiet in the courtroom!


When we arrived at the Family Court building, we walked through the metal detector, which the kids thought was very cool, then sat with our attorney in this tiny room and signed a few papers, and waited.

Our names were called and we filed into courtroom number 6, and the hearing began. Our attorney gave the details of our case, David and I were each called up to the witness stand and sworn in and asked a few questions, and at the end of it the judge granted our adoption! That was it! The whole thing took about 15 minutes, and after seven long months of waiting it felt almost anticlimactic.


But there were big smiles all around. I think it was all lost on Gabe and Noah, which is just as well. In our hearts and words they are not any more “ours” now that we have finalized, but it is still a wonderful, important milestone to mark. We celebrated with a mid-morning snack at a downtown coffee shop, then hit the road and were home by 12:30. All of it felt a bit surreal.

I can hardly believe that it’s over, just like that.


We had a little family party with cake and ice-cream yesterday afternoon. I overheard Judah telling Gabriel beforehand, “You know who this party is for? You and Noah! Because you’re going to be in our family forever!” And Gabe said, “Yeah!”

Today I’ve felt the adrenaline drain out of me as we close this very big chapter in our family story. In its place is a feeling of deep relief. I’m so glad it happened when it did, what a beautiful way to enter this holiday season. A new beginning.

We are thankful.



the sort-of-getaway.


I’m going to tell you up front; this is a story about being disappointed.

This weekend I was headed to the Wild & Free homeschool conference in Williamsburg, Virginia, and I was really, really excited. I choose this particular conference in order to hear two of my favorite homeschool voices, Susan Wise Bauer and Sarah Mackenzie, speak, and because I like the encouraging ethos of the Wild & Free community.

But there were so many other fun things about the trip, namely, a weekend away, all by myself. Two six-hour road trips alone! (you know you’re in a desperate place when you get excited about those car rides). A cozy room at the Woodlands Hotel in Colonial Williamsburg. The collected wisdom and humor of a big group of women who educate their children at home. The opportunity to learn new things, ask lots of questions, take notes furiously, be inspired in our journey.

But alas, all of this was not to be.

I hit the road mid-morning on Friday, drove three peaceful hours, and the car began making alarming noises and smoking. I smelled something burning and quickly pulled to the shoulder of I-95 North, and switched it off, trying not to panic. I called my husband, my father-in-law, and then the police department in the town I was nearest because I was so close to the white line of the interstate that my little Honda Civic shook with each passing semi-truck. I climbed over into the passenger seat. At first I kept the car doors and windows shut tight and locked, but began sweating so much I had to crack the passenger door. I tried to relax.

I waited an hour and a half (why did I wait that long? I can’t tell you, it’s kind of a blur, I called the police department to check on my request and they promised they would send someone). We haven’t had good experiences with our car insurance roadside assistance program, so I finally called the police department back and asked for the number of a reputable towing service. I made another call.

I spoke to a man named Wayne, Jr., told him my location as best I could from Google Maps, and waited some more. I felt okay, really, until my phone battery started to die. Then I started to panic. What if he didn’t come either? I imagined myself locking up my car and setting out on foot to the nearest exit to try and borrow a phone. I was very scared.

But Wayne showed up just in time, and was as nice as could be. He sent me to climb up into his truck cab (and like a typical mom, I couldn’t wait to tell my boys I got to ride in a tow truck), loaded up my poor little gray car. And we were off.

My body finally started to relax because I was with someone who could help me, but I ached all over from sitting tense at the side of the road for 2 and a half hours.

David offered to load the kids in the van and come pick me up, and I know he would’ve. I know. But it was such a long drive for them, and part of me wanted to do this by myself. I wanted to be the kind of person who can break down on the side of the Interstate, and figure out what to do. I wanted to be brave.

We arrived at a little family-owned towing garage in small-town, North Carolina, and I crowded into the tiny office with members of the family, all who work there. I plugged in my phone charger behind their cash register. Ravenously hungry at 4 p.m. after nothing more than a handful of nuts since breakfast, I nibbled from a basket of Halloween candy. They were friendly and sympathetic, especially when I received the bad news that I wouldn’t be driving my car any more that day or that weekend.

After a phone call to David, I decided to try and rent a car and make it to Virginia. I’d miss the evening conference sessions but would be there for Saturday. I called the car rental company, who assured me a car would be waiting for me at 4:30.

Wayne’s father, Wayne Sr., owner of the garage, then chauffeured me and my suitcase in his pearl-white Cadillac Escalade down the street to the car rental office, and insisted on waiting until I got my car. But inside I was told they actually didn’t have any more cars in the lot and there was a waiting list for the weekend.

This is when I almost started crying. But I didn’t!

Wayne, Sr. drove me to the nearest hotel, which was booked. He drove me to two more hotels until I found a decent-looking one with a room available.

As I stood in the lobby of a homogeneous chain hotel in a town in North Carolina I didn’t even know existed, I felt certain that I wouldn’t be traveling to Virginia this weekend. I was doubtful that a rental would be available Saturday morning (it wasn’t), and the conference ended at 3:00 on Saturday. I checked in and walked the silent hallway to my room and lay down on the bed and cried.

But I needed to pull myself together and jump up because I wanted to find dinner before it got dark, since I would be walking. So I made my way across two deserted parking lots and a frontage road to a dark-looking steakhouse, neon signs flashing in the windows, country music blaring.

Everyone there had compassion in their eyes (did I look that deflated?) and called me “darlin'” and said I looked hungry. The service was excellent. And, since I hadn’t eaten lunch, I devoured a pepper-jack smothered burger, fries, and basket of rolls in about ten minutes, and it was all delicious.

I made my way in the dusk back to my hotel and cancelled my reservation for two nights at a much nicer hotel in Williamsburg. I poured a plastic cup of the wine I brought and took a hot bath, which was very nice, and then huddled over my phone watching Call the Midwife on Netflix. And that was my evening.

Of course David felt awful. My family felt awful. I felt awful.

I stayed the night there, and David and the kids drove to pick me up by check-out the next morning, spending their Saturday making a six-hour road trip instead of morning cartoons and the hike they’d planned on. Wayne Jr. will drive our car to a garage on Monday and let us know the verdict, and we’ll go back to fetch it hopefully this week.

And that’s the story of my sort-of-getaway.

You know what?

It was just one of those things. Sometimes life doesn’t go the way we plan. Sometimes we get disappointed.

In her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Gilead, Marilynne Robinson wrote, “There are a thousand, thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient.”

I would rearrange her words to fit my weekend by saying, “There are a thousand, thousand reasons to give thanks, even on disappointing days.”

I don’t say that to be trite. I’m sad and frustrated. But also. It’s not the end of the world. I have a home to come back to, a family who loves me, other road trips, other years to attend homeschool conferences. Everything’s going to be fine.

And so, I conclude with a few more of my thanks:

— Three hours of driving and listening to Andrew Peterson’s newest album (which may just be my favorite).

— An unhurried phone chat with my friend Carrie.

— The brilliant-blue day, leaves touched with orange and gold, and the way the sun streaked across the road ahead of me.

— I’m in good health, my family is in good health.

— We have two cars, so that David and the kids could drive to pick me up Saturday.

— A husband who mourns when I mourn, who encouraged me to go on this adventure in the first place.

— The startling kindness of complete strangers.

— A night away from the routine of my normal-life, the stillness of my hotel room, a good night’s sleep.

— Amelie, “We are going to rescue Mommy, and we won’t stop until we find her!”

— Four bright, loud little people racing through the doors into the hotel lobby, knocking me over with their hugs.

— Judah, “Mom, I’m really sorry your car broke and you had to miss your conference.”

— We have money to pay for things like a towing service and car repairs.

— A van with a DVD player.

— Home.

— A car for David to borrow while ours is in the shop.

— A Saturday afternoon of work — laundry and grocery-shopping and meal-planning — and now it’s Sunday and everything is ready for the week.

— My parents picked up the kids this morning and took them to their church and out to lunch.

— Showing up at my church as the service started, worshiping without the distractions of little whispers and wiggly kids.

–Three of my favorite hymns sung.

— Talking to all the people I wanted to during coffee hour. Sipping coffee. Finishing conversations.

— Returning to a quiet house.

— The conference sessions were recorded, so I’ll still be able to hear them.

— I am safe.

— God is good. He loves me very much.

four on friday.


Judah. He is not a fan of having his picture taken.



Amelie. Like her mother, she’s got a flair for the dramatic.



Gabriel. Why throw leaves when you can throw dirt?



Noah. No words needed.


Fall comes slowly to the south, and just overnight, it seems, I look out my front window and see the trees turning colors, a dusting of leaves on the ground.

It’s our first fall with Gabe and Noah. I get dressed in the morning and put on a sweater against the chill in the air and Gabriel says, “Did you get a new jacket, Mommy?” I blink at him, because I’ve had this sweater for years, but of course he’s never seen it. He was a spring baby, come to me at the end of April, after we’d traded our winter layers for t’shirts and flip flops. We’ve passed two seasons together, but I have yet to know him in the fall, the winter.

Fall has been my favorite time of year since I was a girl, slipping on a sweatshirt, mixing up a batch of peanut butter cookies to nibble with my dad, watching football games. Fall is cooler weather — but not too cold — and crackling fires, and apple cider. It’s lingering outside, instead of dashing in from extreme weather.

Fall is comfort.

And this fall, more than any other, I stare around me with new eyes.

Six months ago, we doubled the number of children in our house, and had barely a moment to celebrate such a momentous occasion. Instead it was a little more like a terrifying, seismic shift in our very core, and for me these past months have felt very much like dying. Every single day. Dying to a way of life that was comfortable and familiar, dying to myself and what I want right now.

I have known a deep and visceral wrestling as I get up each morning and live in a way that everything inside me screams against, as I lay down my life. I’m no saint, mind you — many days I’ve laid it down grudgingly, making myself and the people around me miserable. I’ve obeyed the letter of the law and neglected the spirit as I stomp around fuming and frustrated, blaming everyone else for my misery.

And God is very, very patient. So much more patient with me than I am with others. Than I am with myself.

He is letting me die. He knows that this is part of my story, that all that selfishness and impatience was hidden down in my heart, covered by a nice veneer of control and manageability. He promised to make me like Jesus — that is, to make me free — and so he doesn’t shy away from the darkness inside me; He digs. He uses conflict and trial to draw the sin to the surface so that I see myself for who I really am, as one whose heart is desperately wicked. My children don’t need help — I need help. I’m thirty-three years old and still throwing tantrums when life doesn’t go my way.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned as an adult peering back over the course of my life thus far, it’s that God uses struggle to sanctify me, and so this dying is for my good. I believe that with every fiber of my being, even as I shake my fists against it some days. The dying is part of His blessing just as much as the settled peace of my salvation. And so these days I cling to the book of Hebrews, to my great High Priest who has been tempted in every way but is without sin.

He is enough.

And He is changing me, as my husband remarks one day out of the blue, “You seem more patient lately,” an observation that makes me want to immediately kneel in gratitude.

As I submit to this messy road, as I wake up each day and die and let God change me from the inside out, I also walk into the crisp world of autumn, and notice a very subtle shift. For six months we’ve been surviving, holding on for dear life, begging God to free us from the sin that so easily entangles.

And then, like a whisper, David and I find ourselves trick-or-treating on Halloween night, and there’s nothing but smiles. We go a whole night without tears or tantrums. We play with friends. We eat too much candy. We beam at the dusky faces we encounter in the neighborhood, certain there’s never been a cuter “puppy” than Noah, determined to trot down the sidewalk on all fours, barking up at the passers-by. We laugh and then we load up and take ourselves home with a van-full of flushed, happy faces. We feel … normal.

Just like that first sighting of your tiny newborn in a onesie, we pause to marvel over our little boys’ cuteness in skinny jeans and hoodie sweatshirts. And cuddling them in our laps in their nubby hand-me-down footsie PJ’s makes us melt as much as it did with our first two babies. Both boys run their fingers through my hair as I hold them, their own little way of hanging on for dear life.

You don’t get a lot of those moments at the beginning, when you adopt toddlers. You trade gazes of adoration in for battles.over.everything.

And so, like an arranged marriage, you start to realize that God makes some things backwards with adoption. You commit for life, ’til death do you part, even though you wonder who on earth this stranger is. You fight and repent and fight again. Instead of your biological baby clinging to you and then turning outward to independence, your adopted child comes to you turned outward, and only later on begins to slowly turns his head until you realize one day that he sees you. Then the clinging comes, the wanting to be held, a spontaneous hug, a gaze of adoration here and there, amidst the battles. It makes every other moment you’ve been through together worth it.

In our home, this fall seems to be a season for falling in love. It’s for moving beyond survival toward affection. It’s for knowing more bad days are to come, but soaking in unexpected moments of sheer delight, of the wash of relief just knowing that sort of delight is possible. It’s for seeing into the future, and feeling nothing but hope.

There’s a settledness here that feels brand-new and also very familiar.

Thank you for praying for us.

she says.

Amie and I come across the word “telephone” in our reading lesson.

Amie: “Oh! I know what a telephone is! It’s from the past … like they didn’t have cell phones, they had phones with buttons and a cord and something you put up to your ear and mouth to talk.”

me: “That’s right! Actually, did you know that when I was your age, we didn’t have cell phones at all? We just had telephones like you’re talking about.”

Amie (eyes big): “Wow, Mom, you lived a long time ago! So did you, like, have to wear dresses all the time too?”


Happy Halloween!

Everyone in our house is pretty excited about trick-or-treating tonight, and David’s busy giving the big kids tips on how to remain focused in order to maximize the amount of candy they can gather.

I find myself enjoying the start of Adoption Month 6. God gave us wisdom and help from a variety of sources in October, and answers to some burning questions. So I enter November a little calmer and more determined to celebrate the very small victories. One of those is noticing that lately there seem to be fewer times in my day that I feel totally frazzled. Another is that God is helping me with my constant, low-level anger and frustration. Isn’t it funny how we typically think other people are the problem, when really the one God wants to work on is us?

Here’s a peak into what we’ve been up to lately . . .


David turned 34 in October! We celebrated with his favorite dinner: beer and a Berger burger at the Whig.



These two. Finding any sort of bug, but especially a roach, is a cause for celebration. They adore bugs. If you’re tempted to judge me for letting my boys handle roaches, please understand that I just don’t have it in me to say “no” to them one more time.



To prove my point about bugs: here is “Gabey,” as we call him, singing to an almost-dead fly.



Thank you to my dear friend Inge for somehow knowing how badly I wanted Jan Karon’s newest novel and for surprising me with it. It is so good. David teases me for laughing and crying through every single Mitford book, no matter how often I read them. I can’t help it!



Few things make us happier right now than seeing this boy curled up with a book. His reading interest comes in fits and spurts: for the most part he still prefers poring over his Star Wars character encyclopedias, but he’ll take breaks for a Magic Treehouse or Henry Huggins novel every few days. He and Amie and I just finished reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory together. We loved it, and had fun watching the Johnny Depp version of the movie last night with David (while eating chocolate, of course).



Speaking of bookworms, Gabe is becoming more and more interested in books and his attention span has grown so much (Noah, on the other hand, couldn’t possibly bear to sit still for a whole book!). We still read mostly board books together, because there are just so many great ones I want Noah and him to experience. He knows the whole of Sandra Boynton’s Blue Hat, Green Hat and Is Your Mama a Llama? by heart.



We just finished Week 7 of Classical Conversations, and after a year of being in separate classes, Judah and Amie are happy to be back in class together with other first and second-graders. It took about 6 weeks for me to feel like I could actually do CC with four kids; I was so completely overwhelmed at first. But now everyone is settled and legitimately enjoying themselves, and I’m more thankful than ever for this structure and homeschooling help in our week.



My parents had a booth at the Rosewood Art Festival last weekend (my mom does watercolor painting and my dad wood-turning). It was so fun to visit them and explore the festival.



My brother Danny came in town to help our parents with the art show, and the four of us enjoyed a leisurely breakfast at the Farmer’s Market. David was out of town and his folks kept all four of my children from early afternoon Friday until lunchtime on Saturday. I felt like a new woman!



Danny bought me this fun cheese and butter stone at the market. I’ve used it every day as a trivet or for making sandwiches, and can’t wait to serve cheese and crackers on it.



Noah has been busy being a goofball, which includes parading around the house in Amie’s baby doll’s outfit. He is his own person, and so it means even more that lately he races up to his siblings or David and me for a big bear hug.



We were invited, along with our friends John and Anna, to the soft opening of Persona, a new pizzeria on Main Street. It’s Chipotle-assembly-line style fast food, in which you choose your pizza toppings (or choose one of the restaurant custom toppings), and watch your pizza as it cooks for just a couple of minutes in the fiery-hot brick oven. So fun and the pizza tastes delicious! We can’t wait to go back with our kids.



Poor Noah caught a stray frisbee in the back yard just in time for a visit from our social worker yesterday. Don’t you just want to munch on him!?

Happy Saturday! Enjoy your extra hour of sleep tonight!

four on friday.


Judah. I hope he never loses his freckles.



Amelie. Our little free spirit. She would much rather be outside or doing something artsy than doing school.



Gabriel. He discovered “moon sand” yesterday and played for nearly an hour.



Noah. Only Noah can make a black eye look cute.

judah’s first poem.

Judah wrote his first poem last week. It wasn’t an assignment — we were doing our daily reading in Story of the World, and afterward he said, “I’m going to write a poem!” He remembered from our grammar lessons that the first word in each line should be capitalized. And then he sat and wrote it. He presented it to his class at Classical Conversations today, and this proud mom can’t help sharing it with you!



History is not a mystery
How do we know? From
The earliest creation
To the best information.
Epic battles take place.
Astronauts go to the moon in space.
And that’s how we know History is no

— Judah Gentino, age 8