lessons from 2 1/2 years of adoption, part 2.

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Happy Friday!

I’m here sharing some of the things we’ve learned by growing our family through adoption. You can read Part One here.

Here we go …

Being in close relationship with a hurt person is emotionally draining.

Oh my, do I wish I prepared myself for this.

Never mind, there was actually no way to prepare myself for this adoption reality. Some things are better left a mystery until the grace of God helps you bear them, one day at a time.

I anticipated a high level of physical exhaustion when we adopted two young children, but the emotional toll was far more difficult.

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase: Hurt people hurt people. I imagine you’ve experienced it in your life to some extent.

Well our guys were 4 and 2 — so very young — but they were wounded. And they hurt people. As our social worker heard some of our stories, she said, “I am amazed at the sophisticated level of manipulation that can come from children this young.”

It was a survival tactic, a way to get attention. There were other parts of their story at play too, that led to this extreme need for self-protection through manipulation.

The other was an obsessive need for control.

When hurt people are hurting it feels like the very best thing they can do is dissolve into tears and run to you and say, “I’m hurt and I’m sad,” and let you draw them close. Isn’t it funny how rarely that happens?

Young children exhibit their hurt in the most un-lovely of ways. They do everything to push away the people who want to help them heal. They are prickly. They are sullen. They fight tooth-and-nail against what you know is good for them. And it is relentless.

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Here’s another mystery: it’s understood in the adoption world that the kids most often exhibit this behavior to their adoptive family, the people who want to be closest to them. Often they will appear perfectly sweet and normal to the average person, even extended family. That’s because you aren’t a danger. You aren’t the one trying to peel back the layers, reaching into that terribly wounded and guarded core.

If you know someone who has adopted older children I beg you, please believe their stories. Chances are they are not exaggerating. They are not being dramatic. They aren’t being negative. These things are really happening to them and will keep happening for some time until their precious children begin slowly to trust and to heal. Please just listen to your loved one — no judgments given. Do not tell them they’re exaggerating and they just need to loosen up. Ask what they need from you in this season. And by all means, keep praying for them.

This has taught me more than anything else what the love of Christ is for us broken, wounded sinners. We do the exact same thing with Him (or at least I do). We numb ourselves and distract ourselves and lash out against others and make excuses — anything but become vulnerable before Him and draw close and let him bind up our wounds.

So hurt people hurt people. And then those hurt people hurt people.

I saw it at play in myself, I’m ashamed to say. I was under such strain and exhaustion from the battles that I lashed out at the people I love. I distracted myself rather than sit still before God and let Him minister to me. I lost my temper and many times grew resentful of my boys.

As for the manipulation and comments, a wise friend told me, “Never, ever let them know that it bothers you.” The more you smile and fight back with kindness, the more quickly they learn that that kind of behavior gets them nowhere. They don’t have the power to crush you.

And I’m here to tell you, she was right.

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It was very important for me to show solidarity with the boys’ birth mom, since I was compared to her night and day. I speak kindly of her and she always speaks kindly of me in front of them. We became friends and they couldn’t pit us against one another. It was important to show solidarity with David, because they tried to drive us apart. It was bewildering, really, this need to pit the people in their world against each other.

They had different ways of acting out against David and me; I experienced a lot of the manipulation; David experienced a lot of indifference.

But friends, there’s so much hope! Our boys have learned that passive aggressive behavior and manipulation do not work in the Gentino house. We tell them, “Use honest words. Say what you mean.” And they’ve come a very long way in learning to communicate their feelings in much healthier ways.

I guess I would tell a fellow adoptive parent to find ways to fortify yourself against this emotional battle.

You will feel utterly drained. You will have little emotional margin. Take care of yourself. Try to exercise and get fresh air when you can, even if it’s just a 10-minute walk. Try to pick one simple non-taxing hobby that makes you happy and carve out 20 minutes a day for it (read fiction, yoga, work in your garden, knit).

Find a safe friend you can vent to who will pray specifically against this spiritual battle in your home. Please try to find a fellow adoptive parent who will uniquely understand how you feel.

I would also ask you to do something I learned to do: keep a hand-written, running list of good things you see in your adopted child. Of things you like about them. Of victories. Of ways you get a glimpse of their little heart softening, wanting to let you in. Even if that glimpse only lasted 30 seconds. It helps.

I’m thankful for friends and family, and an amazing social worker who promised me at the very beginning, “You can text or call anytime and tell me anything. Nothing will shock me or make me judge you.” This was a gift.

Find ways to laugh with your spouse, your friends, your kids.

Silliness heals. Playing goofy games and tickling heals. We sang dozens and dozens of songs together; no matter how dreadful the day, we ended nearly every night singing Twinkle, Twinkle or Row, Row, Row Your Boat and smiles.

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Adoption will bring out the ugliest parts of yourself. This is a good thing.

I never knew how much of a sinner I was until we adopted the boys. David would say the same thing. Stress and trials bring out the worst in us. The sort of constant 24-hour-a-day stress of adopting older children with a difficult past is kind of crushing.

I never knew I had an anger problem until our adoption.

Well, I do. I have a big anger problem.

I was stressed and complaining all the time. Family members and friends who I want to look good in front of saw me snap at my kids and speak harshly to them.

It was humiliating.

This level of self-discovery was terribly distressing to me in the beginning — and some days still is. I felt like a complete failure, every single day. I wanted desperately to be a better mom. I berated and rebuked myself and generally made myself more miserable than my adopted kids ever made me.

You know what?

That was pride. Plain and simple.

I raged against God, How could You let me act like this? Why don’t You change me, make me better? Why won’t You answer my prayers?

It seems that the motivation for those questions was wanting to look good in my eyes. Wanting to feel good about myself. Wanting people to feel good about me. Wanting, deep down, to be independent from God. I wanted a gift from Him more than I wanted Him.

Now, by God’s grace, I am learning to think about this outpouring of sin a little differently.

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It’s a gift. He is rooting around, digging up weeds that have laid hold to the good, green growth in my heart and are choking it. He’s making me face the truth about myself, so that I can be more free in Him.

The second truth is this: it is a long process. I will not master my temper in a month or a year. I will not grow more patient tomorrow. I will not become wholly content by Christmas. Maybe, perhaps, I’ll grow in mastering these things over a lifetime. I’ve spent too much time and energy raging against this slow process. I want God to change me now, make me a good mom now.

Lately I am embracing His will for my life in a deeper way.

For reasons unknown to me, it is not His will to change me in an instant. Will I sit still and wait? Will I submit to His process? Will I become needier and more dependent on Him because of my impatience and my temper?

Will I believe that my greatest need is not to be an awesome mom, but, as Sinclair Ferguson says, to know the Lord better?

Will I believe that He delights in me as His precious child, that He enjoys me? Will I spend time with Him, getting to know Him, rather than just asking Him for things and then running along my merry way?

It helps me have more patience with my children to understand that I am on a journey just like they are. We all of us have a lot of growing up to do.

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God knits families together in so many different ways. It is always hard, but a wondrous thing to experience.

Like Rosaria Butterfield says, adoption involves pain. There are other ways to grow a family that can be beautiful and painful; for example, blended families with step-parents and step-siblings. Or single-parent families who have a close community of friends to lean on.

It’s a truly lovely thing to see God’s faithfulness in these “out-of-the-box” families. He can knit hearts together, over time, that do not share the same genes or all the same memories. He’s in the business of making things new.

And so we’ve emerged from the battle with two boys who are still learning what it means to truly connect to a family, but who have made tremendous strides.

Our boys are not defined by their past or by the term “adoption.” They are so much more than a label, just like we all are.

Their story has great dignity to the God who’s writing it, and He uses it all for their good and His glory. I firmly believe that.

We’re in a blessedly sweet season of not thinking “adoption issues” most days. We aren’t getting many tough life questions. The boys know their story in simple terms and they are at peace with it, for now. I know that as they grow and transition developmentally, more questions will come.

That’s okay. We’ll be here and we’ll be ready.

For now there are many gifts.

Gabe runs up and gives me spontaneous hugs and kisses — something I never, ever thought I’d experience with him.

We have these pure, lovely moments, laying on my bed together, chatting. They aren’t asking me for things. They aren’t complaining. We just see each other and we talk about nonsense and we giggle.

There’s an immense love among the four siblings, who really all adjusted to this process of being a family quicker than David and I. Judah sits and reads a book to Noah on the gold chair. They gather at the table for games of Uno. When Gabe or Noah gets hurt and cries, Amie says, “Come to Amie’s Hospital! I’ll help!” They follow David around, incessantly asking to help with projects.

As I finish up this post our four kids are on the trampoline with neighbor friends, battling and shouting and laughing.

Gabe and Noah needed a family, but we also needed them. So much. Our life is richer and happier and far more colorful because of our boys. God uses them daily to stretch us and teach us about His love and provision. And just to make us smile.

Of course there are still question marks in my mind, things I fear in the quiet moments. But I’ve seen His faithfulness in bringing the six of us together, in making Gabe and Noah part of His covenant family, and I rest in the knowledge that He will do abundantly more than all we ask or think. He already has.

My capacity for love and my capacity for pain and my capacity for joy has grown.

I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

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lessons from 2 1/2 years of adoption, part 1.

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This month we celebrate 2 1/2 years with Gabe and Noah.

If you’ve followed the blog for awhile, I imagine that this length of time has flown by. Remember when there were just four of us Gentino’s?

If you’re newer to the blog, you can find the first post about our adoption plans here, the post introducing our boys here, and our fuller adoption story here (which still makes me cry every time).

Gabe turned 4 the month after adoption, and has now lived with us a third of his life. And Noah, who was 2 at placement, has been in our life longer than he was without us. We still have an open adoption, and see their birth family several times a year.

People ask me if I feel like the time has flown. My answer is that the first year the boys lived with us felt like the longest year of my life. But after we made it through, yes, time picked up and flew.

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One of my favorite descriptions of adoption is by author Rosaria Butterfield:

Wanted or not, adoption always starts with loss. Adoption always combines ambiguous loss with unrequested gain. An adopted child faces this paradox — this unrequested gain — at each developmental stage. His or her family must choose to either welcome the complexity or make the child go it alone. We choose to walk alongside our children, even as we don’t always understand how deep or how raw the complexity rests. This journey is frightful. At its core is this: do I love Jesus enough to face my children’s potential rejection of me?

I still have no fitting words of my own to describe what it feels like to bring two complete strangers into your home, forever, and begin to build a family together. Unlike falling in love and getting married, with adoption, you make this forever commitment before the feelings of love.

You act out your love, day after day, even when your insides are screaming and raw, and trust the mystery that the feelings will follow.

I thought our boys were as cute as heck from the first time I saw their photograph, but I was honestly not one of those adoptive moms who had the mushy love feelings from Day One.

But I’m here to tell you we have grown into our love. We’re still growing into it. And in a way it’s more beautiful for the crucible we passed through to get here. It’s beautiful because of the mystery.

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I’m able to look back on our experience with a measure of perspective now. And I’d like to share a few things we learned through adopting our boys.

I realize that several of these lessons I’ve mentioned over the past couple of years. I guess this is my chance to have more of a birds-eye view, with 2 1/2 years of God’s faithfulness to show us more of what worked in our family. This is just our story. I’m no adoption expert; each situation is unique.

But here are a few things we learned, and are learning, things I tell my new adoptive friends when they ask for help.

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Bonding and training are helped by a quiet, predictable routine.

This is mind-numbing. Truly. I like a quiet, predictable routine in general, but add two wild and rash little people who are grieving into that quiet routine and it feels like torture. Each hour is an eternity. You will want to jump in the van and drive. Anywhere. And fill your days doing anything to avoid the painfully slow minutes at home. You will want to turn the TV on all the time or pull out the iPad or tell everyone to go away and scroll through Instagram. You will want to escape.

But simplicity and being present pays off, and I’d do it again.

Routine helped our little boys feel safe, and taught them who their family is and where their home is. We also learned that the onslaught of normal attention from a family of four was tremendously over-stimulating for them. They were used to sitting in front of the TV all day. And suddenly here are people who make them sit at the table for meals and read books to them and take them to play in the backyard.

Those things feel mundane to our big kids; hours of that sort of attention were too much for our little guys in the beginning. It was taxing for them. They needed nice long afternoon naps for at least a year and early bedtimes. If we’d added lots of shopping and play dates and having people into our home into the mix it would’ve been a recipe for disaster (or at least more temper tantrums). We didn’t want to set them up for disaster: we wanted to set them up for success.

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They needed to grow accustomed to normal, quiet home life in a family before they were strong enough to face lots of other activities.

Now they are fantastic. We can have a higher level of busyness in our life and they transition from activity to activity well. But I still check regularly for their tolerance level. If we miss too many days of quiet afternoon rest time or mornings at home they tend to spiral.

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Respect and obedience precede relationship.

David and I weren’t exactly sure how we would go about disciplining Gabe and Noah when we met them. We wanted to sit back and get to know them a bit more. We wanted to focus our energy on attachment first.

Well, that philosophy lasted one week. And in the meantime, all hell broke loose. It’s amazing how quickly a child — even one who’s a complete stranger — can sniff out your weaknesses. The boys discovered they weren’t going to to get consequences for not minding us, and they turned the house upside down with their shenanigans and defiance.

All we wanted to do was spend time bonding with them. But we couldn’t. They wouldn’t stop long enough to let us — they were too busy upsetting bowls of cereal and laying on the floor crying and drawing on the walls and stealing their siblings’ toys to throw in the trash.

We realized in that week that there was going to be no attaching to an out-of-control toddler and preschooler until they understood who the authority figures in their life were.

And so we went back to the basics, exactly like we did when our biological children began blatantly disobeying us as one-year-olds.

We taught them to obey us.

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We did not do this through long explanations or sermons. Young children can’t grasp those abstract concepts (I love the simple explanation in this parenting video). We taught them that they have to obey, “Because I said so.” If they disobeyed, we carried out the consequence. Over and over and over again. Those initial weeks and months spent mainly at home became very beneficial because this training was time-consuming and exhausting.

The boys were at first utterly shocked at the reality of discipline. But I’ll tell you: we saw an almost instant transformation. This did not mean that they listened to us and didn’t get their consequences many times.

But it was like the lights switched on in their brains and they suddenly saw us, as real people. People they needed to respect.

It’s difficult for me to explain to you the mystery of how obedience and bonding go hand in hand, but the only way I can understand it is that to really love someone you must respect them. If you don’t respect them — if you can manipulate and argue with and walk all over them — you will, deep down, despise them. They will be small to you. This is not a healthy way to live.

David and I needed to be big in Gabe and Noah’s world for them to feel safe and to grow their love for us. They were used to being in charge, to ruling their house by their behavior, to being guided by their emotions, looking out for themselves.

Over time, as we were consistent and firm and loving (and we did this imperfectly, of course), they began to relax into our home. They began to trust us. We weren’t their victims. They didn’t have the power to tyrannize our family. Their bad behavior didn’t concern us. We were the authorities in our home.

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I can’t tell you how important this concept has been for our family.

Our young guys still don’t get long lectures; we give them a very few principles that they can understand. We still insist on first time obedience, “Because I say so.” No warnings, no threats. But we also explain to them: “Our home is a safe place for everyone.” And “We treat people with respect.”

So we don’t throw tempter tantrums. Ever. We ask for things nicely and say “thank you.” We do not argue with Mom and Dad. We don’t call our siblings names and speak to them sarcastically. We don’t destroy things, either our own or other people’s.

Of course this holds true for our big kids too. They are sinners just like the rest of us. Because we invested that time with them when they were young, we rarely have problems now that a simple conversation can’t solve. The energy in our home that might go into power struggles and back-talk and whining now goes into playing card games and discussing books and movies and playing dress-up.

In short, we can bond.

I’ve seen this commitment on my and David’s behalf set our boys (and Judah and Amie) up for success. I know it sounds strict. But what was the alternative? Chaos and frustration and resentment among family members. Needing to leave fun events or public places because of out-of-control behavior.

It took a lot of work, you guys. A lot of energy. With regards to our adopted children, I’ll say over these last years we’ve seen enormous improvement but the tide to return to old ways of behavior is still there. If we don’t consistently stay on top of behavior and follow-through our spunky guys love to push our buttons and see what they can get away with.

Part of that’s personality, part of it is that we’re still making up for lost years. This can still feel exhausting some days, like you can never truly let your guard down. But it’s still worth it. Our boys are happier when they obey. We’re happier when they obey.

If you’ve adopted and commit yourself to this process, I can promise you it pays off. Take heart! It’s some of the most important work you’ll do.

Not only is our home now a peaceful, enjoyable place (where no-one’s toys get thrown into the trash), but friends and family happily invite our boys over for play and sleepovers, and offer to babysit for us. This doesn’t mean they’re perfect, of course. But where people used to dread having them around, they now welcome them.

How can this be a bad thing for Gabe and Noah? I want them to have these experiences, to have friends and new adventures, to be a joy to those around them, just like God created them to be.

I’m so very proud of them because they have risen to the challenge. They are now strong enough on the inside to exercise self-control and be kind and friendly to people. They are funny and carefree and have a zest for life unmatched in our family. Truly, they are free.

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Tomorrow, I’m back with Part Two of this series.



noah two-year adoption interview.

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What’s your favorite…?

Fruit: Avocado

Vegetable: Peppers

Dinner: Soup

Treat: Chocolate donuts

Snack: Ring pops

What’s a food you really, really don’t like?
Lemons

Restaurant:
Go eat sushi and then go on a walk

What do you like to play outside?
Play with the water table, swim in pools

What do you like to play inside?
Play some toys

What is your favorite thing to do at the park?
I like climbing up, spinning, and I like eating snacks

What’s your favorite book?
My favorite book is Harry Potter

What do you like about swim practice?
Getting out and getting warm and having a snack like Cheerios

What don’t you like about swim practice?
I don’t prefer swimming

What’s your favorite TV show?
Batman and I like Voltron and Hoopa Ring (Pokemon)

What’s your favorite movie?
Lightening McQueen

What do you want to be when you grow up?
I wanna be a cooker who cooks

What are you really good at?
Making some snacks, making some dinner

 
What are you scared of?
Of a monster. At the night there’s a monster and it’ll scare me. But then I’ll wake up and see and then Gabey will wake up too and see a monster and be scared too.

What do you like to play with Judah?
Play some Legos and play some Everything is Awesome and play zombies and tag somebody and kill them (ghost zombie game)

What do you like to do with Amie?
I like to play with Amie’s Lego set

What do you like to play with Gabe?
With his storm trooper Lego sets

What do you like to do with Daddy?
I like to play fighting

What do you like to do with Mommy?
I like to play with toys and blocks

What’s your favorite thing about school?
Going to my class, having lunch

Who’s your best friend?
Sam

What do you want for your birthday?
A Hoopa Ring toy (from Pokemon)



gabriel two-year adoption interview.

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What’s your favorite…?

Fruit: Watermelon and cantaloupe and pineapple, grapes too

Vegetable: That’s a hard question. Broccoli.

Dinner: Inside-out pizza (calzones)

Treat: Decorations on desserts, all different kinds of decorations on donuts, cake or cookies

Snack: Oreos, the cookies you put on your finger like a ring (Fudge round cookies)

What’s a food you really, really don’t like?
All different kinds of veggies, salad

Restaurant: Papa John’s

What do you like to play with outside?
Ride bikes, play with the chickies

What do you like to play inside?
Make projects, play with my stuffies (stuffed animals), I like to play games, drink all different kinds of drinks but not grown-up drinks. I don’t really like coffee. I tried it once with a little sugar but I didn’t really like it. I like lemonade, fruit punch, and apple juice. I like boxes of juice.

What is your favorite thing to play at the park?
The splash pad

What’s your favorite book?
Superhero books, Star Wars, Elephant and Piggie, I like lots of different books

What do you like about swim practice?
The warm shower

What don’t you like about swim practice?
I have to swim in the cold water

What’s your favorite TV show?
Iron Man, Voltron, I like the girl elf in Voltron because she’s so pretty

What’s your favorite movie?
I like all three Toy Story movies

What do you want to be when you grow up?
A policeman to protect the whole world, and a daddy. A daddy policeman.

What are you really good at?
I’m really good at puzzles and at games. I think I’m good at hard games but first we have to read the instructions. I’m good at putting the ball in the hoop on our trampoline sometimes

What are you scared of?
That’s a really hard question. I’m not really scared of anything, even the dark is not scary. I think I’m scared of a thief if they come in the dark and grab my stuff but they don’t.

What do you like to play with Judah?
I like to play games with Judah, I like to play cannons with the blocks

What do you like to do with Amie?
I like to play with her in her fort

What do you like to play with Noah?
I like to play blocks

What do you like to do with Daddy?
I like to go on dates with Daddy and today we’re going to the Fireflies baseball game

What do you like to do with Mommy?
I like to do cooking

What’s your favorite thing about school?
My favorite part is the iPad

Who’s your best friend?
Sam, Judah, Amie, Noah

What do you want for your birthday?
A remote control



i’m still here!

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Hi friends!

I’ve been pretty terrible at keeping up with the blog lately, and I feel bad about it. Not that I expect you to be sitting by your computer waiting for a post.

It’s so odd, really. For years I wanted to experience a home renovation so that I could take pictures and blog about the process, but I neglected to factor in one very important thing: that during the renovation I may have zero — and I mean zero — energy for blogging or really anything beyond laying on the sofa with glazed eyes and watching Netflix every night.

Ah well. I’m sure some of you could’ve told me that was a pretty good possibility.

I have absolutely no idea how these DIY-ers manage to do enormous home projects and also blog about them. They have all my respect. Meanwhile, I’m most certainly not a DIY-er, and I’m still just hanging on for dear life.

Things got a whole lot harder here during the last third of the addition when a giant hole was cut in our living room wall, and various and sundry people began traipsing in and out every day. Oh and there’s the dust. And the noise. And the piles of clutter around our house. And a lot of kids to keep out of everyone’s way.

And the shopping. I know, I know, you’re like, wait, she’s complaining about shopping now? Must be nice. But as anyone who’s ever experienced a house or yard project can attest, you go to Lowe’s or Home Depot on average 1.5 times a day. There are so many decisions, about things I never in my life expected to care about, but are suddenly vitally important. And remember this: whatever you buy will have to be exchanged at least once.

Yesterday I’m pretty sure I blanked out at least two times in Target, and when I came to I was wandering aimlessly in an aisle and had no idea how I got there. It’s bad, people.

For all their challenges, here’s where Gabe and Noah are just the best.

Me: “Hey, guys, I’m sorry to say this, but we actually need to go back to Lowe’s.” Amie and Judah: “Noooooooo!!!!” Gabe and Noah: “Yay!!!! Lowe’s!!!!!”

And enough of my whining already, right? I mean, I’m getting another bathroom! And a bedroom! And a closet! And a lovely little hallway for books and plants. Truly, I’m very very thankful, and David and I say constantly that it’s going to be worth every inconvenience and every penny we’ve spent. It’s turning out better than we ever imagined it could be.

Also, we couldn’t have asked for a more pleasant group of people working on our house: not just our builder and his crew, but all his subcontractors have been so nice that Amie said, “I’ll be so sad when all the workers leave” (that’s my extroverted child speaking).

We’re almost there! We’re so close we can just about reach out and touch it. Maybe two weeks until we can move in? That’s nothing, right!?

Tell me that’s nothing.

And now, because I’ve proven to us all I’m definitely not one of those cool DIY bloggers, can I please just give you a hodge-podge of low-quality phone pics to fill you in on our month?

Thanks!

Okay, first, the house!

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We have brick! Actually these photos are outdated. The brick is completely finished, and I’ll post more after the masons come this weekend and clean of the mortar and it looks all nice and crisp (who am I kidding, I’ll probably post photos a couple weeks after the fact).

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Oh, how much my little guys are going to miss having an “instruction site” in our yard. They were mesmerized by this dumpster exchange. And meanwhile, I was consumed with guilt over the fact that our little house project has generated over a dumpster’s worth of waste. Wendell Berry would be horrified. Please don’t tell him.

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For those who are interested, here’s the roof tie-in from the back yard. Isn’t it cute?

And speaking of back yard . . .

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A few weeks ago, the kids and I went on a lovely field trip to a nearby family-owned farm outside Columbia, and the farmer showed me this whole area where she lets her one-year-old daughter garden to her heart’s content. I told David how inspiring it was, and about two days later he put in a third raised garden bed, for our kiddos.

The other two beds are David’s babies. He loves them. He tends them. It’s one of his favorite ways of unwinding. But we want our kids to learn the gardening process and to be able to do it all by themselves, so this bed is for them. Soil and plants aren’t especially cheap, so it’s more than “digging in the dirt.” There are rules. Think of it as a little hands-on class. They are thrilled.

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And now we go inside!

Here’s our new doorway, in all it’s glory. I love that Scott made it larger than a traditional doorway, in order to let in more natural light from that window. The bookcase to the left will go in Judah’s room to open up that space more, and those books will be moved to the new built-ins, which will be in the nook to the left when you walk through the addition doorway. The brown chair will go elsewhere too.

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We’re doing the painting ourselves in order to save money, and by “we” I mean mostly David, with some help from my brother and me. It’s a whole lot of painting, especially with all the new trim. Some pieces were primed but still need two coats. He’s been wonderful about it.

I really wanted to go with an almost-white to make our space look big and light-filled, but worried that all white would feel a bit stark. So our exact color is Olympic Hourglass, which is a very-slightly-gray white. The trim and doors will be the Behr paint match of Benjamin Moore Simply White (I highly recommend this color if you’re looking for a true white; I got the tip from Young House Love).

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The hardwood floors will be sanded and stained next week to match the floors throughout our house.

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Here’s our closet! After getting the quote for custom shelving, we decided to go with an IKEA metal rack system, which is considerably less expensive. There will be carpet in here too.

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And here, my friends, is the bathroom. In the last two weeks the shower and floor were tiled. We planned to save money and use vinyl flooring in the bathroom right up until this very week. The cost turned out to be reasonable, since we went with larger tiles, and we are so, so glad we did it.

I found our bathroom paint color on an HGTV Pinterest post: it’s the Olympic brand of Sherwin Williams Intellectual Gray (from Fixer Upper!), and it’s a Gray/Taupe. I spent some time really stressing that it was too dark (of course it was the one color we didn’t get a sample of), but the light floors and cabinets make it look better. I wanted it to feel cozy and I think it does!

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Look at this shower! We think it’s stunning. We wanted to go with subway tile with an inset and little shelf, and because we were willing to use remnants from our builder and the tile guy, we got the floor tile and that pretty inset design for free. We still walk in the bathroom and look at each other and say, “This can’t really be ours.”

Actually our other bathroom is kind of disintegrating during this building process (for example, we now have to use a wrench to turn on the hot water, and more floor penny tiles pop free daily), so I have a pretty sneaking suspicion that the entire family will be using the new bathroom for the foreseeable future. That’s okay: at least we’ll all comfortably fit, right?

If you’re wondering what all my Home Depot and Lowe’s trips consist of, let me give you a list of things we’ve needed to provide: shower tile, door knobs, cabinet hardware, sink faucets, all paint and primer, light fixtures, mirrors, shower head kit and shower curtain, towels, towel rack, toilet paper dispenser, closet shelving system, not to mention furniture for our room and Amie’s.

Okay, now that I look at it written out, it doesn’t seem like that much stuff. Why, oh why, does it feel like it?

Whew. Let’s move on:

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My baby is a Classical Conversations Memory Master! He did it! He was tested on 400 pieces of information from our school year in the subjects of Latin, English Grammar, History, Math, and Science, and had to achieve one hundred percent in order to get the award. He was the youngest student at our CC campus to become a Memory Master this year.

Words cannot express how proud I am of him. It’s not that I care if all my kids are Memory Masters. But God has given Judah an amazing mind, and I loved seeing him set a new goal this year and work hard for it and do his best. We told him he’d get the reward of a fun experience if he became a Memory Master, and I’ll let him tell you about that in a post after the experience.

We had our CC end-of-year program on Monday, and have just about three days of school left before we’re officially finished. It seems early, I know, but last year we started back during the summer, and that worked really well for us, so we plan to do it again.

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Monday was a big day for another reason: we celebrated two years with Gabe and Noah.

Two years! Can you believe it?

I’ll give you an adoption post here soon, probably after the addition is finished, because I have some thoughts. But I’ll just say now that choosing to adopt our boys is the hardest and best thing we’ve ever done.

It’s a mark of what God has done in making us a family that we had to consider how exactly to celebrate this anniversary, because they don’t even really think of themselves as adopted now. They’re just ours.

But we love adoption and want to celebrate it and support it for the rest of our lives, and of course we know one day they will have lots more questions. And so we decided our family’s annual Adoption Day tradition will be Dunkin’ Donuts for breakfast. The kids loved it!

Today David took the two older kids on a big hike in the Greenville area, and I took Gabe and Noah to the zoo and to Chick-Fil-A. Personally, it was my favorite two-year celebration because it’s rare that I get to be alone with just the two of them, just having fun. Spending today enjoying my boys felt beautiful. They make my life better.

Thank you for enduring my long-windedness, my friends!

And now will you do something for me?

I know all of you have your own busy, stressful lives, but if you get a moment, shoot me an email or text letting me know what’s up with you! What’s the hardest part of life right now? What’s the best? (those could actually be the same thing)

I love hearing from you and hate that this blog often feels like a one-sided conversation. In all of the construction stress, the most restful thing for me is to NOT think about the construction. I love hearing from my friends and family (and internet friends! you’re not a blog stalker!).

Happy Friday!



noah is four!!

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Dear Noah,

On New Year’s Eve we celebrated your fourth birthday and discovered you have grown two whole inches since we adopted you.

When you came into our lives 20 months ago, you were simultaneously the most charming child we’d ever met, and you were angry and out of control. You constantly stopped strangers in delight just by your smile and your zest for life. But you also grabbed other kids’ toys and threw them in the trash out of spite. You hit your grandparents if they didn’t give you what you wanted. You knew very few words, but “no” was one of them.

You had a smile that lit up the whole room, but you wouldn’t look anyone in the eyes.

You and your brother Gabe hardly acknowledged one another’s existence.

Every.single.thing. was a battle. You were frustrated. We were frustrated.

You had the fiercest will of all our kids and tested every limit. Again and again and again.

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And yet. Your thick black eyelashes and ambling run, your gentleness with babies and animals, your exuberance over bugs and rocks and “snow-cones” (pine cones) melted our hearts. You could outlast your three older siblings on a hike (except when you didn’t want to hike. then you became a load of bricks). You made our whole family get outside and your enthusiasm for God’s great big world taught us how to live in wonder.

And then, little by little, you learned to obey. You began to stop hitting and stop grabbing (or grab less at least). You learned to come the first time we called, but you sure stomped those feet. You still argued with just about everything we said.

We kept at the discipline through your bad attitudes because we love you so much and we wanted to see the real you, the Noah that God created. We knew — through life’s many painful lessons — that living for yourself is a prison, and it’s only through obedience that you’re set free.

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Today you are four and I stare at you because you’re a different child.

The transformation has been in fits and starts, two steps forward and one back. Until lately. Nowadays it seems way more “starts” than “fits.” Not only do you obey, but more and more you obey the first time, with respect. The stomping and temper is giving way to wreaths of smiles and shrieks of laughter.

You still test the limits. You still have to learn to obey. But we also want to guard that fierce stubbornness that, when channeled properly, will get you far in life. You are so very loyal to the people you love. You’re compassionate and empathetic, patting your sister gently if she’s crying and saying, “I’m sorry, sweetie.”

Where at first there was indifference or just neediness, you now throw yourself at your Dad and me for hugs. You tell us you love us, words I at times honestly despaired of ever hearing from you.

You say “please” and “thank you.”

Where there was once sulking at family worship, your heart is now becoming tender toward Jesus. You say, “Mommy, Jesus gave me a clean heart.”

Last week we drove to the library and you said, “Where’s my Daddy? I want him to come too because I love him.”

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The best way I know to describe you today, at four years old, is this story from the little family birthday party we had for you and Papa on Saturday. You opened your gifts and we discovered that your grandparents and cousins accidentally gave you the exact same toy.

As you tore the wrapping paper off the second gift you said, “Oh wow! Here Gabe, this is for you!”

That’s just the kind of person you are.

We love you so much, Noah.

Love,

Mommy and Daddy

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six things on friday.

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Happy Friday, dear friends!

Here are six things that are making my life a little happier these days:

1. We have a holiday and birthday cinnamon roll tradition. David’s birthday was October 7, but we had a few busy weekends in a row, so I finally made his cinnamon rolls this week. Homemade cinnamon rolls are something I was intimidated by until my friends in India showed me how very easy they are. Now I’m teaching Amie how to make them.

If you’re interested, here’s our tried-and-true recipe. I prepare them the night before and then bake them the next morning and whip up a quick glaze.

2. A monumental event happened in our house yesterday: at 11:45 AM I told my children I was going in my room to exercise for 30 minutes, and I’d make their lunch when I was finished. Well, they got hungry and decided to make their own lunch (peanut butter and jelly sandwiches), and the big kids made one for Noah.

Of course they scampered in and out of the room asking questions, chatting with me, picking up free weights to follow along, but I did it! I did the entire work-out and when I was finished: my kids had eaten lunch, carried their dishes to the sink, and we could move on with our day!

This may just be the dawn of a new era, folks.

3. One more note on fitness. A few weeks ago, David and I started ROMWOD, which is the CrossFit daily stretching program. I am not a CrossFit person and doubt I ever will be, but I can carve out 15 minutes a night to stretch alongside my husband. We do it immediately after we put Gabe and Noah to bed, and the big kids often join in. It feels very restful (so much so that Amie has been known to fall asleep on the floor by the end of the routine).

This habit has been so, so good for us! I’m gaining some flexibility, my posture is improving, and my form is better when I exercise. Perhaps best of all is that my psychiatrist and doctor have been after me to do daily deep breathing exercises for my anxiety, and ROMWOD includes that.

Having said all of this, fitness and exercise still do not come naturally for me. I’m learning that, at the end of the day, taking care of my body doesn’t involve some grand game plan or even subscribing to an expensive program but small, daily choices to get up and move around.

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4. I’m cautiously optimistic that my anxiety is lessening. I don’t know if it’s the deep breathing, the medication, the therapist, prayer, boundaries, or all of the above, but David and I noticed this week that in some ways I seem to be much more like my old self.

Anxiety is a funny thing: I can now become obsessed with looking for these improvements and then spiral down if I have one bad day, so I’m trying to be very even-keel about these latest victories. We had a wonderful new members’ class at our house two weeks ago with 40 people here. I felt happy and calm and loved cooking chili for them all. And we’ve had a couple other social events this past week that I thought would send me into a tail-spin of panic, but turned out to be enjoyable.

Now the other temptation is to say, “I’m all better!” and start stacking back up commitments and obligations. So I’ll resist that. My life continues to be stream-lined to the barest of necessities. And when once in awhile we add something in and it goes well, I give thanks.

I know this probably deserves a blog post on its own, but I really can’t describe how good this time of my extreme limitations has been for my family. I’m home more. I’m not rushing around frantically trying to please a whole load of people and live up to an image I’ve given myself. I have more energy for homeschooling and for gardening and exercising.

I feel like I’m truly learning, in tiny fits and starts, to live out of a place of rest instead of a place of performance and striving.

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5. I’ve started my first bullet journal!

This is something I’ve had my eye on nearly this whole calendar year, through the blogs I follow. At its simplest, bullet journaling is just using a blank notebook to create your own day planner and organizer, tailor-made to your needs. I thoroughly read these two posts as I got started: one from the official Bullet Journal website, and this detailed one from the Lazy Genius Collective, and at their advice, practiced for a couple of weeks in a cheap notebook to make sure I like the method.

Per both of those websites (and a post here for all you Modern Mrs. Darcy lovers), my bullet journal is very plain and simple. No fancy drawings or artwork. I love looking through the elaborate journal spreads on Pinterest but I know that trying to keep up with that would stress me out. So I stick to the basics.

The biggest reason I like the bullet journal method: all the random thoughts and bits of paper scattered throughout the house and notes on my phone and craziness in my head are now consolidated into one place. It travels with me in my purse. It keeps me from staring at a screen. I even use my bullet journal for my grocery list.

David has seen how well this new system is working for me, and ordered his own notebook today. Actually Amie started her own bullet journal with a pretty notebook someone gave her, and it doesn’t surprise me at all that thus far her pages are as fancy and colorful as mine are plain. I love it. Soon I’ll give you a blog post with our favorite tips.

6. And finally, the things we see/hear on news are depressing, but there is so much good in the world, you guys. Let’s look for the good and also be apart of the good, in small, faithful ways. One story: our friends from church, Ben and Jeanette, are approved to adopt a five-year-old boy from China (see photos of him on Instagram @thewalkersadopt). They had an adoption fundraiser on Sunday night with live music, chili, and s’mores, similar to ours in 2014.

And they raised $10,000 in one night.

That is just one example of many I could tell in the life of our church and our community. The generosity and courage of the people around us is heartening. God is at work.

Have a wonderful weekend!

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adoption: 18 months.

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Today marks 18 months since Gabriel and Noah became part of our family.

A year and a half.

Can you believe we made it?

I’ve been looking forward to this adoption update more than any of the others, because things have changed so much in the last three months.

I think of a conversation I had with our social worker, Tricia, early on, about some of our struggles. She said, “Behavior modification is relatively simple, if you’re consistent with rules. It’s the heart that takes longest to heal.”

She was exactly right. There were so many times I felt the enormous victories we were living, the burgeoning vocabularies and tasting of new foods and ability to play, but I genuinely despaired of the boys ever loving us with the kind of affection Judah and Amelie have. The kind that makes Amie throw her arms around my neck and say, “You’re the best mommy in the whole wide world!” As a parent you take those sorts of expressions for granted. Unless you don’t have them.

I knew that the boys loved us because they needed us, and to some extent because they trusted us and felt safe. But I felt the void of the spontaneous love, the “just because” love. If I’m very honest, some days I despaired of ever feeling it for them too.

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The attachment process is still a great mystery to me, because people are a mystery. We are each of us complex and deep and broken and so beautifully multi-faceted. Who can tell what weaves one heart with another, and when?

The more you try to grab hold of love, to force it, the less you get of it.

And so you must walk in faith. You open your hands. When you love someone, you give them space. When they push you away, with words and actions, you choose to forgive, to wait, and not to force. Just the way your Father does for you.

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And slowly, with time, things begin to change.

You almost don’t notice it stealing up on you, until it’s there. The twinkle of an eye. An arm laced through yours with no request for juice or for a story. A little body climbing up on your lap and snuggling close, quiet, content. Being covered with kisses at bedtime. A face that lights up when you walk in the door. Just because.

The heart takes longest to heal.

It’s still healing, we all still are. Many days we fumble and self-protect and lash out. We withdraw in shame and beat ourselves up for not being better, doing better. We have to say sorry. We move toward one another all over again. And start fresh.

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That’s the first thing I’m feeling today:

Eighteen months brings a rush of affection from all sides.

There are so, so many more good moments than bad.

We go whole days without thinking “adoption” or “problem-solving,” that in and of itself feels like a miracle.

We are settling into true love and it is a fortress against the whole world.

And the second reality I’m feeling is:

Our relationship with open adoption is normalizing.

I know I haven’t written about it much on the blog, because all this time I’ve been trying to figure it out myself. It involves stories that aren’t mine to tell. If attachment in adoption is a mystery, a careful dance, then open adoption is as well. But it’s a dance I believe in just as much.

I understand that open adoption isn’t possible or healthy in every situation. That makes me even more grateful for the gift that it is in ours. I have no doubt that the boys’ healing has come quicker because of their birth mom’s continued presence in their lives. She chose the hard thing. To watch them living a completely different life with a completely different family. To come back again and again but be absent from the everyday. To love from a distance.

I am so, so grateful for the help of our adoption agency and each of our social workers in this process. I truly can’t imagine navigating it without their collective wisdom. Our relationship to the boys’ birth family is as good as it is, not because it’s been magically easy, but because we’ve followed their advice. They care about us and they care about them.

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The boys’ birth mom isn’t local, but we see her several times a year, specifically around birthdays. She gladly makes the trek to see us. We’ll be trick-or-treating on Monday with her and a couple other members of the family. Their birth mom has had my phone number since before our official adoption day. We text and I send her photos and videos. We Skype from time to time. She loves Judah and Amie like family, keeps up with their hobbies and buys them birthday gifts.

The boys have two families. They have two mommies.

That is always the truth in adoption, and in our family we’re thankful we can live it out in the open, that they don’t have to choose loyalty to one or the other. We both will always, always love them. They know who they look like. They know where to go with their questions. They hear their birth mom say over and over, “I love you so much. You’re smart and strong and beautiful. I’m proud of you.”

I trust and pray that with their story and even their pain, this gift builds them up a little more each day, that they grow up strong and confident in the love of many people.

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Eighteen months brings a settledness in my own heart with this journey. Lots of people tell me, “I could never do open adoption.” And to that I say, “You love your children and you do what’s best for them.” That’s all I’m doing — or trying to do. It has been a humbling, learning process for me. Adoption has involved dying to myself, letting my boys have a separate journey, sharing their  love with another woman, even encouraging them in their love for her.

Today I can say I feel so free in the relationship we have. I feel grateful.

Finally, I’ll say that 18 months bring Gabe and Noah a growing understanding of their story.

Every family who adopts through Bethany is encouraged to talk openly about adoption with their child from Day One, even with their infant. I’d say our situation is both easier and harder than adopting an infant, because the boys had a whole life before they met us, four years for Gabriel and two for Noah. They have memories and toys and car seats from their other life. All adopted children have questions; ours just started at the very beginning. Our biological children have questions too.

We’re still learning as we go, but we’re filling in age-appropriate pieces for the boys over time. We collect photos from their birth mom of their family and their life with her, and I’m making them each a growing photo album that they can look at whenever they want. We speak of adoption and celebrate and give money to our friends who adopt. During our homeschool morning we pull out the Bethany adoption magazine and pray for the Waiting Children by name, that God will give them a family. We tell Gabe that soon we’ll have a new, adopted friend at church his own age, whom he can help welcome.

We want all of our kids to know that nothing is ever, ever wasted, that God doesn’t make mistakes. There’s no shame in the fact that two of them were born to a different family, even if sometimes it hurts. We’re not trying to simply move on and forget the past. Their story is something that we treat with kindness and respect.

The God who created the whole universe has been loving and pursuing them since before they were born. He is their true, perfect Father.

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I sit here in my backyard this sunny Monday afternoon in October, trying to finish up this post. My four kids are all around me, interrupting me every few minutes to check in and relive memories from the fair. Gabe tells me he’s pretending to be a detective, and Noah is attempting to catch a wasp despite past stings and my repeated pleas to not touch stinging bugs. Judah is stretched out on the trampoline reading Harry Potter, and Amie’s catching lizards.

In this moment in time we are together and we are all at peace.

That, my friends, is the joy of 18 months.

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what i’m learning in counseling, take two.

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Hello friends! How are you this weekend?

I’ve been thinking about this post for awhile, mulling it over in my head.

I think when I last talked about my anxiety here, I mentioned looking for a good therapist. This is “Take Two” for me, because I saw a counselor for several years in my twenties when I was first diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. It was enormously helpful and a gift from God. She now lives overseas and we transitioned to just being good friends once our official counseling relationship was over.

You’d think because I had this wonderful experience, I’d be fine with diving back in this time around. But actually the opposite happened.

It’s hard to go to counseling, period, in my opinion. It’s hard to hold up a magnifying glass to your junk, week after week. It’s hard to start over with someone new. It’s hard to take the risk, worrying all the time about the awkwardness of quitting if you don’t connect with him/her.

So basically I procrastinated as long as possible. And I’ll admit there was some pride in there, some thoughts of, I’ve done the counseling thing. I know the right answers. I actually counsel other people now and give them answers. I can beat this on my own.

But my stress just grew and grew, until a couple of people said, “Julie, you need to do this. You need help. You need someone to talk to who isn’t your family or your church.”

And right around that time another friend remembered knowing a therapist who has a big family, who’s adopted kids, one as a baby and one as an older child. That felt like the magic answer. Someone who understands in a unique way the exact season I’m in right now.

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I prayed hard and contacted her and sure enough, she had an opening to see me.

That didn’t mean it was easy to go. Last month, when I started, my symptoms were about at their worst. Leaving the house to be in any social setting felt terrifying. Attending Life Group or Book Club was impossible. I would try to do a play date and have to load all my kids up in the van, shaking and sick, to drive back home. I couldn’t handle going to the wine shop for a bottle of wine because it meant I had to make conversation with the owner.

The best way I know to describe it is: I just want to be invisible. I don’t want anyone looking at me, talking to me, asking questions. I want to disappear.

Honestly I’ve lived quite a long time with that swelling undercurrent of anxiety and have brushed it aside. I know all the best ways to hide it in public, to be quite functional in my life. I’ve just pressed on and pushed through, acknowledging something wasn’t right but not really listening to the warning signals. But my mind and body were screaming, “You have to stop.”

And suddenly, I stopped. I hit a wall.

That was when I started to see my counselor.

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At the beginning it was dreadful because, 1. A counseling session generally takes place in a small room (why, why is it in a small room? I want to beg all my doctors to see me outside), and 2. Someone is sitting, looking at me, asking probing questions.

Which is why I found myself before Appointment Number Two sitting out in my van gasping for breath and wanting with everything in me to turn around and drive back home. David called me right at that moment and prayed for me and talked me through it. I knew I could turn around and leave, but if I wanted to get better I needed to make the choice to stick it out.

I walked into her office, basically ignored her greeting, and said, “I’m sorry. Can I just say something?” She said, “Sure.” And I launched in with a flood of tears, “I don’t want to be here. I do not want to talk to you. I can’t handle this.”

That was hard.

Sitting and crying the ugly cry in front of a total stranger was hard.

But she was pretty chill about it. She said, “Okay, tell me about it.”

And so we began.

I have to say that was the absolute lowest point. I was sitting hunched over in this tiny office, every muscle in my body tensed. And we talked, and talked some more. I’d just taken a couple of personality tests and we went over the results and she mentioned possibilities about me that fit like a glove. She wasn’t staring, probing, asking me to talk. She was giving me tools, saying, “Could this be a reason you are where you are?”

And I can’t say why, but that was an enormous relief. Throughout that hour, my body relaxed in tiny increments, until by the end I’d eased back into the sofa, chatting and laughing.

Having someone describe my personality, my responses to stress, my tendencies in a way that made sense normalized everything. From that moment on I’ve ceased to feel like I’m spiraling out of control. Someone else has told me about me in a simple, matter-of-fact way. Someone gets why I’m panicking in weird ways and doesn’t think I’m losing it. She just thinks I’m very stressed and tired and on overload.

I’m beginning to have some good ideas of how I got into this state.

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Friends,

This is a long, winding way to tell you: I’m going to be okay.

That’s what I’m learning in Therapy, Take Two.

I’ll write about some of the specifics as they crystallize in my mind. But that counseling appointment was a real turning point in my struggle. I’ve been to see her twice since then and haven’t felt any of the panic or fear. We talk and she helps me take a step back and look at my responses to life and responses to stress, and it puts things into perspective. She doesn’t tolerate my drama (“My life is falling apart,” “I’ll never do ____ again,” “I’m a failure.”), but she does it in a kind way.

The anxiety is getting somewhat better, I think.

I still have hard days. This weekend I had to back out of going to the beach with a group of women I love very much, because groups are still terribly hard for me.

That was a difficult decision, but I was surprised to find myself at peace with it.

The old me would’ve lived under a mountain of guilt and shame for a decision like that.

I’ve put some very unrealistic expectations on myself and have been caught up in a cycle of perfectionism, pride, and self-loathing that aren’t healthy. It can seem like a badge of honor to say, “Oh, I struggle with perfectionism,” like the person on a job interview who says, “My biggest weakness is that I work too hard.” But the thing is, it’s not good. It’s hurting me and it’s hurting the people around me.

More importantly, it’s not submitting to God, to the way He made me and the season of life He’s put me in. It’s saying, “I know better than You.”

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I’ve had the hardest time this summer — this whole year actually — living under the silence of God. I felt He was blessing me in many ways and yet my anxiety feels like His finger pressing down on me, harder than I can bear.

But the truth is that He’s answering my cries, and the prayers of many around me.

He provided a direction to start in: a new therapist who is just the right fit.

And though I am only at the beginning of this journey of learning peace and humility, I already feel some of the gifts of it. This week was the most beautiful homeschooling week we’ve had yet. I was able to put my energy into creating and learning with my kids and we all loved it.

I’m talking to my husband about what I’m discovering about myself. The idea of what I think he expects from me in my mind is not the reality of what he expects from me. I’m learning to listen and to believe what he says.

I am rooting myself here at home, because that’s the place I have to be in this season. I’m asking God to teach me how to let go of the restless striving, the desire to be anywhere else than where He has me.

I’m baking and cooking more. I’m letting myself drink coffee and eat gluten when I want to. I scrubbed a dozen jars and made two trips to the Indian supermarket and bought a Costco membership and replenished spices and dry goods. I taught myself how to make chapati and have been cooking Indian food.

These small, simple things are bringing me joy.

They don’t feel like settling after all. They’re beginning to feel like gifts.

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annie comes to columbia.

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Hi friends! I hope you’re finding ways to stay cool and hydrated in this sweltering heat. David’s cousin Annie left behind her mild 70-degree weather and flew out from Seattle for a week. We had a wonderful visit with her.

She’s a rising high school senior, and so we’re thankful for extra time with her before she becomes a super-busy college student. Annie’s adopted, and is one of the big inspirations for our wanting to adopt children ever since we got married. I’m so thankful for the special bond she’ll always share with Gabe and Noah, and for the way Judah and Amie adore her too.

She stayed at Steve and Linda’s, and spent lots of time over here too. We did so many fun things together during our stay. Here are a few of them!

I recently invested in my first ever flat-iron and had absolutely no idea what to do with it, so Annie gave us a tutorial on how to make “beachy waves”:

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We went to Richland Mall to watch Judah and Steve play table-tennis. They play with a group there an evening or two a week. Judah loves going, and has learned so much:

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Steve and Annie got into mischief, like target practice with the BB gun, and figuring out Pokemon GO:

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David slow-cooked a Boston butt on the Big Green Egg and made his own mustard-based BBQ sauce so that Annie could get a taste of the south:

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We spent a day at Folly Beach, and were thankful to be able to spread out in the shade of the pier. It wasn’t too crowded, the water felt amazing, and no one got sunburned. I’d say it was a successful day!

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The girls did a sewing project over at Steve and Linda’s. Annie is very talented at sewing, and has made Ams AG doll dresses in the past. This week she made bags for each of Amie’s dolls.

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We took her to Chick-fil-A for the first time!

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A friend of ours works at USC and gave Annie a campus tour (our attempt to lure her south for college). Along the way they saw this very interesting, very tall plant.

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It was a full, very fun week for everyone. We miss you already, Annie!

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