Baptism wrecks me.  Plain and simple.  The water, the symbolism, the remembering my own, the whole thing.  I start crying when I see Rod in his black t-shirt and know what’s coming.  Don’t stop until we’re on our way home listening to kids fighting in the back about who gets the bucket seats.  I woke up this morning tired, as I have the last few mornings.  This adoption stuff is hard and it’s been weighing.  And I would have advocated for a stay home morning, but there have been too many of those since moving to our little condo.  Guilt brought me to church this morning, but Father was waiting for me at the door.  And even though it was a combined service in the gym, which means Lucy finagled an invitation to big church, which means we had to climb to the tip top of the bleachers and sit under the vent that sucks all Rods words straight up and out, which means that my back hurt before we even settled in for the teaching and I swear we’ll skip out the next time there’s a combined service. Even so, Father was waiting at the door, so I knew it’d be good.
All Lucy’s colored pencils fell under the bleachers, one by one.  Peter had the hand held microscope he got in his stocking and was using it to inspect every change in texture within our family space, including Barbie’s butt, for the love…, Grant had my pen and I lost my place in the Bible.  I think I heard about two words of the teaching, but they were sweet manna, literally.  And then at the end there was the big tub and I knew I was never going to make it without doing the ugly cry.
Because if I’ve learned one thing through this adoption process it’s this: everyone deserves to be pursued.  Relentlessly pursued.  This sprint we’ve been doing to our girl, this breathless race of paperwork and dashed hopes and grainy pictures of her so far away, this race has reminded me that every step I take toward her is nothing compared to the steps Father has taken to me.  Seriously nothing.  And if you teach your children nothing about God,  then please teach them this: that the Father of the Universe is pursuing them.  Relentlessly pursuing.  If your children are grown and have fallen away, then you get it more than I do.  You would do anything to bring them back, and you are only flesh and blood.
I have said over and over during the past four months, “I need to be able to sit with her someday and tell her I did everything I could to get her home as soon as I could.”  It’s what drove me to call USCIS everyday for more than 20 consecutive days.  It’s what drove me to pay a ridiculous amount of money to have our 797 approval Same Day Aired tomorrow.  It’ll drive me to leave the Smalls on New Years Eve and spend my day in line, pleading with the Chinese Consulate workers for mercy and their authorization.  So that our dossier can be sent to China on Friday.  So that our 6-8 month count down to travel can begin.  So that China can see how badly we are aching to have our girl.  I will hold her on that day and I will whisper in her ear that mama loves her and I came as soon as I could.
Father does the same.  Relentlessly pursues far beyond the bounds of sanity and reason and when you finally surrender (which sounds awful but is really wonderful), he’ll set you in his arms and whisper to you that Papa loves you.  He’ll give you supernatural insight to see all the times he’s been running after you, even though you were headed away.  Always away.  Because eventually “away” runs out and you will always look behind you and find Father in pursuit and you will know that he’s been there all along.  If you haven’t already, look behind you and see your Father in pursuit.  It’s the most beautiful sight there is, I promise.
This is me being real.  Coveting your prayers that doors would fly open so that our papers can be authenticated and our dossier can go off on Friday.  Determined to check the church bag better next time to ensure it includes neither microscope or any Barbs.  Sheesh.


Isn’t it funny how watching someone you love open a gift you’ve been dying to give, becomes equally as exciting for you as it is for them?  Which is only to say that their favorite to get was your favorite to give and now you’re all stupid happy. Together.
Here’s how it played out a couple days ago.

Thanks to Tony for catching it on film and for editing out the hysterical crying that ensued, along with the part where she stuffed them down her shirt and swore she was going to wear them until we leave to go get our girl.  Which turned out to be untrue because when I hugged her today I didn’t hear any crinkly noises and I’m glad of it.
And now I’ve only to call our adoption agency and tell them that it’s going to be Vos Party of 9 for China as soon as possible, please.  Because it’s only right that this Nana and Papa who have tirelessly prayed for our girl should be there when we snatch her up and bring her home.  And if they help keep the Smalls occupado during 16 (billion) hours in flight and consulate appointments and long waits, well, then, that’s what we call a twofer.

This is me being real.  Wondering what (besides Jesus of course) was your best gift of Christmas?


I wrap her presents: water bottles, tub toys, stroller, small dresses that will still fit her teeny self even if we don’t travel to her until fall, God forbid.  My mama’s heart aches as I gather packages in her green diamond paper and sort into two piles: one to let her brothers and sisters open tomorrow morning and one to bring with us to China so we can have a better-late-than-never-Christmas with her.  And as I do so, I pray that right now as she sleeps 7,000 miles away she is gifted a supernatural sense that she is orphan no more.  That this is her last Christmas alone.  And ours too, because we feel so alone without her, we six.  She has already stretched us bigger so that there is this space that is her sized and it begs to be filled.  And she, we pray has a similar space, us sized, that is pressing on her and helping her know that she belongs to us.  And we are coming.
I hesitate to type this at the risk of scaring you off, but this orphan thing is big.  Our daughter, she is one of 153,000,000.  One hundred fifty three million.  All who will wake up tomorrow morning to a Christmas without family, without Jesus.  The numbers look like this: there are 2.1 billion Christians in the world divided by 153 million orphans equals 14 homes for every orphan.  All of which means this: if you are not following Christ, then caring for widows or orphans is a lovely, humanitarian thing for you to do, but you are under no obligation.  The same cannot be said for those of us who claim to be following Jesus.  Look around you, Brothers and Sisters.  If you don’t know a family who is adopting or fostering, then we are failing.  Because we all know 14 families who are trying to follow Jesus and if neither they nor we are stepping in then the Church is failing.  We are failing.  And 153,000,000 bears testimony to the fact.
It’s not enough to send supplies to an orphanage or sponsor a world vision child.  I’ve done both.  It’s a start, but it doesn’t change the numbers.  So the conviction is this: if there are 14 Christian homes for every world orphan, then it’s close enough that we have to roll up our sleeves and commit ourselves to changing the numbers one at a time.  To either adopting or fostering ourselves.  Or to funding adoptions for others (ours will cost nearly $50,000 by the time we are said and done) so that money is not standing between an orphan and a family.  Or to stepping in to someone’s journey and offering solace in the storm because, man, these are stormy seas.  To offering laundry help or a meal or  prayer support.  It’s a hard thing, this stepping in.  And it’s too easy to say you are waiting to see if God calls you.  Because you already have been.  Us too, and it took us far too long to obey; we are embarrassed by it.  “Religion that our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to care for widows and orphans in their time of need and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
So, if you are visiting the elderly man who has lost his wife and making his day a little less lonely, then it is holy work you do.  If you are watching a friend’s children while they have their social work visits, then it is holy work you do.  If you are coming alongside a family who is working to bring an orphan home and offering prayer and financial support, then it is holy work you do.  If you are making sure that your widowed neighbor has her driveway shoveled and her mail gathered and someone to share Christmas with, then it is holy work you do.
Please, friends, know this: I say these things not from a place of self-righteousness or smug attitude, but from the perspective of one who has finally submitted and has been wrecked by her own orphan.  This process of expanding our family to make one less there and one more here, has wrecked us all and I know that she will, already has, bless us far more than we will her.  And next year as we sit, us seven, around the Christmas tree and watch our family celebrate, may it be so that we are still working on one less.  For a Sister or a Brother.  May this work of adoption not end when we step off the plane in Grand Rapids with our baby in arm.  Will you hold me accountable?  I want to relentlessly pursue this.  I am called to relentlessly pursue one less orphan.  One less.  May it be the last Christmas alone for many, many orphans.
And if you are a spiritual orphan, then please know that in the craziness of Father’s love, a baby came to be Brother and in doing so, invited you in.  Welcomes you with open arms to join the Family.  Came so that no person would be without the chance to hop up on Father’s front porch as he beckons you and join your Siblings inside.  It’s not all roses there, but there is no other family I’d rather be a part of.  Seriously.
This is me being real.  Praying that my daily call to USCIS yields the only thing I really want for Christmas: the news that we’ve been assigned a caseworker and will have our 797 approval soon.  Praying that this Christmas finds us all broken for widows and orphans and throwing caution to the wind in order to follow the wild, scary call of the Holy Spirit.  Happy Happy Christmas to you all dear friends.


I was with a dear one the other day, praying and wondering aloud how I could alleviate her hard and she said this, “I’m just in the Waiting Room.  I’ve been there a long time, read all the magazines, made small talk with all the others and am ready to get out.”  I asked her to look for my mail and then sat that night and chewed on the whole thing.  The Waiting Room.  We’re there too and it sucks, frankly.  There waiting for USCIS to stamp our papers so we can get our dossier to China and go one step further to bringing our girl home.  My dear one is there waiting on jobs, a teacher we heart is there too, waiting for a love of her own, a friend waiting for her husband to fall back in love with her, another trying to find the thing that will help her fearful son.  The Waiting Room feels dismal and forever.  It’s hot and clammy and every time someone gets called out you are sad it isn’t you.  I’ve spent lots of time in the Waiting Room.  I know it well, can recall the number of ceiling tiles and what the artwork looks like.  Have spent long hours sitting in uncomfortable chairs, riding it out.  I’ve, truthfully, spent most of my time there impatient, looking only to doing the thing that will get me out, whatever that thing is.
But I’ve had sweet hours in the Waiting Room too.  Hours spent on knees, crying out my hurt and anger.  Hours squandered begging to be delivered, when all along the waiting was at least part of the delivery.  But you can only see that once you’re safely out of the Waiting Room.  And then you look back and, in quiet moments of calm and serene, you will almost wish it back, if only for a sec.  That sweet time you spent stripped bare and waiting on Father to tell you to go, or to stop or, for heaven’s sake, do something.  It’ll seem better then, when you’re out.  Will have fading around the edges and kind of a dreamy cast as so many past things do.  And you’ll remember how it felt when you were so very small and He was so very big and for just that short while in the Waiting Room it was as it’s supposed to be: you laid out and Him over all.  And you will try to remember that so the next time you find yourself in the Waiting Room, you’ll swallow fear and just be still.  And even though it feels like you’ll be there forever, that’s a trick and not to be believed.  The Waiting Room is a season and seasons always give birth to new seasons.  Always.
So, friend, if you’ve landed yourself in the Waiting Room, take heart.  It’s a season and every season has it’s beautiful (except March, which isn’t really a season at all, but a month and just absolutely not beautiful).  This is your time to develop total dependance on Father, which hurts a little but will feel good after, I promise.  You will leave the Waiting Room more deeply in love with Jesus and with a hunger to move.  This might be why you are there.  The love and the move parts?  They are the work that is birthed in the Waiting Room.  When they come, welcome them and thank Father.  They are beautiful work. They will change you.  And, can I challenge you to find a Sister or Brother or two and ask them to visit you there?  Ask them to enter into your still and pray you through?  Not out, but through.  Ask them to pray you still and silent and willing.  I’d be honored to join you there.
This is me being real. If you’re in the Waiting Room, seriously, could you look for my mail?  Or, for the love, at least the January issue of Canadian House and Home?


This one’s for Sara (h?) whose encouragement and kind words gave me the nudge I needed to take up keyboard and try to write more often.  Thank you.
He did it last week amidst much fanfare and little styrofoam bullets.  Did it with Nerf and bandanas and ridiculously large Lego sets he insisted on putting together all by himself.  This brown-eye guy who continually teaches me how little I know about parenting and how much I have to learn about grace turned 10.
When prompted about how to best celebrate him a scant few days after moving out of the only home he’s ever known, this boy who, frankly, hates change, responded with this: it has to have friends and cousins and I want it at the house, not the condo and can we have gluten free chocolate cake?  And pizza from Vitales?
Oh yes, son.  All that and more.  And so we opened the doors and welcomed in ten boys (one for every year) and we showed them the hand written poster on which the boys divided them into two teams: bright green bandanas and dark green bandanas.  Then we handed each team a flag and sent them outside to try to capture it.  And I grabbed my old friend, my SLR, who, since Instagram, has been sadly neglected, and followed them out.  Can there be anything cooler than kids figuring out rules about fairness and boundaries while parents watch from afar, but don’t jump in to solve unless needed?  I’m working hard to bite my tongue, swallow the desire to dictate it all and just observe.  It’s pretty cool what unfolds when parents back off and let their kids do their thing unimpeded.

 Even Tessie gave up the chance to play with her beloved Ava so she could join in the fray.  And when the sun went down we moved inside, wind chapped fingers cradling steaming cups of hot cocoa.  Nerf guns were pulled out of bags spilling over with extra gloves and socks.  Positions were assigned and taken.  Guns were filled from the ammo bucked I’d provided so we didn’t have to spend our evening trying to figure out who brought which bullets and how many.  And the girls were armed with the new Nerf Rebelle, which fires a wicked fast shot that had the boys running.  Thank you Nerf and Lego for marrying what my girl Smalls and my boy Smalls are into so well.
There was an intermission for pizza and presents.  Another for cupcakes.  And all too soon it was over and kids were headed home.  It was the first birthday party I’ve thrown that left me wishing I’d scheduled more time.  They could have stayed for hours more, throwing the lights and going at it in a dark, empty house.  Especially these three who built a shelter out of screens and the kitchen island and dominated.

And so, there is ten.  This boy who screamed the whole-face cry for the first year and a half of his life.  Now perhaps one of my most introverted and quiet kids.  He is my picky eater.  Will believe anything once, but will be hard to un-convince.  Was told hotdogs were made of pig weiners and bums in 2nd grade and hasn’t touched one since.  Used to have a list of five (5!) things on the fridge that he’d eat and only that.  Would go the rest of his year without underwear, if only for the jeans on Sunday.  No underwear + zippers = not worth the risk.  He loves animals in general and reptiles in particular.  His love language is quality time and he doesn’t get enough of it, as far as I’m concerned, but we are trying. He asks me to lay with him, every single night.  I do, every single night.  He is creative and compassionate.  He has a heart for orphans and the forgotten, will be the first to engage a younger.  He is kind and funny and has the meltiest, yummiest brown eyes I’ve seen.  And even though I asked him not to turn another year, not to get farther away from this stage right now, he did and I’m so glad I got to be there.
This is me being real.  Thankful for this boy who blesses me deep.