Thursday, December 9, 2010

Pray Mama, Pray!

bella is teaching the mcnatt family a little something new about prayer.  you don't believe me? you think i'm stretching? exaggerating? at the very least,  elaborating.   i've been known before to stretch, exaggerate and elaborate.  in a writer's world, this is called literary license.   it makes things sometimes more interesting to read, but truth be told, it is wrong.  i have worked very hard in my adult years to keep this tendency on a tight leash.  i even tried to anaylyze this need to tell the Big Story and i think i can trace it back to my upbringing (but, of course).   you see, i come from a pretty good size family.  and when you grow up with multiple siblings you kind of learn to compete for speak speak efficiently...loudly.  and i guarantee you'll learn how to eat quickly.  otherwise the listening ears will have moved on and you can bet that last chicken leg or  donut will be long gone.   these are survival skills i owe all to my childhood.  i have since learned how to slow down when speaking.  i have learned how to chew my food thoroughly and completely and, i hope, politely.  and now as a woman in her forties it is probably a good thing if that last donut is snatched up by another quicker hand.   i never realized how funny our family was until i went away to college.  growing up i kind of thought everyone's dinner tables were loud and chaotic and competitive. it was my friend, patti, who first opened my eyes to our quirkiness.  she had come home from school with me one weekend and had the opportunity to dine with the seaman's.  i remember her kind of sitting back and taking it all in.  we all talked at once.  boisterously.  sometimes food would fly out of a mouth.  we ate as if we had missed many previous meals.  everyone talked, but no one really listened. and the dinner?  well, that was over within 8 minutes.   okay.  so maybe i do exaggerate.  i have to say, though, my parents did their very best.  it wasn't that they didn't try to instill good manners and good communication skills.  i know they addressed these things with us.  i give them a lot of credit. now with my own dinner table and five kids, i can clearly appreciate the daily challenge.  we have threatened etiquette school, duct tape and solitary confinement.  somedays, however,  the dinner-time-din hovers just around shrill.   not too long ago i heard rick proclaim, "there's to be no singing at the dinner table!"  now, i would have denied that phrase EVER being declared in MY kitchen.  we both remember growing up when our parents said the same thing to us. and i was outraged.  how could a parent EVER prohibit a blossoming child from singing any time.  it is a thing of beauty.  it is a thing of delight.  it is a gift.   but now as a mother i kind of get it.   timing is everything.  and  the dinner table is not the place for singing.  sweetly or not.

wow.  that last paragraph was quite the exceptional rabbit trail, even for me!   okay, so lately, bella has been teaching the mcnatt family about prayer.  i know... crazy!  for heaven's sake, she just got here and i am pretty certain there wasn't a lot of praying going on in her orphanage back in china.   but one of the first things bella began to copy in our home was that we would bow our heads, close our eyes and fold our hands to pray before meals.  immediately she began to consistently do the same thing.  now it has turned into any time food enters the scene bella directs everyone in the room to fold their hands and pray.  i am talking any time. any place.  any food:  granola bars in the car, cheez-its on the couch, peanut butter out of the doesn't much matter...she gives you The Point and The Little Grunt and The "Pray!" and you know there is no other option but to bow your head and thank Jesus for His provision.  we are all completely tickled with this.  it is unbelievable.  she is relentless. passionate. committed.  there is no arguing with her.  she will not rest (or eat) until we have all shown ample gratitude.  just this morning we were at the market getting (yet) another load of groceries.  it was nearing noon and to hold her over, i ripped into a bag of apricots.  as we were cruising through the frozen food aisle, she brought her hands together to pray and began to point vehemently at me.  i knew what she wanted me to do, but was sort of bent on finding buttermilk waffles and didn't really feel the need to stop and thank Jesus for our bag of dried fruit.  but oh no!  bella would not settle for my whispered "later bella."  oh no!  she started The Point.  she began The Grunt.  it escalated quickly into a loud, "Pray Mama, Pray!"  she kept attempting to grab my hands off of the cart and direct them together in prayer. we were beginning to make a scene.  i had no other choice but to pull my cart over by a freezer and bow my head....a little whispered prayer was said and i closed with an a-men.  now the other thing you need to know is how bella loves to raise her hands high in the air at the end of the prayer and yell "A-MEN!"  furthermore, she really likes it when we all yell it with her.  so, yes...that is exactly what occurred somewhere between the bag of apricots and the buttermilk waffles earlier today.    i am not sure what this is all about.  but i have to at least believe God is equally amused.   we've always been a family which has taken time to bless our food. this is nothing new.  maybe when we are gobbling down chic-fil-a in the back seat of my SUV on the way to soccer practice we might not always pause and give thanks.  but pretty much any time we are gathered around our table it is what we do. what we have always done.  but bella brings something new to it all.  i have a feeling we were starting to  just go through the dinnertime motions...reciting the dinnertime mantra.  we were thankful, yes.  we knew every morsel came from God, yes.  we even made up our own prayers, yes.  but lately i am not sure we have been really thinking about our words.  with bella pointing and grunting and even adamantly demanding, "Pray!"  our dinnertime, or lunchtime or snacktime prayers are suddenly much more a focus...much more pronounced.    does she know this Jesus to whom she demands we pray.   no, not really.  she's hearing more and more about Him.   but, i am pretty sure it isn't Him to whom she is committed.  i think right now she just loves the routine of it all.  i can tell she likes to do the same things over and over.  but the fact that we are talking about praying  is kind of cool.  we know God has big plans for this little girl. we just know that.  He saved her.  He literally is giving her new life.  we are just sure there is something really special up His sleeve for her little life.   i suppose as her mother i am touched by this little thing she does because it is our first evidence of her getting to know Jesus.  my prayer for this little peanut is that she will learn more of His love for her. that  she will grow closer to His heart.  that she will understand further His rescue of her.  we pray these things for our children, don't we?   i want bella and all of my children to have their needs also makes me happy to see a lot of their wants met....but ultimately my desire is for them to WANT Jesus and to see Him as the only answer for their NEED.  there is nothing quite like the prayers of little children.  in these past 14 years of parenting i have heard thousands of my kids' prayers. there have been many times when i have heard them praying sweetly and my eyes have filled with tears.  i have been, at times, overwhelmed with the honest simplicity of their words and their hearts.  but, let's face it,  sometimes we rush right through without really thinking....without really listening.   it is the end of a long day.  we are tired.  we just want to crawl into our own beds.  with rick traveling a lot, i am often on my own with the bedtime thing.  and with five kids to be tucked in, this can sometimes take (it seems) an entire evening.  the older ones certainly don't need what the younger ones do...but they still need me to be available.  accessible.  they need me to sit on their beds and listen.  or maybe they want to sit on my bed and talk.  regardless, i want to have the time and energy to carve out just a few minutes for each of them.  if i could have asked for one additional thing in my parenting,  it would be more time.  more time and more opportunity.  it always seems to be not enough.  but isn't it funny how God knows just what we need.  He didn't bring us more hours in the evening or easier bedtimes.  He didn't bring me a nanny or a new and improved night time routine,  He brought us bella. He brought us another little one to be tucked in at night.  another one in need of bedtime story or a sip of water or a tummy tickle.  He brought us another child's prayers to hear.   He brought us bella... who after just a few months in our family is stopping her mommy in the grocery store and reminding her to pray...even over a bag of apricots.    God knows what we need.  He knows exactly what we need.  and He hears our prayers.  all of them.

Friday, December 3, 2010

the perfect christmas photo

as i sit down to compose this year’s Christmas letter i am not sure we will have a picture to include. WHAT? is that possible? is that even permissible? at this point in early december one hasn’t been taken and i can’t see one being orchestrated in the near future. mind you, i had plans. my photo genius brother-in-law was coming to georgia for thanksgiving last week and i had pictured all seven of us in coordinated outfits with a backdrop of gorgeous fall leaves. except, we got the flu. and then it rained. even if i could have propped us all up indoors, bella was so sick she had wiped a patch raw from her nose to cheek. i couldn’t very well include our newest family member with a red nose and a redder slash across her face. so i set my sights on this next weekend. but alas, that is now out of the question as well. last night after climbing into my bed in the wee hours of morning, bella promptly fell right back out, smacking the nightstand on her way down. she woke with an impressive shiner. nope, can’t photograph that one either! oh good grief! i spent this morning sad about bella's eye and arguing a bit with God. “but this is a BIG year God. this is the year we adopted. this is the year of bringing home bella. this is the year we went from six to seven. i was planning on the perfect photo declaring all of this to our friends and family. i had a vision. i had a dream. i had outfits already selected!” perhaps you are not quite so extreme. i, however, have come to terms with the fact that i am a complete sucker for those norman-rockwellian-scenes. i will go to great lengths for the Picture Perfect...great lengths to recreate charming vignettes of idealism. but, let’s face it, this is not life. none of us live this way. even those of us who might pretend, we still get the flu, have runny noses, and wake up on rainy days with shiners. there is something about Christmas though which evokes in us a stronger than normal desire to capture beauty and comfort and joy. i have always loved the song Silent Night. i used it over and over again as a lullaby for my children. and when i nursed newborn babies at 3am it was silent and it certainly seemed at times even holy. but now with five children running amuck there is absolutely nothing silent about our home….and it goes without saying, we are quite far from holy. i head to bed most nights stepping over someone’s dirty underwear or for that matter, clean, makes no difference. from my own bed, i often find it necessary to scrape off a few crumbs from the children and a lot of laundry - dumped there in hopes it would magically make it to drawers. i grew up on daily doses of The Brady Bunch and always liked the part at the end of the show when Carol and Mike would sit in bed – he always in a clean robe and she in a lovely blue gown – and they would lightly discuss the day’s events and their silly, six children. now i realize rick and i have one less child, but regardless, this is just not Reality TV my friends. i don't believe i ever saw a pile of mismatched socks on the corner of their well appointed bedding. i believe that even back at the age of nine, i was set up for grave disappointment. we know this isn’t how it really works. i don’t wear lovely gowns and we are often too tired to prattle on about our five darling mischief makers. our pillows are not plumped and pristine…they are often, in fact, missing – absconded and used somewhere in the house for a fort or something. our sheets are not smooth or heavily starched and folded. oftentimes i find buried in them some little person’s random sock or a candy wrapper. (just for the record, we don’t actually allow our children to climb in our bed and eat candy - i have no idea how this all happens). anyway, i know you get what i am saying. our lives are messy and full of all sorts of unholy things. we can’t always capture The Perfect because the truth is we are living knee deep in The Imperfect. I have right now on my refrigerator door the verse, "every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." (~ james 1:17). i am not, for one minute, going to suggest altering any of God’s wording in the Bible. i am only saying i believe we might need to rethink the word “perfect.” i am the one who messes up this verse. my version of perfect often gets in the way of the truly good gifts. the noses which run and the sheets with the crumbs….well THESE are good and perfect gifts. They Are! i don’t always see them as such. but that’s my issue. well, actually, i’d still like to blame it on the Brady Family. i know, however, it is my imperfect and unholy heart which isn’t always able to grasp the goodness of the mess around me. as a mother and as a wife and and as a woman i have hopes to improve on my own heart’s imperfections. and trust me, my hope has little to do with myself. i, alone, am utterly hopeless. i know it is a process. there is a refinement needed…which is sometimes painful and hot, but all the time necessary. and so today i look ahead to this season of beauty and though we have no beautiful photo and no card ordered and no immediate plans of accomplishing this task….we have hope. we have Great Hope that in all our imperfections we have a God who loves us enough to give us Great Gifts. gifts which might not make it to the glossy pages of House Beautiful, but which He brings to the tables and hallways and bedrooms of our own dirty homes. and so tonight, though i will not climb into bed wearing a lovely blue gown, i will climb into it wearing a heart closer to Him and holding a hope which is beautiful because of Him. the mcnatt family may or may not be photographed this year. but Christmas has nothing to do with our family photo. the only picture needed is of that perfect babe in bethlehem lying in an imperfect manger.

Monday, November 22, 2010

not always thankful

tonight i sat down to write a post about thankfulness.  i began to type with plans to tell you how thankful i am today for doctors and medicine and 24  hour pharmacies.  the fact that it happens to be the very week of our thanksgiving holiday only  increases the pressure to express great and enormous amounts of gratitude.   but i have to tell you, i am just not feeling it right now.  i am just not feeling all that thankful.  THERE.  i said it.  i am sorry if that is inappropriate... or shocking...or at the very least incredibly disappointing.  i am sorry.   i had no premeditated plans to deliver such a lowly admission.   i was, in fact, raised to be better behaved.  i can remember my grandmother telling me (more than once), "if you can't say something nice, then don't say anything at all." i have even heard myself firing that same old adage at one or more of my own children.  i suppose there are times when it is better to not share every thought.  every emotion.  it might have been better for me to put down my laptop and pick up some fall leaves and a hot glue gun for thursday's centerpiece.  perhaps that would be more holiday worthy.  it would have at least been more productive.  but, for some strange reason, i am feeling the need to expand on this thought of unthankfulness.  or at least i am feeling the need to explain myself.

last week i came down with the flu. absolutely no fun.  i felt really miserable, but knew i'd get better and be back on my feet before too long.  i had my eye on the fact that this week i would have a houseful of company. i knew i had time to recover, to grocery shop, to pull out the china and even to get clean sheets on the beds.  it was inconvenient, but it was not crushing.  it was only the flu.  and it had nothing to do with swine.  i was determined to not let it get the best of me.  determined.  but then bella came down with it.  i heard the first cough come rattling from her little lungs thursday afternoon and i just knew all my determination and inner fortitude would be lost. totally useless.  each day i saw her grow sicker and weaker and more and more pitiful.  by sunday afternoon i detected a wheezing in her chest, actually, more of a squeaking.  i described it over the phone to our doctor, "it sounds like a rusty gate hinge in need of oiling."  "hmm....," she replied.  i had the feeling she didn't get that kind of description often.  after some considerable back and forth we came to the conclusion i would need to take bella to an after hours clinic.   i bundled her up, left my husband in charge of the other 5 kids (my niece is also in town) and headed off to the clinic.  i drove away from home feeling certain we'd be back before sundown.  i asked rick to take over the chili preparation and was almost confident i could ask him to set a place at the table for me as well.  we'd be right back.  what was i thinking? bella is our fifth child and though it has been a long time since we've had to see a doctor on a surely hasn't been that long.  when i walked through the door of the facility i was greeted by a clipboard and a sign informing me the wait time was at 90 minutes.   with my rose colored glasses firmly in place, i acknowledged that number and quickly told myself they must be overestimating.  surely a wait time couldn't possibly be 90 minutes.  surely.  and then i turned the corner.  just around a bend the waiting room sprawled out in front of me.  i could barely take in what i was seeing.  sick children and tired parents absolutely everywhere.   there were only a few seats to be found and so i opted to stand right there at the door and wait.  you probably don't even have to have a child to realize you cannot possibly stand in a doorway with a sick child for 90 minutes.   i won't go into detail about the horrors of my waiting room experience, but i have to tell you they were wrong about the 90 minutes.  it was a full 130 minutes before we were actually in a room ready to see a doctor.  they had underestimated. grossly.

at this point i was thankful.  i was thankful to finally be in my own 6x6 cubicle with my sick bella.  i was glad to take a break from shielding her from other sick kids and the onslaught of their germs.  but then in came ms. nasty nurse.  she was tired and overworked and had probably less than 3 minutes to retrieve bella's vitals and be on her way to the next 100 patients.  she grabbed bella's foot and wrapped a pulse monitor around her big toe.  the numbers jumped around in the low to mid 90s.  "what's her pulsox normally?" she snapped at me.  "um..i don't know." i replied.  wrong answer.  "WHAT?  you don't know???? you don't know????"  i was certain her next words would be, "are you kidding me?  what kind of mother are you?"    though she didn't finish with those exact words,  her eyes and voice and body language were clear.  no.  i didn't know.    i immediately felt ashamed.  i felt unqualified.  i felt like a loser mom.  i always knew i was in over my head adopting a congential heart baby.  i always knew this was bigger than my non-medical brain could handle.  i have always acknowledged my disinterest and inadequacy for medical matters.  i am the mom dumping her purse at the playground in hopes of finding a bandaid or at least a not too badly used tissue.  i am not the mom who regularly replaces the hand sanitizer bottles on her children's backpacks.  i am not the mom who at a moment's notice can provide tylenol or visine or even cough drops.  in fact, if you ever have to borrow some visine from me, you may want to check the expiration date prior to using.  i am really not that woman.   i have tried. i have made vows to improve.  i have made resolutions to be better.  recently i sat up one night and reorganized my meager medicine cabinet.  i even started a list of items i probably needed to purchase in hopes of rounding it all out - making it more official.   i bought an extra supply of cough drops (sugar free) and the kids ate through them before the week's end.   i purchased bandaids in bulk and one afternoon bella opened the box and decorated a cabinet door.   lately i have attempted to be better about making sure everyone was taking their vitamins at breakfast.   but if i was being brutally honest here, i would admit i don't like the look of those ugly pill bottles on my countertops and so i put them away after a couple of days and then completely forgot about them until the next wave of guilt assaulted me.   i digress. 

anyway, here i was in a room draped in my sick daughter and my guilt over not knowing her normal pulsox number.  and i am feeling pretty close to the edge.  i may not know her pulsox number, but i know where she is most ticklish.  i know the sound of her laugh.  i know the texture of her hair.   i may not have an ample supply of bandaids in my purse, but i have a lot of love for my bella.  i have an enormous supply of protection for this sweaty little girl clinging tightly to my torso.  i know for a fact i would trade places with her in an instant. i know for a fact i would battle beyond exhaustion if it meant making her better.  i also know for a fact i could take this so called nurse down to the ground if she handled my child abruptly one more time.  the nurse left the room as hurried and frenzied as she had entered.
within that same hour the doctor told me she thought perhaps she should admit bella to the hospital for further care and, what's more, she was going to have her transported by ambulance.   i sat there listening to her words and felt the tears well up.  any trace of my Capable Mother Image was officially shattered.   i called rick and could barely get out the words, "they want to admit her into the hospital."  he kept telling me to calm down.  i couldn't.   i finally hung up the phone and waited for our next step.  in that waiting period though i discovered a little treasure.  i found hidden underneath all the layers of my love for bella this thing that was raw and pure and powerful.  it was the fact that this little girl from china... this little girl whom i have only known for a handful of months was my daughter.  she was as much my daughter as if i had dreamt her up, carried her 9 months in my womb and bore her in a painfully long birth.  there was absolutely no difference.  i guess i would have told you this a week ago or a month ago.  but i guess i didn't have the emotion or the experience or the essence to really understand it myself. but now i knew.  i knew without a shadow of a doubt that a parent could love an adopted child as much as she could love a child formed from her own flesh and blood.  i could tell you that though bella looked nothing like me, she was as much mine as if she had my very own 
as it turned out the doctor retracted her original plan.  we spoke with their cardiologist and our cardiologist and came to an agreement that bella could be treated and released.   it meant a long night sitting in this small box of a room and still a longer night finding an open pharmacy and waiting for the appropriate medicines to be mixed.  i didn't walk back into my house until after 11pm.  the chili had been put away and the dishes had been done.  the five children were all in bed and i couldn't find my rose colored glasses anywhere.  i wasn't especially thankful for this clinic or the nurse or the indecisiveness of this doctor.  i just wasn't.   i hated seeing bella so sick.  but on this monday night before thanksgiving i know i must give thanks.  i didn't feel like it last night.  i still don't quite feel like it tonight.   right now i am a mother who has a daughter who is sick. sometimes it is hard to be thankful.  i know it could be worse.  i know she will get through this.  i know i have a ridiculous amount for which to be thankful.  but i am just being honest here....there are days when we just don't feel it.  and i believe very much that in heaven is a God who would rather hear from our honest hearts than listen to us pretend.  i think He is okay when mothers and fathers cry out to Him and tell Him they are not okay with what is happening.  sometimes we aren't.  somedays we just aren't feeling all that thankful.   i know the verse about giving thanks In All Things...i know that verse.  chances are you know it too.  and, for the record, i happen to agree with it 100%.  and i know it is exactly what we are to do.  but i also believe God understood it wouldn't be easy.  i think He knows this is a process at times for His children.  He knows we are frail and sinful and scared. and He knew we wouldn't always be very forthcoming in our thanksgiving.  what is amazing, however, is that even in all of this He can give us raw and pure and powerful moments.  He gave me a moment while sitting in that examining room.  He allowed me to see the depth of my love for this little bitty girl.   and this is how i know i serve an authentic God.  He doesn't tell me i can't feel frustration or anger or even ingratitude....but He quietly and firmly redirects my faulty eyes to see the gift He has waiting for me in the midst of it.  and for this i am forever thankful.  completely thankful.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

blue squiggles

she colored on a piece of ordinary construction paper.  a blue squiggly line.  that was it.  just a blue squiggle.  but she stopped and looked up at me.  i was busy doing something busy moms do.  sorting . arranging. wiping.  honestly, as i write this,  i can't even remember.  but i nodded at her and said, "yes, bella-boo...that's good."  then she added another little squiggle.  well not even a full squiggle, just barely a squig.  she stopped.  her crayon poised midair.  she looked up at me again with a small grunt and pointed to her drawing. "oh honey, yes...that is so pretty.  good girl."  another squiggle.  another look. another pat of affirmation.  

but it wasn't enough.  she quietly put down her blue crayon and reached across the island countertop grabbing my busy hands.  in her own tiny hands she held mine and began to put them together. together. apart.  together. apart.   yes, she was making me clap.  i couldn't believe it.  my little bella was making me clap my hands for her picture.  for her.  apparently my affirming words were not enough.  she wanted applause.  she wanted a standing ovation. she requested a grand celebration.  a parade of pomp and circumstance.  she wanted my full blown, foot stomping, whistle blowing, thigh slapping applause for her blue squiggles.

isn't that what we all want sometimes?  isn't that what we sometimes require? just a little applause?

i feel some days like i've known bella forever.  the truth is though we have only been home a mere 3 months. that is practically nothing.  but it is everything.  bella already has her handprints all over our home...all over our hearts.   this little girl lived two years in an orphanage of 3000.  and after just 3 months in a family of seven she rules with ease...she beckons with confidence...she directs with determination.  it seems impossible knowing her first two years were spent abandoned and orphaned.   this seems hardly recognizable.  

a month or so ago, i had a conversation with a woman at my daughter's volleyball game.  she had been watching bella and me play below the bleachers.   we started chatting and she began asking me questions about bella.  she was blown away when i told her we had only just brought her home from china this summer.  her response was, "she's so comfortable with you. it looks like she's been yours forever."  of course her observation made me glow.  positively beam.  

the truth is it does feel like that most days.  but then i see these orphan moments.  these little glimpses of how much she needs my praise, my affirmation, my affection.  like with the blue squiggles.  i stumble across one of these encounters with bella and i just want to weep.  i see the neediness in her dark eyes.  i can see her longing for my attention.   i don't want to read too much into all of this, but i can't help wonder about what is going through bella's mind.  does she know she's here for good?  does she understand we love her... unconditionally? no matter what.  does she understand she is ours and we are hers... forever?   i worry about that sometimes.  when i have to leave her with a sitter or in the church nursery or in her bed...does she ever question my return.  does she ever question my love.  my applause.  

just a couple of weeks ago we heard a sermon at church.  it was about how much we choose to live as orphans.  how we just can't seem to grasp the deep love of our  God.  so often we live our lives as if something is missing....and we are just waiting.   i don't care who we are or how together we look...we were born with this great void.  this great hole.  and we spend our lives trying to fill it.  we will fill it busy-ness, homes, cars, prestige, fame, money, children...heck, we will fill it with shoes and exercise and even banana bread.   it is a huge hole.  a gaping, enormous crater in the center of our souls and we are born with the innate desire to fill it up.  kind of like dogs burying a bone.  why do they do that? they just do.  it is how they are created.  to bury.  we are created to fill.   when that hole feels empty we run around doing what we do quickly trying to stuff it full of ...well, stuff.  we scramble for old things and new things and bad things and even really good things.  and we cram it all down into this hole and then we sit back and we wait for that sense of wonderFULL.  that sense of plentiFULL.  and it comes. oh, how it comes...and it can be downright beautiFULL.  but then the moment changes and it is gone.  quickly.  wiped out. and we are empty again.  and we realize none of it was enough.  none of it was sufficient.  and we begin our cycle again of searching and filling and cramming and stuffing.   

but just like bella with her blue squiggles we are looking up.    we are looking up and waiting for applause.  we so often are waiting to feel like we are FULL.  like we are complete.  like we are daughters and sons of the King.  we forget how little this has to do with us...with our insufficient attempts.   we think there is something magical and mystical...and so we search and we pick things up and we look them over carefully and we wonder ....will this be The Thing?

and so bella took my hands.  she clapped them together.  when i realized what was actually taking place i stopped and switched around our hands.  my hands now held hers.  mine were on the outside and hers the inside. and i looked at her and at her beautiful blue squiggles and i began to clap for her.  and cheer for her.  and tell her how proud i was of her simple picture.  and immediately i saw contentment creep across her face.  her mom was proud of her and her mom was in control.  and it was enough.   not because she filled her picture with beautiful blue squiggles...but because she removed her orphan  outfit and she saw herself as my daughter.  she is not orphaned.  she belongs.  she is filled not because of anything she does or deserves, but because she is mine.  ours.  His.   

how much more so with my heavenly Father. there is nothing i can do to deserve His love...there is no blue squiggle perfect enough...but He loves me anyway.  He loves me despite what i do or don't do or can't do.  i am no longer orphaned. i am His daughter.   and it is enough.  

Friday, October 1, 2010

green belly buttons and bologna

yesterday bella sported a green belly button (an encounter with a not so magic marker).  today, she was covered in stickers.  i mean it. covered.  head to toe kind of covered. that's our bella.  each day she is into something and up to something.   in the past week i have found her naked in the fridge eating a slice of bologna and on the island counter, clothed, but with a carton of ice cream and a big spoon.  (clearly a girl after my own heart).  we'd probably all be a little better off if we'd give into the whims of eating bologna naked and ice cream perched on countertops.  okay, perhaps we should nix the naked thing.  anyway, we are enjoying bella to the hilt.  her laughter is like sparkly bubbles floating around our home each day.   her antics and escapades are delightful topics of discussion each evening.   we all want to hear or tell the latest buzz on bella.  this afternoon as i watched her approach me be-decked in tiny stickers i could only think to myself, "how did we get so lucky?"  i know it has nothing to do with luck and everything to do with God...but still i must ask, how. how. how.  nothing about our family deserves a little girl like this.  nothing.  we weren't especially good this year.  we weren't especially faithful or friendly or fabulous.  we just weren't.  in fact, only a few weeks before leaving for china i had this mini panic attack thinking about how much Stuff we had to work on before we could add bella to the mix.  we had so much Stuff  in our lives i couldn't see straight.  it was everywhere.  i was stepping on it...wading through it...pushing it to the side...getting tangled up in it.  i couldn't breath somedays as i became more and more aware of our issues and problems and messy lives.  so, in typical jody fashion,  i sat down one morning and made this long list for our family.  under each family member's name i began to jot down a few areas in need of work.  oh my. the list grew longer with each stroke of my pen.  i am not sure this was exactly a healthy exercise just weeks before heading to china.  i'd like to tell you my husband's list was the longest, but no, it was mine.  i had the most Stuff to work on.  and i new the Stuff really well... i also knew it wasn't going away easily.  i began my desperate attempts to fix it all.  quickly.  time was short and the list was long.   i had six of us to fix.   my mission: to tidy us all up and straighten us all out before bella's arrival.   so, in my own power and by my own might i began to  address all the Stuff. oh my.  how depressing.  it immediately became Really Clear i was in way over my head.   i had no magic wand to wave and no tricky fingers to snap.   there was no genie in a lamp to be found.   if i had one, he would have been long gone or buried in the clutter of our home anyway.   i was forced to stop.  this wasn't an exercise in productivity, this was  a display of futility.   i looked at that list and i realized it would be better off tucked away in a drawer than it was clutched in my control-needy hand.  and so, i put the list away.   it is often good to go eyeball to eyeball with our issues.   this is at times healthy.  but there are also times when we need to set down our Stuff and leave it alone for a while.  bella was coming whether we were all polished up and pristine...or not.   she wasn't in need of a magazine layout life...she was in need of a family. and guess what?  when bella arrived, she came with her own Stuff.  she fit right in.  she, too, is  a messy little thing and we love her all the more for it.   i'll add her to our Family-Fix-It-List....when i get to it....but for the mean time we are just delighting in the whirlwind of dust she kicks up.   bella is now here and our Stuff is still here.   yes,  some of it has gone away on its own, but most of it is still around.  it may be hiding under beds or in closets...but for the most part,  we are still in need of fixing.    funny how the monotonous issues of life can fade a bit,  when God gives us a little taste of His miraculous ways.  God is working on us.  we are His constant workmanship.  He has us.  He holds us.  He is busy forming, fixing and refining us and He knows all about our green belly buttons, our bologna eating and our long lists of Stuff.

"for we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, 
which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them."  ~ ephesians 2:10

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

bella grace

bubbles in the driveway
swinging in my pink swing
dressing up in tutus
getting into everything.

crayons spilled on the carpet
twirling in my new dress
bath time in a big tub
goodnight book and mom's caress.

toys across the whole house
running down a grassy hill
dinner with my family
jumping, splashing and a spill.

goldfish crackers carseat
dancing round the kitchen floor
building blocks and brothers
now whose coming through my door?

cheerios and sippy cups
climbing on my daddy's lap
dog and cats a chasing
things to open and unwrap.

kisses for most everyone
picking flowers from a pot
hands to hold on tightly
laughing, giggling quite a lot.

sidewalk chalk and puddles
strolling slowly down the street
dreaming in my comfy bed
after dinner ice cream treat.

books across my bedroom floor
rocking babies just for me
toenail painting by my sis
watching brothers climb a tree.

puzzle pieces in my purse
riding on my little trike
greeting people at the store
through the woods a mini hike.

words to learn along the way
watching, looking... much to see
yard exploring with my mom
bandaids, boo-boos on my knee.

new things to discover
treasures to uncover
eyes wide open wonder
looking in and under
soaking up my brand new ways
figuring out life's brand new maze
i am home and in my place
i belong.  sweet bella grace.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

things which matter

i haven't posted much in these past few weeks, but i assure you there is a steady stream of paragraphs always forming in my cluttered head.  i am not short on ideas. i am rarely short on words. and with five children, i am clearly not short on inspiration (i.e., subject material).  but friends, i must admit, i am unbelievably short on time.  maybe time is not quite the right word.  perhaps a better word is energy.  i am short on energy.  please keep in mind, that phrase is hard to even form, let alone type.  i don't readily acknowledge these kinds of shortages.  i don't really like shortages of any kind. but, regardless of my pride, it is true.  i am short. way short.

bella is a beautiful fit for our family.  but, she is two.  oh, is she ever.  two. two. two. i've successfully (okay, adequately) shepherded four other children through the Year of Two.   i should be almost a least an expert on two year olds. yeah, almost.   but i had forgotten there is no such thing as an expert when it comes to two year olds.  each one is different. they are always changing.  they are smarter than their size. they are faster than their mommies. they are busier than i care to ever be.  they are delightful and funny and captivating and curious and adventurous... and they are, most definitely, exhausting.  bella is two and i am in my forties.  the year my oldest turned two i was still in my twenties.  it does make a difference.

i wrote a few weeks ago about how our older children were literally fighting over bella after we returned home from china. they each wanted her all to themselves. but those greedy, little children all went back to school in the past few weeks and things have changed.  when they do come home they are thrilled to scoop bella into their arms and hug her tightly for a few moments.  but they often come home with backpacks full of homework or friends to call or  projects to complete or practices to attend.  they are all busy school-aged children and though it is wonderful that all the bickering over the new baby sister has ceased,  i can tell you they are missed by bella and me both.  i recently joked with our headmaster about the possibility of keeping one mcnatt child home per week.  i could homeschool them on a rotational basis.   we could count spilled cheerios for our math lesson. lunchtime and diaper changing could easily replace science class.  chasing bella around our home could transfer into PE credit and reading rhyming books to bella could round out the literature portion for the day.  perhaps then i could actually finish a load of laundry or empty the dishwasher  - All At One Time - that is if i choose to be a total slackard about the homeschooling thing.  

i wake up each morning with a long "to do" list.  some mornings, i even take the time to write out my grand lists.  i have projects and plans and all sorts of directions in which to run.   that is me.  i have always been a get-it-done kind of girl. in fact,  i love getting it done.  i adore finishing up a project whether it be painting an old armoire or organizing my craft closet.  i take great, great, magnificent pride in my task.  i love the Start to Finish thing.  i enjoy checking it off my list and actually glory in its completion.  seriously!  my children and husband have often caught me just staring at something i've recently finished.  i may ask them to tell me again how much they like it or how good it looks or how nice it is.  i crave their pats of affirmation.  a little obnoxious, i know.  i am sorry. i am a get-it-done girl and i like everyone to notice.  so, you can imagine how my earlier energy-shortage-confession is not sitting well with me. AND you can imagine with my two year old toddler in tow i am failing miserably as a get it done girl.  i can't seem to get anything done.  i begin to unload the dishwasher and at about the halfway point i have bella behind the island juggling knives.  i begin to sort the laundry only to find bella climbing inside the dryer or fingerpainting with the stain remover.  you get the picture.  most of you mothers know this routine.  many years ago when we had a slew of small people in our home (family planning), rick would come home and ask me the innocent, but dreaded, question, "so...what did you do today?"  uuugggghhh.   "oh, nothing sweetheart.  i sat on the sofa and shared a box of bon-bons with our toddlers.(imagine my tone)."  oh my!  he learned quickly to avoid asking that particular question.   

now it wasn't my intention to write in a tone of complaint or grumbling.  i only wanted to set for you the stage of our home in these weeks of transition. but...what i really want you to know is how on some days nothing gets done and projects don't get finished because i have things like caterpillars to study.  i have raindrops to watch.   i have board books to read. i have bubbles to blow.  bella and i might spend 30 minutes laying in the grass or cuddling on the couch.  i could water our flowers with the mega superspray setting on our hose or we could use her tiny, purple fish watering can.  (the purple fish  holds about 2 cups of water total).  somedays we walk down the driveway to get the mail.  if i go alone i can be there and back within minutes.  walking down with bella could take 20 minutes by the time we stop and study the ants crossing our path.  though little is quick and easy with a two year old, it is, very often, more enjoyable.  i can tell you with certainty i would have missed those raindrops and never have noticed the ants.  i have not stared at a caterpillar with such scrutiny for quite some time.   i think birds and butterflies are amazing, but i haven't stopped cooking dinner to watch them in i don't know how many years.  

having a two year old around our home again has been demanding and even exhausting....but it has been mostly exhilirating and definitely, at times, awe-inspiring.  i love how bella notices everything.  i love how the texture of peanut butter and the sizzle of bacon and the sound of the icemaker are things which cause bella to say, "ooh!"  she gives me these little tiny gifts of wonder every day...sometimes all day long.  i haven't thought about the challenge of putting on socks or the heaviness of a book or the height of a door handle in a very long time.  i haven't stood still and watched my shadow..i haven't kissed the tail of our cat...i haven't danced before bedtime or marveled at the moon in many years.  it is good, so very good, to have the tiny perspective again for these things which matter so much.  the only painting projects i might be working on for a while will be those involving fingerpaint ...the only organizing i might be doing is...well...RE-organizing things touched by busy little hands.  but i know what i do matters. and i know what i don't do...what i can't quite get to... won't matter in the grand scheme of things.  and so at the end of the day when there is little energy left to write or blog or post or is okay...i am busy dreaming of things which matter.

"only that day dawns to which we are awake."
~henry david thoreau

Friday, September 3, 2010

the finding note

i have never shared much about what bella's "gotcha day" looked like. the day we first met bella was such an incredibly emotional day.  the first time we touched her skin, held her in our arms, stroked her hair, listened to her really is still too overwhelming for words.  i have tucked away in my heart much of that day.  many of those moments. it is mine to treasure. i am certain it won't fade. we have some video taken of our meeting. i am not even sure who was filming, but we have it.  funny thing though, we haven't once sat down to watch it.  i don't need to.  i have the play by play so imprinted in my memory, i am not sure i will ever need video. i am sure a day will come when we will want to share it with bella, and for that i am glad.

there is one thing about that day, however, i do want to share now. i have wanted, all along, to tell the experience of that first evening. after arriving back at our hotel, new child in arms, we had to attend a meeting with our guide and the other adoptive families. it was mostly a paperwork kind of meeting. one parent stayed behind in the room with their child and one parent attended the meeting. i stayed. rick attended. 

he came back later that night and told me the most amazing thing had happened.  while our guide, simon, was going through the files on each of the children and giving the parents different forms and information he opened up bella's file. rick said, "all of a sudden simon gasped."  while going through her file in this meeting he had come across a letter. the letter was from bella's biological parents. we had no idea it was there. simon was stunned. he told us it was highly unusual to find a letter. almost unheard of. we were told a year ago, in her referral file, a note had been left stating her birthdate. but that is all the information we thought was given. no one seemed to know anything about this letter. it was a complete surprise to all of us.  

simon sat at the conference table and translated it as he read out loud. there wasn't a dry eye in the room. all the other families were transfixed as well. after rick arrived back to the hotel room and told me what had happened, i wasted no time grabbing the video camera and heading back up to the 28th floor of the hotel in search of simon. he graciously agreed to re-read it and allow me to video.  i have shared this video on facebook and you tube....but have always wanted to share the actual words in my blog.  so...on this uneventful thursday evening, almost two months later, i am now, finally, getting around to it.  it is worth capturing. 

"this poor baby girl at the first moment after she was born she was diagnosed with heart disease. and both of us, her biological parents were from a poor family. we could not afford the expense of the inpatient medical treatment. we were not willing to see her staying in pain. we had no idea. we had to abandon her. it is hard to tell how painful i am. we do hope some people with great loving hearts and some good doctors could help this baby girl and give her the medical treatement.  thank you so much." 

i probably don't have to tell you what a treasure this note is.  an obvious and amazing gift.   someday we will be able to share this note with bella.  someday our little china doll will read through this blog and she will know her story. someday she will listen to simon's reading of the note.  someday she will understand how much her biological parents loved her. even in her abandonment she was deeply loved.  i cannot imagine a more perfect ending for our "gotcha day" on july 19th.  i went to bed that night completely overwhelmed with how loving and generous our Very Big God is. i am tickled knowing He saved for us this surprise...on this very night.  bella fell asleep that night while her mama whispered into her ears, "baby, you have been loved and you are loved."

Thursday, August 19, 2010

imperfect people ~ so, who adopts?

our first night in china we sat in a room with several other families also there to adopt. we had just flown from the other side of the world and we were all off schedule. most of us had entirely missed at least one night's worth of sleep. sitting around a big conference table with our guide, simon, we listened as he briefed us on what to expect in the next couple of weeks. simon went over paperwork. he went over what "gotcha day" would look like the next morning. he went over several checklists. everyone had the same glazed-over-half-awake look on their face. before we got up to leave he asked us to briefly introduce ourselves and our stories. one by one each couple or family took the time to quickly tell a little bit about themselves and the child they had come to adopt. no one said much. i mean it was just a snipit...just a taste. being a person who is very interested in stories, it left me wanting more. i exited that room with very little information. but i was exhausted from our trip and our flip-flopping of time zones. and i was overwhelmed with all the other details. i was even more overwhelmed with the knowledge that the very next morning we would meet our daughter for the first time. so names didn't stick. specifics didn't quite settle in. but, i did leave that conference room knowing the people we had sat with had stories. big stories. deep stories. we had only glanced across the very surface. in the next two weeks we spent great amounts of time with these people...and this became my chance to peer more closely into their lives.

these families were in china, like us, to adopt. so, who adopts? it is true that most people would agree it is such a "cool/neat/great/fantastic" kind of thing to do. i really have never had anyone come up to me and say, "why would you adopt? that is so crazy. what in the world are you thinking?" i know at times our adoption of bella has caused people to question us just a bit. but not really about the adoption thing ....i think it was more about the particulars of our story. (i.e. big, busy family...special needs child...that sort of thing). but for the most part everyone seems to agree adoption is great. i would also gather to say most people believe it is great...but great for someone else to do. it is great for those special kinds of people. have you ever watched mythbusters on discovery channel? are you familiar with how they set up a myth type scenario and attempt to bust it wide open? i won't be able to be quite so dramatic or creative in my writing...but friends, i'd love to bust wide open the myth only special kinds of people adopt. this is one of those little bitty half-truths which cause paralysis and total inactivity in our christian communities. it is so easy to sit back and pause on this half-truth: it is for someone else to do. i have a quote at the bottom of this blog, it reads: "the truth: 34% of christian families consider adoption but...only 1% of christian families actually do." have you ever considered it? what is it which moves us from consideration to calling? i'd love to know. there are things in my life which i considered. to which i almost felt called. i walked away from some of those things. i gave up on them. why? what was the difference? i can tell you in the case of bella, this was about God just pushing us all the way. He was driving this vehicle and we knew it from the start. it was His perfect and punctual orchestration. it is evident even in the way He used my very faulty wiring. my parents will tell you i was their most strong willed child. i wanted what i wanted and i wanted it My Way. that became clear before i was 18 months. they would never have described me as a sweet natured, easy going girl. nope, not at all. the more they told me "no"...the more i was determined to have that "no." now, i can tell you for a fact this hasn't always been a character trait which has brought me great success or easy traveling. it hasn't always been used for God's greater glory and my greater good. no mam - not at all. it has gotten me into a mess of trouble at times. BUT...could it be God used it just a bit in our pursuit of bella? when i heard she had been passed over by a few families...when i learned her case was somewhat desperate....when i spoke with the cardiologist from vanderbilt and she told me she would "not recommend we pursue this child...her health was too much a risk" all of those things brought out that determined-My-Way-wiring...that strong will. could God be using my ugly and sinful nature for something good? sure He could! He is God! He uses us despite ourselves. He isn't looking for perfect angels and perfect people to do His answer His exact His show His love. God uses us in the middle of our weak and imperfect state. i am always completely amazed by this fact. so often we think we have to be well equipped and ready for His calling. you've heard the phrase, "God doesn't call the equipped, He equips the called." that's it! let's face it, very few of us are equipped. and if we ever believe ourselves to be prepared and out! the truth is, we are all messy and messed up. let me remind you we pursued a girl with big medical needs...this wasn't anywhere close to my comfort level. just before leaving for china, tyler had surgery on his ear. i had to change the dressing on it a few days afterward. when my stomach did flipflops and my knees grew weak...i was more assured than ever i had not missed my calling as a nurse. i even thought to myself..."i have to do this with assurance and poise...i have to prove i can stare something medically challenging in the face and conquer it." oh foolish i was. how foolish i am. the truth was i was about 5 seconds away from gagging.
anyway, back to my mythbusting....
so...who adopts? (i realize i asked that same question an entire paragraph ago..sorry). in our two weeks in china we spent time with 12 other families in our specific travel group from our hotel. there were probably about 50-60 families in guangzhou city, however, adopting children. we know this because we sort of all followed each other around from appointment to appointment. we are all doing the same kinds of things and going to the same kinds of places. we were are own little rainbow community. we were pretty easy to spot. guanzhou is a huge city. 12 million people....but the adoptive families kind of stuck out. we got to know many of these other families in our two weeks.
pretty much every family was there to adopt a special needs child. special needs has taken over the world of international adoption in china. in china, waiting for a healthy child could take up to 8-10 years now. so truly most of the adoptions are of children with special needs. that is a phrase we aren't always comfortable with as americans. it makes some of us squirm and feel slightly unsure of ourselves. special needs in china though can be just about anything that is slightly off perfect. every one of the children adopted in our travel group had some kind of special need. these needs ranged from bella's heart condition to cleft palates. some of the needs were easily correctable with surgery. some of the needs might be longer term in therapy and care. there was no one category. none of these children were the same...but they were all beautiful. as bella runs around my house this morning all i can come up with is yes, she is absolutely special! without a doubt.

we got to know the phelps family while in china. they were adopting sam david. sam david is a 2 1/2 year old with spina bifida. he is their second child with s.b. we watched sam david go from being timid and tearful to secure and smiling while we were with this family. rebecca and mike phelps were so patient and loving with this little guy. he was their 4th child, their 2nd adopted child. they told us they had decided to go back to china and adopt another child with sb because "they knew the ropes." they had the right doctors lined up and they knew their stuff. why not? this time they brought their 7 year old, bennett, with them. bennett quickly connected with his new brother. it was magical to watch.
the thomas family was also there for their second adoption - child number 5. this trip they were in china to bring home chaning. chaning is a beautiful 4 year old girl who had been born with an anal atresia. she also just blossomed under the love and care of her family. when chaning was first placed into her mother's arms on gotcha day, she was a big old mess. crying and carrying on. she was old enough to sort of understand what was going on and it was tremendously hard. but within days, maybe hours, chaning had her arms around her mother's neck and the sweetest smile on her face. a rocky first hour turned into a deep and sweet connection. a forever connection.
the second week a family from arkansas joined our group. they brought with them all of their children: two children in their child in their late teens... and one daughter from china adopted 4 years ago... they were there to adopt a fifth child. they had children in college and high school and yet God had layed on their heart there was room and energy and excitement for two more young daughters from china.
there was a couple from hawaii adopting their first...
there was a couple from new jersey adopting their third...
there was a couple from alabama adopting their fourth...
i could write on and on about these amazing families coming to adopt children with special needs. each one of these kids had something different going on. each one of these kids had little hope remaining in a chinese orphanage. each one of these children blossomed in the days and weeks we were with them. i will never forget the faces of these children. i will never forget how i watched as the anxiety and fear literally melted right off of their little bodies. it is miraculous. who adopts children from halfway around the world? who adopts children from orphanages? who adopts children labeled as special needs? everyday people like you and me. everyday people who are ready to watch God do something miraculous in their lives.
friends, we live too much in a climate of that-is-for-someone-else-to-do. i know not everyone is called to adopt. i know some of you are called to support those who do, pray for those who do, cook for those who do. all of these areas are vital ministries to adoptive families. out of all the things we have ever been involved in, this is the one thing for which we have most needed our community. i can assure you, there is just no way we could have done this without the hundreds of people who have been praying and caring for us. we have had friends fundraise for us, plan events, make dinners, clean our house, buy us a year long supply of toilet paper and paper towels (loved that surprise), watch our children, do research, grocery shop. we have had friends who have written us notes, sent us emails, prayed with us, left checks taped to our door. we have had friends who have cried with us, dreamed with us, hoped with us. all of it. all of it was part of the amazing journey to bella. all of it was answering God's call to care for the least and for the lost. all of it was done out of a love and desire to rescue orphans.
we had talked about adoption for a long time before actually taking the step. i think that is true of most families. we spent a very long time swimming around in the WHAT IFS. what if we actually did this? what if it actually worked? what if we added to our family? if you've spent any time reading through this blog you know i have used it to work through some of these what ifs. early on in our adoption i came across a quote by turgenev. "if we wait for the moment when everything, absolutely everything, is perfect we shall never begin." nothing could be more true. we spend a lot of our life sometimes waiting for the Perfect Time. the Perfect Time to do a lot of things in life.  we wait for everything to slow down and everyone to be on board....we wait for signs and signals and something. we wait and we wait and we wait. and sometimes there is a time to wait. but so often we get stuck in our waiting...and our wanting...and our wishing.
i have heard myself say out loud, at some point things will slow down and i will _______________. go ahead and fill in the blank. i've said it so many times about so many things it is almost laughable. things don't settle down or slow least not in our home. sometimes perfect timing is very often found in the imperfect time. and sometimes God's perfect plan is carried out by imperfect people.