Tuesday, May 20, 2014

graduating from the small things

i know that in just a matter of days she'll march across a stage and receive her diploma. her name will be read and applause will be heard. she'll toss her cap high in the air and pose readily for 100 pictures with her dearest friends.

and i know i will feel it tight in my throat and hard in my stomach and so deep in my heart.

when this happens.

but it's today, today in the small moments, where i think i feel it most.

this final morning of high school when she asked me at breakfast to braid her hair.

i'm not sure how to put that feeling into words.

i've been braiding this girl's long, dark hair for almost 18 years. french braids and tiny braids. big braids and crowns of braids. swim meets and ballet recitals and volleyball matches and a million mornings in the rush before school.
there's absolutely no telling how many times i've stood over this oldest daughter with fingers braiding.

and, yes, i'm sure i'll braid her hair at least a few more times,
but never again before heading out the door before school.

because today was her last day.

all these years.
all these days of waking up early and climbing in a car and traveling away with backpacks and lunch boxes and projects and papers.

all those days finished.

i watched as she and her brother drove off down our driveway together. this -- their final trip to school as a duo. my camera snapping a photo from the front steps and they turn out to the road. their final morning together. these two oldest. 20 months apart in age and close as any brother and sister can be.

and this is where i feel it.

i'm sure i'll shed a tear or two graduation night. but, truly, it's in the small things like hair-braids and a brother and sister backing out of the driveway.

the big moments are great for marking milestones and major accomplishments, but we live in the small stepping stones of life. we live most deeply in the in-between.

in the little things.

and though we'll celebrate what it means to be fully finished with high school on graduation night, it is this morning, in my empty house, that i celebrate what it means to be her mom.

i will always love watching her in the big things ... but i'm so grateful i have been given the gift to have fingers weaving intricately in the very small.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

praise for His plan : 15 days

a couple of days ago, i shared with you a piece of the heartache we've felt since learning we wouldn't qualify to adopt lu. and let me just say how encouraged i was by your comments and messages. thank you!

many of you wrote and told me your own "no" stories.  you also told me about how many of these "no's" became a different kind of "yes!"

several of you reminded me of how God works behind the scenes; planning, shaping, preparing and purposing us in ways we can't even begin to imagine.

the verse we posted around our house and have been praying for lu is still the verse in this story. still the verse for her story ... for our story ... for your story, too!
"now to Him who is able to do IMMEASURABLY MORE than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us ... to Him be the glory."  ~ ephesians 3:20
because God is God over all of our stories. no one is exempt from His authorship. some of us find freedom in that and some of us fight that. regardless of how we feel, there's no argument, He is most definitely doing the writing!

this morning, i woke prompted to turn this latest struggle into something positive. i've been sort of wallowing in the frustration and disappointment this month. maybe not on the outside so much, but, i know what's been brewing within. i can see how i've been holding close this "no" and tending to it with some self-pity and even a little bit of bitterness.

i also know when we choose to let these kinds of seeds take root, the end result is often something ugly.

and as i wake on this beautiful spring morning, i am encouraged to pull out the weeds within and ask God to shape even this into something new. something better. something more beautiful.

any of this resonate with you?
anyone else holding some kind of sad or frustrated or bitter seed too close?
anyone else unsure of God's plan or timing or direction?

if so, then i'd love to invite you to join me.
in the next 15 days i'm going to carve out an intentional path: giving God PRAISE for His PLAN.

as spring (finally) unfolds here in minnesota, i will post on my sparrow facebook page scripture and some spring pictures ... reminding us that God does, indeed, absolutely, 100% have a plan.

a plan, perfect and good.

i'm not sure how eloquent the words will be or how captivating the pictures. spring is limping along and we have a busy next two weeks at our house entering into those final days of school. and, as every mother knows, this is the month which rivals all other months for the crazy-busy-nutso title. in addition, we have three graduation ceremonies back to back. yep, all three daughters graduate from something: kindergarten, 8th grade and high school. and each of these milestones bring along a whole lot of "other stuff."


i've got to fit this in.
i just have to.
i must.
i have to take the time to praise Him for His plan.
i don't know about you, but i need that kind of healing.

and that's the desire and direction stirring in my heart this morning. sometimes, even when the calendar is packed and the days are full, we need to carve out a path in obedience.

i need y'all to keep me accountable.

hearing from many of you yesterday reminded me that we all face our disappointments and crushed dreams. we all have heard a "no" which didn't make sense. many of us have made plans only to see them  fall apart at our feet. we've held hopes which have slipped, like sand, through our fingers.

we all know what it feels like to be reeling down a road only to be detoured, diverted, dead-ended.

we all know what it feels like to wonder at the direction.

we all know what it feels like to be unsure of God's plan.

BUT this is exactly where our FAITH must dig deep.
and our MINDS must claim truth.
and our EYES must seek Him.
and our TRUST must hold tight.

it is with these crushed dreams and disappointments that we must come to His cross and surrender. (easier said than done).

and sometimes it requires a physical laying down of what we have been clutching so closely.

a bending back of stiff fingers and a turning up of resistant palms.

so that we can ...
             ask HIM for the next plan, the next step, the next morsel, the next minute ...

so that we can trust and obey.

that age-old hymn runs through my mind this morning ...
trust and obey
for there's no other way
to be happy in Jesus
but to trust and obey.

so, 15 days of giving praise for His plan.  not in boredom (heavens no!), but in obedience, i will be posting what God's word says about His ways, His plans, His purpose and His perfect love.

need a reminder? then join me.

in these next two weeks we aren't going to figure out everything about God or what He's doing in each of our lives. but we are going to figure out (or at least be encouraged) how to give Him praise for who He is and what He's doing.

and that's the best way i know to weed out whatever it is which is growing bitter within.

because ...
it's not in knowing the plan, but in knowing the Planner.
it's not in knowing the direction, but in knowing the Director.
it's not in knowing the story, but in knowing the Author.

i'll be posting these next 15 days at:  eventhesparrow Facebook page ...
you can click on the above link and then LIKE the page for the daily posts.

starting tomorrow!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

when the answer is "no."

i've never been especially good at being told, "no."
you can ask my mother.

in fact, if i'm being honest, i'd probably have to admit that when i hear "no" it kind of makes me want whatever it is even more.

i'm not saying this is exactly an admirable quality, just that it's true.

so, i've been a little quiet over here on the blog this month.
two reasons:
1. it's pretty busy around our house these days. (i'll save that for another post).
2. deep in my heart, i've been processing one of those unwanted "no's."

i've been dealing with a "no" ... and i haven't been dealing with it very well.

a couple of months ago, i shared that we were beginning the adoption process for another little girl over in changsha, china. (meet lu). there were some obvious logistical challenges and we knew it would take a lot for us to be allowed to adopt her. maybe even a miracle. but that was okay, because i happen to know a God who is in exactly that business -- miracles.

i was ready to trust. we all were.

in my enthusiasm i posted about little lu on her 5th birthday -- february 10th. probably a bit early in the process, but it caused many of you to pray for her. and though it might look like a spilled the beans before it was "safe," i don't regret asking for your prayers for this adoption. for us. for her.

in my enthusiasm i placed copies of this verse all over our house. every bathroom mirror. the refrigerator door. my dashboard. etc...
i was claiming these words for our adoption and for little lu over in china.

and so we began the paperwork and started the process and everything in me said "go!"
do this.
march forward.
plow ahead.
make a way.


in my mind, this was the right path for our family. the perfect fit. a no-brainer. an obvious next step. even an answer to prayer.

of course i began picturing little lu and bella playing in our home ... walking hand in hand ... giggling at the breakfast table ... sharing bedtime stories and hair bows and secrets.

but a few weeks ago, we were told "no."
through several emails and phone calls, the director of the asia program for our adoption agency, spelled it out for me: this adoption wasn't going to happen. it really wasn't a possibility. the CCWA would never allow it. we had a combination of things going which turned our hope into a "no."

i'll try to explain:
little lu is too healthy, she's not "special focus." special focus means the child has a higher level of special needs. it's a classification system china uses for its orphans. basically, there are three categories: healthy, special needs and special focus.  lu, praise God, is healthy with a slight developmental delay. though they could maybe classify her as special needs, there's no way she would be deemed "special focus."

so, the bottom line is lu is too healthy and i, according to china, am not healthy enough.

because of my little wrangle with cancer 3 years ago, china will only approve us to adopt a child who is on the special focus list -- and even that isn't guaranteed. in addition, in order to write a medical waiver on my behalf, they'd really like me to be closer to 8 years cancer free. three years isn't much to boast about by china standards.

it doesn't matter that my oncologist and other doctors have written glowing health reports and given me an exceptional prognosis. it doesn't matter that i am fully functioning (all things considered, that is). it doesn't matter that we've moved on from the cancer chapter. it doesn't matter that i'm carefully monitored every few months. it doesn't even matter that we have medical testing which places me back in the normal or average range of risk-recurrence.

it doesn't matter that we have the resources available to adopt her.
it doesn't matter that we have the room in our home and in our hearts.
it doesn't matter that our family is ready and willing.
it doesn't matter that we long to embrace another little girl from china.
it doesn't matter that we have fallen in love with her sweet face.

it doesn't matter that in china, every single day, children are being abandoned on street corners and in stairwells and around cities and  throughout villages.


it doesn't matter that there is an overwhelming shortage of people saying "yes!" to adoption.

china will not approve this adoption.

and, for a woman who doesn't like to hear the word "no," i haven't been handling that news very well.  knowing that this was a stretch from the beginning, i promised my husband and family and friends that i would "hold this adoption loosely." that i wouldn't get too attached or go too far down that emotional path. and in some ways, i've been good ... careful ... guarded. but, folks, the truth is, i'm not a very guarded, careful or cautious kind of woman. i'm just not.

and though i was polite in our final phone conversation. i haven't been quite so polite in my feelings since as i try to figure out how to make sense of this "no."

i've argued a little bit with God, telling Him this could have been a really cool opportunity for Him to work. this was a situation right there in His wheelhouse. it could have been a total win-win for everyone involved. (yes, i explained that to God. i did).

i'm mad at china and their rules and reasons and red tape.

the way it's set up in china adoptions is that if you are over age 50 or have a medical history, you can only qualify to adopt kids who are "special focus" -- kids with a greater level of need. seriously, does that make sense to you?

and, let's be real here, it's not like this is a supply and demand issue. i assure you, there is no shortage in china of children needing families.

and yes, i'm mad at the cancer.

i didn't even realize how mad until i was driving home from (yet another) appointment last week.  don't get me wrong, i'm so thankful for the great medical care i've had over these past three years, but yesterday's doctor, being very thorough with me, wanted to discuss multiple facets of my health, the cancer and further testing.  she was only doing her job, but by the time i drove away, i just wanted to scream, "enough already!"

i'm done fitting cancer into my life. i'm done hearing about it. talking about it. every single night when i pop my tamoxifen into my mouth i swallow the word cancer. i'm done. it took some things away from me a few years ago ... and the truth is i'm mad that it is taking this adoption from me right now.

i know that's not a very spiritual mindset.

i know i sound self-pitying and ungrateful.

and i know of many others who are, right now, in the midst of this ugly battle and only wish they could forget about cancer for a few minutes. my cancer situation pales in comparison.

i really am so incredibly grateful for my health and for how God carried us through that crisis a few years back. i'm grateful for how He continues to provide. i'm even grateful for that little, white pill i take each night to keep the cancer at bay.  i really am.

oh gosh, i have so much for which to rejoice in and so little for which to complain about. shame on me for even the smallest of grumbles.

but, being honest here, i still get kind of mangled up inside when it comes to hearing this particular "no" and knowing that it has a lot to do with that ugly cancer which i'd prefer to, instead, leave far behind in the dust.

maybe you've got something like this in your life?

it doesn't have to be cancer. but maybe you've got something which feels a little bit like an albatross hanging around your neck. something that keeps popping up. something which continues to rear its ugly head or remind you of an issue or a limitation.

maybe you've also heard a "no" recently and you just aren't sure how to handle it.

maybe you get it. maybe you understand.

and maybe you, like me, can mostly feel pretty grateful for all God's given and the work He has done, but sometimes ... sometimes ... you still want to kick the cancer or the red tape over in china or the whatever it is which needles your soul.

i'm writing this to give you an update on this adoption and little lu ... and, also, to give you a little glimpse into some feelings which aren't always admirable or inspiring, but which are just plain, old real and raw.

sometimes, dear friends, the answer is "no."
"for my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD." ~ isaiah 55:8
a few days ago, i shared mother's day with my five kiddos. i don't need a holiday to tell me how blessed i am and how much God has given. even in the crazies, i can see, touch, taste, feel that every single day.  life is good. the days are full. His gifts are great. the blessings are many. God's timing is perfect. His answers complete. His way is straight. His grace amazing.

and though we won't be adopting little lu, we are sponsoring her through pearl river outreach (more about PRO below), and we'll get to see how things unfold for her. and more than that, we'll get to watch how God's perfect plan unfolds. we trust He has the right family already picked out for this little girl. we are sad that she won't be ours, but she will be somebody else's "yes!"

and for that, we trust Him and we praise Him.

and we continue to pray for little lu.  join us! let's watch God work something great in her life.

so, will the mcnatt family adopt again? very likely. there are other options and we'd be honored if God calls us to pursue a child on the special focus list. that list might matter to china, but it doesn't matter to us ... all these kids are special ... all of them belong to Him.

may God use even this little story for greater good and for His glory.

a few endnotes:
if you'd like more information about sponsoring a child through pearl river outreach you can click on their website: http://www.pearlriveroutreach.blogspot.com  (you'll communicate with my dear friend, diana rouse)!
pearl river is not an adoption agency, but an incredible organization which provides training for care givers in china. they work closely with the foster mothers and they help find sponsors for the waiting children. contact diana!

or maybe God's been working in your heart and stirring up thoughts of adoption. do you need someone to encourage you? though we've been disappointed with this outcome for our family, we believe passionately in the process of adoption. you don't have to read very far in my blog to know the tremendous blessing adoption has played in the mcnatt family. as my daughter posted on instagram the other day, "adoption rox!" 
need encouragement, direction or a big push?  you can email me at emmyandty@aol.com.  

Thursday, May 1, 2014

fine china

last weekend, my friend, navina, and i, combined our china, our silver, our stemware, and all the extra energy we could muster up and hosted a mother-daughter tea honoring the 8th grade girls from our daughters' class. sunday afternoon, about 45 of us joined together for food and fellowship.

it was a rainy, cold, {spring?} minnesota day ... but the inside of navina's home shone with more than the sparkle of our place settings, it shone with the sparkle of some lovely, lovely  teen girls.

"oh, this is so pretty!" and "look at that!" and "how do you hold this?" were just a few of the comments i heard from the girls as they entered and took in the well-appointed table, the flowers, the candles and the array of china tea cups and saucers.

these girls in their pretty dresses and high heels.

these girls who were giddy and smiling and ooh-ing and aw-ing.

these girls who probably haven't played "tea party" in quite some time.

these girls who felt special.

seeing the glow of their excitement, i couldn't help but smile.

that was our goal:  to honor these
girls and make them feel special. loved. precious -- like fine china.

we moms were also kind of giddy watching our girls balancing their china plates full of food and dainty tea cups. they moved differently. they looked older. even their voices seemed softer. this wasn't our normal, weekend hanging out with the girlfriends. this wasn't a pizza out of the box, coke out of cans and cheeto-puffs out of a bag kind of event.

this was special.

while they nibbled on iced, pink petit fours and sipped tea, i had a chance to share a devotion with the girls and the moms.

"in a wealthy home there are dishes made of gold and silver as well as some made from wood and clay. the expensive dishes are used for guests, and the cheap ones are used in the kitchen or to put garbage in. if you stay away from sin you will be like one of these dishes made of purest gold - the very best in the house - so that Christ Himself can use you for His highest purposes. run from anything that gives you the evil thoughts... but stay close to anything that makes you want to do right. have faith and love, and enjoy the companionship of those who love the Lord and have pure hearts." ~ 2 timothy 2:20-22

another version calls these fine dishes:  "set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work."

timothy tells us there are two kinds of dishes in a home: the everyday, ordinary, cheap, disposable dishes found in the kitchen and the special, set aside, precious, valuable dishes found in the dining room.

i shared with the girls the sorry state of our everyday dishes: chipped, scratched, well-used and abused and compared them with the dining room wedding china my husband and i carefully picked out 25 years ago in our engagement.

is timothy trying to tell us that God cares what kind of dish we eat our lasagna or roast beef from? not at all.  because this passages isn't really about dishes, but about God's daughters.

this verse is about how we view ourselves. our value. our worth.

do we see ourselves as everyday, ordinary, disposable kinds of girls or do we see ourselves as special and set apart "... ready for every every good work?" 

unfortunately, the world we live in wants to treat us as common dishes ... even as trash. the world wants us to believe we are nothing more than a dirty paper plate --- something we wouldn't hesitate to toss into the trash. worthless.

but that's not who we are in Christ.

deuteronomy 7: 6-8 says, “for you are a holy people, who belong to the Lord your God. of all the people on the earth the Lord your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure.”

God sees us not as dirty, disposable paper plates, God sees us as fine china. and He desires His daughters to be set aside for a special purpose ... useful to the Master of the house.

what does God have in store for us?

what does God have planned when we keep ourselves in purity for His purposes?

ephesians 2 explains, "we are God’s workmanship ... {His masterpiece}! ... created in Christ Jesus to do works which He has prepared in advance for us to do." 

God has something special and worthwhile and significant planned for us. something He has even "prepared in advance for us to do ..." He sees us as his daughters, set aside and holy for His fine purposes.

in a world that wants to persuade us that we are nothing better than trash, God tells us, "no, dear ones, you are treasure."

but let's face it, it's hard for us to believe that sometimes, right? in fact, it requires some effort on our part. we have to make choices which lead to treasure.  we have to choose to be "set apart" from worldly things. that's a challenge for these girls about to enter high school ... heck, that's a challenge for this girl almost 30 years out of high school!

but timothy give us some practical advice telling us to "stay away from sin" and "run away from evil" ... he's pretty clear: keep the gap wide. navina and i were excited to share this message with these girls. in a few months they will all be off to high school. the choices will be hard. the opportunity to accept the world's ways will be present. there will be temptation to flirt a little bit with the road leading to trash. it's inevitable. parents might continue to have input and some control, but as these girls grow up, they will have to make more and more decisions on their own.

and how they view themselves will make all the difference.

treasure or trash?

it makes all the difference for all of us regardless of our age.

our worth doesn't come from who we are, but from whose we are. because we belong to Christ, we are daughters of the King ... not because of our own works or royalty, but because of His royal work of redemption.

i'll be the first to admit though, i forget that sometimes. i get caught up in my sinful ways and i forget that i am God's masterpiece, His workmanship, His fine china. i bet some of the moms listening on sunday would agree with me. i'm pretty sure i saw it in some of their eyes as well. whether we are 8th grade girls heading of to high school or middle aged moms, we all need to remember who we are in Christ Jesus ... set aside for His holy purposes. i didn't even know i needed that same reminder until i was up in front sharing it with the 8th graders!

17 year old ... 22 year old ... 38 year old ... 53 year old ... 77 year old. daughter, mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, friend ... all of us need to be reminded that we belong to God and He see's us as "His own special treasure." 

as i finished up, i explained to the girls that though we desired for them to see themselves as fine china, it wasn't in any way an invitation to feel superior or self-righteous or holier-than-thou. not at all. the dish metaphor works well because though dishes can have great value, they all, ultimately, have one purpose -- to serve.

so, yes, we are fine china -- set aside -- precious ... but let's not forget, God wants us to be used to serve Him and others for His glory.

to help the girls remember this truth, each girl was given a china plate to take home. on the back of the plates i had attached a portion of the 2 timothy 2 verse.  i asked the girls to keep these plates somewhere they might see them each day ...  reminding them of their worth in Christ Jesus -- reminding them they truly are God's fine china.

navina and i with our daughters, sarah and sydney

* robin jones gunn's book, gentle passages, provided inspiration for my devotional. it's out of print now, but used copies are still available on amazon. i recommend it for mothers with daughters.

thanks to jennie, tina and cheryl for their help with set up and clean up -- fine china is fun to use ... but it does make for a lot of dishes to wash!  =)