Monday, November 29, 2010

Thankful to be a Taylor

I strongly believe that part of marriage is "marrying" a spouse's family. As strange as it was to start calling my father-in-law "Dad" at first, I did it because I knew I was now an important part of the Taylor family. (It's very easy to call him "Dad" now, by the way.)
When I was marrying S. I thought a lot about what my role would be in my new family. I had a unique situation because a year prior to S. and my first date (to the day) his mom had passed away. I walked into a family that had lost a wife and mother and the grief was fresh. I asked God to break my heart for my new family, asked Him to give me eyes to see them clearly and insight to encourage them.

He did. And I was very blessed by having my father-in-law and sister-in-law added to my life (not to mention that S. has some awesome aunts and uncles who I adore).
After some years of praying and asking God to bring Megan to Himself... He did. Not only did she choose to follow Christ, she chose to live under our roof while undergoing a huge transformation. She became one of my best friends, one of the few I trust the kids with, and now a huge encourager to me. My father-in-law checks up on me, stocks his cupboard with the best coffee when I'm coming to visit, and spoils my kids constantly.

This past week when we were all sick and then the snow and ice started... I was extremely disappointed that we might miss Thanksgiving with S.'s family.
I remember the first Thanksgiving I spent with S.'s family. It was my first time meeting them. I had known S. for less than 3 months (but he had already declared that he would be marrying me). It was a strange experience because this small, well-mannered family used real dishes for Thanksgiving. They all sat quietly around one table and passed things around for seconds. We watched some football and shared in the same conversation.
I grew up very differently. My family always ate buffet style with paper plates. There were at least 50 of us. In fact, one year we had Thanksgiving in a church so we'd have room... then one of my cousins pulled the fire alarm... it was a far cry from a "quiet" Thanksgiving (and the firemen were not excited). Having Korean relatives meant that in addition to turkey we had bulgogi and kim chi. In the morning all the boys would play football. If you wanted quality conversation, there was time to sneak a favorite cousin away for a walk. It was loud, messy, and lasted for days. Before eating, my Pake would have everyone go around the circle and share what they were thankful to God for that year. Relatives shared about struggles, about growing faith, and about what they needed prayer for. I remember wiggling, so hungry, wondering why this always had to take the good part of an hour.

One of my contributions to the Taylor family was to start the "thanks" tradition as we start the meal, going around the table to share. (I wasn't about to make them eat off paper plates- I'm all about the real wine glasses and silverware!)
I thought that it would be painfully hard to miss my own family's traditions but I realized this year how much I love the new traditions that have come over the years.
For Thanksgiving we pile in our car (this time Megan rode with us- party!) and drive to Long Beach, WA to stay with S.'s dad for the long weekend.
Grandad has quite the set up- a stocked fridge for us, coloring and an abundance of toys for the kids. The kids love that they get a slumber party together with sleeping bags on the floor. They get Grandad's special "flat toast" for breakfast to go with their eggs and get to play with his toy pirate ship.
When I found out that the Taylor family tradition involved lemon meringue pie (which then is fought over as pieces are snuck, hidden, and devoured by S. and his dad) I balked. I had never made pie in my life! Determined to preserve a tradition for them that no other woman was around to preserve...I set to it. This year I did a darn good job- gluten free pie crust is no easy task.
The kids' favorite part about Long Beach is going down to the beach. It was a brisk 30 degrees but they didn't care. We hunt for shells (Hudson was quite proud of crab shells he discovered) and wade with rain boots on.

Then we hurry back for hot chocolate and a Christmas movie.
This Thanksgiving I was thankful to be out of my bed and able to eat food without a queasy stomach. But I was also thankful that God picked the Taylor family for me and picked me for them.
I was also thankful to have a sister as a built-in friend (and navigator) for the 6 hour drive home when everyone else was crashed in the back. (Note that I'm not taking my eyes off the road even for a picture.)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Thanksgiving that is Not Going in the Scrapbook

I was silly to let a sinus infection and bronchitis get me down this month. In actuality, that was nothing in comparison to the stomach flu that knocked me flat for the past two days. Who gets the stomach flu the week of Thanksgiving?! It's a mean trick, I tell you.

Sunday afternoon Darla wasn't feeling well. She came into the kitchen to say something and suddenly she was throwing up...everywhere. As S. grabbed a bowl and I grabbed her, our eyes met over her head in a big, silent "Uh-oh."
Monday as she perked up, S. went down. Then by 4am Wed morning it was my turn. Our plan had been to leave this morning for Long Beach, WA to spend Thanksgiving with S.'s dad and sister. Unfortunately, as I was finally able to eat a piece of toast last night, S. relapsed into another round of sick.

So here we are. I've attempted to keep the kids semi-quiet so S. can sleep. It's challenging to keep the healthy ones busy while we're in the house and experiencing "record lows" in temperature for this time of year. 20 degrees and windy isn't exactly "go outside and play" weather. It would be cozy if we weren't all trying to keep germs off each other. Everyone to their own corners! I didn't plan on having Thanksgiving at home so if we do end up staying put tomorrow I have cranberry sauce and 7up for dinner.

As I stared at my bedroom wall for hours on end yesterday I did some thinking. (At one point S. came in, took one look at me and said, "Have you had too much time to sit and think today?" I guess he knows that look on my face.)
I thought a lot about holding things loosely.

One of ironies of my life recently (there are actually many) happened when we took our house of the market. We have wanted to sell but were beginning to feel exhausted with the roller coaster that it entailed. With everything in our lives feeling up in the air, we decided that letting the listing run out would at least eliminate one unknown.
Two weeks after it was off the market I got a message from an acquaintance saying she had been interested but saw it wasn't listed anymore.
One more time! We cleaned and showed it to them.
Then we didn't hear anything.
"Okay, Lord. I get it. I need to continue being open handed about everything- even if it is a roller coaster."
Then this week a neighbor stopped by. "I have a friend who might be interested in your house but I see it's not listed anymore."
Are you kidding?!
I suppressed a smile and said, "If they want I can show it to them."
"They'll be in town in a few weeks. I might let you know."
Then another message from the first girl, "We're still interested...just still looking at some other places right now."

I have concluded that whether I want it to be or not- my life is a roller coaster. Every time I think there is something I can control to regain some sanity...I can't. I am reminded that sanity does not come from me controlling my circumstances. "O Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself; It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps." Jeremiah 10:23

As I stared at my bedroom wall I realized that our Thanksgiving is yet another example. I would much rather be driving to the beach, coffee in hand, good music on and fun conversation with S. Instead, I'm trying to plan yet another meal that is gentle on stomachs (and noses) for the "sickies" and nutritious enough for the "healthies".

At least cranberry sauce is me and Darla's favorite part of Thanksgiving dinner. Come to think of it, I do have all the fixings for S.'s favorite lemon meringue pie. And I guess I can't complain too many people can say they lost weight on Thanksgiving?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Day that Felt Like Christmas

Yesterday a "crystalized moment" turned into a crystalized day. We woke up to the first snowfall of the year. It was minimal, but when you have three young children there isn't a way to wake up more excited. The kids ran out for a round of snow angels in pajamas.
We then got to experience National Adoption Day very personally. We went to the courthouse to watch Gage and Jude officially become Ellis'. Some of us were running late so the judge bumped the Ellis' to last in the group of adoptions that hour. It turned into a big blessing as we tend to cheer loud and take up the entire courtroom. There was a small prayer team of women in the front row quietly praying for each family as the papers were signed. You think of traditional celebrations; birthdays, weddings, the birth of a child... and this ranks with all of these. It was a unique, exciting time for our entire family.

That's right...our entire family. My parents, my sister and her husband with their now 5 children, my two brothers, their wives and kids, and my own family equaled 21 of us in the courtroom (11 being children between 2 and 6yrs.). Since we were the last in the courtroom, we were able to take our first ever group picture with some courtroom folks as photographers!
We attend a church that believes in taking care of orphans and backs it up with a foster/adoption support group called His Kids Our Homes. They were instrumental in making National Adoption Day a party at the courthouse. We got to enjoy treats, snacks, coloring for the kids, and an amazing "balloon man" who whipped out 11 creations for each of our kids. No one wanted to leave...and you can't often say that about a courthouse!

Since we all like a good party and any excuse to be together- we added on a birthday party for my nephews James and Cliff. All 21 of us trekked to the "Fun Zone" which is actually a warehouse full of bouncy houses. The kids got hot, sweaty, and crazy while the rest of us caught up and debriefed on our morning.

The saying "it takes a village to raise a child" is right on. In my own life I have often received counsel, encouragement, and yes- even discipline, from my aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins. They have shaped me significantly. Now watching my boys wrestle with their uncles, listening to Hudson very seriously suggest to my sister that all the boy cousins live at one house and all the girls live at another house, and then having Everett cry half the way home because he wanted to ride with Pake and Beppe to their house... not only makes me happy but helps me shoulder my responsibilities. Jasmine, in thanking our family for our support, shared about the realization that when she inevitably fails in her role as a mom (her words- not mine!) her kids also have grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins that can be there to make sure they are raised right.
There's one more big benefit to busy, we-have-11-small-children-in-this-family days: really good naps once we get home.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Soaking it up & letting it sink in

By the time S. walked in the door the other night, my eyes were nearly crossing. It had been a day of constant intervening between children, of paperwork, homeschooling, and a paycheck postponed. The rain hadn't stopped and all I wanted for dinner was a hot cup of tea (and I'm not even a tea drinker!) It has now been two months that I've been sick, one round of antibiotics, and a month of not being able to workout without ridiculous coughing fits. Missing workouts alone is enough to put me over the edge- lost sleep and life's turbulence has not been the side dish I'd pick to go with bronchitis and sinus infections.

As soon as dinner commenced (I was able to resist serving tea and did make real food) S. disappeared into the bathroom. He scrubbed down the bath, started warm water, lit candles, sent me in and sent the kids to have 'quiet time' in their rooms while he did dishes.

I had been in a funk but the quiet gave enough room for me to begin asking the Lord questions and listening for His response. I've been realizing that I've made some silly assumptions about my life. Unconsciously I have built up my ideas of what would be indicators of maturity and progress. For example, if I learn to be financially responsible and surrender my finances to the Lord, I will see His blessing in a certain way- a savings account, a newer vehicle, a smart budget. Surely a 401k is a sign of a responsible person... surely God wants me to be this kind of responsible.
I thought spiritual maturity would feel mature. If I am growing in my faith surely I will be stable. I will probably even look like I have my act together to other people. I'll see less sin and more fruit.

As I took inventory of some unspoken expectations I realized the type of blessings I've assumed would accompany God's favor and maturity have not been the blessings I am experiencing. In every way I am less stable than ever...hardly a mature 30 year old!

When I agree with John the Baptist that "He (Jesus) must increase, but I must decrease" in John 3:30 and when I read the beatitudes in Matthew 5 that "Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake" do I really think that becoming these things will be painless? Do I really think that becoming this way needs to involve what my culture says are marks of maturity and growth?

Never do I hunger and thirst for righteousness like I do when I am stripped; when I realize nothing else is satisfying. God has given me things to mourn, has given me opportunity to extend (and receive) mercy, and He has stripped much of my self-righteousness.
Huh... these are blessings?
This is my paradigm shift.

As my bath got cold I was reminded of a very obvious blessing. Last year at this time I would have gladly given my savings account, my comfort, and a paycheck to have a husband who would encourage me, fill a bath, and take initiative. God has not only done a huge work in S., He has used my little family to speak loudly His graces to me. It is the visible mark of God's hand in my life, of His grace and listening ear.

It has been challenging to blog, journal, or think reflectively in these NyQuil driven months because my mind has been cloudy. Much of what the Lord has been doing is exposing my silliness, my sin, my prideful expectations and replacing them with His truth. It has been the same truths knocking against my dense head. Often I think, "Wow, I should write this out." Then, "Oh, I have written about that. Wait...didn't I already learn this?" Apparently not because it's having to sink in over and over again.

I half-joked (okay, I was all the way serious) with my friends a couple weeks ago that when I knew God was going to begin a big transformation in me I was hoping it would be the kind that would include defined triceps, maybe a half marathon, a bigger house, an adoption, or some stability... so I was a little bit off on my estimation (I said while sucking on my third cough drop).

The exciting part of the beatitudes in Matthew 5 are what God gives once He's established the meekness, the mourning, the hunger and thirsting: "Theirs is the kingdom of heaven, they shall be comforted, they shall inherit the earth, they shall be filled, they shall obtain mercy, they shall see God, they shall be called sons of God." Wow. I suppose it's worth trading in my stability, my 401k, my expectations, to let God establish these promises that far surpass my limited ideas.

Again I am reminded that I have prayed for holiness, for obedience, for God's will to be established in my life. He is answering my prayers in abundance. With a few more hot baths I think that might sink in.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Bathroom Humor

Apparently if you are a two year old or four year old boy, nothing is more hysterical than poop or pee. If you can make a joke with 'poop' as the punch line and then fit in a little butt-wiggle, even better.

I want to do my boys a favor. I want to teach them how to be actually funny...not to merely resort to the inappropriate for laughs. Perhaps I'm motivated by stand-up comedy and by every Adam Sandler movie resorting to gross-out humor when nothing funny is coming. (And yes, I know you all are laughing because you know my husband's propensity to "cross the line" and yes...the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.)

After a particularly un-funny poop joke made by Hudson I told my kids, "We call that bathroom humor. There's really not a reason to laugh about things that happen in the bathroom or about private parts. Those are natural ways God made us and it's "private" for a reason. We aren't going to joke about it anymore."

They understood. they actually understood too much. At first it was working well. Until Darla said, "I have to pee."
Hudson gasped. "Mo-om! Darla said 'pee'!"
I sighed. "It's okay to say that you are going to use the bathroom. I just don't like it when you're always laughing and making jokes about what you do in the bathroom."
I thought the point was received but as I walked out 2 yr. old Everett said, "Mom!"
"Yes, Everett?"
"Darla say baf-room umor."
"Everett, did you just say 'bathroom humor'?"
Now anytime someone says something that makes everyone laugh, regardless of the topic, Everett is quick to accuse, "baf-room umor!"

Hudson was at the table when Darla was the accuser. "Hudson said pee over and over!"
Innocent eyes looking up he said, "I was just saying the alphabet. L, M, N, O, P. P. Peeeee..."

Yesterday on the toilet I encouraged Everett, "Make sure you get it all out."
He grunted, closed his eyes, and made some extremely dramatic noises. He then opened his eyes a crack, grinned crooked and whispered, "Bafroom umor, Mom."

I am so losing this one.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Filled up & Cried out

A few weeks ag
when I was at a low, my cousin wrote an e mail that deeply encouraged me; much of it was a prayer for me. At one point she said, "My prayer is for something personal and precious to Shilo". I've thought of that a couple times since, thinking I don't even know what that would look like right now.
Friday I landed at the doctor's office (finally) after
being miserably sick for 6 weeks. "No wonder you haven't been sleeping" the doctor assessed, "you have a sinus infection and a bad case of bronchitis. You have got to get more rest."

Armed with antibiotics and cough drops, exhausted but excited, I headed to Big Jokes for BIG OAK- our fundraiser. A lot of anticipation came with this event because not only did we get to raise money but we had an opportunity to share the vision of this ministry with a big crowd of people. It came after a tumultuous few weeks- moments of "what are we doing?! Are we crazy? People certainly think we are" and moments of "this is exactly where we should be. Look at the prayers answered and the people who are step
ping up to support and encourage us!"

As I walked in the doors I saw two familiar faces talkin
g with my sister. It took me a second to realize that it was my closest friends from high school who now live in Vancouver, WA and Spokane. Wide-eyed I could only say, "What are you doing here?!!?"
They grinned.
I cried. And cried.
Then I sputtered a string of questions as my mind tried to comprehend what they did so that they could surprise me (and wha
t their husbands did by taking care of the home front and their kids so they could come).
Thankfully the fundraiser was an improv comedy show so at some point I had to stop crying and start laughing! S. added two rows of chairs in the back
as the show started because there were over 300 people attending. We had a fantastic night, raised a few thousand dollars, got to share about our ministry, and connected with some very dear people. Our expectations were ex

I got to sit in the front row to soak it up with Kristi an
d Jill who have seen me through the building of my faith when we started high school, through many moves, falling in love, choosing colleges, marriage, and having children. They knew me when I was irresponsible, impulsive and embarrassingly dramatic (and still became my friends).

In fact, they even knew to call my mom and work out details for the weekend. They informed me that the next morning they would be stealing me away for a day. The success
of the fundraiser was exciting enough...but all this nearly made my head explode.

It has been a year since Jill, Kristi and I have had some time to ourselves. Needless to say, we needed our few hour coffee time to start. After lunch they told me we were going to Costco so they could load me up on groceries. If it's not enough to cry at a comedy I was fighting tears in Costco...and then again in the mall where they took me to make sure I was taken care of.

The entire day I was too blessed and overwhelmed to have many cognitive thoughts. In high school 15 years ago when we were learning to drive, having slumber parties, and talking about boys, I never imagined that these two would be here holding up my arms, buying me eggs and new jeans, and still encouraging me.

As I drove home in quiet, my cousin's e mail suddenly popped into my mind.
"My prayer is for something personal and precious to Shilo".
This was it!
I cried.

Orphan Sunday

In honor of November being National Adoption Day and today being "Orphan Sunday" I am posting a link that I hope rivets you like it does me. I hope you are able to apply what the writer is saying, not just to adoption but to whatever God asks us to do. May we not hesitate to respond or wait to feel "qualified", "prepared", or "knowledgable" before we move forward.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Gage & Jude

The above are pictures of my 2 yr old nephew Jude and 4 yr old Gage in their Ethiopian orphanage. Below are pictures of them now at home.

It's been three and a half months since Gage and Jude have come home. When you are in the midst of the activity that is now the Ellis household (with 5 children between the ages of 2 and 6) it's easy to get caught up in the noise, the reminders of "shoes off at the door!" and to gawk at the amount of food required for five growing bodies. This is my attempt to step back from the crazy and marvel at what the Lord is doing.

I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the catastrophic amount of work that goes into the meshing of a family; particularly when two members are learning new language, culture, social cues, manners, along with the everyday things that pre-schoolers learn. I remember my Pake (grandpa) always talking about how Tademas are either grafted or born into our family. Many of my cousins (and my brother) were adopted and I loved the imagery of grafting. Only later did I realize that grafting is hard work! It involves a sharp knife, inserting a branch into a foreign tree and nurturing it so that there isn't damage or cut off circulation to either the branch or the tree. It has to be intentional and guided.

Parenting isn't always a "natural" process and certainly even stranger through adoption. The bizarre yet delightful part of adopting is that you end up celebrating things a little backward. For example, with a natural born two year old, you celebrate when they eat independently and don't cry when they are dropped off at Sunday School. With an adopted two year old, you celebrate when they are willing to let go of their independent survival to be fed and when they "only want mom" during Sunday School.
The first few weeks Jude was home he would chase strangers down the sidewalk and cling to them- desperate for anyone to feed and love him, with panic when he thought he might be abandoned. This week he barreled into my house "Hi Sh-chilo!" He hugged my legs and chatted but immediately turned to Jazz when he needed help with his shoes. Celebrate!
With a natural born four year old you celebrate when they fall off their bike and are determined enough to hop back on and tough it out. With an adopted four year old you celebrate when they don't hide their tears and run to you for comfort. Gage avoided crying in front of anyone initially, even when he had a horribly painful staph infection on his head upon arriving home. His pillow would be bloody in the morning but he would only cringe. Now every bump, bruise, and scrape warrants tears, a band aid, or hugs from Jazz. Celebrate!

The adjusting is not just for Gage and Jude. Lance has to adjust to having five little mouths to feed, two of which have a lot to make up for! All of his transitioning has happened while working full time and going to school for firefighting. Jasmine is adjusting to washing a lot of sheets as all three boys have regressed in potty training, adjusting to five car seats, to letting the Holy Spirit give her love for her kids when she has nothing left to offer. Pearl is proxy-mom; often helping with sippy cups and dressing a two year old when Jasmine's hands are full. Eve would desperately love to be proxy-mom if only the boys would take her seriously! Dear little James has to divide his pile of tractors into three and has had world invaded on a different level than the others. Ironically, he seemed to be learning just as much Amharic as his brothers learned English for awhile!

I've watched my sister choose a harder route for her life because she is responsive and obedient to the Lord. I've watched her come to the end of herself...daily. Oh, it's hard for an older sister to stomach! How I want to fix it and make it easy when my siblings struggle (the burden of being the oldest!).
Simultaneously I am giddy about what I see God accomplishing. It is His grace when we realize that we are incapable of fixing, healing, or bringing about any good thing in ourselves. By His grace we can lead our children to the One who can fix, heal, and bring about good things.

The Lord has a way of stripping us, of exposing the ugly parts of ourselves that we are shocked to see, and bringing us to our knees in desperation. If only he finished the work of rebuilding us in the same day! Yet when we are forced (yes, forced. It doesn't feel voluntary when you've experienced this level of 'empty') to our knees, He begins to build in us things that have never existed. Jasmine will never say, "I was simply born a compassionate person". She will be able to say, "The Lord took me through the fire to build in me His compassion and to give me His eyes for His kids in a way I would have never known had I not done this."

Did I mention that He gets to use these two devastatingly handsome, smiley Ethiopian boys to do His work in Lance, Jazz, Pearl, Eve and James? And did I mention He is using 5 God-loving, beautiful and obedient Ellis' to demonstrate His love to Gage and Jude?
Ahhh...His grace.