We Are That Family

Every year I think, this is the year we won’t be “that family” at the Christmas Eve Service.  This year the little old ladies will not say, “bless your heart.”  This year we will have control of our bodies and mouths and every year I’m wrong.  

Let us recap.  Three years ago Christopher was innocently playing on the floor at my feet in a sweet little country church filled with no more than 40 people in my parents hometown when I suddenly looked down and he wasn’t there.  He had crawled 2 pew rows back and was entertaining everyone behind us.  I, of course, was sitting in the middle of our pew and climbed over all the people to retrieve my little man. 

Last year, we went up for the children’s moment at the same church.  About half way through they handed out gift bags to the kids.  Benjamin grabbed his and ran, literally, like he had stolen it and was attempting to avoid arrest.  Then he stopped mid aisle and ran back put his free hand in the air, faced the cross hanging at the front and yelled, “Thank you Jesus!” And then took off running again.  

This year, I mean the boys are four years old, surely this year will be our year.  As I look around the packed auditorium I think, you poor mamas of crazies.  It’s okay.  I have been there.  I will not laugh when your toddler burps or throws a fit.   I have been that mom with that child.  I begin to smile as I remember all our crazy Christmas Eve service moments.     About five minutes into the sermon in a quiet moment while our pastor is talking about Jesus’ humanity he says, “I hate to ruin Away in a Manger, but come on, no crying he makes?  Has anyone seen a baby that doesn’t cry?”  Rhetorical questions are a lost cause with preschoolers, so my sweet Benjamin says in his loudest shouting voice, “Yyyeeeeeeeessssssss!”  I swear his yes lasted 25 seconds.  And again, we were “that family” at the Christmas Eve Service.  The difference in this Christmas Eve and the previous 2 is we were not in a small country church.  No, we were in a packed auditorium with 500 of our closest friends, who errupted in laughter.  

You are welcome all you other moms who were afraid it would be your kid.  The Gabbards saved the day again. I tell you all of this to say this.  The manger probably wasn’t perfect.  I mean, it was a barn.  There may have been crying and dirty diapers and postpartum emotional rollercoasters.  There may have been uncomfortable moments but it all worked out okay.  Jesus made it into the world.  He made it!  And because He made it, we get to make it too.  God bless you this Christmas!  And may all of you have a Benjamin at your Christmas Eve service to remind you that it isn’t about being perfect it’s about being present.  
Merry Christmas!

Sara

When God Just Won’t Leave You Alone

I got to see an amazing God ordained adoption take place….like front row seat witnessed it.  It forever changed me.  Ever since then I have had a nagging, notice I didn’t say gentle whisper, in my heart that perhaps we were being called to something like this.  I consistently resisted.  Come on God, we have three kids already.  We are a hot mess God. Have you met us?  You can’t be serious.  Perhaps we just need to volunteer at an agency that supports adoptive or foster parents?  Perhaps we just need to pray for these kids that need soft places to land.  That must be it.

But here’s the thing, God’s plan for our lives is like a swing.  We push it away but it keeps swinging right back to us, and if we push it away and assume it is gone it can hit us square in the face.

Examples of being hit square in the face.  My first time volunteering as sub in Sunday School at our church I ended up in a room with a lovely woman.  We were chatting while cleaning up toys and she mentioned that she was a foster parent and had helped to form the organization that supports the families in our county.  As if this weren’t enough, the sermon that Sunday was about allowing God to stretch you in your ability to serve.  After this, we literally couldn’t go anywhere without meeting someone who was fostering or had fostered.  My aunt, who didn’t even know we were debating this possibility, randomly suggested we look into it after a terribly local story was all over the news about a mistreated child.

God and I pushed this swing back and forth for about 6 months.  Meanwhile my poor husband is off to the side praying that this blasted swing will just go away.  It didn’t go away and after praying about it and talking about it we attended an informational meeting.  It was informative, sad, scary and exciting.  We came home and talked more.  We talked about what type of child we thought we could bring into our home.  How would our biological children feel about this addition?  How could we do this and keep them as safe as possible?  Could we even do this?  We are still struggling through that last one but we signed up for classes.  These classes begin tomorrow.  We may complete them and feel a calling to a different aspect of this ministry but we are marching forward.  We are scared and excited.  Everytime I think about beginning this process I get a little overwhelmed about how much this could change our lives.  The additional doctors appointments, the treatment for trama, the extra patience, the feeling of complete inadequacy is daunting.  But once I quiet some of that I begin to imagine our first child.  I imagine the difficult and challenging circumstances they may be currently experiencing or will be experiencing shortly and it hurts my heart so much that it makes me grateful that God and I are no long pushing the swing back and forth.

In the coming weeks and months we request your prayers for the following things:

-Pray for our child.  Pray for this little one that is going through something so hard that they need to be scooped up and placed in our care.

-Pray for our children.  Pray for their little hearts to expand to love one more.  Pray for this to be an opportunity for them to show Jesus’ love to another child with their own kindness and gentleness.

-Pray for Andrew and I.  We are terrified.  We feel unprepared and unworthy of this opportunity.

-Pray for a community to raise up to support us as we move forward.  We are relatively new to our local community and would love to experience additional support from those who are close by.

-Pray for the Mamas and Daddys that will be having their children placed into care.  I can’t imagine what that would feel like or the circumstances that you would have to go through to have it come to that point.

Inspite of the fact that I was a very resistant servant, I can tell you that we have experienced a peace since we signed up for our first training class.  If there is something that you feel God is urging you to look into, I would encourage you to investigate it.  Jeremiah 29:11 keeps coming to my mind when I get scared thinking about this new adventure.  For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans give you hope and a future.  I keep hearing those words both for ourselves and for our future foster babe.  Get with the plan.  Find the peace.  Stop pushing the swing.

He Marches to a Different Beat…and that’s okay.

DSC_4420This is my Benjamin.  He is so different from my other crazies.  He is busy and yet highly focused on what he is doing.  He is challenging and very loving and sweet.  He doesn’t follow instructions well but is very sensitive to correction.  He is cuddly and yet has a hard time receiving too many snuggles because he has so much to do.  He is hard to teach and coach but extremely curious about how things work and often takes things apart and puts them back together.  He even answers questions in unusual ways.

Benjamin, what do you want to be when you grow up?

A dump truck.

Do you mean a dump truck driver?

No, I mean a dump truck.

While coloring recently, I got on his case about how he holds his crayon and was encouraging him to try to color inside the lines.  He looked up at me with these big brown eyes and said, “Mama, those lines aren’t for me.”  He’s right.  They aren’t for him.  He just sees things differently.  He challenges me to try to see things from a new perspective.  I want so badly to understand him but he is so beautifully complicated.

He views the world in a very different way than anyone I have ever met.  In 1st Peter 4:10-11  it says, God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another.  My sweet Benjamin is a gift to me.  He challenges the way I see things.  He encourages me to seek understanding over judgement.  He draws me in because I want to know him more.  He’s right.  The lines aren’t for him.  He marches to the beat of his own drummer because my drummer is either too fast or too slow.  His differences from me are so beautiful and mysterious.  What a blessing he is, not just as my son, but as a constant reminder of how our uniqueness is not a mistake but a plan for us to better serve others and serve God.  He will grow up to challenge the way we think about the world and for that I am grateful.  Color outside those lines little man.  Love you.

This Parenting Thing is no Joke!

A few months ago I took a very scientific approach to finding out what parents were hoping to instill in their children….you know….I asked on Facebook.  I got a variety of answers.  Some were hoping for their child to have a love of learning, to be successful, to work hard.  I spent a lot of time thinking about what my hopes are for my kids and I found myself floating between things that the world says are great and things that are Spirit-filled.  I hope for my children to be financially stable, for them to fall in love and stay in love.  I hope for them to find something that they love to do as a career.  I hope they will take care of me in my old age (wink).  I hope they are successful.  We spend a lot of time instilling these concepts in our kids.  We work on our letter and numbers.  They have chores they need to complete.  We try different sports and activities to see what they will be good at, but when I really slow down and think about the things that will make me the most proud of them, it isn’t their success at a sport or in a career.  It isn’t their ability to find and hold down a steady job.  It isn’t even that they will be “happy.”  It’s more important than the stuff that comes from a “good life.”

I really want them to be good people.  In Galatians 5, Paul lists the fruits of the spirit as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.  Ever since I memorized these as a child, I have always thought of the fruits of the spirit as what should come out of you if you are full of Jesus.  Some of these I feel like we work on with our kids on the regular.  Concepts like patience are constantly coming up in our home.  “Be patient with her, she’s grumpy in the morning.”  We love well and we laugh hard.  We even talk about kindness and what it means to be kind with our words and actions.  I think that some of the more counter-cultural concepts are faithfulness, gentleness and self control.  Our culture doesn’t love these concepts.  We constantly hear about marriages breaking up due to unfaithfulness.  We praise aggressiveness in sports and winning at all cost in business.  We are bombarded by marketing that encourages us to buy now, eat now, drink now.  I think its hard to raise gentle kids who don’t get walked all over.  I think it’s hard to raise kids with self control and patience when so much around them is about instant gratification.

Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean we don’t try.  Perhaps we could raise a kinder and gentler generation.  My hope for them is that they love others the way Jesus did, holding nothing back.  My prayer for them is that they put others before themselves and take care of others recklessly.  I’m going to look for these fruits in my kids this week and put just as much energy into encouraging and pointing out their success in these areas as I do when they write their names with no backward letters.

We are NOT our Problems

My sweet 3 year old is struggling with seasonal allergies.  Gross Alert:  Everytime he sneezes he shoots snot down to his chin and little tears roll down his cheeks, not because he is crying about these impressive snot rockets but because they are just so watery.  Poor guy.  This morning we were all snuggling in bed and everyone was coughing and sneezing and sniffling and Christopher sighs, “Mommy, we are allergies….all of us are allergies.”

And although he is correct, we are so much more than that aren’t we?  We are sisters and brothers, sons and daughters, mommas and daddies.  We are hopefully, at least on a good day, helpers, encouragers, hardworkers but goodness, some days I just feel like my issues.  Some days I feel like an allergy.  When my kids have days like this, I try to remind them of their blessings.  I know it’s so sad that I can’t get that cup of water this instant because, heaven forbid, I am going to the bathroom, but look at this nice house we have with the clean water that comes out of our faucets.  Life is not so bad kid.  This never works on them and most times it doesn’t work for me either.  I usually can’t intellectually talk my way out of a self pity spiral but when I try I think about this.

It’s not who you are, but whose you are that counts. -Joel Osteen

There will be days when the snot hits the window in the car when you sneeze (seriously) and the tears roll down your cheeks, but even on your worst day, you are loved by a Big God who loves you just like you are His kid.  You are not an allergy you are a son or daughter of the King.  Mind Blown…..not to be confused with Nose Blown.

 

How to Guide: Making your Family Crazy

If you are thinking, how can I get in a fight with my spouse and make myself and my children crazy, you should totally make an appointment to get family pictures taken.  The fight you ask……was because he tried to be helpful and do the laundry so my “good jeans” were in the washer when we needed to head out the door.  I mean seriously, what was he thinking?  Probably something ridiculous like, I think I’ll throw in a load of laundry because Sara seems particularly psychotic today.  Nice try Gabbard!  After throwing an adult size tantrum I did pull it together and wore only slightly damp jeans to our photo shoot.

Expectation is the enemy of joy.  When I expect things to go a certain way I am left feeling frustrated, disappointed and spent.  This is especially true when trying to do anything with little humans.  They don’t act the way you imagined they would.  They don’t say what you thought they might.  It’s crazy but they are like individuals rather than accessories (wink).  After a denim emergency, quick showers, hair doing, proper actual accessorizing and coordination of outfits we made it to our appointment and got these gems.

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Was it worth it?  I think it was.  The photographer captured each of their personalities so perfectly.  My Benjamin is a little squirrelly and a lot sweet.  Christopher has a lot of feelings and always has a twinkle in his eye.  Abigail is a little sassy (she gets it from her Mama) and is a happy, sweet girl.  Even though our getting ready process did not go as I had expected, the photos turned out far better than I could have ever imagined.  Goodness inspite of my attitude.  In the future I think I will plan as much as I can and go in with less expectation and more hope, it is Holy Week after all.

May you find hope today knowing that Jesus came, loved well, taught us how to care for one another, died, didn’t stay dead and awaits us in a sweet place.  Happy Easter!

 

Circles and Straight Lines

I find myself all the time saying, “When we get there?” or “When this happens?”  When the boys are potty trained life will be so much easier.  When the kids are in school, things will settle down (don’t worry, all my mom friends with older kids have set me straight on that lie I have been telling myself).  When we move or when we have the money…

Recently, a guest preacher spoke about Exodus and Moses’ journey through the desert.  He spoke about how we all have a desert of sorts to cross.  This could be a lay off at work, a delay in our plans to grow our family or a death in our close personal circle.  He spoke eloquently about his own personal deserts.  He even used visual aids.  Each week he had a jumbo pad of paper and a black marker and he would make a diagram of the journey that Moses was on and how it was not dissimilar to the one we are on too.

I’m pretty sure he wanted us to leave encouraged.  If Moses, who killed a guy, can be used by God then so can you.  Journey on to your Promise Land.  Trust God.  March forward good and faithful servant.  And don’t get me wrong, I got all those things but the thing I noticed the most about his talk were his visual aids.  Every single diagram he drew was a circle.  First this happens then this happens then you come back to here.

Hold up preacher man!  You’re telling me my life is not a straight line or even a curvy line headed in a distinct direction but a circle.  I’m out.  Next.  Bring in the next guy.  Kidding.  Kind of.

So often I find myself focusing so fully on the destination.  When we get completely out of debt we will be superheroes!  When the kids get bigger we will be able to take amazing vacations!  When I lose weight I’ll be happier!  When my house is clean my friends will think I have it all together!

What if life is not a straight line headed to a destination?  What if it’s a cycle of closeness to God, hardship and renewal?  What if it’s caring deeply for someone, being hurt, crying and then caring deeply for someone again?  What if its teaching our kids by example, failing, talking through the failure and then teaching our kids by example again?  In lieu of viewing this as a hamster wheel, how freeing is it that all we have to do is our best in this moment?  Tomorrow we may fail but today all we have to do is try.  Regardless of the desert we are crossing there will be a promise land coming up next that will renew us before we hit our next desert.  The things that are most important to me are things that never come to an end until I come to an end: loving others deeply, parenting my kids, serving others in a way that Jesus would have enjoyed.

No destination to race toward.  No deadline to hit.  Just beautiful circles.

Cupcakes and Crazies

How often do our children have opportunities to be naughty, ornery or stinkers?  Nearly every minute of every single day.  Leave markers on the floor and find murals on your walls.  Leave fabric markers on the floor find a new pattern on your ottoman (may have happened at my house).  Buy just one of any toy and ask them to share it.  Plenty of opportunity to get in trouble in an average day.

Now think of the last time you set your child up for kindness or goodness.  I hope you are coming up with more times than I did.  We have taken our kids to service projects at church and we have done good things for others but often we do them without the kids, or while they nap.  We have been robbing them of easy opportunity to be kind and caring to others and the joy that brings.

Lastnight, my daughter and I made cupcakes for a neighbor girl whose birthday was today.  We are new to the neighborhood and so are they so we have bonded over the last week as we have unpacked and they have helped us find our way around town.  This morning my daughter and I delivered the cupcakes and Abigail was glowing with joy for how happy she had made our neighbor.  A couple hours later the birthday girl came over with our plate and this note.

image

Abigail was over the moon excited to receive a thank you note.  She ran in, showed her daddy and said, “I want to write her a thank you note back!”

I believe that God designed doing good to feel good so we would do more of it. It filled my heart to see my sweet girl feel so good after doing something kind for a new friend.  I plan to set her up for kindness more often.

Matthew 5:16
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

“That Mom” and “That Kid” at Walmart

It all started out beautifully.  Our family had decide to sponsor a little girl for Christmas this year whose family is going through a transitional housing program.  This little girl is one of five children being raised by a single mom.  She is four years old, curly-haired, kinda shy and absolutely adorable, just like our sweet Abigail.  Andrew and I thought this would be a great opportunity to teach our curly-headed girl about thankfulness, generosity and taking care of those who don’t have as much as we do.  We signed up to get her a special doll.

As we headed down the aisle I listened to Abigail explain to her little brothers that we were here to get a toy for “a special friend whose momma was working very hard to get them a home.”  I was thrilled that some of the conversations we had with her were sinking in.  As we picked up the toy, she asked if she could invite this friend over to play.  She never once asked for a doll for herself.  I just kept thinking, this is what Jesus means by childlike faith.

In true Walmart fashion, when we pull up to check out there are only two lines open and it’s a bit backed up.  My son is losing patience by the second.  When it is finally our time to check out I put the item he was holding onto the belt and he loses his mind.  Full blown tantrum.  Screaming, kicking, pushing his brother, who is sharing a cart with him.  It was epic.  I instantly feel all eyes in the store and perhaps in the next county turn toward me.  I leaned down to his ear and quietly reprimanded him, giving him consequences if he didn’t pull it together.  Tantrum continues.  As I look up, the woman in front of me shoots me a look.  I apologize and she leans toward the cashier and says, “My kids are older now, but I never would have let them behave that way in public.”

I am an angry crier, which in moments like this is extremely inconvenient.  I held it together for check out, pushed my cart full of children (two happy and one still demon possessed), to the car, get everyone loaded in, read my crazy tiny human the riot act and then sit down in the my car and cried.  All I needed in the moment was someone to say, “We’ve all been there.”  “They won’t always be two.”  “Is there anything I can do to help?”  I was ticked at my sons behavior, but equally ticked that I had received judgement from another mother in a moment when I just needed a little understanding.

I proceeded to let this wonderful Walmart moment affect the rest of my day.  I was impatient and stressed the rest of the day (wonder where my son gets it?).

Tonight my daughter participated in her very first Christmas program at church.  One of the age groups that sang a song that particularly touched me.  The lyrics hit so hard that I teared up a bit.

Here’s what I’d do differently

I’d love like I’m not scared
Give when it’s not fair
Live life for another
Take time for a brother
Fight for the weak ones
Speak out for freedom
Find faith in the battle
Stand tall but above it all
Fix my eyes on you

Fix My Eyes by For King and Country

When I am in the trenches of my own stuff it is so easy to throw myself a pity party over the hiccups that happen in my daily life.  If you looked at the way I lived my life today you would believe that the most important thing that happened today was my son throwing a fit in a store.  But here’s the thing, now that everyone is tucked in bed and I let the lyrics of this song seep into my heart, I realize that incident was far from the most important thing that happened today.  Today I watched my daughter give when she wasn’t receiving, love others first, stand up for a weak one and fix her eyes on Jesus.  Today, she got to see what it was like to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

Today was a good day.

When your crazies start raising you…

I am finding that my children are speaking more and more crazy truth into me.  A few months ago, while cleaning my house like a mad woman before my daughter’s 4th Birthday Party I was shouting marching orders at my husband and kids and quickly making my daughter’s bed.  I was changing out her pillowcases when she stops doing what I asked her to do and asked, “Mommy, why are you changing my pillowcases?”  I snapped back at her, in my rush, “Because your pillowcases need to match the rest of your bed.”  She quickly and quietly replied, “But Mommy my friends aren’t coming over to see my pillowcases.  They are coming over to see me.”

She stopped me dead in my tracks.  She was right, darn it!  Here I was rushing around trying to get my house perfect to impress our guests who weren’t going to notice that I had wiped down my walls, dusted our ceiling fan blades and made our pillows match our sheets.  They weren’t coming over to judge my ability to keep a clean home.  They were coming over to celebrate this beautiful little girl, to love on her on her special day, to eat cake and have fun.  I have thought about this interaction countless times since it happened.

Sometimes we get so consumed with the image we are projecting, what others will think about our ability to clean our house, mother our children, wife our husband, work our job, balance our life, that we forget that we are already enough for the One and the ones who count the most.

Ephesians 2:8-10   For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—  not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Thank you my Sweet Abigail for the reminder.