Tuesday, July 16, 2013

It's her birthday!

Happy birthday, sweet girl.
 Our Hannah Brielle Smith turns one year old today. This day will always be a day I celebrate because it's Hannah's birthday (obviously), but it's also one that is marked by a reminder of my humility. A year ago today, I looked at a young girl and prayed with her, prayed that God would be able to give her the courage she needed to follow through with decision to place her baby girl with us, to be raised by us, as our daughter.
I'll never understand fully the miracle that the Lord did in our birthmother that day, but I'll never forget the feelings that overwhelmed me that day. I was humbled. Courage had never had so much of a face as it did that day, and it took on the eyes and face and shape of our birthmother. I remember well, after being at the hospital for about five hours, being overcome by the reality of it all. This young lady, after growing a baby for nine months, knowing when that baby moved, how she kicked and carrying that life inside of her, was going to hold her for a few days, then place her in our arms and let us raise her as we saw fit. She gave up all rights to the days and weeks and years of the baby she gave life to. It was so huge to me, and it humbled me. I knew in that moment that I never would have been able to do the same thing. I never would have been able to move so beyond myself, to set aside my desires for my baby, to give her a life that I couldn't. I would have been stubborn, selfish and self-centered. Our birthmother was none of those; she was gracious, she was inclusive, she was gentle, she was (and is) proud of Hannah.
So, today, as I celebrate the fact that our Hannah girl reached a very important milestone, I'll also tearfully celebrate holding her for the first time, watching Justin give Hannah her very first bottle. I'll celebrate the courage of our birthmother, and remember how sweet of a time we had with them in the hospital for those first few days. I'll remember all the love that was in the room as Hannah was brought into this world, how full of joy that room was that she was (and is) perfect, that her birthmother loves her, her biological grandparents love her, that we love her, that her big brothers love her, that our parents and families love her. It was truly a magnificent day, and I'm humbled to know that God entrusted us with this precious baby girl.

Now, to the fun stuff. Here's what you need to know about Hannah.
'Hannah' is a name we chose that means favor and grace. We love the name, the promise of it for her whole life. 'Brielle' is a name that her birthmother chose, and the meaning she cited was 'God is our might'. We love the significance of this for our Hannah, for the day almost a year ago when God had to be mighty for our birthmother, as she officially gave her daughter to us.
Hannah Brielle is a fun-loving and active little girl! She rolled over just in time, she crawled just in time, and recently started "big girl crawling" exclusively. Hannah is fun-loving, like I've never known a baby to be! Her first word was "momma" (After two "dadda"s, I was praising Jesus for this!), and she waves and claps very enthusiastically! Well, the wave comes after she's examined a new person for a good long while, but once you get it, you get lots of them! When someone new comes in the room, they are greeted by a "hi" from Hannah! Doesn't matter if you just came in to the room again after a ten second absence, you get a new hi for being present!
Hannah Brielle is a busy, busy baby! Whoever told me girls weren't as busy as boys didn't know my Hannah girl! She has eight teeth, all that came in without a peep from her. We had to daily examine her mouth to see if there were any new teeth because teething really didn't affect her like it did with the boys. She loves to explore, loves to do things herself and is a silly, sweet, beautiful baby girl. She loves music and to dance, and she has eyelashes that go on for miles! She's a wonderful eater, and didn't have any trouble transitioning from bottle to sippy cup! She's...quite possibly...the best. baby. ever.
Hannah started sleeping through the night the day she turned two months old and has never looked back. She's the one who wakes up the latest in our family (a girl after my own heart) and doesn't use a pacifier. She's wonderful, and we are in love with her.
The thing I love the most about our family with Hannah is seeing everyone interact with a girl; all the boys (Daddy included) are so tender with her. It's heart-melting on an almost daily basis.
The second thing I love most about our family with a girl is the way that the boys just accept Hannah as sister. They don't qualify her as "adopted" sister; she's just our Hannah girl. The adults we meet for the first time, when Justin's not with us, are so curious about her, why they don't remember me being pregnant or why her hair is darker. When Justin is with us, they never ask because she favors his color so much.
When we move, we'll go to a foster and adoption play date at the church across the street from our new house so the boys will always know other kids who have adopted siblings, and so Hannah will always know other adopted kids. But, for right now, there's a bliss about it, a protection of naiveté, where the boys don't know the difference and it's just our three kids, siblings, just as if she were born into our family. And, right now, before the world interferes, I love it. I'll always treasure this time; our kids are too young to understand and so many people here know our story, that we're living as if she was born into our family. I know that there are trials ahead, but I trust in the God who humbled me, who gave us Hannah, who prepared Justin's heart before he met me, and my heart before I met him, for our family. It's really a miraculously humbling thing, adoption, and we are so in awe of the work of the Lord in our family.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Magnificent in the Mundane

Four years ago, my husband, our four-month-old Noah and I moved from Houston to Abilene. I knew when we moved that doing so would be a sanctifying act in my life. I went to college in Abilene with many people who still live in Abilene, and it was during a very dry period in my spiritual walk. God challenged me during college in ways that I didn't know He ever would. Every time I look back on it, I'm beyond grateful for the hard work He did in me during those days, but I realize that I wasn't the most easy to be around person (this is really severely understated) for those three years. So, coming back to a place where I was going to have to be faced with people and places was going to be difficult. I had no idea what I would find here, but I knew that it was something God called us to. Little did I know, these four years would be some of the most fruitful growth I have ever known. The people I was so afraid of were forgiving, and Jesus was so sweet to bring me back here to see His hand in my life.
During my college days, I went to speak with a man who was very influential in my church during at the time. He also happened to be a counselor. I remember asking him why it felt like God was so far away; why the longing for something more in my life, only to find nothing there? This period in my life was marked by trying to find God, but not being able to find Him where I was used to looking. Turns out, I didn't really know God. I knew a lot about Him. I knew the facts, the stories, the truth of the Word. But they didn't lead me into a relationship with Him. Only He can do that. And, I wasn't seeking Him; I was seeking the things of Him. I wanted the wonderful things He offered, but didn't Him. I wanted the benefits of Him, but didn't want to submit to Him. In His kindness, He didn't let me find Him in the stuff of Him...He wanted me to know more, and only He could have designed me with the curiosity that I have; it's really insatiable at times. 
In the time that's passed, I have come to know a relationship with the Lord. During the last four years, the Lord has faithfully shown me time and again how He protected me, my heart and my mind in the decade since my battle to find Him began. I've met some incredible people who have pointed my mind, and my heart, in the right direction along the way. I know that God, though, is the author and perfecter of my faith, and I can see now how He's directed every step that's led me to the sweet relationship that we have now. It's a real relationship; I talk to Him and He talks to me. It's been a sweet time of mutual courtship, and I can honestly say that standing as the bride of Christ in a real relationship with Jesus is the most magnificently miraculous honor in my life. It's magnificent because He is; it's miraculous because I'm broken. Yet, He chose me. Incredible, truly.
One of the things that I've been honored to do for about three years now is sing at my church as a minor part of the worship team. It's allowed me to pray and intercede for people and our church in ways that I never would have known otherwise. There have been some days where miracles have happened, and other days when I'm sure they've happened but haven't seen them with my eyes. 
This past Sunday, I woke up with Isaiah 55 on my mind. It's got a verse about the word of the Lord not returning void, but that His word goes forth to successfully accomplish His purposes. While we were practicing for the service, one word kept coming to mind: victory. I was convinced that the Lord would break through for people who otherwise couldn't find the victory they'd been longing for. Depression, addictions and strongholds were going to be broken because of the victory of Jesus. I just knew it. And I prayed. I prayed with a woman in the choir. I prayed during the services. I prayed in the sanctuary before church started, boldly declaring that His words, through song, sermon or scripture, would not return void. I prayed that the people sitting in church would be open to hear what God had to say to them; that He would give them ears to hear. I prayed that people would be able to focus like they never have before, like little laser beams ready to soak up all that God had for them. I mean, I prayed. And I was so excited; it was like I was getting ready to compete as an all-star athlete in the play offs; I was pumped.
And then He did. The service was incredible. God showed up in ways I never could have imagined, and the presence of the Lord was thick. I just can't begin to describe to you how palpable He was. I was sure, at one point during the second service, that if I opened my eyes, I would have seen Jesus, walking around, touching people and healing them in ways that only He can. And, I don't usually consider myself a radical; it was just that amazing. 
After the service, people were on Facebook and Twitter, talking about how anointed the service was. And, for good reason; we overcome by the blood of the Lamb (Jesus' sacrifice) and the word of our testimony. I started hearing about gold dust, which has been explained as a physical manifestation of the presence of the Lord. And not just hearing about it remotely, but hearing about it from people like me, who err on the side of skepticism. And, I praised God for showing up. What a mighty God we serve, who is capable of making everything we see, giving people brains to figure out how things work, yet wants to walk into a church service on a regular Sunday morning in Abilene, Texas, and be with His people. Truly, it's humbling, overwhelming, amazing.
In the days that have passed, I've been convicted about how to proceed. I'm a math person, so part of me wants to find the formula that unlocked the doors of heaven and replicate it every Sunday, or every day, for that matter. 


Then, I remembered Him. I remembered the dark days of seeking Him, or thinking I was seeking Him, yet being satisfied with the stuff of Him rather than Him. So, my challenge to myself is this: Rachel, don't be consumed with the stuff of Him. Bless Him for coming in tangible ways, bless Him for coming to sit with us while we praise Him. Thank you, Lord, for loving us in spite of our filthy rags that we think are sooooo cool. But, Lord, if we stop there, we've missed the prize. Because, the prize, Lord Jesus, will always be You! Give us the grace and mercy to always seek only You. If miracles and signs and wonders happen, we'll thank You, but let us never forget that You are the creator of all things, we are but dust, and yet You love us enough to come be with us!! Not just at church when we see things that make us marvel, but in the mundane. In the time outs for our kids, in the offices we work in, in the floors we mop. You are still just as much with us there as you were on Sunday. Let us find You, Lord. Let us seek You. Let us see gold dust on snotty noses and dirty dishes, on books we read and on people we interact with during the days. Let us find You in the mundane. Our desire is for You, Lord. Not just the benefits of You. You are the prize, and when we are able to see You face-to-face, we'll wonder at the streets of gold and Your glory that lights our days, for all eternity. But in the dim world we live in now, show us where You are. Give us the grace to see You, the mercy to find You. Lord, You are our desire. We love You. Please, Jesus, don't let us be satisfied with less than You. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

A year ago today...

This time last year, I was in a hospital room with a woman I barely knew, about to welcome a baby into the world that we thought was going to be our daughter. Sweet Adeline was born after a labor filled with weeping. Not happy weeping, but the weeping of a woman torn with anguish. You can imagine that welcoming a baby into the world after you've carried her for nine months, only to place her into the arms of another woman to raise her, would be horribly painful. I understood the weeping. But, as I sat in the room that day, I couldn't help but think that this wasn't how having a baby was supposed to be; it's supposed to be joyous, one of the best moments of your life. Instead, Adeline was welcomed to...weeping. I was overjoyed, but my joy was overshadowed by her mother. Adeline's first sounds outside of the womb were the sounds of her weeping mother.

As it turns out, when sweet Adeline was born, she tore a hole in her lungs and had to spend a while in the NICU. It was there that I finally got to tell her how excited we were about her, how much in live with her we were, but that Jesus loved her first and best. I was able to hold her as they were getting her ready, and I was able to love her. Really, fall in love with her. Which made the next 42 hours some of the hardest I'll ever walk through, I'm convinced.

After that time, and begging and pleading with the Lord, we were told that our Adeline would actually not be ours. Her birth mother had decided to parent. The birth mother's reason was simple: it was simply too hard to sign the papers to give Adeline to us. No, she didn't know what she was going to do, where they would live or how she would support her. No, she didn't have a car seat or nursery, even a bed for her. Really, she didn't even have a home to take her to. But it was just too hard.

As we said our last goodbye to Adeline, I looked at Justin and asked him how we were supposed to just leave, empty handed. This time, it was our turn to weep. It was hard, for sure. So we went home and played with our boys; we played for hours. I needed to hug my babies, knowing that they couldn't be taken from me. They were mine.

The boys had been to the hospital to meet her, and her birth mother. Miraculously, they've never asked about her. If you know Noah, you know that truly is a miracle.

Later that day, as we were discussing if we'd ever adopt or if it was just time to leave our family as it was, I'll never forget what Justin said. It was such a good perspective. He said if would be fine if we didn't adopt as long as the reason was something other than how hard this experience was. He reminded me that, to our knowledge, the only reason we left Adeline at the hospital was because it was going to be too difficult for the birth mom. So, if we prayed about it and had other reasons for not adopting, fine. But, if it was simply because facing the potential of doing this very thing again was too much for me, then we were no better than Adeline's mom. And we had a well of strength to draw from when things got hard: Jesus. She didn't. You can understand how things were too hard for her. Without Jesus, I'm not sure how anyone does anything difficult, how they face trials and persevere in the midst of difficulty. But, the truth is that I draw strength from a well that never runs dry, and that I have the Holy Spirit, who is my comforter. He literally comes to me and fortifies me.

Thankfully for us, that's not the end of our adoption story. This experience made us so much more thankful for our birth mother. Her strength and courage astound me. And now we appreciate her with such greater depths than we would have been able to. She is truly one of my heroes, and forever will be.

Thankfully for Adeline, that wasn't the end of her story, either. We learned that the birth mother was baptized three weeks later. We learned that the birth father, who we thought to be abusive, still didn't know where Adeline was, months later. For that, we're also grateful.

In all of this, I learned to trust Jesus in a way I know I never would have otherwise. So, I'm thankful, thankful to have had the chance to live Adeline for her first 45 hours, thankful to have had the chance to pray for her fervently then, and every day since then. I'm thankful. I get to pray specifically for a little girl for the rest of my life, knowing that God had me in her life for a reason. Maybe I can call her my spiritual daughter. Maybe I'll meet her some day. Probably not, but I pray that I'll get to meet her in heaven.

Our Hannah girl is one of my five greatest gifts in my life: Jesus, Justin, Noah, Caden and Hannah. Without any of them, I wouldn't be who I am. I can love all of these five with a reckless abandon that I didn't know about before, all because of 45 hours, one year ago. For that, I'll never be angry.

Thank you, Jesus, for Adeline. Thank you that she was not the end, just as your death was not the end. We are forever grateful for both.